Many are surprised to learn just how much goes into planning a funeral. Even though death is inevitable, it’s still difficult to talk to your loved ones about your final wishes. This means the burden often falls on the family to determine what to do when the time does come.
Having a conversation as a family is the best way to ensure everyone’s wishes are clear. Better yet, it’s a great way to explore new ideas for honoring someone’s life and legacy. While most people are familiar with traditional funerals, more people are opting for something off the beaten path.
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A destination funeral is a non-traditional funeral in which loved ones travel with the body of the deceased to a different destination. Instead of being buried in a cemetery close to home, the body or cremated ashes find their final resting place somewhere else. How do you properly plan a destination funeral? Let’s take a trip of our own to find out as well as share top ideas for destination funerals.
What Is a Destination Funeral?
A destination funeral is similar to a destination wedding. Instead of gathering around on a tropical beach or in a far-off village to watch a couple come together, someone is laid to rest somewhere away from home.
Since destination funerals are highly personal decisions, these are often planned well in advance. Not only might the loved one pay for their own funeral and burial place in advance, but they discuss with their family what they’d like to happen.
During a destination funeral, close family and friends typically travel with the body to its final resting place. The family might hold a memorial event or scatter the ashes somewhere meaningful. Not only does travel bring families together, but it also lends a sense of never-ending adventure to this final sendoff.
Do you have to be buried for a destination funeral?
Since this is a relatively new concept, it’s normal to have some questions about what it means to plan a destination funeral. You actually have a lot of flexibility. You can either be buried or cremated when you choose a destination funeral.
This means you can either arrange to have your body buried at a cemetery elsewhere in the world, or you can task a loved one with scattering your ashes somewhere meaningful to you.
What are the key differences? The biggest difference is the price. It’s expensive to transport a body, especially if you plan to do so internationally. Additionally, cemeteries throughout the world have their own stipulations and rules, making this tricky without a lot of prior planning.
On the other hand, cremation is much more affordable. The body is cremated at home, and the family travels with the ashes via plane, train, or even mail. Once they arrive at the final destination, the family can easily scatter the ashes in a ceremony. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong choice. It’s entirely up to the family and your own personal wishes.
Steps for Planning a Destination Funeral
While there are endless funeral theme ideas, a destination funeral is something that’s always inspiring and personal. However, because this funeral involves travel, you can expect more steps throughout the planning process compared to a traditional funeral.
Step 1: Consider pre-planning
There are a lot of unique challenges associated with destination funerals. The biggest is travel arrangements. When someone dies suddenly, the family rushes to arrange travel to and from the funeral. Even with bereavement fares, this comes with a steep cost. This is especially true for last-minute international flights.
By pre-planning and pre-paying for your destination funeral, you can allocate funds for travel arrangements. This will be the costliest part. By covering a percentage (or all) of the cost for your guests, it’s more likely everyone will be able to attend.
Step 2: Choose your location
Next, you need to choose your destination funeral location. If you wish to be buried overseas or somewhere else, this is trickier than if you plan to have your ashes scattered. No matter where you choose, pay close attention to local laws and regulations.
Where should you choose? This is a highly personal decision, so it’s a good idea to follow your intuition. Most people choose somewhere they’ve always wanted to go, a favorite vacation spot, or a place rich in cultural significance.
Step 3: Find a funeral home
Once you’ve decided on your location, you’ll need to find a funeral home. Because this is a new idea, not many funeral homes offer destination funeral planning, but it is becoming more widespread.
To start, find a funeral home near you and discuss your wishes for the destination funeral. Aside from a funeral home in your current city, you’ll likely also need one at your final destination. This is to arrange a burial or memorial locally, according to local laws and regulations. If you need to transport the body, for example, you’ll typically need a funeral director at the final location.
Step 4: Arrange transportation
You’ll also need to arrange transportation not just for you but also for the family. This can be the most costly and complicated part depending on the type of final sendoff you choose. Check with airlines for special bereavement fare, and work closely with your funeral home to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Step 5: Plan your service
The family typically stays at the destination for a few days or longer to honor the life of the deceased and hold a memorial service. This could be held at the gravesite in the case of burial, but it might also be an ash scattering ceremony. Again, your funeral home is a great resource for this process.
It’s important to keep in mind that a destination funeral often evokes many complex emotions. While a trip abroad might be fun, you’ll also have to balance the somber emotions of the funeral and your family’s loss.
Destination Funeral Ideas
While you might be familiar with ideas for a funeral reception, what about when that funeral is abroad or somewhere completely new? Here are some of the trendiest, up-and-coming destination funeral ideas.
The floating Italian city of Venice recently announced a radical plan to renovate San Michele, a cemetery island. While prices for burial plots begin at $300,000, lovers can be buried side-by-side in the city of love and romance for all of eternity.
The deceased are amongst good company, with famous residents on the island including Ezra Pound, Sergei Diaghilev, and Igor Stravinsky. Though by no means inexpensive, this is a beautiful way to connect with this beloved city.
For those who fell in love with the famous city of love, being buried in Paris’s famous Pere Lachaise cemetery would be a dream come true. This is a popular choice for destination funerals, though there are strict rules. To be buried here, one must have lived or died in Paris.
3. Cruise ship
Aside from being a fun way to sail the seas, cruise ships are also one of the most popular options when it comes to destination funerals. Not only can the family gather together for a few days of fun and adventure, but they can say goodbye to their loved one in a personal way.
This is such a common option, in fact, that most cruise ships are very open about holding final sendoffs. While you need permission from your specific cruise line to scatter ashes at sea, there isn’t usually an additional charge. It’s also easy to plan a memorial or funeral onboard your cruise ship.
4. Neptune Memorial Reef
Located about 3 miles off the coast of Key Biscayne in Miami, Florida is Neptune Memorial Reef. This is the largest man-made reef ever created, and it will soon span across 16 acres of the ocean floor. Created to resemble the Lost City of Atlantis, this is a special place that helps the local underwater ecosystem.
What makes this reef so special? It’s an underwater cemetery, home to hundreds of remains that have been cremated and mixed with concrete to become part of the reef itself. Families continue to visit their loved ones by boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving, making it a unique destination funeral option.
5. Burial forest
Better Place Forests offers an alternative to traditional burials. These green spaces are free from large headstones or typical burial markers. In fact, you might not tell them apart from any other forest, and that’s what lends to their magic.
As of 2021, there are Better Place Forests in only a few parts of North America, but they have plans to expand soon. Families travel to their forest of choice, and the ashes are mixed with the soil and returned to the base of a chosen tree.
The Perfect Final Resting Place
Though you might understand basic funeral etiquette, few things prepare you for the beauty of a destination funeral. Sometimes a local cemetery doesn’t fit right with one’s wishes, but luckily, this isn’t your only choice. The world is vast and wide. For those who loved to explore, why not continue this adventure in the afterlife?
Have you considered a destination burial? If so, consider these steps and ideas above. Though more complicated to arrange than a traditional burial, it could be worth the extra travel to find that perfect place to spend eternity.
- Crow, Melinda. “Scattering Ashes at Sea: 10 Common Questions Answered.” Cruise Critic. 8 January 2020. CruiseCritic.com.
- "Home." Pere Lachaise. 2015. PereLachaiseCemetery.com.
- Rizzo, Cailey. “How to Plan a Destination Funeral.” Travel + Leisure. 11 August 2018. TravelAndLeisure.com.