bride and groom on beach looking at ocean

The Do’s and Don’ts of Destination Wedding Planning: Couples Edition

Amira Harris is the owner and destination wedding specialist of Aisle Travel™ based in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Aisle Travel™ provides Canadian couples with full group travel services, destination wedding planning, and customized wedding group experiences. In addition to running her own business, Amira is also one of QC’s leading tutors for the Destination Wedding Planning course.

Today, we will review the do’s and don’ts of destination wedding planning. This is for all the couples who are having, or even considering, a wedding away. Any type of wedding, regardless of where it is, has its challenges. Destination weddings are no different! But if you know what to expect early on, it won’t be so overwhelming and stressful later.

beautiful Wedding setting on the beach with sunny at Phuket Thailand

What to Do

The following can be seen as a check list of things you should do in order to be the most prepared for a successful, stress-free (or at least, stress-reduced) destination wedding. By staying on top of these things, you’ll be putting yourself in a good position!

1. Do your research:

It’s very easy to get swept away when looking at wedding magazines and joining online wedding groups. But you need to keep at least one foot grounded in reality! It’s essential to do your research on the destination you want to travel to. You need to know if you plan to wed on or off a resort, and understand the different options to you in that particular location or country. Some other questions to research are:

  • What are the marriage requirements?
  • Can we legally get married there?
  • What are the cultural norms?
  • Does this location have any traditions?
  • How long do I need to be in the country before getting married?

Remember: The local marriage requirements of that destination are a MUST to look into before picking a place and setting a date!

2. Location:

Even though your dream is to get married across the world in a rain-forest, is that actually realistic? Another major factor you have to consider is the travel time for yourselves and your guests. Is it a place they can travel to with ease? Are direct flights an option? Where are your attendees traveling from, and to?

The easier you make it for everyone, the better the turn out will be. Travel time, and making it affordable, has to be sorted out in the initial stages of your planning. Sometimes, we’re so excited about the location itself that we don’t put a lot of thought into the logistics – namely, how it may impact everyone.

Happy newlyweds walk from wedding altar on the sea shore

3. Discuss with your immediate family:

If your plan is to have a destination wedding, discuss this with your family and bridal party before booking anything. You want everyone on board with your plans before you set anything in stone. If the most important people in your lives can’t be there, this is something you want to know sooner rather than later. After all, it can very well be a determining factor in whether or not you want to proceed with the wedding at that location.

4. Set a wedding budget:

Most people assume that destination weddings are always super expensive. Wrong! Actually, destination weddings can be on the cheaper side, so long as your stick to packages and steer away from all the fancy upgrades. It’s easy to get carried away when you add more flowers, or upgrade your linens and chairs for the reception.

Set your budget early! Figure out an amount that you’re comfortable spending for your wedding and then remain firm on it. If you’re not sure whether your budget is realistic or not, it may be in your best interest to hire someone with certified wedding and event planning training. A professional wedding planner or destination wedding planner is, by their very nature, an expert in assisting with these sorts of things!

5. Save the dates:

Give your guests as much notice as possible by sending the Save-the-Dates and invitations as quickly as you can! This way, they can plan to attend and budget their finances accordingly. The more notice you provide guests, the better the chances are that they’ll come.

wedding decor - invitations and envelopes on table

6. Keeping family and guests in the loop:

While this step is by no means mandatory, when trying to organize a long-distance wedding, it’s a smart and extremely helpful way to keep everyone in the know about what’s going on. The best way to do this is through a wedding website. There you can list everything needed and update it when there’s new information.

List your wedding date, the time of the ceremony and reception, and the locations/addresses where everything will be held. If it’s in a different country, list things such as the local currency, things to do in the area, and cultural norms. It’s also a great idea to have your travel agent’s information listed, so that your guests can book with them as well for the big day. Lastly, you should also consider sharing any important due dates that your guests need to commit to, such as:

  • Deposit dates
  • Final payment dates
  • Meal preferences, etc.

As a professional destination wedding planner, I can’t stress enough the importance of having all the information in ONE place. It’ll help your guests, but most importantly, it’s help reduce your stress load. Time is precious when planning a wedding, so instead of having to worry about answering all sorts of questions, you can simple direct them to the place where all that info already is!

7. Hire professionals:

Booking reliable and reputable vendors is a must! When researching different services and suppliers, make sure you pay attention to the company’s reviews. Be as thorough as you can to ensure that, to the best of your knowledge, each business is reputable and trustworthy.

destination wedding ceremony arch with sea view and olives at sunset

Having a certified wedding planner on your side, that can help navigate and do much of the legwork for you, is also a MAJOR stress-reliever. They have the event planning training and experience to ensure your vision comes to life. They can use their knowledge and networking to help you select vendors, create your theme, and set a realistic budget. Your wedding planner can also make sure you stick to your budget, and so much more!

8. Attention:

Your family and friends have traveled (sometimes a long way) to be with you. It’s important to make them feel welcome. There’s a certain expectation for you to be social, and to some degree, you really should be. You don’t have to spend every waking moment with them, but do plan at least something.

It can be an all-inclusive event for all the guests to get to know each other. It can even be something as simple as stating where you’re going for bunch, in case anyone wants to join. Either way, you need to remember that they are there because of YOU. It’s part of your responsibility to show them your gratitude, and give them a portion of your time and attention.

What NOT to Do

Now that you know the practices that need to be put into place in order to have a smooth, positive experience, let’s take a look at some of the things you need to definitely avoid doing:

1. Expect everyone will attend:

Even though most people will want to attend, it’s not always possible for everyone to do so. They may not have the budget. Maybe they can’t get the time off work. It’s possible they already have a planned vacation in the works, and so they can’t do both. This is one of the biggest causes of stress when planning a destination wedding: will ANYONE attend? How many people will actually be able to go? What if people you really care about won’t be able to make it?

No matter how much of a head’s up you give people, you just can’t control who will attend your destination wedding and who won’t. It may suck, but try to remember that it also isn’t the end of the world. As long as the most important people are there, you won’t be worried about who isn’t.

bride and groom chair with signs on back

2. Cheaper alternative:

Just as there’s the assumption that destination weddings are super expensive, there’s also the flip-side misconception that destination weddings are always cheaper than local weddings. But this is not always the case! Just like with any wedding, it all depends on the amount of guests, what your vision is for your big day, and what your budget is.

Don’t let this discourage you, though. Many options and alternatives are totally possible, if you have realistic expectations!

3. Weather:

Having to predict the weather in any country – let alone ahead of time – is always a gamble. Although you may envision blue skies and sunshine at noon on your big day, it might not be the case when that time actually comes. Maybe it’ll be too hot to get married outdoors at that time; maybe there will be unruly winds and a dangerous storm. During the planning process, factor in the time of the year it’ll be, and the sort of weather that location is prone to.

You can at least use that as a starting point for finding the ideal time to get married outdoors. Even though Mother Nature can be unpredictable, the more research you do, the more prepared you’ll be for any outcome.

4. Over-scheduling guests:

Besides your wedding day, plan at least one other event for your guests. For instance, it can be a welcome party once everyone has arrived, or even a bonfire bon voyage at the end of the trip as a thank you. Just don’t schedule daily activities and overwhelm your guests (and their calendars) during their entire stay. It’s their vacation, too, so let them enjoy it! Plus, it’s one less thing you have to worry about!

Just married couple on yacht. Happy bride and groom on their wedding day

5. Sweating the small stuff:

No matter how much time, planning, or affordable options you provide your guests, there are going to be certain things that will NOT. Be. In. Your. Control… And that’s okay! Not everyone will be able to attend, that’s just a fact. Realistically, not everything will go exactly the way you wanted it to.

Even though that’s unfortunate, couples need to be understanding. For example, don’t pressure your guests to attend. Some would love to be there, but just don’t have the means to make it happen. Extra pressure from you will often only make them feel even worse. Try not to focus on those who can’t make it. Instead, be thankful for all those who will be there! 🙂

There’s a lot more do’s and don’ts that can be added to the above lists, but in a nutshell, destination weddings require a TON of careful planning! If you don’t allow the distance, or the little things, to get in the way of your vision, it’ll make the whole planning process a lot smoother and more enjoyable. We wish you the best of luck!

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