A lot of people would love to have a destination wedding but end up giving up the idea for thinking it is too complicated to organize. Planning something in a different city or even a different country might be scary at the first moment, but it is actually much easier than you can imagine. To help you feel more comfortable about that, here it is a basic guide about how to plan a destination wedding in 7 steps.
How to plan a destination wedding in 7 steps
You might dream about having a beach wedding, eloping to the mountains or even getting married in a castle. The infinite options of wedding venues are just one of the many reasons to have a destination wedding. So it’s no wonder why so many people decide to go for it. Even so, it might be a little bit overwhelming to know where to start. But after reading these tips about how to plan a destination wedding, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel almost ready to pack your things to go :)
1. Think about the number of guests
One thing about destination weddings is that the number of guests will probably be much smaller than a traditional wedding in your home town. It could be from two people (if you are planning an elopement), to only family or closest friends. You are completely free to choose what makes you both happy!
No matter how many people you decide to invite for your big day, it’s always good to make a list before planning everything else. First because the number of guests will affect the venue you will choose. Second because you can let them know in advance what you are planning, so they can also plan themselves to come. It is good for you that they will have a better chance of showing up, and good for them that are able to put some money together for the trip and plan for taking holidays from their work, for example.
2. Define a budget
With a good planning, destination wedding can cost less than hosting the same party at your home town. But this is the thing: planning is necessary if you want to stay under a pre-determined budget. So, before you start, talk to your partner about your expectations and how much you are willing to spend. But be realist: a destination wedding will have extra costs that should be considered, like transportation, hotel or flying in key vendors. It’s important to be careful, since destination weddings (like all others) can get expensive very quickly. But if you set your budget from the beginning , it’s pretty likely that you will be able to stick to it. Or at least close.
If you are completely lost, and have no idea about how much it costs to have a destination wedding, it’s a good idea to research some of the main vendors of the location you want to get married. A wedding planner is specially good to help with this part. After all, each city or country will have their specifics, and the prices will vary accordingly to the style, number of guests, and so on. Having in mind how much you want to spend will help you to define what kind of wedding you want to have and what are your priorities. It’s possible you will not have the money to hire the best of everything, so define which things are more important to you, so you can invest more on them, and relax about the others. It’s common that somethings will cost a little bit more than planned, so leave a little extra money for those things you consider more important, if it is needed.
A good way to save money it is to plan a decoration made with local blooms, like olive branches and grape leaves in Tuscany or exotic flowers in the tropics. Sometimes the location is so beautiful that you don’t even need decorations. Serving local specialties at the reception will also allow you to cut catering costs, and it is a really nice idea to experience something typical. Another way of saving money is by being flexible with the date, and doing some research, as I will explain in the next topics.
3. Choose the perfect location
Wow! That is a hard one. With so many great locations, you can get crazy. But if you are planning a destination wedding, chances are that you already have a couple of dream places in your mind. Just remember that your wedding venue will determine not only its style (bohemian, beachy, sophisticated, traditional…) but also the time and budget to make everything real.
If you still have no idea about where to get married, think that your wedding venue should tell something about you. If you are a big fan of sun and warm temperatures it makes no sense to have a winter wedding in the Austrian Alps, right? Even if the pictures look amazing! So consider gathering your friends close to the coast, in a place like Mallorca or Santorini. If the proposal happened on a vacation in Paris, why not hosting an intimate wedding in the City of Lights? Maybe you are in love with wine and food experience. So Tuscany would be a great choice for a destination wedding. If you dream in tying the knot in a castle, Germany has awesome castles to get married.
One important thing you can’t forget, is that the location you choose should have hotels for different budgets (making your guests comfortable on choosing whatever it is best for them) and easy to reach. If your guests and you have to get 2 planes, 1 train, 1 boat and then drive with the car for 5 hours to get to the wedding place, it’s probably not the best option.
Last, but not least, do a site visit. I know it might be hard to spend some extra money on that, but if you can afford it, I promise it will be worth every cent! You will be much more comfortable with your decision for a venue after seeing everything with your own eyes. Also, you can do your research, set up necessary appointments to have preliminary talks to the vendors by email or phone, and then meet them in person, making it easier to make a quick decision.
4. Do not underestimate the date
Do you want to get married in an specific date or month? Before you make your decision, there are a few things you should check. First, give a look to the local calendar. You wouldn’t want to get married during a festival or a specific holiday that makes the city full of tourists and the flights and hotels super expensive. On the other hand, depending on the location, some of the restaurants and interesting venues might be closed during off-season.
Second, get to know the weather. Some coastal areas and islands have lower rates in the late summer and fall because it’s hurricane season. You should also check when it is the rainy season. Usually, best weather in some popular vacation destinations also means that it’s tourist season: more crowds and fewer hotels available. If this is the case and you don’t feel like another date, make sure to book everything as soon as possible, and give your guests heads up so they can do the same.
Last, it’s important to decide how long you will spend at your destination. Some destination weddings last the weekend, while others last the whole week or more. Choose a date that make possible for you to arrive a few days earlier to make the final arrangements and stay a couple of days after, so you can rest before heading to your honeymoon. Destination weddings are awesome, but might be also really exhausting.
5. Learn to trust in your vendors
You might be a control freak. Or not. But if you are hosting a destination wedding, you will have to learn to trust in your vendors. And do you know what will help you with that? Having a good wedding planner. It might be a burden to research for vendors, deal with logistics and handle the last-minute details that will show up (they always do). If you have a planner, instead of spending hours figuring out which venues are the best option, finding out which vendors fit to your budget, and trying to overcome language or making decisions that seems impossible since you are kilometers away, you have someone by your side to help you plan a destination wedding. Someone that will know the local little secrets that you can’t find in google and will drive you to the best options.
Generally speaking, a wedding planner is your best bet. It can be someone from the local, or even from your home town. Just make sure they have experience planning weddings in your chosen destination and plan to cover their transportation and accommodation costs. Another good tip for hiring a planner (or any other vendor) is to read reviews online or even reaching to former clients to ask about the experience they had before making your decision.
No matter what help you choose, it’s also important to get to know your vendors well. Specially those you’ll spend most of the time with. While online portfolios are a huge help, they are not everything. Don’t forget that each person will be responsible for making your dreams come true. So it’s a good idea to meet with them on a video chat or, if it’s possible, in person during your planning trip.
Finally, don’t forget to ask early about limitations of vendors in your wedding venue. Sometimes there is just one possible florist, one wedding coordinator, a couple of caterers, and so on. If you are picky and want to be free to choose, it’s very important to make sure this is possible in the place you want to get married.
6. Remember that photos will last forever
When the big day finally arrive, your destination wedding photographer will be responsible for registering everything. The result of days and months of planning will be right in front of you, and like all good things, it will be gone in a blink of an eye. You might not see the decoration details, or remember how amazing the place looked. It will be hard to see all the reactions of your guests, and observe kids doing kids stuff. Probably you won’t even remember all the details of the expression on your beloved face when you saw each other for the face time. The squeezing hands, the dancing underneath the stars. The joy of your closest friends and family. And after all the work to plan a destination wedding, you definitely want as many fabulous memories as you can get. Not only for you to remember and live all the feelings again, but also to share with people that couldn’t be there.
Do you want to make this day last forever? Or do you want to regret to not having invested in to have the best pictures you could afford? When planning a destination wedding, you should make photography a high priority. I’ve seen people regret deeply of not doing that and, trust me, you don’t want to be one of them. And I don’t want you either. So send me a message and let’s talk about how I can make photos that will make your wedding last forever :)
7. Research the legal side
Getting a marriage license in a different country can be complicated, so it’s important to research the legal side before saying ‘I do’. You should find out what is required to obtain a marriage license, such as passport, birth certificate, witness, etc. Some countries have a “residency requirement” which means you must reside in the country for some days before your ceremony. England, for instance, requires 7 days, while France asks you to arrive at least 40 days before you marry. In the case you don’t want to stay that long (or just can’t) you can always opt for having your civil wedding in your home country and then have a symbolic ceremony for family and friends during your destination wedding.
8. Do not forget other important details
The date and the weather are big influencers as you know by now. Another important detail about it them, is that they will also affect the hairstyle and attire. If your big day will happen in a place very windy like a beach or the top of a mountain, a loose hairstyle might not be the best idea. If the forecast is warm and humid weather, your clothes fabric should be appropriate for you and for your guests. Breathable fabrics like chiffon and lightweight lace are great options for dresses in an outdoor sunny day, for example. If you are exchanging your vows on the sand it’s considerate to give guests a heads-up on appropriate footwear.
Another detail that makes all the difference is preparing welcome bags. Upon arrival, it’s a nice idea to deliver them to the guests, filled with elements that might be helpful or that are typical from the area: from sunscreen and bug spray to sweets or drink from the region, your guests will be very happy to see that you took the time to think about them.
One thing that I learned from experience, is that you shouldn’t get crazy about DIY. Although it seems like a great idea to have so many unique things that truly show how you are and are very personal, it might be a lot of work, specially when planning a wedding from distance. So keep in mind that you cannot do everything of the world, and free yourself from feeling too stressed or tired in the days before the wedding.
The last thing. Accept certain inalienable truths: somethings will go different than planned, even so yit will be an awesome day and the weather is not always predictable. So make sure to have a backup plan for raining. Just in case :)