Destination weddings are an incredible way to tie the knot. There’s something pretty special about sharing the holiday of a lifetime with your favourite group of people while also celebrating your nuptials.
With this in mind, the thought of planning a wedding in a foreign location can be more than a little daunting! From paperwork to timelines and travel logistics, a destination wedding requires some careful consideration.
No idea where to begin? Read on as we share a step-by-step guide to planning the perfect destination wedding, including a few key ways you can make the process much easier for you and your guests.
Figure Out Your Vision
Before making any concrete decisions, we’d suggest taking some time to figure out your vision for the day. When you picture your dream destination wedding, what does it actually look and feel like?
Is it a fun, outdoor wedding somewhere warm and tropical with an epic cocktail list? A romantic, intimate 3-course dinner in a quaint medieval village? A luxury, high-end wedding with unbelievable views and entertainment?
Whatever your vision may be, it’s important to define this early on in the planning process to guide your decision-making. You can grab our free wedding vision worksheet here to help you figure out your priorities!
Choose a Location
Next, it’s time to choose the perfect location for your destination wedding. Your wedding vision should act as a starting point to narrow down your options. For example: a chic European city would be an ideal backdrop for a luxurious, intimate wedding, while somewhere like Bali or Hawaii would be perfect for a tropical celebration. Check out 5 beautiful destination wedding locations here for inspiration!
Once you’ve decided on a location, you can then start researching wedding venues in the local area. Wedding blogs and directories can be a great starting point, especially if they include image galleries and testimonials from past couples.
Consider the following questions to ensure your chosen venue is practical for your loved ones, too:
- Is it located close to a major airport, making it easily accessible for your guests?
- Are there affordable accommodation options on-site or nearby?
- Are there any travel restrictions to keep in mind?
- Is it suitable for young kids (if applicable)?
You may even want to enlist the help of a local wedding planner who can make recommendations and tour venues on your behalf.
Set a Date
Another big decision you’ll need to make is setting a date for your destination wedding. Unless you have a sentimental date in mind, you may need to do some research into your chosen location to help you make a decision.
For example: what kind of weather can you expect at different times of the year? Are certain months more expensive than others? Do you want to schedule your wedding during school or Christmas holidays to make it easier for guests to attend?
Use these factors to help you find a destination wedding date that works well for both you and your loved ones.
Create a Guest List
The next step will be figuring out who to invite to your destination wedding. Your guest list will ultimately depend on your wedding vision and priorities for the day. Do you want to elope with immediate family only, or invite your wider selection of family and friends? We’d suggest coming up with a rough budget and using this to guide your decision-making, too.
Creating a guest list for your destination wedding can also lead to some tricky etiquette dilemmas. For example: do you need to invite plus ones and kids? And if you’re planning to elope, how do you prevent friends and family from getting offended?
Ultimately, this is your day, and your guest list is your prerogative. If you have significant people on your list with partners and kids, you may want to extend an invitation to ensure they can attend. As for eloping, you can always live stream your ceremony and throw an “after party” at a later date. Chances are, your loved ones will be more than understanding of your decision, and simply excited to see you get married!
Still feeling stuck? Check out our guide to creating your wedding guest list here for some guidance.
Book Your Team of Wedding Vendors
Researching and booking a team of wedding vendors should be a high priority on your to-do list. Again, you can utilise local wedding blogs and directories to help you find reputable professionals in the local area, from photographers to stylists and catering companies.
Once you’ve secured your dream team, you can lean on them for advice moving forward. They’ll be equipped with local knowledge and can give you the best recommendations for your special day.
Get Your Documentation in Order
Different countries have different rules for getting legally married, so it’s a good idea to action this as early as possible! To simplify the process, enlist the help of a local celebrant who can explain the legalities and ensure your documentation is lodged appropriately.
Don’t forget you can also get legally married in your hometown before or after your trip, and host a symbolic ceremony for your destination wedding instead. You’ll also want to check your passport details and ensure you give yourself plenty of time to order a new one if needed.
Create a Wedding Planning Checklist
Destination weddings require a whole new layer of logistics, so it’s crucial to get some planning systems in place!
Our digital wedding planner here at WedSites is the perfect tool for destination wedding management. You can create a master checklist, delegate tasks and set a deadline for each one, with helpful email reminders sent straight to your inbox. Being able to see all of your upcoming tasks in a month-by-month timeline will keep you on track and ensure nothing is overlooked.
Send Save The Dates
Once your wedding date and venue has been locked in, you’ll want to get the word out to your guests as soon as possible by sending your save the date cards. Ideally, you should send your save the dates at least 9-12 months before the day to give your guests ample time to prepare.
Your save the dates don’t need to go into specific detail about your event, but should include your wedding date, venue name and location. This means your guests can mark the date in their calendars, set-up flight alerts and begin budgeting and planning for their trip.
Research Accommodation Options
Securing accommodation will be a priority for you and your guests, so spend some time researching options in the local area. Ideally, there should be a range of options at different price points to meet the needs of your guests.
If possible, you may even be able to secure a block of rooms at a nearby hotel with a group discount available for your loved ones. Once again, leaning on your wedding venue or wedding planner for recommendations can be invaluable!
Create a Destination Wedding Website
A wedding website is hands-down one of the best tools for planning a stress-free destination wedding. You can use your custom destination wedding website to share all of the necessary wedding details and answer guest FAQs, including accommodation, travel tips and a schedule of events. You can even use your wedding website to track RSVPs and gather essential information from your guests.
Not sure where to begin? Our beautiful range of wedding website templates here at WedSites can be customised to suit your tastes.
Book a Pre-Wedding Trip
Ideally, you should aim to visit your wedding venue at least once before the actual event by booking a pre-wedding trip. You can take this opportunity to tour your venue in person, meet your wedding vendors and tie up any loose ends before the day. You can even arrange a taste-testing of your menu, or book an engagement shoot with your wedding photographer.
Plan Pre and Post-Wedding Events
It’s a nice idea to plan some pre and post-wedding events to make the trip even more enjoyable for your guests. You don’t need to plan a whole week’s worth of activities, but organising a welcome dinner and farewell lunch can be a great way to spend quality time with your loved ones. Don’t forget to include all of the necessary details on your wedding website, and collect RSVPs for each event.
Send Formal Invitations
Now that your wedding itinerary is locked in, you can go ahead and send formal invitations out to your guests. Ideally, you should send these around 4-6 months before the day and include a link to your wedding website for further details.
Sending your wedding invitations also means you can start tracking RSVPs and confirming numbers for the big day. To streamline the process, you can direct your guests to RSVP online via your wedding website, allowing you to store all of their details in one place.
Pack Your Bags!
Your plans have come together perfectly – now, your only task left is getting married. Go ahead and pack your bags (don’t forget your passports) and enjoy the holiday of a lifetime with your favourite group of people!
Destination Wedding Etiquette and FAQs
Still have questions? Keep these etiquette tips in mind to ensure your destination wedding goes off without a hitch.
Are we expected to pay for our guests’ flights and accommodation?
No. It’s understood that guests will be paying their way to attend your destination wedding. With this in mind, it can be a sweet gesture to organise group accommodation for your wedding party if they’ve already contributed financially in terms of attire, hair and makeup or your bachelorette/bucks party.
Do we need to organise childcare for the day?
It’s not required, but it can be a thoughtful idea to arrange child-minding services for the parents on your guest list, particularly if you’ve specified a child-free wedding.
What if our guests can’t attend?
Unfortunately, having guests unable to attend is part and parcel of planning a destination wedding. Some guests may simply be unable to attend due to budget constraints, work commitments or other reasons. Be gracious about any declined RSVPs and make plans to celebrate together at a later date!
Should we create a gift registry?
No – creating a gift registry for a destination wedding is seen as an etiquette faux pas. Remember, your guests will be contributing financially in terms of flights, accommodation and other travel expenses. With this in mind, it’s generally understood that additional gifts aren’t required (and shouldn’t be expected).
Plan Your Destination Wedding with WedSites
Here at WedSites, we have everything you need to plan the perfect destination wedding. From our personalised wedding website builder to our digital guest list manager, explore our wedding planning tools here or start building your wedding website for free today.