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I've planned (and been on) over 500 honeymoons and this is what I've learned so far

Brides' Deputy Editor and Travel Editor Harriet Jones has travelled and sent journalists to over 500 destinations and hotels for both our annual Honeymoon Guide and stories in the magazine. Needless to say, you'll want to read this before you book yours...

23 Jan 2019

Just because it's a classic honeymoon destination, doesn't mean that it's the right one for you

Yes, I'm talking about destinations such as the Maldives. Statistically this stunning collection of sandy discs in the Indian Ocean is by far the most popular destination for honeymooners travelling from the U.K. Of course I know why it's so desired, I've seen it and lived it myself a few times, and, might I add, loved it too. But I've loved it for what it is: a perfectly polished nothing-but-the-resort destination.

Which is utterly the right choice if A) you love the beach and the 'fly-and-flop' lifestyle and B) it's always been on your bucket-list. There's no doubting it, seeing the islands scattered like diamonds across the sapphire water as you fly in is something truly special. However, if you are an active couple who crave culture and adventure when you travel, then this really wouldn't be the place I would recommend for your trip-of-lifetime.

In fact, your honeymoon doesn't have to involve a beach at all...

Speaking of bucket-lists, you are unlikely to spend as much money on a single trip again as you are going to on your honeymoon, so why not make it really count? Some of the most magical and romantic pieces I have edited in the magazine have been from journalists I've sent to see the Northern lights in Sweden, or hiking in the Himalayas, or on great railway journeys across South America - stories and adventures that make your hair stand on end they are so exceptional - and not a beach in sight. In fact, as a general rule I would say that you are all travelling differently now, that flawless stretch of sand and obligatory sun simply won't cut it anymore, it's much more about having a story to tell when you arrive home; bespoke, unique experiences that really get under your skin.

It's also worth remembering that you don't have to go to the stereotypical destination in order to tick something off your bucket-list. A safari is a good example of this, I bet that's on everyone's list (and so it should be), but it's not just Africa where you can find a top notch safari experience. One of the best I've ever had was in India, in Rajasthan of all places (at Jawai Leopard Camp) the whole package was truly excellent, and meant my options pre and post were way more varied. Keep thinking outside the (beach) box, and you are more likely to tick off that wish-list.

Don't go all trad and fly off for your main 'moon the day after the wedding

This is probably my number one piece of practical advice that I give to all engaged couples. It might seem like the 'proper' thing to do, but realistically, other than the simple fact that you will be exhausted, you honestly won't have the mental capacity to take it all in. Your head will be, rightly so, buzzing with the excitement and emotions of your big day for at least a week afterwards and your mind needs/deserves the time to process all of these huge feelings. Whilst it's doing that, it can't possibly take in the thrill of seeing a lion on safari for the first time, or flying into a country that you've longed to see for decades. And trust me, once the post-wedding excitement fades, you'll want something else to focus on and get giddy about.

Saying all of that however, I do think it's a really good idea to take a break immediately after your wedding, which is where the sheer delight of a mini-moon comes in. Three or four days in Europe to yourselves to decompress and breathe after the main event is utter bliss. But honestly? It really isn't necessary to go abroad at all, which brings me to my next point...

Harriet and her husband Jamie at Gara Rock in Devon

You don't need to fly halfway across the world to have an amazing honeymoon experience

It's true, you really don't have to book yourselves into an overwater villa in Bora Bora to get that 'my-god-this-is-special' feeling. Without a shadow of a doubt, some of the best hotels I've reviewed for Brides have been right here in the U.K. And I'm not talking about the five-starred, silly-money-a-night kind either. I'm talking about the sort of place that gives you that heart-soaring feeling as you walk through the door... A hotel that has the kind of subtle, cosseting service that you don't even realise has enveloped you until long after you've left and the cocooned feeling slowly starts to disappear. Somewhere as well, that offers all of this, but that doesn't cost you the earth.

My husband and I stayed in one such place for work a few weeks after our wedding, we were supposed to stay for two nights but in the end could only make one - but oh, what a 24 hours it was. We fell instantly in love, and have been back many times ever since (that's the other bonus of a staycation 'moon, you can easily go back for more). My latest find like this? The brand new and spectacular Gara Rock in Devon, all of the above for less than £175 a night (plus a wild beach that's so cut off from tourists and locals alike it might as well be private). For other new U.K. gems, make sure to check out the 2019 Honeymoon Guide with the July/August issue.

It really is best to book with a tour operator

I know, it's so tempting to book your own flights and accommodation, because all too often we convince ourselves that we (and only we) can seek out the best deals... But what people often forget is that a good tour operator does exactly that. These companies have already secured the very best prices and deals on flights and hotels, they have been nurturing their relationships with the airlines and hoteliers since they were in their infancy being run at a kitchen table, you or I (or price comparison websites) can't compete with the direct relationships they have built up over decades in the industry. And take it from me, you having a positive experience with them is their top priority. They want you to come back time and time again to use their expertise - that's the lynchpin to their business models - so it makes sense that they will only ever do their absolute best for you. Plus, the very idea that, even if you're undertaking the most complicated, adventurous, off-the-grid trip imaginable, they have got your back every step of the way (from safety to insider tips) is a pretty priceless feeling.

Tip: If you really want the best deals, ask about booking in 'shoulder season', it will get the best value-for-money out of your budget.

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Tempted to upgrade your flight? Don't

Unless going Business class or First class is a non-negotiable part of your 'bucket-list' experience, then trust me, this money is better spent. Essentially, the price vs. memorability factor quite simply doesn't stack up in your favour. Of course it's a pretty cool experience, but it literally adds thousands of pounds to the cost of your flights, for what really can only ever be a maximum 12 hours of novelty/comfort. That significant amount could easily be spent on extra nights at a wonderful hotel and/or experiences that only your chosen destination can offer. Be honest with yourselves, would you rather kickback in First for a few hours or spend a few extra days island-hopping, perhaps swimming with dolphins or helping sea turtles to hatch their eggs under a star-studded sky? I know which I would choose. And remember, there are other ways of making your journey more comfortable/exciting. Air New Zealand's 'cuddle class' (also known as the skycouch) is a stroke of genius and companies such as Plaza Premium Lounge offer great deals on lounge access without the cost of a Business class flight.

Put down your camera (And your phone...)

Ok, so I'm not telling you to stop taking pictures - you will want these and you will treasure them forever (in fact at the other end of the scale, I'm not sure we took enough on ours) but recently when travelling for work and meeting/seeing couples on honeymoon, I've felt they might as well be living the whole experience through a lense or screen. Or worse, constructing various scenarios for social media. In a world where our time is so precious, and our lives less and less private, surely the joy of being on honeymoon is to be ensconced in each other, not our phones? To engage and immerse ourselves in our chosen destinations through our own eyes not consistently through a camera?

I recall once desperately trying to capture a 'moon-bow' at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (a very rare rainbow at night caused by a full moon and the spray of the waterfall) before I realised it was pretty much impossible and I had essentially missed the whole thing. I felt so cheated. So switch off and stay in the moment as much as possible. Your mind (and your relationship) will thank you for it.

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It's more than OK to take the kids (or bring your tribe)

A trend that is still emerging, but definitely happening: a buddy-moon (honeymoon with your friends) and/or a family-moon is perfectly acceptable in this day and age. Particularly a honeymoon with a baby or toddler. We know that some couples are waiting to have their first child before they get married (for a variety of reasons) so of course it makes sense that they want to bring the baby with them, too. In fact, the question I am asked most frequently at our annual event Brides the Show is 'where can I go on honeymoon with a baby?'.

The answer to this is pretty simple: almost anywhere, depending on how adventurous you are. But you might be surprised to learn that it's actually some of the big honeymoon players that are also super-geared towards families. The Maldives for example is excellent for families, as is Mauritius and the Seychelles, South Africa is perfect due to its minimal time difference and aside from the (actually very few) adults-only resorts in these places, well, the Indian Ocean is your oyster. Your secret weapon though for planning a trip with a baby in tow has to be your tour operator, never has their expertise been more necessary, do not go it alone! And when it comes to a buddymoon? Just make sure the villa you pick or the private island you rent is large enough so that you have the space to slink off just the two of you. Also, schedule in day trips and dinners a deux and make others aware of your plans in advance; you may have chosen to party and chill with your nearest and dearest, but you will want your own private downtime, too.