12 Step Guide to planning a Destination Wedding
Do I really have to sell you on the idea of a destination wedding?!
So before we start talking about destination wedding planning, lemme say something quickly. Wherever you decide to get married, it’s gonna be an incredible, unforgettable day. Because you’ve found your soulmate. That one person in the world who makes you feel whole. You could get married in a fucking hut and it would be the best day of your life. But let’s be real. If we’re honest, if we’re really honest…wouldn’t it be better if that hut was in Tahiti?!
Because come on, just imagine it! Waking up at some ungodly hour, gunning it down empty roads to the airport. Seeing how many drinks you can get through in the Spoons and legging it to the terminal. The heat as you step off the plane. Driving down the winding roads, Gypsy Kings blaring.
And then the wedding. All your mates in linen and flowing dresses, watching you saying your ‘I do’s overlooking the Tuscan hills. Or with the waves crashing behind you on some faraway beach. Then a chilled out afternoon in the sun, followed by a crazy party in the evening. The next day by the pool or on a beach, guzzling cocktails and admiring your rings. I mean it’s the fucking dream, right?!
But even dreams take planning. And a dream this big takes a shitload of planning, even if you’re getting a planner! So to help you live that dream without any major fuckups, here’s my 13 step guide to planning a destination wedding.
1. Ladies and gentlemen, we will soon be landing in…
So what we thinking? Rum and coconuts on a beach in Bali? A picturesque old Tuscan farmhouse? A sexy little villa in Santorini? You’ve got the whole wide world to choose from. So how do we narrow it down?
Well I know it ain’t romantic, but first off you need to think about the money. Places where everyone gets married won’t be cheap. But on the flip-side, destination
weddings in general are cheaper than UK weddings, so you can afford to go a bit boujie with it. Plus, loads of weddings means loads of wedding venues and suppliers, more hotels and easier travel links. So while the popular places come with a price tag, they do have their advantages.
But you’re not going by yourselves, you’re taking everybody with you. So think about other people’s pockets and travel time too. Frail old granny ain’t gonna wanna do a 8 hour stopover in Jakarta on her way to Bali. And asking people to shell out to go to Hawaii will cut down the amount of people who can afford to go. If you want everyone to come, go close.
Right, now we’ve narrowed down your options, think about the kinda vibe you want your wedding to have. Is it gonna be a wild off-the-hook party? A nice relaxed weekend? Is it gonna be cool and stylish, chilled and romantic? Once you know your options and how you want your wedding to go down, you can find that dream wedding destination that ticks all the boxes.
2. Nothing will ruin a destination wedding like a flying deck chair taking out the bridesmaids
You wanna research the shit outta the weather. And not just the country as a whole, but the specific region you’re thinking of going to. Take Mexico for example, it must be sunny in summer, right? Well on the West Coast, yeah. Blazing sun and clear blue skies. But on the East Coast, August to October is hurricane season. If you see somewhere that seems too cheap, there’s bound to be a reason.
And obviously, just like in sunny old England, you're gonna pay more for the seasons with the best weather. But just like sunny old England, peak season doesn’t guarantee sunshine. And you gotta remember, it ain’t just you paying. Choose a slightly cheaper season and all your guests will save money on travel. You’re often better off taking a bit of a risk and booking one of the months either side of peak. They’re cheaper, and the weather is usually still pretty bangin’.
3. The actual wedding part of your destination wedding
Alright so I’m gonna be real with you. Actually getting married abroad in the official sense is an utter ballache. There’s all sorts of hoops you have to jump through, usually loads of little extra admin fees you have to pay and a shitload of forms you have to fill out.
What most people do is have a no-frills registry office wedding in the UK, so the actual legal part is done and dusted. And then have a ‘celebration’ service abroad. So it walks and talks like a wedding, there’s just not a forest’s worth of paperwork that goes with it.
But if you’re an admin fiend and you want it to mean something when you say ‘I do’, most countries will let you make it official while you’re out there. Some countries won’t let you though, so if you’ve got your heart set on officially getting married abroad, make sure it’s possible before you commit.
4. Send your invites out early
You ain’t asking people to take a jolly down to Oxford for a day. You’re asking them to jump on a plane and take a few holiday days off work (or fake an illness). People need time to sort this kinda shit out in advance and decide if they can afford it. So send out your invitations as soon as you’ve set a date and see how many people can make it.
And it’s a risky little move, but I’d say invite more people than you might necessarily want. Uncle Bob would happily drive half an hour for a free meal and a few drinks. But he might not wanna drop hundreds of pounds on a flight to Switzerland, car hire and a hotel. Obviously it’s a risk if everyone says yes. But you’d probably be the first people ever to have a destination wedding where everyone can come.
5. Always get a planner for a destination wedding
You know when you try and order a beer and nachos in a foreign country and you end up with a glass of wine and a little dish of meatballs? Imagine what you’ll get ordering florals, stationery and styling. Trying to organise anything from hundreds of miles away is gonna be a fucking nightmare. So splash some cash and pay someone to take care of it. And anyway, you’ve probably saved a bomb compared to a UK wedding, so it ain’t gonna break the bank.
And they’ll make your wedding so much better. They’ll know all the best local suppliers, all the best venues, and have loads of insider tips on how you can make the most of the place. You can share your mood board with them, and they’ll be able to give you advice about what kinda styling would suit the backdrop and which suppliers can make it happen.
And on the day, you can just kick back. Having someone on site on the day who knows the lay of the land, can speak to all the suppliers for you and make sure it all runs to plan will make your whole experience a million times better. At the very least, you take away the worry of turning up to find 300 piňatas where there should be 300 peonies.
6. Choose a kickass destination wedding photographer
This is gonna be some of the most exciting, fun, crazy few days of your lives. So you don’t want a photographer who makes you feel awkward or embarrassed about having a good time. This is gonna be one hell of a fucking holiday. And you want someone who’ll jump feet first into the adventure alongside you.
It’s also gonna be one of the coolest, most beautiful, romantic stories you’ve ever been a part of. Let alone the centre of. So you wanna find someone who’ll tell the story the way you want it to be told. Take a look at their work and imagine their photos on your wall. Imagine sitting down with your kids in 20 years’ time, flicking through the album and telling them all about it.
If you look at my work and can imagine yourselves in the photos, that’s awesome. Get in touch today and let’s fucking do this! If not, that’s cool too. Keep looking, your dream ‘tog is out there somewhere.
7. Arrange a separate couple’s shoot while you’re out there
Whoever you choose as your destination photographer, try and book them in for a separate couple’s shoot either the day before or after the wedding.
I mean, at the end of the day, there’s gonna be a helluva lot more to where you’re going than just your venue. So make the most of it, scout out cool locations together on Insta before you head out there and go exploring! You’ll get a totally different set of shots, with a completely different backdrop. And there’s not the time pressure of the wedding day. So you can just get wrapped up in each other, and get some stunning shots of you all romantic and loved-up in some exotic faraway place.
In my destination wedding photography package, an additional couple’s shoot is included as an extra little bonus. Just saying.
8. Go and see the place
You ever booked a nice-looking hotel for your holidays, and when the coach pulls up it’s a fucking dump?! Building works right next door, flies on the buffet, the guy on the front desk shamelessly watching porn on his phone.
I know it ain’t cheap, but a trip to see the venue and meet some suppliers before you book anything will make sure you ain’t getting married in a slum for stray dogs.
9. Style that destination wedding bad boy to the max!
Now you know what the place looks like, you can start dreaming up how you want to dress it up.
I should warn you, I ain’t a stylist. I can usually get dressed by myself, but I’m not gonna pretend I’m the go-to guy for styling advice. But as a rough guide, every country has a certain light and colour palette (like Tuscany is all stone farm houses, olive trees and terracotta pots. Bali’s gonna be bright greens and blues, tropical flowers). So you wanna style it to match.
Pinterest boards, location and venue searches on Insta and mood boards are your best friends here. And don’t be afraid to nick ideas off other people. It ain’t stealing if you put your own spin on it!
It’s always a nice idea to incorporate local florals and foods into your wedding day as much as you can. The whole point is that you’re travelling the world and going for an adventure. So don’t play it safe with imported English roses and fish and chips. Embrace everything the country has to offer, and give yourselves and your guests the full experience.
Also think about how your clothes will suit the weather. You might love that knockout dress in the shop, but you’re gonna hate it when you’re cooking in your own juices in 40 degree heat.
10. Help people sort out
Some venues have rooms on site and you book the whole place. In which case, you're sorted. I mean, you’ll be poor, but at least your guests will all have a bed.
But if not, think about booking a hotel block. “What’s a hotel block?”, you ask. Well basically, if you book a bunch of rooms all together, you’ll get a cheaper rate because you’re booking a shitload of ‘em. And it makes it easier for everyone to get back and forth because they’re all in one place.
If you can’t make this work for whatever reason, do the honourable thing and send everyone a list of local hotels to choose from.
11. Plan an extra day activity
Here’s the thing. People will have travelled across the damn world to celebrate with you. And you don’t want everyone to turn up, have a few minutes with you and then go home the next day as you ride off into the sunset together. So make it all worth their while by making a proper holiday of it.
Having an extra event either the day before or the day after will transform your wedding day into a totally different beast of an experience. It could be an epic pool party or a bbq the day before, or a hair-of-the-dog brunch the next day. If you’re going somewhere exotic (and you’re minted), you could take everyone snorkelling or scuba diving. If it’s in the mountains, you could get day passes to the slopes for the day. You get to spend loads of extra time with your guests, and have the chance to make a whole separate bunch of memories together. Don’t just make it a one-n-done wedding, make it a fucking experience.
12. Sort out the boring (i.e. important destination wedding) stuff
First of all, the money. Give your credit card company a call and let them know you’re
planning a wedding abroad. If they see you suddenly dropping thousands of pounds in another country for no apparent reason, they’ll block it.
And make sure there’s space in your budget for extra bullshit. There might be unexpected
fees when you get there, something you hadn’t thought of that needs some money thrown at it last-minute. And if you don’t have to spend it, great, more honeymoon money. But it’s nice to have a cushion. Oh, and bring cash. Lots of cash. Vendors in some countries expect cash tips (plus all the usual taxis and room service etc.).
Before the wedding, you wanna send stuff that won’t fit in your suitcase. You know how much of a squeeze it always is to get under your weight limit and get the suitcase closed. Now add in decorations, stationery, welcome bags for your guests, maybe a giant dress or a fancy suit. Send it ahead to your local planner/coordinator in the post and save EasyJet charging you £9 million for excess weight.
Oh, and I’m not usually one for spreadsheets and checklists. But even I have to admit it’s probably a pretty good idea for this one. After all, you can’t just pop back home for the rings.
Looking for an alternative destination wedding photographer?
So I ain’t gonna try and play it down. Getting to go abroad for work is a fucking big perk of the job! You’re going to the most beautiful, romantic place you could find in the whole world and you’re taking me with you! And that ain’t no small thing.
So I’m not the kinda guy to just take the money and run. I’ll give you extra shoot time, a free couple’s shoot either the day before or the day after your wedding, and basically be your little bitch with whatever you need help with. If you want me by your side for this crazy adventure, I’ma jump in feet first and make sure you guys have the adventure of a lifetime.
If you love my work and wanna be my travel buddy, let’s have a chat and see if we’re a good fit. Get in touch today and let’s see if we vibe before you commit.