Thinking of planning a destination wedding?
Whether you’re a guest of a wedding or planning your own, you want the experience to be unforgettable for all the right reasons. A destination wedding can be the ultimate wedding party that you and your guests will never forget. We get right to the heart of what you need to know about planning a destination wedding to help you decide if it’s the right dream for you.
What is it that makes a wedding memorable? Is it the venue? The great food or hilarious but heart-felt speeches? How much fun you had on the dance floor? Of course, these things all contribute, but once you’ve attended a number of weddings it’s easy to identify the special ones.
They’re not your average cookie cutter wedding that made you feel like you were going through the motions. They’re the ones that stood out because they did things a little differently, felt intimate, and perfectly reflected the personality of the couple getting married, leaving the guests saying in agreeance that it “was so them”. A destination wedding can be the idyllic way to achieve this response because the experience will always be one of a kind.
Planning a destination wedding does take a bit of extra legwork, but the uniqueness of the experience is well worth it. If the idea of having your wedding somewhere further afield delights you and your partner, there are a few things you should know before you start the planning process.
1. Choose a meaningful location
Choosing your location is possibly the biggest decision you will have to make and will be the foundation which all subsequent planning is laid. Thinking of a destination wedding? We don’t blame you. There’s a lot of attraction to the idea for good reason. Firstly, the notion of whisking yourselves away to say your ‘I-do’s’ in a quaint setting with your loved ones, sounds like a pretty romantic adventure. It would certainly set the tone for your fun-filled future together.
A destination wedding is also your chance to invite all your favourite people somewhere they may have never been before. No one is rushing to get there from work or calling it a night early because of commitments the following day. It’s the perfect way to bring your family and friends together for a weekend. It also gives you an excuse to extend the celebrations to make it a weekend you’ll truly remember. With everyone in the same place at the same time, the opportunity to host a low-key welcome event the night before the wedding or a recovery brunch the day after (or both), is definitely tempting. It would be a shame not to make the most of your destination of choice.
2. Prepare yourself
Destination wedding’s take time to plan and you want to alleviate additional pressure of trying to rush it. Whether it’s a casual or elaborate wedding, expect it will take 12-18 months to plan. Lining up your preferred suppliers to be available on the day you want them in the location you need them is the main undertaking. Good suppliers book up well in advance, so expecting to wait a while will help you to avoid the shock when it becomes reality. While you’re waiting for those big things, the little things take time too, so unless you want your wedding planning to consume your life it’s best to give yourself the benefit of having plenty of time up your sleeve.
3. Set a budget
We all know weddings aren’t cheap, but they can easily blow out of control. Agreeing on a budget early on will help to keep you on track. It is possible for a destination wedding to be a cheaper option (depending on the location) as local suppliers in regional areas are often more reasonably priced than in city locations, and your guest list may be shorter too.
Once you’ve set your budget, make sure you review it and allow about 5% wiggle room. Unexpected expenses have a way of popping up, whether it’s forecasted rain which calls for a marquee, or your accommodation is cancelled at the last minute for some unknown reason. Hopefully you never need it, but there’s no way you can expect the unexpected.
4. Start a checklist
The more organised you are, the less likely it will be that you’ll miss out on something that means a lot to you. Be smart about what you prioritise. A venue is obviously the most critical factor as it will determine your location and date. From there, organise your suppliers; a caterer, entertainment, photographer, florist – these are the big ones. Once they are lined up, you can chip away at the rest. Planner apps like ‘Easy Weddings’ and ‘Wedding Happy’ are user friendly and free, making it easy to keep on top of your to-do lists while staying within budget.
5. Divide and conquer
The mountain of planning you have to do may feel a little overwhelming. Sit down together and look over the checklist. You will probably be surprised to find your partner doesn’t care about some of the things you thought they would but does care a great deal about other things you never dreamed they would. Having an open conversation about all elements of the wedding up front will help to highlight exactly how you can split up the workload. Set realistic timelines together to stay on track.
6. Give your guests plenty of notice
Give everyone plenty of notice so they have time to get a good deal on accommodation, make travel arrangements and can take time off from work if necessary, too. Sending out a ‘save-the-date’ early on is a great way to do this before you finalise wedding invitations.
7. Expect that not everyone you invite will be able to make it
Choosing to throw you wedding further afield is likely to cull your guest list for you. Many will find that writing the guest list is a surprisingly hard task and often adds up out of feelings of obligation. The reality of planning a destination wedding is that not everyone will be able to make it due to the additional time and cost it usually involves travelling there and to stay locally. It’s important to remember though that if the location is meaningful to you and your partner, those that want to be included in your special day will come, and those that may be on the fence will not, which is not always such a bad thing. Your tribe will be full of people that genuinely want to be there to see you getting married.
8. Pick your timing
Remember to consider the local weather when picking your date. If you’re a city dweller, you might be used to manageable temperatures in winter and summer, but the changing seasons can present very differently in regional areas. If temperatures are likely to reach close to 40 degrees in the hotter times of year, it might not be the best decision to plan a long lunch outside for your wedding reception. Winter weddings can be absolutely stunning, but if temperatures are likely to dip to near freezing, you’ll need to ensure your chosen venue is equipped to handle it.
The specific weekend you choose is also something to consider. Long weekends are a great opportunity for guests to travel to enjoy an extra day without taking time off work, but keep in mind that your chosen destination may be a popular spot for the masses enjoying their long weekend travel plans too. This also applies to tourist season, as the extra demand could increase prices for accommodation. Choosing the off-season can make the booking experience easier for everyone, but if you really want to choose a date when the area will be in full swing, just be sure to give your guests ample notice so they can secure a good deal.
9. Make sure there is enough accommodation
It’s all well and good to plan your wedding in a beautiful faraway destination, but if there isn’t accommodation available for your guests it probably isn’t the best idea. Scout the local area ahead of time to make sure there will be plenty of available options for accommodation close by. Be mindful of pricing too. Recommending a few options at different price points to your guests will increase the chance they will be able find something to suit their budget.
If there seems to be a shortage of accommodation options in the area or if your desired weekend happens to fall around a public holiday, it could be a good idea to reserve accommodation yourself on behalf of your guests so you can guarantee it won’t be an issue. Just don’t send out wedding invitations until you’re sure there’s availability for everyone.
10. Hire a wedding planner
Make sure you have a local wedding planner or event manager on the ground. The value of having a local ally to be your presence when you can’t be there is immeasurable. They are also likely to have established relationships with local vendors and be full of great advice if you’re deciding between options. When it comes to the big day, having an event manager to coordinate logistics, receive deliveries, set up the venue and oversee your dream wedding come together will be crucial to whether you have a calm morning or a stressful one. It’s easy to underestimate setting up a reception hall and the time it can take, so if you can, leave it to them while you focus on yourself. Most good wedding venue’s will provide a dedicated wedding planner or event manager as part of your wedding package for you, so don’ be afraid to ask.
11. Visit in advance
Take a trip to visit ahead of time to see your wedding venue and meet your selected wedding vendors if they are local to the area. It will help you to feel more comfortable in preparation for your big day. If you know the region well, have sampled the catering and scouted the accommodation, you’ll feel way less nervous when your wedding day approaches. It’s also a pretty good excuse to travel with your partner for an extra weekend or two before you get married.
12. Consider transportation
Depending on where most of your guests will be staying it may be necessary to organise a shuttle bus to transport your guests to the ceremony site. While taxis and Ubers might be available in the area, they may not be readily available in the numbers you need. Organising a shuttle service to collect guests from their various places of accommodation, or from one or two central stops will make the experience easier for your guests and give you peace of mind they’ll arrive on time.
13. Make your guests feel welcome
Don’t forget that your guests are traveling for you so be sure to arm them with all the information they’ll need, such as where to stay, how they will be able to get to the venue, and what they can do in the days before or after your wedding. A wedding website like Apply Couple or Paperless Post make updating your guests easy with useful information and announcements. It’s also a good idea to guide them on the appropriate attire to suit the local climate and dress code for your wedding – a ball gown for a rustic country wedding may be a little over the top. If you want to take it up a notch, welcome bags or a small thank you gift with locally made items is a nice touch to show your guests you value the effort they’ve made to come to your destination wedding.
14. Get inspired by your surrounds
Use the local destination for inspiration when it comes to styling on your wedding day. Incorporate local materials into your décor and take inspiration from the natural landscape when choosing colours for florals. Locally sourced branches, flowers, leaves and natural decorative elements are a great way to make the most of the locale. You probably wouldn’t find tropical flowers in a wine region, just as you wouldn’t find a champagne tower at a beach wedding. Stay true to your surroundings and make the most of them.
15. Get it in writing and read the fine print.
When dealing with suppliers, make sure you receive written contracts which clearly outline what you expect to receive. Read the fine print and be aware of cancellation policies and any associated fees. The possibility that you may need to change your date does exist whether you like it or not, particularly since COVID. Smart planning is good planning, and if for some reason you do need to change the date you don’t want the added stress and pressure of losing money.
16. Enjoy it!
This kind of planning is fun. If you’ve scheduled time to find the perfect bonbonniere for your guests but aren’t feeling inspired, step away and come back to it when you are. You don’t want your wedding to feel like a chore – it’s the party of your life after all.