Planning a destination wedding is thrilling. You’re bringing a small gathering of your favorite people to a beautiful area of the world or another location in the U.S. to celebrate the love and commitment that you and your partner share. 

It can be easy to slip on your rose-colored glasses and forget about the etiquette and planning involved in organizing a destination wedding. Learn how to plan a fun and exotic location wedding with style.

Decide on a Location

The world is full of beautiful destinations, and it can feel overwhelming to make this decision. Evaluate what is exciting and meaningful to you as a couple. Do you enjoy laid-back beach hangs, skiing the slopes, visiting local craft markets, or are you in search of an adrenaline rush? 

Use social media sites like Instagram or Pinterest as an inspirational tool to see what others are doing and consider these key factors:

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  • Climate, weather, and the environment. Most destination weddings are on tropical islands or beaches, making it easy to accommodate guests. Ensure you are traveling during the correct season, so you aren’t troubled by monsoon seasons or inclement weather.
  • Local facilities. Is the infrastructure established enough for your dream wedding? Ensure the region of choice can provide the basics like food, water, and shelter.
  • Attraction and activities. Do you want to climb or ski the nearest mountains? Are you interested in gathering the wedding party to go scuba diving? Do you want to play beach volleyball at sunset? Destination weddings typically span several days, so you need to ensure there is plenty to do for guests before and after the big day. 
  • Necessary travel documents. If your wedding is overseas, these wedding destinations require a passport to enter the country. You might need birth certificates and letters of intent for marriages as well. Do the research and inform guests of this critical requirement. 
  • Budget. Certainly not the least important item on the list; your budget helps narrow the list of potential candidates. Whether it is the no passport required Red Agave Resort in Arizona or Kilkea Castle in Ireland, make sure your wedding budget can cover the cost.   
  • Accessibility. You want this day to flow seamlessly. Choosing a location with basic amenities and services makes less trouble for you, your guests, the local vendors, and all involved.
  • Cultural norms. Some countries don’t allow same-sex marriages, some countries have widely differing wedding ceremonial norms, and others don’t allow non-citizens to be legally married. Check into the local customs and norms for potential issues before booking your venue.

Choose a Date That Works for Everyone

A downside to a location wedding is timing. Aiming for the best weather typically means peak season for tourism. Flights, hotels, transportation, and the general costs will be higher. 

If most of your guest list is on a budget, look at shoulder seasons for cheaper flights and accommodation. Just make sure the weather is suitable and you aren’t risking holding your wedding during hurricane season.


Send “Save the Dates” to Guests

Save the Dates should be sent approximately 8 to 12 months before the wedding, with official invites stamped no less than 4 months out. The main priority is giving your guests ample time to consider and plan accordingly. For some, it could be their first trip out of the country.

When sending out Save the Dates, attach a homemade guide informing guests of cultural norms, customs, exchange rates, activities to be prepared for, transportation, and common phrases in the local tongue. This information should also be stored on your wedding website to ensure accessibility.

Don’t take it personally if dear friends and family cannot come. Although it is a vacation for you and a momentous occasion, it might not be the vacation they can afford to spend money on or work into their schedule. 

Book Wedding, Reception Venues, and Secure Vendors

Do not wait until the wedding day to look at the venue. Give yourself ample time to land at your destination and look at the venue a few days before the ceremony. It would be a shame to show up only to have it look completely different than the photos online. 

If you can’t arrive early, consider hiring a local wedding planner to check it out for you or use video calls with the venue staff so you can check it out virtually. If this isn’t possible, ensure you have searched the web for as many reviews as possible. No reviews mean no security that it even exists.

The best advice is to hire a local wedding planner. This provides the ease of having someone on the ground doing the leg work, establishing vendors, organizing the details, and doing the scouting. When choosing a wedding planner, follow this checklist:

  • Are they fluent in your native language? You don’t want to be misunderstood.
  • Do they have professional experience? You should read their references.
  • Will they take care of legalities like marriage officiants and licensing?

Wedding planners should be fully equipped to help you nail down the venue and the vendors helping alleviate much of the stress before your big day.

Sam Starns, an adventure elopement photographer, says that “couples should be prepared to find the right vendors that fit their needs. For some, that might be an all-inclusive option where they don’t have to worry about choosing vendors, while others might desire hand-picking each vendor so they make sure they’re a good fit service and personality wise. Depending on priorities, couples should find a planner or an adventure wedding/elopement photographer. Often, those specialist photographers will play semi-planner and help with location knowledge, vendor recommendations and more. They’ll be able to walk couples through a lot of the logistics.”

Wedding planner

Plan the Ceremony and Wedding Guests List

Destination weddings can be a grand event or a small, intimate occasion. Decide if you want kids to attend, or perhaps you only want your parents and siblings? Think about who is likely able to make it and who isn’t. Put time and care into this guest list as it will be a big event for everyone. 

Don’t over invite, assuming people won’t come only to have everyone show up and there aren’t enough seats or hotel rooms.

When planning the ceremony, think about what is important to the two of you. Would you like to keep it traditional or center the ceremony around local customs and traditions? Your wedding planner will help organize this key feature.

What Do You Pay for Your Visitors Attendance

What Do You Pay for Your Visitors’ Attendance?

Traditionally, guests cover their personal travel and lodging, and it’s important to inform them of this as gracefully as possible. Use your wedding website and Save the Dates to inform them of the location, travel, and lodging costs.

Provide recommendations on accommodations for your guests to make it easier. Some couples book out hotel blocks (multiple rooms in an area of a hotel/resort) for their guests to personally choose from and return payment. Hotels and resorts often give discounted rates for larger groups.

If your guest list is extensive and you feel they will need a lot of assistance, enlist a travel agent to help.

Upon arrival, it can be thoughtful to present your guests with small tokens of appreciation in their hotel rooms. Try leaving a fruit basket full of exotic local fruits or a travel recovery kit with electrolytes and soaps. A gift that helps them feel at home and relaxed in this new environment is a charming personal touch that can help them feel appreciated.

Plan an Unforgettable Day

Planning your destination wedding is not without its challenges, but remember that it is meant to be fun and celebratory. Plan ahead and stay on track so that you can enjoy the bliss and excitement of being abroad on your wedding day.

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