Destination weddings may seem like a dream to some and a nightmare to others. There’s nothing to fear when planning a wedding in your paradise location. As long as you can handle not having complete control of the entire wedding, a destination wedding may be right for you! Whether it’s on the beach, in the mountains, or at another amazingly unique spot, the possibilities are endless. It may seem overwhelming at first, but we promise it is worth having the fairytale destination wedding! For all types of personalities and budgets, you can make your day truly special. Keep reading for tips on how to plan the perfect destination wedding!
♥ DO Decide Out What Type of Scenery You Want
Deciding what type of scenery you’re looking for is important because it will help narrow down your list of locations. Do you want to get married on the beach? In the mountains? In a romantic city? These are all things to discuss before any other planning can truly begin. We knew before our engagement that we wanted a beach wedding. Even so, it took awhile to narrow down which country and what beach we preferred. There were many incredible options to choose from. This was the most difficult part of our wedding planning.
♥ DO Take Time Choosing the Right Location
Next, you must choose a location based on the setting you want. For us, the beach was the winner, but made for a broad destination search. We researched many Caribbean islands, Costa Rica, and even our home state, Florida. To our surprise, our dream beach wedding was within our budget outside the country, where as Florida was quite pricey. This solidified our decision to have a international destination wedding. We wanted the bluest of waters and soft, sandy white beaches. After much research, we decided to go with Beaches Turks & Caicos. The all-inclusive option made the most sense for us and our guests. We didn’t want our family and friends to worry about spending a dime once they arrived on the island. Everyone ate what they want, drank what they want, and had a blast with the free excursions offered. It was a no-brainer for us.
♥ DO Figure Out a Budget Immediately
After choosing the country/location you want to host your wedding, you will need to come up with a budget. Venues vary significantly and your budget will help you decide which places are realistic and those that are not. Check out hotel and venue websites first. If they don’t have prices, you will have to contact their wedding department. This is usually a simple email where they will send a pdf with all types of information. You can also call, but typically they will want to email you their standard brochure first. This was very helpful because we could compare multiple venues easily.
♥ DO Talk to Multiple Venues
After you figure out a budget and compare venues, you will have to decide what things are most important to you. Is it ceremony location? Cost of guest accommodation? Decor/flowers? All these options must be considered when comparing venues of similar budget. Some may have similar booking expenses, but more expensive additional costs. It is best to make an excel sheet where you can easily compare individual costs. Our biggest concern was the cost for the guests, the ceremony location, and perks for us hosting the wedding. You should decide what is most important to you first.
♥ DO Decide Make Invite List ASAP
This is probably an obvious suggestion, but the guest list is different for destination weddings. Depending on the location distance, guests may be more or less likely to travel for your wedding. This is a huge factor for you because you may be able to invite more guests based on your budget. You know your family and friends the best, so make a list of definite’s versus unlikely guests to come. This may allow more flexibility with your list if you’re on a tight budget. The further the travel, typically the less people will come. However, do not rely on assumption if you’re on a strict budget. We invited 140 and 75 people showed up! We were shocked. The distance is an excuse for not inviting people you feel bad about, but don’t really want there 😋 You can also make it a close family and friends only event. You could even elope on an island alone! The possibilities are endless.
♥ DO Find Out Venue Wedding Specials/Incentives
Many venues/resorts offer incentives for the newlyweds based on the group size and number of nights booked. For example, Beaches Turks & Caicos offered us multiple freebies for having a large group of wedding guests staying at the resort. They hosted a rehearsal/welcome dinner for everyone, a goodbye brunch, and much more! It is usually based on the number of guests rooms booked with a minimum stay. Be sure to ask the wedding planners about any inclusions offered. This really helped out our budget and made the day before/after wedding events possible! We got a “free” welcome dinner and brunch. A free couples massage or group activity is always an added bonus as well.
♥ DO Decide What is Worth Most of Your Budget
This is pretty straightforward. Deciding whether you want to spend more money on photography/videography or floral arrangements is important. You must prioritize, because if you have an average budget, you will realize quickly that you can’t have it all. Decide what’s most important to you both and go from there. Be aware that international destinations may have higher costs for items that must be imported. We got married on an island with very little naturally-grown flowers, so our arrangements cost us almost four times the amount it would have in the US. This is because they had to be imported from our countries. This meant for us simple floral centerpieces. We decided to spend most of our floral budget on the ceremony arbor. Just some things to keep in mind.
♥ DO Choose an Affordable Accommodation for ALL Guests
You want your guests to attend, right? Make the hotel accommodations affordable! People don’t mind spending money traveling for a loved one’s wedding day. Especially when it’s a vacation for them too! Just remember, the higher the price tag, the less people will show. Our resort was all-inclusive, so even though it wasn’t cheap, our guests didn’t have to pay a dime once they arrived. We felt it was a reasonable cost for a nice vacation. It filtered out a lot of guests and made us appreciate those who made the time and effort to be there for our special day. Even though some guests couldn’t go or afford it, we were still grateful for the large number that made it happen. Don’t be offended if family or friends can’t afford it. You have to accept this is what comes with having a destination wedding. Not everyone will come and that’s ok, because you’re celebrating the way you two want! We would recommend making sure the budget is appropriate for those closest to you though. At least make it reasonable.
♥ DO Hire a Travel Agent
Okay, we’re not huge travel agent people as we enjoy planning our own vacations, but we are SO relieved that we used one. The agent will help your guests book all of their flights and accommodations. They will communicate with the hotel/resort and you do not have to do a thing. All we had to to do was send her all of our guests email addresses and she contacted them with details. It was extremely helpful not having to deal with questions from our guests. Everyone dealt with plans straight through her. It made for a stress-free few months prior to the wedding. Just make sure your guests book through the agent directly, otherwise you will not getting credit for the room booking (aka you could lose incentives). We used Jean Gualtieri from Active Travels. She was absolutely incredible. Her communication was wonderful and she kept us on our toes! We were thankful that we used her, because I don’t know how we would have dealt with all of our guests booking questions.
♥ DO Create Vacation Hype for Your Guests
Whether it’s the stationary, the gifts, or wedding events, make the wedding vibe fun for your guests by making them feel as though they’re on vacation! We could NOT wait to send out our save the dates and invites! I’m pretty sure we had them picked out before we even chose an island. Hyping up your guests is one of the most fun parts of the planning. You get to offer a vacation to all of your family and friends. It’s an exciting event for everyone involved. We sent out luggage tag save the dates and boarding pass invitations. They were literally the cutest destination wedding invites ever! You can find these by LetterboxInk on Etsy. Your guests will be even more thrilled for your big day with these bad boys. Bon Voyage!
♥ DO Have a Welcome & Goodbye Party
Continue the excitement with wedding festivities like a welcome party and goodbye party. Your guests will feel appreciated with a welcome dinner on arrival. Also, a goodbye brunch is a nice idea for the guests’ last day. Your family and friends will be grateful to be apart of the events and will love the free meal after all the travel expenses! These events are a fun way to get everyone excited for your big day. It also allows people to mingle and meet others for the first time. We hosted a beach volleyball tournament the day before the wedding and it was a great turn out. It’s nice to get everyone together but be sure to give them some free time to explore on their own.
♥ DO Have Welcome Gifts
Continue the fun by having welcome gifts in the rooms when your guests arrive. This sweet gesture shows your appreciation for all of their effort traveling to celebrate you both. Not to mention, they probably spent a good chunk on the trip. Be sure to have useful gifts for their vacay time. We went with beach totes personalized with our names, wedding location, and date. We also threw in some koozies, sunscreen, aloe vera gel, and an itinerary for the weekend. The itinerary is key, so no one forgets what times to meet. Once you have these sent out, try to not change any details. We wanted to adjust our wedding time for sunset pictures, but we had already sent out our welcome bags. We were worried that guests would be late if we changed the time and ended up leaving things the way they were. Be 100% set on times before you arrive!
♥ DO Be Organized & Create Checklists
Just like planning a normal wedding, you want to maintain organization as much as possible. Especially since most planning will be via phone or email conversations. Keep track of plans with an electronic document or wedding planning book. Also, make sure your wedding events are planned and organized nicely for guests to keep track of. Make sure to provide a printed (and electronic) plan for everyone. Younger guests are usually more tech savvy, so a website will work nicely, while older guests are more traditional and will appreciate a printed off handout. We used Moment Design Studio on Etsy for our printouts and The Knot for our wedding website. Don’t mind my “fryday” typo.. Lol!
Another big thing is to make checklists for your coordinator, DJ, etc. You will be meeting these vendors right before your big day and you want to make sure they know exactly what you want. I forgot to bring my photography and videography list and was pretty upset about it. There were certain shots that I would have liked, but was so busy in the moment, that I didn’t think of telling them. These lists you can even give to a family member or friend to hand to the photographer, videographer, etc. We did remember a DJ music list. Have all your entrance/exit songs written down and provide any media that you want played. My father wrote an amazing first dance song and I had to provide the usb and email it to the DJ. Have all of these items/lists ready in advance.
♥ DO Designate Certain Guests to Jobs for Events
This is extremely important as your wedding coordinator may or may not be as involved in the setup as you’d like. Ours was great about running the show, but there were little details that I wanted to make sure would happen. Things like the guestbook setup, instructing the guests on how to use the camera and how to add them to the book was something I knew the coordinator wouldn’t do. Ask a close friend or family member to help you. This will also make them feel part of the wedding. If you have certain guests that you want to be involved, but are not included in the wedding party, this is the perfect job. Whether you ask them to be ushers, read a speech, or help with setting up extra details, they are important.
♥ DO Take Care of Your Bridesmaids (& groomsmen)
This is a MUST! These girls not only put a ton of time and money into all of your wedding events, but also traveled the distance AND paid for a vacation. They deserve it all. Do not hesitate to spend a lot of money on them. They will appreciate the gestures and gifts greatly. I personally thought it was a must to pay for my bridesmaid’s hair. You want everyone to look and feel their best on your wedding day. Paying for a stylist is a must. Make up is not as important, so give them the option to purchase or pay for them if you can. That is up to you, but I think everyone appreciated the free gorgeous hair style. Depending on your budget, makeup and/or gowns is an acceptable gift if you are feeling very generous. I splurged on gifts and hair. The matching robes and beach bags were a great day of gift. Everyone looked so cute in they’re robes and used their beach bags and towels during the trip! I also made sure to make thoughtful bridesmaid boxes when I asked them to be a part of my big day. These included bachelorette party shirts, sunglasses, personalized cups, and more. Your girls will appreciate all of the gifts in return for the dedication and amazing support. Don’t forget about the boys! Gregg got his groomsmen bow ties, matching pocket squares, and shoes. These small efforts are important.
♥ DON’T Hesitate to Ask Obvious Questions
This may seem obvious, but there were questions that we assumed the answer to and were very wrong. When you have a destination wedding, you will not be around to perfect every little detail. We didn’t even see our venue in person until a couple days before the wedding! Over the phone and email conversations are probably all most people traveling far will get. Make the most of this short comminucation time. We wrote down questions as we were planning, so we wouldn’t forget come our next phone call. We did a pretty good job about being thorough, except for one of the most important questions. We had planned a sunset (“twilight”) wedding and were not planning on doing a first look. We worried about the photoshoot following the ceremony since it would be after sunset. After much discussion, we assumed that the resort knew what they were doing and that we were not the first sunset wedding they’ve had. Not until we met with the coordinator on premise did we realize that our post-ceremony photos would be in the dark. They said most couples had their photoshoot prior to the wedding. This was shocking. We discussed changing to an earlier time, but were stressed about our guests being late or missing the ceremony. We kept the time the same, but due to a setup delay, not only our photoshoot, but the entire ceremony was in the dark. We were extremely frustrated because we chose this location for the perfect beach wedding and you could barely see the water in the background of our photos. Truly disappointing. The resort refunded us for our loss of the twilight hour and allowed us to do a photoshoot before we left for our honeymoon. We were grateful for this, but it wasn’t the same. It was still a beautiful and amazing day, but that was a huge mistake on their part. In retrospect, we should have asked questions about the timing way in advance. I hope no one else makes this mistake. Ask questions!!
♥ DON’T Worry About Being Overbearing
Following up with the previous tip, this is important for the same reasons. You might not know the area that you are getting married. You may not even see it until you arrive for your big day. Never worry about being overbearing or asking too many questions. The wedding planners are used to this and understand the stress of planning a wedding from afar. Make sure you know all the details, ask for pictures, and ask plenty of questions.
♥ DON’T Forget to Send Extra Thoughtful Thank You’s
Take the time to write out sweet, thoughtful thank you notes. Some guests may not even give you a gift, but the fact that they traveled for your wedding is something to be grateful for in itself. They may have spent more money than they would have liked to be a part of your big day and you shouldn’t expect a ton of gifts. Everyone who attended deserves a lifetime of friendship! These individuals have showed you how much they love and care about you both. Always remember this. The people who made the effort to make the trip are worth your time and appreciation for the rest of your days!
♥ DON’T Leave Without Getting Spectacular Photos
As we stated earlier, our ceremony and photos were a little bit of a bummer. Thankfully, Beaches let us redo the entire photoshoot. They even let our family come for a couple shots. We were SO glad because now we have the most amazing beach wedding photos that we will be able to show our future children someday. We’ll always remember how incredible that day was. If you’re not happy with your photos (you will most likely review them before you leave), ask about redoing the shoot. It never hurts to try. You will cherish these photos for the rest of your life. Make sure they’re awesome!
If it’s in your budget, having videography on your wedding day is worth EVERY dollar. I know it’s pricey, but you will have this memory for the rest of your life. It is also an amazing way to share your special day with those who could not make it to your wedding. This is especially true for destination weddings. You can truly get a glimpse of all of the emotions felt that day. We highly recommend a videography package if you can make it happen!
♥ DON’T Forget to Pack Extra Decorations
We bought almost every decoration piece from Etsy for our wedding! It was the little things that were not provided by the resort or were cheaper for us to bring. Typically, you will bring your own cake topper, ring holders, etc. We brought a ton of extra items. It saved us a lot of money in the end and we were able to get things that we truly wanted. There will be less options when you purchase decorations from the planning team. We got confetti for the exit, table seating stationary, and much more online. Just remember to have one separate suitcase for all of your decor. In case airport security inspects your goods, you will be able to prove that it is all wedding items.
♥ DON’T Forget Honeymoon Outfits
This is another obvious one, but if you’re leaving straight for your honeymoon after the wedding, pack another separate suitcase for only honeymoon travel. Don’t forget your cute outfits and personalized Mrs. gear! We had five suitcases for our trip. Both of us had one for our wedding trip, one for the honeymoon, and then one for our decorations. We sent back our gown/suit, along with our other suitcases home with our parents. This way we didn’t have to leave anything behind or travel with it.
Your wedding is one of the most exciting moments in your life. Enjoy the planning process and remember that you can’t control everything, so don’t get hung up on mistakes. Just enjoy celebrating with family and friends in your beautiful destination and none of the hiccups will matter. Happy wedding planning!