Are you dreaming of getting married in a centuries-old castle or on a beach in paradise? You're not alone! Thousands of couples plan for a destination wedding every single year.
What's not to love? A destination wedding is as much a vacation as it is a ceremony. For couples who like to travel, whose families live abroad or have 'their place,' an out-of-town wedding just makes sense.
Of course, getting married away from home comes with its own set of planning inventories (more of that later!) and unique aspects to consider.
Not to worry. As always, Ling's Moment has advice for your special moments. Our destination wedding tips, tricks, and checklists will assist you in your journey to say 'I Do' far from home. Here's how to plan a destination wedding:
FAQ: All you Need to Know About Destination Weddings
If you've ever fantasized about a romantic elopement, you've wondered, 'How do I prepare for a destination wedding?' and 'How far away is considered a destination wedding?'
Here are the answers to all of your burning questions about destination wedding planning:
How far away is a destination wedding considered?
Like most wedding questions, the answer to this is subjective. We think it's safe to call it a destination wedding if you're:
- Driving to the location for over two hours
- Required to get overnight accommodation for any length of time
Of course, this is dependent on your lifestyle. If driving 45 minutes is out of the ordinary for you, consider that a destination wedding.
Photo by @imfg.photography
How soon to start planning a destination wedding?
You should start planning for your destination wedding as soon as possible.
Remember, you need enough time to budget, organize, and secure your dates. Planning a destination wedding has all the requirements of arranging a wedding at home and then some.
If you send invites out earlier than that, guests may forget. Any later, and guests may not have time to make travel plans. Don't worry; we'll get more in-depth into this topic in our destination wedding planning checklist below!
You should adjust this if your guests need to make extended flights from overseas. For example, if your wedding patrons are arriving in the US from Europe, they will likely take a red-eye (late night or overnight) flight, and people may struggle to get off the plane and go almost directly to the ceremony.
Tip: Since Saturday is one of the most common days for weddings and events of all kinds, venues and vendors may offer reduced rates on weekdays.
How many guests should you expect at a destination wedding?
When deciding how many guests to expect or invite to your dream wedding getaway, remember that out-of-town ceremonies are typically more personal than traditional ones.
First, you'll want to decide whether you want a smaller or a larger celebration. Depending on that answer, you'll know how many people fit within your plans and venue.
Next, you'll want to get a verbal feel for how many of your desired guests may be able to attend. This is not the same as sending your dates out on a formal invitation. If there is someone who definitely won't be able to attend, you'll want to know as soon as possible.
Don't take it personally
It can be difficult trying to accommodate everyone in your life, but a destination wedding often means you have limited room or budget and will need to make some sacrifices. It also means that not everyone who wants to go will be able to attend, due to their budget, work or school schedule, or any other responsibilities.
Ultimately, you should invite only those you truly want to attend. This is your special day, and you should surround yourself with those who mean the most to you.
How long do you stay for a destination wedding?
Another big query on the minds of lovebirds planning a destination wedding is how long they and their guests should stay. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves:
- How far are your guests traveling? If guests are traveling long distances, they will need to accommodate time zone changes, have some cushion built in for flight delays, etc.,
- Will you be honeymooning in the same destination as your wedding? If you and your sweetheart are getting hitched on your favorite Caribbean island – you know, your special spot – then you may want to extend your stay into the honeymoon. Another factor to consider is having guests remain after the ceremony to celebrate with you.
- Are there room blocks at your chosen hotel or resort? Many properties require a minimal night's stay for group blocks and room rates.
Ling’s Destination Wedding Planning Checklist and Timeline
Use this destination wedding checklist to plan the months leading up to your big day. From a year away to the day of, this is our destination wedding planning checklist and timeline:
12 to 18 Months Out
- Budget. The biggest step in this phase of planning a destination wedding is to work out the budget. On average, a destination wedding costs between $10,000 and $15,000. Be sure to include all the costs of the ceremony, reception, and travel.
- The guest list. Make sure to compare this to your budget.
- Pick a destination. Begin by creating a list of your top 5 most desired locations. Weigh the pros and cons of your top spots, including budget and accessibility for guests.
- Check local law. Thoroughly research local laws and traditions in your dream destination location, not just the legal part for marriage, but all the details of the planned celebration and everyday life there. The last thing you want is a surprise in the form of ridiculous local laws or limits.
- Agree on a date. Check the weather, calendar, hotel, and flight rates to determine the best dates – especially if you’re planning an outdoor ceremony.
- Make a plan for the marriage license. Remember that the legal requirements are different all over the world. If you’re planning an international event, you may need to make plans for getting legally married in your home country.
- Plan for passports and visas. Start the visa application process and make sure your passports are valid within 6 months of your travel dates.
- Hire planners and travel agents. If you know you'll use a travel advisor or wedding planner, you'll want to secure them early on.
- Agree on a wedding theme and color palette. This will help you decide which venue is best and figure out your budget for the decor.
- Secure a wedding venue. Gather details, including pricing and packages, seating, and other amenities your venue offers.
- Reserve your honeymoon suite. If you're extending your celebration into your honeymoon, make sure you get suite rates and secure lodging.
9 to 11 Months Out
- Meet with your wedding party. You'll want to make sure all your critical guests have the needed documentation, including passports, visas, and travel bookings.
- Send out invitations. Remember, for your destination wedding, send out invites early to ensure guests have enough to plan.
- Arrange a wedding room block or group rate. If you have a block of rooms at your venue or nearby, you'll want to notify guests of any promotional codes they'll need to secure the discounted rate.
- Create a wedding website or Facebook invite with critical details. Include information on travel, lodging, maps, what to pack, and anything guests might need to prepare.
- Plan any additional wedding-related events. If you're honeymooning at the same destination as your wedding, lock in any smaller details. 9-11 months out.
- Decide between a gift or wedding registry. A wedding gift is a present your guest picks for you, while a wedding registry is something they can contribute money to that goes directly to the wedding budget.
- Say YES to the dress (and tux). And since you're planning a destination wedding, make sure to go over the logistics of traveling with said dress and tux.
- Book your flight and/or rental car. The earlier you can book, the less you'll pay. However, most airlines will only allow you to book up to 12 months in advance.
6 to 8 Months Out
- Vendors. Work with your wedding planner, travel advisor, or venue to find local vendors, musicians/DJs, photographers, hair and makeup artists, and anything else you'll need for your wedding.
- Floral decor. From the wedding arch to the table centerpieces, decide which floral set you'll need and how you'll get it to your wedding location. As mentioned above, faux flowers' advantages for destination weddings are huge, such as not worrying about wilting during transportation.
- Take engagement photos. This is something you can do locally.
- Finalize the wedding menu. Partner with your wedding venue and caterer to curate your wedding menu, understanding that you may or may not be able to sample beforehand.
- Book the rehearsal locations if you plan to have one. Destination weddings can still have rehearsals, but it's not uncommon to skip them altogether for the sake of time and budget.
- Get your wedding attire fitted. This includes the wedding party and whatever the bride and groom will wear.
- Pick dates and locations for bridal showers, engagement parties, and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Include a guest list, budget, wardrobe, and any registries.
- Book wedding-day transportation. If you're not staying at your venue, you'll want to make sure you have a way to and from the ceremony.
6 to 8 Weeks Out
- All travel necessities, such as flight and hotel bookings
- Wedding vows and officiant
- A photographer/videographer
- Menu for food and drinks, all catering details
- Song list for the ceremony and reception with musical choice
- Time, place, and details of the reception and who's giving the toasts
- Paperwork, including passports, visas, marriage licenses, etc.,
- Order wedding favors for your guests and buy gifts for the wedding party
Photo by @weddingsbycarue
3 to 5 Weeks Out
- Pick up your wedding rings! Make any last-minute sizing adjustments.
- Have your final dress fitting. Bring your shoes, jewelry, and other accessories for the full effect.
- Start putting a packing list together. Starting early means you're less likely to forget something.
1 to 2 Weeks Out
- Last call for your gown and wedding attire.
- Confirm flight numbers for all wedding party guests. This gives you the chance to check for errors one last time.
- Finalize seating arrangements and seating chart.
- Double-check the weather. Last-minute weather changes have been known to happen, especially in tropical places.
- Start packing for your wedding and honeymoon.
- Finalize contracts and confirm times with vendors.
4 to 5 Days Out
- Arrive at your wedding destination. You'll want to show up a few days ahead of your guests so you're there to greet them.
- Do a walk-through of your ceremony and reception venue. It's important to arrive early if for no other reason.
- Meet with any coordinators or vendors.
The day before
- Have your wedding attire steamed or pressed. Traveling is likely to have caused some wrinkles.
- Enjoy your rehearsal.
- Try to get some sleep!
- Make sure you have more than enough time to get ready.
- Take time for every guest—greet them and thank them for coming all this way.
- Ride off into the sunset!
The Pros and Cons of Destination Weddings
Like everything in life, out-of-town weddings have advantages and disadvantages. Let's look at the pros and cons of a destination wedding:
Pros: What are the advantages of a destination wedding?
There's a reason everyone wants to say 'I do' out of view of where they live. There are a few reasons. Consider:
- Vacation (or your honeymoon) starts sooner and can last longer. Instead of a wedding day, you can have a wedding weekend or week.
- You will end up spending more quality, intimate time with your loved ones. That's one huge advantage of having few people attend your wedding. A smaller guest list will always reduce costs, even if you're traveling.
- Your guests will have an absolutely unforgettable experience. Who wouldn't cherish memories of watching you getting married on a beach in Hawaii? After all, destination weddings are vacations for everyone involved.
- When you're willing to travel, the world opens up. Think about it: If you want to get married in the mountains but live in Florida, why let geography stop you from the wedding of your dreams? Follow your hearts to the mountains.
Photo by @amongthepinesphoto
Cons: What are the disadvantages of a destination wedding?
Though a destination wedding can be a great choice for many couples, there are some downsides.
Here are a few things to talk about with your spouse when planning your dream escape wedding:
- The price tag of a destination wedding can quickly grow. Clearly, some destinations are less expensive than others. For example, getting married in Mexico may be much cheaper than tying the knot in the Hamptons. However, certain items (think transportation, accommodation, etc.) wouldn't be a cost at all if you said your vows closer to home.
- Not everyone will be able to attend. Remember, destination weddings are not only pricier for you and your honey but also more expensive for guests. In addition, not everyone can take time off work or school to attend, and some people may not be in the best health for traveling.
- Legality matters. If you're planning a local affair, you probably only have to get your marriage license. However, if you're getting married abroad, you may need to jump through a few extra hoops to ensure everything is legal. Researching local marriage laws is one step in the master plan of your destination wedding that you need to start ASAP.
- You need to plan for potential travel delays. If you're planning a destination wedding, chances are you're interested in traveling in general. In that case, you're no stranger to the various types of travel delays that can pop up, from late or canceled flights, overbooked hotels, road closures, last-minute missing passports or paperwork...the list goes on. One change in this delicate schedule can trigger a butterfly effect that drastically alters your trip. And, of course, rebooking or altering travel plans at the last minute can be expensive, often with little or no compensation from the airlines or hotels.
- You have to get it right the first time. Did you forget your bouttonaire? Did your photographer suddenly cancel? When you're far from home, you have less wiggle room for dealing with these types of minor emergencies.
Is it rude to have a destination wedding?
Let's get one thing straight right now: planning a destination wedding is not rude or offensive. Your wedding day is a celebration and extension of your love as a couple, a beautiful ceremony where two lives officially join as one.
Whether you want that day to be in a 500-year-old church in Italy or in your grandparents' backyard, that's your decision!
On the other hand, someone telling you it's wrong to have your wedding your way- that's rude.
Are destination weddings stressful? 9 tips to ease the strain
Truthfully, any wedding, no matter how small or how local, can be a lot to handle. Between guests, venues, decor, food, drinks, etc., there are many moving pieces and just as many chances for errors. Adding travel to that list doesn't lessen the load.
These are our top 9 tips for helping your destination wedding run smoothly:
- Do research, research, and then more research. When planning a stress-free wedding anywhere, the first thing you'll want to do is make sure there are no surprises. Take time to double-check for weather or cultural holidays in your chosen destination. For example, avoid hurricane season if you're planning an island wedding.
- Check the weather. Even if there are no hurricanes, only bad storms, your flight could be delayed or your venue damaged by wind and rain.
- Look at the calendar. You'll also want to scope out the calendar for cultural holidays. For example, August 15th is an Italian midsummer celebration known as Ferragosto. Most venues will be booked this week, and businesses will be closed.
- Before deciding on your location, create a VIP guest list. Decide which of your loved ones you can't bear to be without on your wedding day. Then, consider if it's feasible for them to travel to your chosen destination. Will they be able to afford the expense, take the time off from their regular lives, and are they healthy enough to make the journey?
- Book your venue in advance. One thing about popular destinations is that they're usually crowded, and you're probably not the only person who would love to get married there. To ensure you get the price and dates that matter to you, book resorts, flights, packages, etc., as soon as possible.
- Keep it legal. Many people have two ceremonies for their destination wedding. One is for celebrating with friends and family, the other is where the legal aspects are taken care of. Remember, it can take weeks or months to make sure your paperwork is legal in both your wedding destination and locally. Sometimes, this can also require additional fees, lawyers, or translations. Where and when the legal part of your marriage takes place is something you should consider before even picking out color palettes.
- Look for group rates. Traveling and booking accommodations in groups can have its perks. Some common advantages of group booking include discounted rates, free nights, complimentary food, drinks or services, and more. You'll want to book as soon as possible to get everyone the best travel deals.
- Consider a travel agent. Experience saves time and stress. Look for someone who frequently works with destination weddings. These types of planners often have tips and tricks for getting married abroad and can point you in the right direction for things they might not specialize in, such as legal paperwork.
- Go faux with decor. Artificial flowers will save you time and money and are much easier to transport. In addition, some types of live, organic flowers or foliage may be illegal to bring to your destination. Ling's premade floral arrangements save you the stress of keeping flowers alive, figuring out flower legalities, or hiring a florist far from home.
How to Plan a Destination Wedding on a Budget: 7 Tips
You're probably not looking for a destination wedding because you'd like to save money. These types of ceremonies are known for being costly. A destination wedding, by definition, means allocating a budget for things like flights, accommodation, legal fees, and more.
However, you can still plan a destination wedding on a budget. Here are 7 tips for planning your faraway dream wedding:
- Reduce the guest list. Keeping a smaller guest list gives you a larger budget to spend on your loved ones.
- Pick a beautiful location. This may seem obvious, but opting for a wedding venue that doesn't need a ton of extra decor will save you both time and money. Some public spaces are free to use, and there won't be a fee to get married there, saving you venue costs.
- Two words: honeymoon registry. Similar to a wedding registry, this list means that your wedding guests can contribute money to your wedding/honeymoon/vacation. It also prevents you from receiving a wedding gift you already own or just won't use.
- Look for wedding packages. If you're getting married at a resort or location popular for weddings, chances are they offer wedding packages that can include things like catering, rentals, chairs, etc.
- Work the weekdays. Ah, the classic rule of supply and demand. More people getting married on Saturday means any date falling on a Saturday will be more expensive.
- Go local. Getting married away from home doesn't mean you can't hire local photographers, caterers, etc. Resorts and venues often have partnerships with an approved list of vendors with special packages or rates, so make sure to check with them.
- Save the paper. Paper may not seem like a big deal. However, the inflated cost of wedding stationery, printing, and postage can quickly add a hefty price tag to your wedding invitations. Create a Facebook Event or wedding website as a cost-effective alternative, and spend your money on your dream wedding. As a bonus, digital invites or events are much easier to edit, allowing great flexibility.
Thank you for Traveling with Ling's
So you've made it to the end of this post, and now you've got a Ph.D. in destination wedding planning. Congrats! We knew you could do it!
The last step is showing off your beautiful destination ceremony by tagging us @lingsmoment on Instagram!