Amy and Christopher Gallant live in the "Wedding Capital of the World." But for their nuptials, the couple - both of whom have East Coast roots - traded in Las Vegas for New England, opting to be married in an 18th-century church with a clock tower and belfry.
In June 2018, the two traveled to Amherst, N.H., where Amy had grown up, to be married at the church of her childhood.
"I think it was really special for us to get on a plane and say, 'We're going to our wedding,' and not just drive down the Strip," says Amy. "It was a whole week leading up to the event."
For their destination wedding, which is generally defined as a wedding that's held 200 or more miles from home, around 100 people attended. Guests flew in from as far away as Macau. Much of Christopher's family traveled in from Maine, and many of Amy's family members drove in from Boston. Dozens of friends flew in from Las Vegas and other cities where the couple has lived.
"It was so nice to have the group collide - people you've known for decades who've never met other social circles - to meet and be chatting and mingling," Amy says.
The internet made planning easy, despite the distance. They had Skype sessions with their pastor and found the DJ and photographer online.
"I definitely don't think we could have done that 20 years ago," says Christopher.
In the end, the day was everything they'd hoped it would be - filled with beautiful scenery, history, nostalgia and the people they loved, all gathered in one special place.
According to a 2018 survey by the wedding planning site The Knot, nearly one in four American couples who married in 2018 - 23 percent - considered their wedding a destination wedding. The majority of those - 81 percent - were in one of the mainland states, while 19 percent ventured somewhere more far-flung, either to international locations or Alaska or Hawaii. Among those who opted for a destination wedding, 15 percent also held a second celebration close to home, according to the survey.
Lauren Kay, deputy editor of The Knot, says couples often opt for destination weddings for an intimate, one-of-a-kind experience.
"I think a lot of millennials and couples getting married today are looking to do something unique," she says. "They're getting married at the same time as their friends and colleagues, and so they want their wedding to stand out and be special."
When they're deciding on a destination, Kay adds, they're rarely throwing a dart at a map. Rather, she says, they're searching for a place that tells a story about them as a couple - just as Christopher and Amy did.
"They're not looking to just be different for the sake of being different," says Kay. "They want to have some meaning behind it."
As brides and grooms start planning their weddings, Kay shared some trends in destinations, themes and practices to look for in the year ahead.
Vineyards, Southern charm and "Vegas, baby!" will be hot. Kay expects the following domestic destinations to be popular:
_Las Vegas. It's easy to get to, it's a breeze to get your marriage license and there are wedding venues and packages for all tastes and budgets.
_Charleston, S.C. "It's this lovely city that feels small but has this romance about it," says Kay. Plus, it's affordable, the food is excellent, and couples can find unique and historic venue options.
_Napa Valley, Calif. Wine country is perennially popular for its romantic vineyard views, top-notch food and beverage options, and of course, fun tasting experiences for groups.
_Hawaii. For beach ceremonies, "it's just an iconic spot," says Kay. The islands offer an exotic feel but don't require a passport. And it's a great excuse for guests to book an island vacation.
_Florida. Couples love the Caribbean feel that the Sunshine State offers, minus the lengthy travel time. Kay expects Sarasota, Miami and Key West to be popular. For couples interested in a cruise wedding, Florida is a great place to start because so many ships set sail there.
For international destination weddings, beaches will be big. "The Caribbean always will top the list," says Kay. She ticks off the top contenders: the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and, for those wanting something a bit more far-flung, Costa Rica. Mexico continues to be popular - especially Riviera Maya with its access to nightlife, beaches, resorts and cultural attractions like ruins.
LGBTQ couples will seek out gay-friendly destinations, like Curacao. The Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela is known for its live-and-let-live attitude and loved for its pastel-dotted colonial architecture, diving and tropical drinks (often colored blue, thanks to its namesake liqueur).
"Local" will be crucial. When it comes to wedding themes, it's less about choosing, say, wedding colors like pink and gold, and more about finding the right vibe by playing up the local elements, such as the food and culture of the destination. In Charleston, that may mean a menu with shrimp and grits; in Jamaica, it could mean hiring a reggae band.
Couples will spring for some of the costs. Destination weddings, like most weddings, can be expensive for all parties involved. According to The Knot's 2016 Romance Travel Study - the most recent available - the average cost of a domestic destination wedding is $28,372, while an international domestic wedding costs around $27,227. (That's actually less expensive than a traditional U.S. wedding, which averages $33,931.)
Kay says nearly half of couples throwing destination weddings cover some of the costs for guests, whether it's transportation from the airport to the hotel, a welcome cocktail celebration, a farewell brunch, a group excursion or other options. Some couples, she says, will even request money as part of their wedding registry to help pay for travel costs for friends and family.
"If you're asking them to take the time and travel, you want to help provide them with things, so that once they arrive, they don't have to pay for anything else," says Kay.
The bottom line is couples will want to pick a place where everyone will have a weekend - or more - to remember.
"They want their wedding to be talked about for weeks, months, years to come, in a very favorable way," says Kay.