How to plan a memorable and inexpensive destination wedding

How to plan a memorable and inexpensive destination wedding

Destination weddings have become very popular in the past ten years—despite the tough global economy. We’ll talk about why a destination wedding can actually be less expensive than getting married in your hometown, as well as how it can make your wedding day more memorable and less stressful.


Do

Do be realistic about your guest list

When someone gets married in their hometown, most people on the invite list will make it. Good, right? But the reality is: we’ve all got “obligational invites”, people we probably wouldn’t want at our wedding, except that not inviting them would be awkward.

You can’t invite just half your cousins. You can’t invite 10 people from your office and not the other four. You’d be surprised at how quickly that dilemma will grow your guest list. When you get married a fair distance from your home—whether it’s on an island in the Pacific, or perhaps a three or four hour drive to wine country—your guests will be making more of an effort if they really want to attend.

And this gives them an easy, polite “out”. You’ll be left with just the people who really, really want to be there. A 300-person guest list for a wedding at home might turn into a 75 person guest list for a wedding on Maui.

Do hire a coordinator at the destination

Having a professional wedding coordinator at the destination is invaluable. This person will already know who the great local photographers are, where to get the best flowers at a reasonable price, whose catering rocks, etc.

Planning the logistics for a wedding is a huge ordeal—however complicated you think it is, well, you’re probably off by a factor of three!

The stress-reduction that comes from having someone who knows the vendors, the location, the staff, is priceless. And, if something goes awry with one of the vendors, you can be sure that the wedding coordinator who brings that vendor a major piece of their annual business is going to have influence over that vendor’s decisions.

Do check wedding license requirements

It’s not a guarantee that a wedding that’s legal in another country will be legally recognized back home. And, the destination may have requirements that you may find baffling...and be unprepared for.

In Tahiti, for instance, you’ll need certified copies of your birth certificates sent to the local mayor at least 45 days before the wedding—after they’ve been translated into French, and legalized by the French consulate. In Mexico, the couple must arrive three days before the wedding for it to be legal—four if the wedding is in Cozumel.

As with most things governmental, you’ll have little success solving documentation problems at the last minute.

Do a site inspection before booking the location

You’re probably planning a year out anyway so if you have time, and can afford the trip, go to the destination and see the location for yourself. Inquire about any planned renovations/construction that would be happening around the time of your wedding. Granted, this is easier to do if the destination is just a couple hours drive, or a short flight. But if you can’t go, find someone local who’s not affiliated with the location or resort to check it out for you.

If you’re hiring someone to coordinate at least part of the logistics at the destination (and you should), have them check it out for you, unless of course they work for that location or resort. If all else fails, do a little Google searching for brides who’ve gotten married there before. If things went really well, you might not find much online. But if things were a disaster, you’ll probably find signs of this in wedding forums, etc.

If you’ve selected your photographer already, they’re a great person to ask. They’ve probably done weddings there before, they undoubtedly know the locations that make for the most amazing pictures, and they probably don’t have a reason to “cover” for a place with issues.

Do create a wedding website

While a wedding website is a great way to help keep guests be informed of any wedding, for a destination wedding, there’s even more to communicate: you’ve got pre- and post-events, maps to locations of the wedding, rehearsal dinner, and recommended hotels where you have arranged for a group rate (note:talk to the hotels nearby about group rates—generally they’ll only require about 10 rooms be booked to get a discount).

Do not count on your guests remembering to bring some bits of paper with all the information on it. Some will lose those, leave them at home, etc. Having a wedding website means they can look all this up on their smartphone or on a computer at the hotel.

Be sure to announce your wedding website to all your guests via email, and send an email to all the guests a few days before the wedding, reminding them that all the maps, times, details etc. are there.


Don't

Do not presume it’ll be more expensive

First, many of your expenses are going to be tied to your guest count, and for a destination wedding, typically that’s much, much smaller. As well, you may actually find some of the vendors to be less expensive at exotic destinations. Photography and flowers, for example are typically less expensive in Hawaii than in major mainland US cities.

Do not arrive at the last minute (or day)

You have an opportunity before the wedding to spend some quality time with your guests, especially those who have traveled long distances to see you get married. 

Plan a day or two of activities before the wedding with your guests—explore the destination, have some great meals, and give yourselves time to relax before the big day. Make sure your guests know about the activities you have planned before they book their plane tickets or schedule their time off from work, so that they can arrive a little early too, if they’d like.

Do not get sunburnt

Be very careful with sunscreen once you arrive at your destination. Not only might a sunburn be painful in whatever attire you’re donning to tie the knot, but also remember: you’re going to be looking at those wedding pictures for years to come, and you sure don’t want to look like a well-dressed strawberry.

Do not wait to send your save-the-date cards or e-cards

If your guests are going to have to take vacation time, and possibly book flights, the sooner you can let them start planning the better. While you might send save-the-date cards three to six months ahead of the wedding for a local wedding, you’re going to want to send them closer to a year in advance for a destination wedding. And realistically, you might not have the exact dates for all the pre- and post events nailed down. That’s OK, just make sure you’re clear on what dates might still shift a little.

Do not include gift registry information in your wedding announcements

While this is somewhat commonplace today, it's really a case of practicality over etiquette. A better approach is to have a page on your wedding website that has information about where you’re registered. Or if you’re wanting donations to a charity instead of gifts, etc., that’s the place for that information. Your wedding announcement should be purely about your joyful event.

And for a destination wedding, you probably don’t want gifts brought to the wedding itself. Otherwise you’re going to have some pricey additional baggage fees bringing it all home. This needs to be called out on the page of your wedding website that talks about gifts.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

A destination wedding can be a very romantic option and usually results in less of a “runaway guest list”. And in many cases, a destination wedding will cost the same or less than a wedding back home.

You do need to plan a little farther ahead, and you’ll definitely benefit from hiring a coordinator at the destination, whereas you might have been able to handle it all yourself if the wedding had been back home. But the opportunity to make the event more special, more memorable, and less stressful makes a destination wedding a terrific option for many couples.


More expert advice about Destinations

Photo Credits: Lodge at Suttle Lake, Sisters, Oregon photo courtesy of Fusion Photography; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Michael Cottam President, Visual Itineraries

Michael lives in Portland, Oregon. He's an avid traveler, photographer, and a private pilot, and has been diving all over the world, including Fiji, Bora Bora, Seychelles, Thailand, Hawaii, and the Caribbean....

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