If you’ve ever found yourself lost in the hashtag “destination wedding” on Instagram (or you follow pretty much any celebrity wedding planners #guiltypleasure), you’ve undoubtedly seen a lot of incredible-looking weddings in foreign locales. Every weekend, all summer long, you can find photos of massive floral installations, hundreds of candles, and even perfectly curated welcome bags with hand-drawn maps from destination weddings. It’s easy to get intimidated by the thought of celebrating your marriage in the way that couples like Amal and George or Chrissy and John did, but wouldn’t it be so awesome? You, your person, your families, and your friends, all having dinner overlooking the ocean seems like a (very expensive) dream… right?
Well sure. Destination weddings can cost as many million as you have on hand. (Really, what wedding can’t offer the same opportunities to spend?) But the fact is, if it’s what you want, destination weddings can be far more affordable—and far more practical—than you think. And some helpful planning spreadsheets help make executing any wedding a little easier.
A destination wedding is not always two hundred people in a secret French location. Sometimes it’s fifty at a beach resort that’s an hour-long flight from home—and that makes them totally worth considering. To help demystify destination weddings a bit, I reached out to a couple of my favorite planners who love to travel: Victoria Lartey-Williams, who is the owner, lead event planner, and designer at Victorious Events NYC; and Fallon Carter, who is the owner and principal planner at Fallon Carter Weddings + Events. Here’s what you need to know.
Who should consider A destination wedding?
There are three types of couples who should seriously consider a destination wedding:
1. Couples who are inviting lots of guests from out of town. If everyone is going to travel anyway, you might as well make the location somewhere people are excited to go, and give yourself more quality time with people you wish you saw more often. According to Victoria, “Instead of sharing only a few minutes with each guest during your reception, you’ll have multiple opportunities to hang out at the beach, the pool, and nightclubs prior to the big day and afterward.” Let your wedding become the reason for a vacation.
2. Couples who are having a hard time controlling the guest count. You will most likely end up with fewer RSVPs because of the cost and time commitment associated with a destination wedding. But as Victoria warns, “Beware—don’t invite more than you can handle. In the odd scenario that most people are able to go you don’t want to find yourself in a financial crisis.”
3. Couples who love to travel or have an emotional attachment to a certain city. It’s a pretty great way to show off something so important to the two of you. “Do it if you are a travel buff and that’s truly what you want to do. The people who really care about you will find a way to be there no matter what,” advises Victoria.
Is Having A destination wedding expensive?
In short, not necessarily! There are a few factors to consider to determine whether or not a destination wedding might be expensive for the hosts.
Fallon suggests a straightforward way to figure out if a destination wedding will be expensive for you: “Like any wedding, you can go luxury or economical. It all depends on location, season, design vision, and guest count. First identify how much it would cost to get married in the city where you live. Then identify the cost of doing a similar wedding in your dream destination.”
Victoria notes that “typically, all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean will give you the most for your money.” However, she also advises that you keep in mind that the cost can also vary depending on the time of year you plan to host your wedding: “Winter months and holiday weekends are in high demand, so expect higher pricing at those times.”
There is one additional expense for destination weddings, though, that you’ll need to consider: additional travel. “Keep in mind that hosting a destination wedding usually lowers your guest count, but you will now need to factor in the cost of traveling for site visits to iron out details,” Fallon says.
What Locations do you recommend for A destination wedding?
To avoid the threat of a tropical storm, stay out of the hurricane belt! Victoria singles out Aruba as a favorite because, as she says, “You’ll be hard pressed to find a rainy day in Aruba. Since it’s south of the Hurricane Belt, it rarely experiences wet weather, so you are almost guaranteed a picture-perfect wedding day. The Dominican Republic is also a great choice for some of the best all-inclusive deals.”
Or if you can swing Italy, do it! Fallon says she loves “good food, beaches, and strong drinks,” so which are her favorite destinations? “My top three would have to be Italy, Mexico, and Colombia.” Victoria agrees with the idea of an Italian wedding: “I’m a big fan of Italy—imagine a romantic villa in Tuscany as the setting for your nuptials! It’s what dreams are made of!”
How should we choose our wedding location?
Brainstorming + research = finding the perfect destination for you and your partner. Fallon underscores the importance of working together with your partner to decide on locations for destination weddings: “Both you and your future spouse should write out a list of your dream wedding destinations—the crazier the better. Then combine the lists and identify which destinations are in common… or spark interest in the other partner.”
It’s important to think about how you would like your wedding weekend to feel—for both you and your guests. Fallon asks, “Do you envision relaxing with your guests beachside with drinks in hand, going on a morning hike to watch the sunrise, or maybe learning about the pyramids while on the back of a camel? Set the intention of how you would like to spend your wedding weekend and which destination will translate that the best. Remember, you are not just planning a trip for you and your partner, but all of your family and friends as well, so you want to be aware of their experience. Pick a destination that you love but that won’t scare guests away with a high fight cost or a Zika (or other CDC) warning.”
Is it a good idea to choose a resort for A destination wedding?
Resorts are often budget friendly, and they simplify the planning process for destination weddings. In particular, Fallon thinks that “a full-service venue such as an all-inclusive resort is great for those who are looking for a packaged concept. It usually includes a photographer, flowers, musicians, food and beverage, a cake, and an attendant on the wedding day.”
If you do go with a resort, it’s important to be sure to ask questions about the restrictions, though, which can determine your choices for vendors or the size of your room blocks. Fallon suggests, “If you are looking to design your own wedding and bring in your own vendors, then inquire with the resort before booking to see if it’s possible to just rent the space and bring in your own team. Also inquire about any room block requirements, and the cost per night for your guests.” She also notes one downside to consider: “The all-inclusive cost could intimidate your more economical guests—especially savvy travelers that find pleasure in finding a deal.”
Whose costs do We need to cover?
There are no standard expectations here! If you’d like to be generous (especially for someone special who may not be able to attend otherwise), go ahead, but there’s no requirement that you pay your guests’ way, including the wedding party and immediate family.
As a reminder, Fallon says, “This is your wedding, so do what works best for you. Some couples manage the housing costs, all meals, or the cost of flight. Others manage only the costs for the wedding day and their guests manage their own travel details.”
As the hosts of the party, it is also nice to consider doing a little something extra to make your guests feel loved and appreciated. Fallon suggests, “If your guests are paying for the majority of their travel expenses, try to find your own budget-friendly ways to improve their experience. This could include putting special care and attention into welcome bags (even just packaged snacks and bottled water goes a long way!), choosing a resort that includes options for day trips and excursions, arranging airport transfers, or simply feeding them gummy bears by the pool. How you spoil your guests is totally up to you (and doesn’t have to break the bank)… just make sure they know you appreciate how far they have come to celebrate with you.”
Should we hire vendors local to the destination OR vendors who are near us and will travel for destination weddings?
There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding who to hire for any wedding, but that’s especially true for destination weddings. There are certainly some benefits to hiring a vendor local to your destination. Fallon says, “If you and your partner are planning the wedding yourselves, it can be beneficial to use vendors that are local and familiar with the area and your venue. It helps to save on travel expenses, they have great insight on what works well, and they can flag details you may need to consider.”
Victoria agrees: “A great way to save money and simultaneously support the economy of your chosen destination is to hire local vendors.” However, she also notes that there are times when it makes sense to hire someone to travel to your destination: “If one particular aspect of your wedding is very important to you, then you may want to consider splurging and flying in your dream vendor. For example, if you are having your wedding in the Caribbean, but don’t necessarily want the standard cookie cutter beach poses in your album, consider flying in the documentary-style photographer you’ve been eyeing. If you are very particular about your hair and makeup, fly in the artist you go to regularly so you are guaranteed to look your very best. Or if you want to have an amazing party, fly in your favorite DJ from your city to ensure the dance floor is packed all night. Incorporating just one of these vendors is a great way to bring a little bit of home along with you without breaking the bank.”
Fallon also considers it a little bit of a balancing act: “As a destination planner, I work with couples that are looking to have someone manage the moving parts around their destination event, while also having the ability to meet with me in person and receive real-time updates. In an effort to support local business, I do my best to select vendors that will be able to execute the client’s vision, but sometimes, the couple has their heart set on a certain photographer or certain DJ, and we decide to bring them along for their special day, which also works.”
What do couples tend to overlook when planning A destination wedding? What should I keep in mind?
Here are Victoria and Fallon’s best tips for things to remember! Victoria has three final tips:
- Host a welcome party or rehearsal dinner so all of your guests can get to know each other before the wedding. Or try to organize a fun, interactive group activity like salsa dancing lessons or rum tasting or a party boat ride to break the ice.
- Ship decor items at least two to three weeks ahead of time if possible so you aren’t overstuffing your suitcase. The overweight baggage fee at check in will probably cost you more than a shipping charge.
- Welcome bags may seem like a hassle or an added expense, but they are great for making your travel-weary guests feel appreciated for making that trek. Consider filling them with a few treats—both savory and sweet options would be perfect—a beverage, a list of activities to do, and an itinerary for the weekend’s events.
Fallon says to remember the following:
Don’t forget to consider
- Language barriers
- Potentially longer response times
- Time zone differences and changes
- Travel insurance
- Event insurance
- Luggage shipping service (and your wedding dress)
- Travel documentation or vaccinations needed
- Where you’d like to legally marry
- Currency and wire fees/safely sending payments to vendors
As you know, planning any wedding, whether it’s local or destination, takes work. But with the right team and thoughtful planning, you can make it happen. And, if you are planning a destination wedding, it could happen on the beach, in the mountains, in a Tuscan vineyard, or anywhere else you can imagine. It’s bound to be an incredible experience and create tons of memories for you and your guests.
Who’s planned (or is planning) a destination wedding? What are the current problems you’re trying to solve? What information did you learn and want to pass on?