Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Ah, the out-of-town guests. We’re so grateful they chose to come all this way, and yet we feel so guilty because… they came all this way.
Before I tell you how to handle them, I’m going to gently suggest that you chuck that mindset. People don’t come to your wedding out of obligation. They come because they care about you, and because they want to be a part of a milestone in your life. They are happy to be here, and you are not obliged to find them a discounted hotel room or invite them to a variety of other events that you will have to pay for.
This is going to play out a little differently if you're having a destination wedding, but the principle remains the same. It's their choice to attend, and they're probably so freaking excited about it. (In fact, I wrote a hilarious piece for Medium about how... overly excited they sometimes are!)
That said, if you’re not totally overwhelmed and/or freaking out (and if you are, call me, because I can help with that), it’s actually really easy and fun to set up some stuff for your out-of-town guests to make them feel truly welcome, and, let’s be honest, keep them out of your hair while you finalize details and try to maintain your chill.
If you don’t already have one, consider creating a wedding website. This is a great place for your guests to go to get oriented, and there are a ton of options. I did some research, and these are my top three, based on what they offer and recommendations from my past clients:
1. Minted is the most user-friendly, and they have built-in templates. Not tons of room to customize, but the brides felt they had everything they needed.
2. Wedding Wire allows you to integrate hotels and book room blocks, and is a little more customizable.
3. If you’re down to spend a little money, then Bliss & Bone is the crème de la crème. They offer custom URLs, RSVP management, and paperless or printed invitations.
UPDATE - November 2022:
If you want your website to be available in two or three languages, the best way to go is to create something custom on Squarespace or Wix. If you want to hire someone to do that for you, then I Do Bilingual offers that for about $200.
Now, on to activities. How are you going to keep all those guests occupied? There are millions of options here, but I want to focus on just a few fun things you can suggest to entertain your friends and family:
Invite them to enjoy a longer stay
If you plan events around the wedding date, like a rehearsal dinner (or cocktail), a brunch the day after the wedding, or a pub crawl, you’re inviting your guests to spend more time in the city than for just your wedding day. It might seem overwhelming to plan these additional events, but it doesn’t always have to be elaborate. For example, Jaime (below) and her husband Duncan invited their Montreal friends to Knowlton (about an hour and a half away) for the weekend, and had a low-key karaoke night for any early arrivers on the Thursday night before their Saturday wedding. They ordered pizzas, made a massive salad, and hired one bartender and a friend with a karaoke setup. It was simple, really fun, and a great opportunity for the guests to start getting to know one another!
If you know guests are coming for a longer stay – if they’re travelling from a different time zone, it’s likely they’ll stay more than a few days – then include suggestions for side trips on your website. For Montrealers, the most common ones are Ottawa, Mont Tremblant, Quebec City, and Lac Brome, but I’ve also had friends coming from Europe who took the opportunity to visit to New York, Niagara Falls, and Toronto.
The Beloved Welcome Bag
There are endless options for what goes into this bag, but let's start off with something that should be obvious: you are not obliged to give your guests gifts, especially if it's beyond your budget or you have a huge number of guests staying in a variety of locations. Be reasonable! If you are going for it, keep in mind that they probably have the basics, and if they don't, the hotel can help them out. Keep it simple and make sure it's relevant: something yummy, something personalized (from you, and for them), something useful, and something local. It can be as easy as a favourite bakery item with a handwritten note (read on for my favourite bakery item)!
Mile End Food Tour
Draw a map of one of your favourite parts of the city you live in. For me, it’s Montreal’s Mile End. I used to host travelers in my apartment, and my favourite way to get rid of them keep them entertained was to draw them a map on scrap paper east from Saint Laurent, west to Parc, south to Mont Royal, and north to Bernard. Within that quadrant, you can find the best bagels, ice cream, gnocchi, tacos, babkas (if you don’t know, get thee to Cheskie’s!), perogies, bougatsa, and more. I’ve even toyed with the idea of creating a graffiti tour, and my husband and I created a map of all the "ruelles vertes" (alleys that locals have made into green spaces, so chouette) in our hood. On a nice day, the Plateau and Mile End are the perfect places to wander.
Photo Scavenger Hunt
Have your guests try as many items as they can on your “favourite things to do in this city” list, and prove it by posting it to social media with a clever, wedding-related hashtag. If you want, you can declare a “winner” at the wedding and offer them a local keepsake, like a can of maple syrup, a Habs jersey, or whatever represents your city.
Put them in touch with each other
Have a chat page, if your website allows, or create a Facebook group, and invite guests to discuss their travel plans, carpool, and book places to stay together. After all, the wedding is all about people coming together! Think how much more fun they’ll have knowing someone there, and how cool it will be for you to hear the stories afterwards! I was able to do this for two of my dearest, oldest girlfriends who had both lived in Montreal at some point but were living in Toronto. Jill and Kate had never met, but Kate offered Jill a ride to my wedding and now they're really close friends! And I get to take all the credit for bringing them together. (Now, when we hang out, I love to shout, "I'm the glue!")
And by all means, if you want help setting up an itinerary or your website, or if you are feeling overwhelmed by wedding stuff, shoot me a message through the contact form on my site, or hit me up on Instagram. I hang out there way more than I should at @ca.theweddingcoach, and I love to chat.