Planning a destination wedding is no easy feat. From language barriers to cost differences, there are quite a few details that need to be considered. But with the right team of professionals, you'll be sure to pull off an unforgettable event! Learn from Valentina Ring of The Stars Inside, an international wedding planning studio curating meaningful experiences in the world's most beautiful places, and get her top 10 tips for planning a wedding abroad.
1. Choose a meaningful location.
One of the joys of destination weddings is getting excited about the location—and I encourage my couples to really open that map up wide and consider all of their options. There are two very fun routes you can take: you can choose somewhere you know well, from a favorite past holiday or childhood trip perhaps, so you can take your loved ones to somewhere that represents your past, or you can embrace the new, and choose a spot that you’ve been dying to see! Explore with your friends and family, and create brand new traditions and memories in this new adventure.
Think about choosing a place that's important to you in some way—somewhere linked to a fond memory, a bucket list location, or an embodiment of the passions and hobbies you share as a couple. Enjoying that travel experience with your loved ones will make the celebration all the more unforgettable! While brainstorming locations, try not to set your heart on anywhere too specific until you’ve had some time to find out whether it's within budget, safe, and has all the resources you need for the kind of celebration you have in mind.
2. Do your research so you can manage your expectations on budget.
I often hear two myths being spoken about destination weddings: that they're much cheaper, or, on the other end, that they're prohibitively expensive. My experience is that it depends on the location you choose, on the style of wedding you want, and on the value-for-money of the particular elements that are priorities for you. For example, you might find that a particular European country has very cost-effective catering and venue hire fees compared to what you’ve seen in your local area, but requires a higher-than-average investment for florals and productions (i.e. music and lighting). Or perhaps the particular style of rentals you want is really tricky to find in a particular location, and so are in higher demand, and therefore more expensive.
Depending on how well your wedding vision aligns with what that country has to offer, you may need to reassess your budget or revisit what your priorities are in order to respect your original budget. With that in mind, I'd suggest approaching your first round of vendor searches and research with an open mind, flexibility, and a willingness to manage your expectations depending on what you discover.
3. Give yourself extra time to plan.
As a rule of thumb, destination weddings have more logistical challenges to plan and prepare for, and you may also discover that the speed of communication and approach to paperwork is different from what you were expecting or hoping for. Having said that, it's absolutely 100% worthwhile (trust me!). With that in mind, I recommend that couples wanting to say their I-dos abroad give themselves plenty of time to plan so that there are buffers for these possible delays. Better to feel like you can go with the flow and making decisions at their natural pace, rather than feeling like you’re constantly on the back foot, chasing up vendors for contracts, responses, or translations. If you do find yourself with a short planning lead time, don’t panic. It’s still absolutely possible to plan your dream destination wedding! It'll simply require a little bit more flexibility, quicker decision-making, and possibly some phone calls to get answers from venues and vendors, decisively and promptly.
4. Become familiar with the legalities well in advance.
Related to the point above, I'd recommend making sure that you spend time researching and familiarizing yourself with the legal part of the marriage too, even before choosing the country. Some countries will have easier, more friendly eligibility criteria for non-residents to marry there, while others may be exceptionally complicated (or may not allow it at all). In order to avoid disappointment down the line, I'd recommend knowing the gist of what bureaucratic hoops lie ahead before committing to a location, or, alternatively, keep your plans more flexible by considering the option that you may end up doing the paper-signing legal bit locally to you, and a symbolic (but no less meaningful!) ceremony abroad. The latter will give you more freedom to choose the actual location of the ceremony, and the peace of mind of knowing that you can stay in control of the admin in a language and legal framework you’re more comfortable with.
5. Give your guests plenty of notice.
Your guests will be absolutely over the moon to join you on this adventure abroad, but in order for them to be there with you, most will need a little bit more notice. Whether they're juggling work, holidays, childcare, other trips already planned, or something as simple as getting their passport (or wardrobe!) ready, your loved ones will be grateful for the chance to plan well ahead. I'd recommend sending Save the Dates as soon as you know where and when you’ll be tying the knot, and then plan to send your invitations anytime between 4-8 months before the wedding.
6. Embrace the cultural, seasonal, and geographical quirks.
Spend smarter by choosing native, seasonal flowers and local ingredients and specialties. Not only will this allow you to save money (to invest elsewhere if you wish!), it'll also infuse your wedding with the scents, flavors, and colors of the beautiful country you've chosen. I'd recommend spending a while getting to know the location you’ve chosen by reading some travel advice articles, looking through galleries, and ideally speaking to friends or family that have visited. You may discover some really helpful insights on what to lean into, and what to avoid. In particular, look out for recent travel warnings, political issues, or health concerns in the region.
7. Hire a team of professionals you trust.
Working with a planner that knows the area, or that's experienced with supporting couples internationally, will give you the peace of mind of knowing that every supplier will be managed and briefed and that everything will come together seamlessly and beautifully on the day. Many planners (like me!) specialize in working in new venues all over the world, sometimes sight-unseen, and will know exactly what problems to anticipate, how to make the most of your team and venue, and what questions to ask. Whether or not you’re partnering with a planner, make sure you take the time to research your vendors thoroughly, share lots of details with them, discuss their contracts in-depth, and wait to book until you find someone you feel completely confident with. Having a team you trust and who understands your vision is extra important when hosting a celebration abroad.
8. It’s okay for your guests to pay for some stuff.
Many couples who choose to host destination weddings find themselves going from planning a one-day wedding celebration to multiple days of meals and gatherings—like welcome dinners, local activities, and post-wedding brunches. This often leads couples to the assumption that they'll be expected to host and feed their full guest list for all of it, which can turn out to be much more expensive than your original budget accounted for. If this is something you're able and happy to cover, that’s wonderful, but if it isn’t, please don’t let this cause you stress, anxiety, or guilt.
It’s absolutely fine to ask your guests to cover part of their costs, like contributing to the welcome dinner, to any activities they want to participate in, or to their accommodations. It’s very likely that your guests will turn the weddings into a longer holiday, and they'll absolutely understand if covering their expenses for multiple days isn’t something that is (or should be!) part of your wedding budget.
Tactfully layout expectations by setting up a helpful website where you can provide recommendations or explain the cost of rooms and meals. This is also a great way of giving tips and advice for arranging travel, activities, and accommodation, without feeling like you need to help every single guest book their plane ticket!
9. Plan a few trips to your chosen destination ahead of the wedding, if you can.
If possible, visit the location a few times before the wedding. Trying some local activities and restaurants, arranging a local catering tasting, or scheduling hair and makeup trials will allow you to plan more intelligently and more intentionally. If visiting isn’t possible, don’t worry! It’s absolutely still possible to plan a magical and seamless celebration. It’s all going to come down to hiring professionals who are trustworthy and communicative. If you can, plan to arrive at least five days before the wedding so you can catch up with vendors, and gently overcome any jet lag too!
10. Be safe.
This tip goes for all weddings and is even more important for destination weddings—make sure you have wedding insurance well ahead of time. Investing in wedding insurance will protect your financial investment and also give you some emotional peace of mind, too. Not to mention the fact that many foreign venues actually require it these days anyway. Make sure you know exactly what coverage you're signing up for, and read the fine print of the policy so that you’re prepared in case of having to make any difficult decisions down the line. Most likely, you won’t need to use it and it'll just be a one-off payment that you make and then set aside, but it’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry!
Wherever in the world you want to go, if you'd like any support in planning your destination wedding or elopement, I'd absolutely love to hear from you!
View the full feature in Volume 1 of The Aisle magazine.