What better (and more romantic) way to get hitched than jetting off to an exotic far-off locale with your friends and family for a celebration of a lifetime? Unfortunately, as dreamy as that sounds, there is still quite a lot of planning that goes into a destination wedding. From securing the right venue to finding local vendors to deliver your floral arrangements and wedding cake, there are a lot of things that can actually go wrong if you are unprepared. That’s why we asked four experts for their best tips on how to plan the perfect wedding away from home.
1. Choose your venue wisely.
“A big factor in deciding on your wedding venue is your guest list. If you want to maximize the people who can attend, be sure to be conscious of travel times and costs. Choose a location that doesn't cause your guests too much stress to get to,” says Sarah Glick of Brilliant Event Planning.
Of course, getting married in the Maldives would be amazing, but how many of your closest family and friends would be able to afford just the airfare to a remote tropical nation in the Indian Ocean? Instead, opt for a venue that’s closer to home and maybe jet off to the Maldives for your honeymoon.
2. Check on the legalities of actually having your wedding ceremony in another country.
“It's virtually impossible for Americans to get legally married in many countries, so often my clients have the legal ceremony in the U.S. before embarking on the trip,” explains planner Marcy Blum.
Marriage requirements vary from country to country, so there is no shame in signing on the dotted line in City Hall at home just to make sure, you know, you are actually married and your destination wedding will be legal. Reach out to the Tourism Board of the country you’d like to have your ceremony at or make a quick phone call at its embassy to ask for details.
3. Give your planner and guests enough time to prepare.
Unfortunately, organizing a destination wedding doesn’t just stop at booking airfare and accommodation. Just like any other wedding, it also takes a lot of time to plan, negotiate, and order everything for your big day, not to mention you need to give your guests at least half a year’s notice.
“Couples should allow 9 to 12 months. The longest part in planning is obtaining a room block with your travel agent and then getting guests to book,” suggests Tracy French of The French Connection Events and Travel.
And planner Diann Valentine says that transit times and customs in various countries can sometimes make or break a flawless production. So allow plenty of time for logistics as well.
4. Always purchase your dress and wedding bands at home.
“These are things that you will want to try on and will require multiple appointments — you don't want to hop on a plane every time you have a fitting,” says Glick. She also recommends you bring your own photographer. That way, you can do your engagement session at home and get to know him or her a bit before the big day.
For everything else, you can use local vendors as it will save you time and money. When possible, shop for your welcome bags when you arrive at the venue, instead of paying to ship items internationally. After all, part of having a destination wedding is being exposed to the local culture as much as possible and making it part of your celebration.
5. Plan for multiple visits to the location before your wedding.
And that means making sure your boss at work knows you may need to take some extra time off on top of your vacation. Depending on how big your wedding is, you will most probably need to visit the location at least twice after your initial trip.
“On the second visit logistics are nailed down — which spaces to use, vet entertainment and decor, choose menus and wines etc. The third visit is for tastings, decor samples, final production meetings etc.,” says Blum.
6. Be prepared to pick up some of your guests expenses.
Trust us, unexpected things (and expenses) always happen so it’s good to have some funds set aside to cover those. Unexpected customs charges, a last-minute resort fee for bringing in an outside vendor, or you may even need to pay for some of your guests to attend—just prepare for the unexpected. But also, consider covering some of your guests' expenses during their stay.
“Transportation should always be a consideration as it is a small gesture to thank your guests for the contribution to your celebration be it in time and financial investment,” she adds. Yes, some guests may treat the trip as a vacation but the truth is no one would likely be coming to this destination at this time unless it was to celebrate with you.
7. Make compromises.
“Couples should keep in mind that they are working in a different country and they have their own rules and ways of doing things. Accepting this and not being too demanding will go a long way. I have seen couples be unhappy simply because a resort will not bend a rule,” says French.
Most importantly, be respectful of the people and their culture because, in a way, they are hosting you in their country.
As Valentine puts it: Try not to bring so much of your American perspective to international destinations. Trust the process and enjoy the journey.