Planning any wedding is a big task. Planning a destination wedding, especially if you’ve never visited said destination, can be overwhelming. So here are my top 10 tips for a successful destination wedding!
1. Research. Research. Research.
This one is probably obvious, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Seriously, you can’t do enough research. There are so many things to think about beyond date and location. What will the weather be like that time of year? Is it peak season? What’s the average price of round-trip flights? Do you need transportation upon arrival? Is it easy to navigate the location? Is it safe to explore for you and your guests? Are there several lodging options in varying price ranges? Is the type of ceremony you want allowed? What’s going on socially and politically in that part of the world? What are the requirements to get married in that country? Will it be recognized in your home country? Will there be a language barrier to overcome? So many questions!
2. Visit beforehand.
Given the time constraints this one wasn’t feasible for us. And while I was satisfied overall, there are just some things that you cannot do over the phone or with the Internet. I would have loved to see all of the possible ceremony locations, as well as scout locations for our photos. (They were beautiful, but pretty basic.) We also didn’t get to do a menu tasting. And man, tasting cake was one of the biggest things I was looking forward to in the planning process!
3. Hire a local wedding planner for the actual wedding day.
So my wedding planner gave me the biggest scare when she went MIA the week before my wedding! However, there is absolutely NO way it would have all come together seamlessly without her. It is so important to have someone on the ground that can follow up with all the vendors in person and over the phone. It is also likely that this person is wayyyy more knowledgeable than you could ever be about the location, hidden treasures, traffic, local musicians, etc. Our wedding planner took so much stress off of me. She orchestrated that day like a maestro!
4. Do as much as you can at home.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a control freak. I like having as much detail as possible and I need to see things with my own eyes. This meant that everything transportable, from favors to small decorations, was coming with me from the States. Aside from the control part, it was cost effective and allowed me to check the quality. I had a greater selection, could source several vendors and make sure everything was as I wanted weeks before the wedding.
5. Get legally married in your home country.
We learned early on in the process that some countries have strict (and slightly unreasonable) requirements to get married. Some places require you to reside there for a few weeks while others require blood samples! And depending on where you get married, your union might not be legally recognized in your home country. We didn’t want to take any risks, so we were officially married at the courthouse by a judge a few weeks prior to our actual ceremony.
Side note: I don’t know if all courthouse weddings are created equal, but ours was intimate and very moving. Our judge really performed the ceremony like someone we paid to come to a big ol’ fancy wedding.
6. Enlist a wedding guest to assist with hair and makeup.
Having to figure out hair and makeup was one of my biggest deterrents to having a destination wedding. I’m just not THAT girl. I mean I can get by day-to-day without looking like a complete hot mess, but I am nowhere near skilled enough to do a camera-ready job for such an important day. I enlisted my BFF for the hair. We sent each other several pictures, she practiced on her local friends and we had a mini walk-through the night before the ceremony. I used the money I would have spent on a make-up artist toward a personal one-on-one lesson with a professional a couple weeks prior to the event. I left with all the necessary make-up and a step-by-step guide (complete with a drawing) of how to recreate the look we practiced. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job and I didn’t spend the day fussing, worried or annoyed with strangers.
7. Meet with everyone local the day you touch down.
THIS ONE IS SUPER IMPORTANT! You need to put faces to names ASAP. It will provide you comfort. You also need to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s amazing how many little things get lost in translation or just aren’t communicated via text! If anything is wrong, the sooner you all meet, the more time there will be to come up with a solution. There are always last minute changes to any event, so it’s important that everyone is one the same page. This is when all the details will become finalized. This also gave my photographer and wedding planner an opportunity to meet. I didn’t realize during the planning stages that this would be important, but it makes so much sense. For example, your wedding planner may be staging things to flow for your guests, while your photographer is thinking about the staging for pictures.
8. Get married early into your stay.
We left our house on Sunday, arrived in Aruba on Monday and then got married on Tuesday. It can be hard to truly enjoy everything around you when you have such a huge moment on the horizon. I didn’t want to waste our time in such a beautiful place with anxiety about our ceremony. Just get it out of the way! Trust me.
9. Make it your honeymoon as well.
Piggybacking off of #8…the sooner you get married, the more time you have for leisure. This is the best part of having a destination wedding! You get to wake up the day after realizing you’re already in paradise! There are no additional flights. There are no additional accommodations. Plus, there’s no waiting! And if you’re worried about not being “free” from your family and friends, just stay at a different resort. It works like a charm!
10. Don’t feel guilty!
When you choose a destination wedding, there will likely be some untraditional aspects. You may have to give up some things, you may deal with people who don’t get it, you may have to fight the “well what about your family” fight and you may disappoint a few people along the way. But remember, it’s YOUR big day. Your wedding gets to be whatever you want it to be. The people who are supposed to be there will be there. And you can always have a million showers and receptions before or after your big day!
We chose a destination wedding because it just felt right to us. It was the perfect display of what we enjoy as a couple. And, that’s what a wedding should represent: YOU! Your wedding guests will remember about 20% of your big day while you’ll remember nearly every detail. So be in the moment, enjoy the process and make your planning life easy! Best wishes!