Visions of jetting off to a villa on the Amalfi coast or saying “I do” on a sultry beach in Mexico have more and more couples looking to exchange vows abroad. While destination weddings continue to become increasingly popular, there are a lot of factors couples should consider before making the ultimate decision. Planning a wedding, either by a professional wedding planner or by couples on their own, can be stressful enough but planning a destination wedding requires more savviness.
Language barriers, cultural differences and time zones are just a few of the nuances that can be tricky to navigate. There are also plenty of pros to having a destination wedding. The important thing is to understand what is involved before making the decision and then having the right team in place once you do.
Here are five topics to consider when planning a destination wedding.
Picking the Destination
Whether you choose to host a “toes in the sand” beachfront celebration or wine and dine your guests in a historic chateau, deciding on the destination can be a daunting task. Many couples will opt for a locale that has special meaning for them or some sort of sentimental tie. For those who aren’t quite sure, the biggest factor to consider is how big they want the wedding to be. Having a wedding in Tahiti, for example, is a surefire way to drastically cut down your guestlist (which can be a pro or a con.) While saying “I do” in an overwater villa might be on your bucket list, it’s not necessarily in everyone’s budget. Selecting a remote destination that is not logistically easy or affordable to get to will most likely rule out older people such as grandparents, friends on a budget or family members who can’t take much time off work. If it’s important to you to have these people around, selecting a destination like Mexico, for example, might be the way to go.
Another thing to take into consideration is your budget. A wedding in Mexico can cost a lot less than one in the U.S., whereas nuptials in Europe could end up being double the cost. Of course, this all depends on the destination, time of year and a few other factors. Selecting the date and time of year is something else you will want to think about and doing your homework is key. You have may want a summer wedding in Puerto Rico but knowing that summer is hurricane season may have you reconsider.
Pro Tip: If you have your heart set on Italy but don’t quite have a Lake Como budget, look to get married in the shoulder season or off-peak months. You stand a much better chance of scoring a great deal on a villa in Europe in September than you do mid-summer at the height of tourist season.
Save the Date
Once you’ve selected your venue and decided on the date, let your guests know as soon as possible. Send out Save the Dates and create a wedding website. Your wedding website should be as informative as possible and let your guests know everything from what hotel accommodations have been set up to what the itinerary for the weekend looks like to what they should plan to pack for the festivities. There is no shortage of wonderful wedding websites out there, many of them free. Zola started as a gift registry which allows your registry and website to be integrated into one with guests never having to leave the site. It’s easy to understand why longtime favorite, The Knot, is the most popular. It’s simple to set up, easy to customize and every template is mobile friendly.
Pro Tip: Invitations for a destination wedding should go out no later than four months before your wedding date to allow guests to make travel arrangements.
Planning & Logistics
This is a biggie. It goes without saying that planning a wedding away from your hometown is going to take some extra planning—a lot of it done from afar. This can be challenging on many levels, but if you are someone who likes to be very involved or in control of things, this might be tough. The key is hiring a seasoned planner with experience doing weddings in the destination you’ve selected. They will know the intricacies as far as legalities, be able to guide you through whatever religious paperwork is required and have existing relationships with trusted vendors on the ground. Once you’ve hired your planner, it is important to trust them to do the job you hired them to do. This is not to say you cannot be involved as much as you want to be, it means being able to let go when necessary.
It is also important to be flexible and keep a “go with the flow” attitude. Depending on the destination you select, distance may prevent you from being as “hands on” as you’d like to be.
Depending on your budget, a pre-planning trip is highly recommended so that you can meet with vendors and select items such as centerpieces, linens, décor, and menu items in person. If taking a trip isn’t in the cards for you, thankfully we live in a world where “zooming” has become a household name and you can have these meetings virtually.
Pro Tip: If you can only squeeze in a quick pre-planning trip and don’t have time to meet with every vendor, only schedule meetings with vendors that wouldn’t be as effective if done virtually. A meeting with the photographer, videographer, or DJ, for example, can all be done virtually. Maximize your time onsite by doing your hair & make-up trial, meet with the florist to see mockup centerpieces, conduct menu tastings with the chef, etc.
The Guest Experience
By having a destination wedding, you are asking your guests to spend money on airfare, hotel accommodations and take time off work. While your friends and family are happy to travel to be with you on your special day and won’t mind an “excuse” to take a vacation, it’s nice to make the trip extra special for them.
Making the travel logistics as easy for them as possible is a great place to start. Set up a block of guestrooms at a hotel at a discounted group rate. Not only does this help them financially, but it also encourages all your guests to stay at one property: enhancing the whole wedding weekend experience.
Many couples also set up and pay for the cost of ground transportation from the airport to and from the hotel. Often, the driver will hold up a welcome sign at the airport with the guest’s name. Not only does this personalize the guest experience from the moment they land, but it can also make landing in an unfamiliar destination a bit less intimidating for less seasoned travelers.
Another idea would be to have a hospitality desk set up at the hotel specifically for your guests. Think of this as their own personal concierge for the weekend. The desk is typically manned by the wedding planner’s team and guests can stop off here to pick up their welcome bags and check in throughout the weekend with any questions they might have.
Welcome bags are another opportunity to remind your guests how grateful you are that they are there. They can be as understated as a small gift bag with a few essentials such as bottled water, assorted snacks and sunscreen or be as elaborate as you’d like. More extravagant ideas might incorporate monogrammed canvas beach bags containing personalized gifts and local foods or other touches. The most important component of any welcome bag is the welcome letter with a note of appreciation from the couple along with an itinerary of the weekend events.
The beauty of having a destination wedding vs. a traditional wedding is that you are turning what would typically be a four-hour event, into a three-day experience. Guests have traveled a long way to celebrate and in return, couples will typically host several events throughout the weekend. It’s not uncommon to kick off the festivities with a welcome party that will not only set the tone for the weekend, but also allow your friends and family to get to know each other. Scheduled activities are also a great way to showcase the destination you have chosen. Think about what makes the destination cool or what the area is known for and incorporate it. Incorporate a tequila tasting into the rehearsal dinner at a wedding in Mexico.
Pro Tip: Personalized and unique touches throughout the weekend go a long way. Make your guests feel special and “wowed” at every turn. Be as creative as possible while injecting as much local culture as you can. Getting married in Italy? Swap out traditional place cards with mini bottles of Limoncello bearing escort-card tags.
Is a Destination Wedding Right for You?
The most important thing to take into consideration when deciding to have a destination wedding is what is going to work for each couple specifically. There is comfort in the conventional. As appealing as saying “I do” on an exotic island sounds, some couples may feel so overwhelmed by all the added details that a destination wedding entails that a traditional wedding may be more comforting. Traditional weddings have a “formula” if you will, while destination weddings really throw tradition out the proverbial window. Destination weddings are a good choice for more adventurous couples who are a bit less conventional and more laid-back with their wedding planning.
When deciding to have a destination wedding, couples need to go into it knowing that they will not be able to control everything or manage every change. Guests will miss planes, flights will get cancelled, luggage will get lost and tropical storms will derail the best laid plans. All of this before you even get to the wedding day. Deciding to have a destination wedding means agreeing ahead of time to try to enjoy the overall experience. Take in the vibe of the location and spend the weekend enjoying all the people that traveled to be there with you versus worrying about things you can’t control.
Pro Tip: Hire a professional wedding planner and leave the details to them. Swap out your wedding planning binder for a margarita the second you get to the resort and remember why you’re there. Definitely take out wedding insurance and remember to keep a sense of humor throughout.