Destination weddings gained popularity in the late 1980s, as warm-weather destinations in Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean became increasingly accessible to greater numbers of people.  While the rich and famous had always enjoyed opulent weddings in exotic locations, the destination weddings trend made it possible for the less well-heeled to tie the knot more fashionably than they might at their local church or conference center.

The concept is pretty simple.  Rather than getting married in their home town and then jetting off to romantic honeymoon spot, the bride and groom invite their closest friends and family (destination weddings are typically on the smaller side) to join them at a nice resort for a long weekend.  After the festivities were over and their guests departed, the newlyweds would stay in place for their honeymoon.

Besides obvious advantages like greater convenience for the bride and groom, destination weddings can be less expensive.  With all of their guests paying for overnight rooms, the bride and groom often get a lot of freebies from the resort.  And many wedding-related services just cost less in overseas destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico.

But there also are disadvantages.  With the costs of airfare and at least a 3-night stay, destination weddings can be expensive for guests.  In order to block rooms and get decent airfares, all of the arrangements need to be made well in advance.  And sometimes it’s hard to decide who should make the cut for a shorter guest list.

If a destination wedding at a posh resort is not in your budget, all is not lost!  There are ways to borrow ideas from the destination wedding trend to create an exceptional—and even exotic—wedding much closer to home.  And with a little research and planning, you can find ways to stretch your budget if you absolutely must have a destination wedding of your own.

Here are a few suggestions to get your imagination going:

    1. Turn your hometown into a destination. Many of us have lived in places for so long we forget all the attractions available locally.  Before you consider moving your wedding, take inventory of everything your hometown has to offer.  Chances are that you could line up some very cool activities for your guests to enjoy during your wedding weekend.  This can include interesting locations for the rehearsal dinner, daytime field trips to local points of interest such as parks and historical sites, hikes and group runs, organized shopping trips, treasure hunts by car and the like.  Sometimes something as simple as a nice picnic in a local park can be a really memorable occasion.
    2. Adopt a local theme for your wedding. Chances are that your local area has customs and cuisine that out-of-town guests might find really interesting and enjoyable.  Try to work a local angle into your event planning.  Put local dishes and specialties on your menu.  Enjoy local music and dance styles.  Save money by asking friends and family to cook food for your reception or rehearsal dinner.  If you have any musicians in your family, ask them to perform instead of paying for entertainment.
    3. Find a destination close to home. Do you have a favorite vacation spot that is within driving distance of where you live?  If so, consider having your wedding there rather than at home.  Find a hotel or resort that can host your wedding, and negotiate the best deal you can on overnight rooms.  Any guests that can’t afford to stay overnight will be able to drive in just for the day without suffering any embarrassment.
    4. Take advantage of the off-season. Often you can negotiate really great rates by visiting a destination during its off-season.  Check out a local ski resort to see if you can get good rates in the middle of the summer.  Imagine how fun it could be to watch your groom riding up in the chairlift to a ceremony on the summit!  Many destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean offer discounts during less-popular periods—just be careful to avoid the hurricane season!
    5. Rent vacation homes instead of a hotel. If you live near a vacation destination where homes are available for rent, consider renting several homes instead of asking your guests to get hotel rooms for their stay.  Particularly during the off-season, renting vacation homes can be cheaper than staying in a hotel.  You can group people together so that costs are shared, making a wedding away from home more affordable.  Having access to a kitchen helps save money on eating out.
    6. Don’t ask for wedding gifts. If you care more about having a destination wedding than you do about receiving lots of gifts, and if money is tight for some of the people you want to invite, consider asking your friends and family to not buy you any gifts and to use the money they save to pay for travel to your destination wedding.
    7. Create a honeymoon registry. If not receiving gifts is not an option, you can still ask your guests to contribute to a honeymoon registry.  They work just like a wedding registry, except instead of buying items you’ve specified at a department store your friends and family make a contribution to your honeymoon fund.  You can then access those funds to pay for all or part of your honeymoon.  It isn’t the same as a destination wedding, but sometimes a fantastic honeymoon with the man you love is an even better option.

The main point to remember is that your wedding is your big day.  There are no rules that you have to follow.  As long as you create an event that makes you happy and pays some attention to your guests’ comfort levels, you’ll have a successful wedding that provides memories for years to come.