8 Tips to Help You Master Planning Your Destination Wedding
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
If you have found yourself daydreaming about saying ‘I Do’ in a far off locale set against a gorgeous backdrop, clearly a destination wedding is for you! Far away locations make for a romantic and one-of-a-kind wedding, but that’s hardly the best part of planning a destination wedding — how about planning your dream wedding, and inviting the people you love most to join you on your greatest adventure, yet?!
But of course, planning any wedding comes with its own logistical problems to factor in, and all that goes into coordinating a destination wedding. Read on for some insider tips as to how to handle two of the most important factors of any great wedding: managing logistics and guest experience.
1. Plan for the Shoulder
If you’ve decided on a destination wedding in hopes of having a more cost-friendly wedding, you may want to consider having your wedding during the Shoulder Season as opposed to High Season. Shoulder Season typically ranges from May or October but may change depending on your location.
Be sure to compare pricing during both High and Shoulder Seasons as the price differences can be quite varied which could potentially save you a ton of money from venue/resort buyouts to the cost of flights.
If you’re worried about potentially undesirable weather during the Shoulder Season, be prepared with a Plan B and look for venues that offer a covered area that could work as a backup to avoid any snafus. Another major bonus of Shoulder Season: your destination will surely be less crowded than in High Season which can help add authentic local vibes.
2. Embrace the Setting
When thinking of decor, consider highlighting your chosen destination and embracing all facets of the local culture! Find unique ways to incorporate all that the location has to offer in nontraditional ways that will leave your guests with a better sense of the country, as well as your connection to it.
If you’re in Spain, serve authentic tapas, endless sangria, and be inspired by the vibrant colors of the city. If you’re in the Bahamas, dance the night away to a live band playing Soca and Calypso. Taking design hints from your destination doesn’t have to be limited to food and music; you can base your color palette from unique flowers native to your destination, source decor from spots where the locals’ shop, or by simply incorporating local blooms or artisan crafts.
The options are endless but most importantly, don’t try to make your destination feel like somewhere it isn’t — you’ve chosen it for its beauty and personal significance to you, lean into it and both you and your guests will be thrilled with the authentic vibes and local taste.
PRO TIP: Keep in mind that no matter how beautiful your destination may be, your venue needs to be able to fulfill all your needs. You may have grown up dreaming of getting married at a particular Bed & Breakfast in Martha’s Vineyard but if they can’t accommodate your guests, you need to consider either cutting your guest list or looking for another venue with a similar vibe.
3. Visit in Advance
In a perfect world, you would tour your venue once before booking and again three to four months before your wedding to finalize the details. However, a second trip before the wedding may be out of the question for many couples. If this applies to you, we would recommend arriving at least five days early to do a hair and makeup trial and finalize last-minute details.
If you have the option to do two trips, make the most out of them and schedule meetings with venue-recommended (and highly researched) vendors such as florists, photographers, and rental companies during the same time that you’ll be in your destination touring the venue.
On your second visit, you can finalize table decor, food, and cake tastings, and have hair and makeup trials, etc. This way, when you arrive for your wedding you will only have to think about having fun and enjoying your guests instead of last-minute trials and meetings!
4. Dress = Destination
Although it may be tempting to purchase the first gorgeous dress you see, stop to consider how you will feel wearing it in your destination's climate. Remember that breathable fabrics work best in hot, humid conditions and that heavier fabrics will hold in more heat in colder conditions.
While we’re on the subject of dresses: NEVER, EVER, EVER check your dress! Always pack your wedding dress (or suit or jumpsuit), shoes, and rehearsal dinner outfit in your carry on, even if it means that you have to fold it. You can simply arrange to have it pressed and steamed once you arrive and spare yourself the heartbreak of arriving before your attire. This goes for your fiancé and wedding party, too!
5. Have Feet on the Ground
If your heart is set on having a destination wedding, know that it will require you to operate with confidence and truly trust in your vendors and their vision. This can be scary for most couples but it helps to have reinforcements on the ground. Save yourself the unnecessary worry, headaches, and endless follow-up phone calls and find a planner who is a local to your destination (or who is well-versed in destination weddings and can make your process a dream).
Having someone on your side who is designated to handle all wedding-related matters, will help you avoid spending hours on phone calls trying to overcome a language barrier or wondering why you haven’t received a response only to realize your venue is closed for the week due to a cultural holiday.
Hiring a local or remote wedding planner ensures you have an expert working on your behalf to bring your vision to life. While it does simplify the process, we realize that not all couples can afford to hire a planner — if this is your situation, we highly recommend looking for venues and resorts that offer strong on-site coordinators with reviews mentioning expert level responsiveness.
PRO TIP: If you do decide to hire a wedding planner who isn’t a local to your destination, be prepared to pay for their flights and accommodation, for their prep visits, as well as your actual wedding celebration. This is the rule of thumb for all vendors who are not from your chosen destination. Negotiate these expenses upfront so that you can properly manage your expectations, as well as your budget.
6. The More Time, The Better
Regardless of how far you’re asking guests to travel, they will appreciate knowing as far in advance as possible. Once you’ve booked your venue, send out your “Save the dates” (or invitations, depending on your budget allowances). Informing your guests of the date and destination ahead of time will allow them more than enough time to renew their passports, request off from work, and secure accommodations and airfare.
Keep in mind that as with any large gathering that requires air travel, delays are bound to happen for at least some of your guests. Because of this, don’t plan your wedding the day after everyone arrives. Leave a buffer day between arrivals and your wedding to give everyone time to unwind and allow for any last-minute travel changes.
7. Prioritize Guest Travel
Following up on the above note, don’t forget to prioritize your guests’ travel experience. It is absolutely crucial to check flight patterns from the cities where most of your guests will be traveling from to have an idea of the cost and frequency of flights. If your destination is a remote island, it can very well require multiple flights and layovers for your guests, as well as an ever-increasing carbon footprint.
For instance, if your nuptials are set to take place in Hawaii, it will surely be more expensive for guests on the east coast to book a flight than for guests on the west coast combined with having more limited options for airlines and flights which can often raise prices.
Consider hiring a dedicated travel agent to assist guests to coordinate their flights and accommodations. It’s a simple act, yet it has a personal touch that shows your guests that you appreciate the effort they are making to celebrate with you and that you want to assist in making their journey as easy as possible.
8. Use Your Time Wisely
As destination weddings usually require a minimum of 3-day stay, take advantage of your guests’ time, and find ways to engage with them while they are gathered for your festivities. It’s the perfect opportunity to bond with family and friends while exploring somewhere new and diving into the culture.
And most importantly, it allows your most cherished people to have more than a fleeting exchange with you on your big day. If you are exchanging vows on a white-sand beach in Mexico, throw a welcome fiesta bonfire with tacos and margaritas. Saying ‘I Do’ on a rugged mountain top? Consider leading a cost-free yoga session or group hike if you are familiar with the terrain. Scheduling thoughtful activities will ensure that no one feels left out of the celebration and that everyone leaves with fun memories.
PRO TIP: While you are not required to host every single meal or plan every single activity for your guests, taking the time to provide information about local activities and restaurant recommendations (at varying price ranges) is a nice touch that will surely be appreciated. You may also want to consider hosting a welcome party and/or morning-after brunch as a thank you to your guests for traveling out of their way to celebrate with you if your budget allows.
9. What, Where, When
Being in a new country can be overwhelming for some people, make their adjustment easier by greeting them with a smile and an itinerary! Remember that you can’t over-communicate something as detailed as a destination wedding itinerary, so be sure to communicate instructions to your guests as thoroughly as you can.
Send save the dates (if your budget allows), send invitations out as early as possible (especially if you aren’t doing save the dates), speak to your travel agent about setting up a website where your guests can book their flights and accommodations and set up a wedding website where they can find answers to any questions they may have.
Have a welcome bag waiting in their room upon their arrival with things they may need during their stay such as sunscreen, bug spray, a local guide of things to do, transportation details, as well as a note reminding them of the itinerary again: where to be, what time it begins and what to wear.