How to Plan a Destination Wedding
If you’re thinking of planning a destination wedding, it’s a pretty smart idea—destination weddings combine your special day and honeymoon into one big celebration. But whether you’re jetting away with a small group or inviting all your family and friends to an extended vacation, there are a lot of details to take into account. So before you commit to having your dream wedding in an far-flung location, here are all the destination wedding ideas, tips, and tricks to consider.
Choose your location
What’s your dream destination: Your family’s country house? A Caribbean island? A Tuscan castle? Choosing your destination wedding location is the first step, and it’s good to keep in mind who’s on your guest list and how far they’ll have to travel. You’ll also want to research the season and weather—the predictability of a tropical climate is a big reason many brides and grooms choose to have a beach wedding.
Tip: Before you ask them to be in your wedding party, let your bridesmaids and groomsmen know that you’ve decided on a destination wedding—it may affect whether they’re able to commit.
Set your budget
From travel expenses to shipping specific items you can’t source there, a destination wedding can really add up. That’s why it’s important to set a budget early and stick to it. If you’re tying the knot abroad, make sure you take local currency into account. And factor in what you can do locally versus what you may need to import. For example, a remote island may have beautiful (and affordable!) flowers, but you may need to fly a hair stylist and makeup artist from home—and pay for their travel costs.
Tip: If it’s in your budget, check out your venue in person before you book it. You can even treat the trip as a mini getaway.
Choose a planner or a package
Planning a destination wedding from afar can come with a special set of challenges. So why not make things as easy for yourself as you can? If it’s in your budget, wedding planners are an amazing resource in terms of scouting wedding venues, hiring vendors, and handling all the small details so you can focus on enjoying the experience. As an alternative, many destination wedding locations offer special wedding packages that include everything from food and drink to décor—and sometimes even a photographer and videographer. Whatever route you take, make sure you do your research so that your big day is a big success.
Tip: If you’re getting married in a foreign country and don’t speak the language well, a locally based wedding planner can be indispensable in smoothing things over.
Make your guest list
One of the many benefits to a destination wedding is that you won’t feel obligated to invite acquaintances, distant family members, co-workers, your mom’s dog walker, and so on. Keep your wedding guest list on the small side—think close friends and family, knowing that they’ll have to pay for airfare, lodging, and some meals during the trip.
Tip: Ask yourself if you’d like to go on vacation with everyone on your list. (After all, that’s what you’re doing!) If the answer is no, don’t invite them.
Send your save the dates
Save the dates are absolutely necessary for destination weddings. You’ll want to send them as soon as you book your venue—ideally a year in advance—so that your friends and family can start budgeting and researching flights. Make sure you include the date and location to get everyone really excited.
Tip: Since it’s the first piece of communication your guests will see, your save the date is your chance to set the look and tone of your wedding.
Dress for the location
Depending on your point of view, shopping for a destination wedding dress may be the most fun or the most tedious part of the wedding planning process. To make things easier, keep the climate and environment in mind. If you’re having a beach wedding, for example, you’re be more comfortable in a lighter, simpler style versus a corseted number with a big tulle skirt, and the groom will be better off in a summery linen suit instead of wool. Also consider how you’ll be transporting your attire—unless you’re planning to buy your dress its own seat, stick to something packable.
Tip: Now is not the time to take chances—pack your dress in your carry-on and, if possible, ask the flight attendant to hang it up.
Book a hotel
Set up a room block at a hotel near the wedding location so that your guests can all be together. One of the most fun parts of being a wedding guest at a destination wedding is staying at the same hotel, so everyone can hang out together and be surrounded by friends and family of the bride and groom. After all, it’s more than a wedding—it’s a vacation too.
Tip: All-inclusive resorts are often a great option—without having to think about food or drink, your guests can focus on having a good time.
Create a wedding website
Wedding websites with all of the important information are especially essential for destination weddings, since all of your guests will be traveling from elsewhere and there are lots of logistics for them to sort through. You’ll need to include the local airport name, hotel information, transportation details, plus all that your guests need to know about the schedule of events. Think everything from rehearsal dinner to ceremony and day-after brunch, and be sure to include dates, times, locations, and whether or not transportation will be provided. Even if you’re planning to print out this information, it’s always a good idea to have it on the website too.
Tjp: To get your guests extra pumped for the event, be sure to include location photos and activity ideas.
Send your invitations
To allow your guests plenty of time to book their flight and hotel, destination wedding invitations should be sent 4–5 months in advance. They should be expecting them, since you’ve already sent your save the dates, but now things are getting official. And soon you’ll have a final headcount.
Tip: Don’t expect to cram all of the relevant information on your invitation—refer guests to your wedding website for details.
Make sure it’s legal
With all of the planning you’ve done by now, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your marriage will actually be legal and binding, but…it’s a good idea to research local laws to make sure that your officiant can actually marry you. For example, certain countries have residency requirements before you can be legally wed there. Keep in mind that if you are able to make it legal in a foreign country, your documents will have to be translated into English so that you can file them in the U.S.
Tip: Worst-case scenario, consider filing your marriage license at home, then treating your wedding ceremony as symbolic.
Welcome your guests
It’s finally happening! Once your guests have arrived, kick off the festivities with a welcome event so that everyone can connect. It can be an informal cocktail hour, a beach barbecue, or even a local food tour. Welcome bags are always a nice touch, too, and a way to incorporate local treats or items your guests may have forgotten, like sunscreen.
Tip: Assign a friend or family member as the point person for the trip, so that guests aren’t constantly bombarding you with questions or requests.
Now all that’s left to do is get married and celebrate! While there are definitely challenges to having a destination wedding, with careful planning and attention to detail, you and your guests will enjoy the trip of a lifetime. Congratulations!