How We Planned Our Sri Lanka Destination Wedding & Pool Party


Trust and let go

Helen, Business owner, copywriter & Keren, business lady

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Friends who are family and family who are friends on an island that smells of cinnamon.

Planned Budget: $17,000 NZD ($13,200 USD)

Actual Budget: $20,658 NZD ($17,420 USD)

Number of Guests: 23

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Where we allocated the most funds

Flights and accommodation. We hired two beautiful sister guest houses during the off-season, and managed to get a pay four, stay six deal. And what did “off-season” mean? Amazing dramatic monsoon rain for half an hour or so a day, but mostly blissful sunshine.

We treated everyone for two nights and guests stayed on another four nights on their own ticket. It ended up being $50 USD each a night, including a three course à la carte breakfast everyday. Serious luxury.

We ended up taking on more travel and accommodation costs than we’d planned in order to cover crucial people who couldn’t otherwise have come. Our priorities were pretty clear on that, and we dropped other stuff to make up some of the deficit. In retrospect, that was actually a bonus—less stuff to worry about!

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Where we allocated the least funds

Everything weddingy. Our dresses were borrowed or second hand and we did our own hair and makeup. The venue guys took the boat out in the morning, pulled up a pile of lobster and did the food for $45 a head. We also asked everyone to smuggle a couple bottles of bubbles in their luggage to drink on the night. Wine is crazy-expensive in Sri Lanka, although the cheapest beer, tequila, and limes in the world meant no one was going thirsty.

What was totally worth it

Trusting people. Hosting a wedding in a developing country is an exercise in letting go. We knew the venue had great food and service, so we gave them a rough brief and let them run with it. And they pulled out the stops. Blue-purple water lilies from down the back of the house were stashed in vases everywhere, and the table looked glorious—not something we’d have ever designed, but totally perfect for the location.

The staff made sure we had drinks all night, an even served our BYO nibbles for us before the ceremony—totally beyond the call of duty. Our non-bridesmaids did great things with our hair, with the music, and with the petal confetti, sort of on their own volition. Not micromanaging everything meant there were heaps of beautiful surprises throughout the day—it felt like we were at a party in our honour, rather than hosting one.

Corey Torpie was the first vendor we booked and holy crap, did that girl deliver. She even came to our pre-wedding drinkies with her awesome husband. It meant that shy guests (and brides) felt totally relaxed with her the next day.

Going to a tropical island far, far away. A little known fact about the WIC is that it can’t cross water. All those things that in New Zealand we had to have in order to feel married suddenly didn’t matter. Decorations? That’s what the frangipani trees are for. Need to be unique and special? Oh, well you’re in Sri Lanka, is that special enough for you? How about expensive dresses? Sure, let’s wear corsets and rhinestones in the heat. Flowers? If you can find some that won’t wilt. The guest list? Perfectly self-selecting, with the added bonus of it not feeling so goddamn miserable when some family members decline to attend due to religious convictions. If you consider the budget as honeymoon inclusive (four nights in five star accommodation in an exotic locale), it’s pretty cost effective too.

Getting a video done. There was something a little cringy for us about wedding videos but since one of our guests makes videos for a living, we figured we should record the adventure. It ended up being one of our favourite things.

Having drinks the day before. We had only just flown in that morning, and we thought we were all going to be ridiculously tired and shell shocked. It was our best friend’s initiative though, and since she runs an amazing restaurant in Auckland, we figured she knew what she was doing. Turns out she was totally right. We needed it to officially kick off the trip and to intro guests who didn’t know many people. It was perfect—by the end of the six days, people had made lifelong friends.

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What was totally not worth it

Putting on a New Zealand-based party for the people who couldn’t make it. When we were deciding to run away to Sri Lanka we felt bad about the people who couldn’t come, and thought a New Zealand-based party was something we sort of had to do. But by the time we got back, we’d made peace with the idea that not everyone could come. And we suspect everyone else had too—we’d taken care to spend good one-on-one time with all those non-attendees anyway. We ended up having a potluck in another city, where most of our extended families live. We didn’t make a big deal about it so not many people came. It was fun, but hardly necessary.

Creating an info pack for guests to refer to. Why? Because they didn’t read it. After a few days of being expected to facilitate day trips, answer questions that were already answered in the pack, and correct misinformation that had unaccountably spread, we eventually appointed a “know it all”—she read the booklet, and did the answering for us.

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A few things that helped us along the way

Our mates, seriously, we couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully supportive and mindful group of people. Obsessive self-analysis: endless conversations about why we were getting married, which helped us keep things in perspective.

Having been there before: we chose Sri Lanka because we’d already been there. We went on a Habitat for Humanity build trip and afterwards spent a few days at what would eventually be our venue. That we knew the venue, the staff, and the neighboring village, and had already navigated the country made the planning so much less stressful.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Be prepared that weddings throw up emotional gunk that you will have to deal with it. Keep detailed spreadsheets, share them in Dropbox. Don’t bother with seemingly ingenious digital RSVP tools—most people won’t use them, and you’ll end up having to manually contact everyone anyway.

Be an over-communicator. We thought we were pretty good at it but we kept majorly missing each other. Turns out we plan events differently—Helen makes snap decisions that she likes to voice but is quite comfortable changing. Keren likes to gather many, many options, and make careful and final decisions before sharing plans with anyone. A recipe for tears during wedding planning, but good lessons for married life.

Use a travel agent—can you imagine the carnage otherwise?

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Favorite thing about the wedding

Helen: The ceremony our friend Rebs wrote and conducted for us. Funny, sincere, and deeply personal—it was the best bit of the whole day.

Keren: Sing-screaming “Time of My Life” and leaping off the pool steps while surprise-fireworks cracked overhead.

Both: Getting up before anyone else the next morning, blissfully hungover, eating chips, breaking out of the locked beach gate and raving at each other about our brilliant, handsome, talented friends who sang songs, played guitars, sent sock-puppets-placeholders of themselves, wrote speeches and ceremonies, and jumped into a (literally) last minute MC role and totally nailed it.

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Anything else you’d like to add

We felt the role of community in a marriage was super, super crucial but found it quite hard to find readings or anything that really spoke to those feelings. Our dear pal and celebrant created something (sort of) from scratch that was perfect, so if anyone would like to see what she came up with (for inspiration, or outright plagiary) we’d be happy to share.

Budget breakdown, all converted to USD

Two guest houses, six nights: $8,575
Three return flights: $5,049
Dresses, beauty prep, make up: $1,000
Reception, two courses plus staff all night: $1,406
Bus, petrol, and driver, seven days in Sri Lanka: $800
Photographer (charged at cost): $2,000
Videographer and editing (friend rate): $400
Second Party in NZ for those who couldn’t come: $413.50
Spending money in Sri Lanka with meals: $400
Rings (wedding only): $1,000
Bubbles/wine to bring to Sri Lanka: $300
Travel insurance: $191
License and civil ceremony: $174
Dinner after civil ceremony: $261

Subtotal: $21,971

Guest Contributed: $4,550

Total: $17,420


The Info:

Photographer: Corey Torpie | Location: Tangalle, Sri Lanka | Venue: The Last House | Helen’s Dress: Altered second-hand sample from Zambesi | Helen’s Sandals: Decjuba | Helen’s Earrings: A weird shop in Japan | Keren’s Dress: Borrowed overskirt, bespoke silk petticoat | Makeup: Mostly MAC, and this amazing sweaty face makeup fixative

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  • vegankitchendiaries

    “Don’t bother with seemingly ingenious digital RSVP tools—most people won’t use them, and you’ll end up having to manually contact everyone anyway”

    Every time I see a great ‘RSVP tip’ now, post-wedding, I just LAUGH because… this. There is literally nothing you can do to trick people into RSVPing… a lot of people are just kind of shitty at it.

    Anyway, where does one even START with this one…. ? It’s just…. so… COOL! Been waiting for this post since we got spoilers via the APW instagram ages ago! Did guests spend all of the dinner hour arguing about which bridge had the coolest dress? (Cos, I’m arguing with myself.) Corey T is obviously insanely talented… the romance and joy in all of these photos is in freakin’ overdrive. Just LOVELY!!

    • Meg Keene

      Which is funny, since I generally advise that digital RSVPs as an option probably mean a SLIGHTLY higher response rate. The reality is, your response rate is going to be shitty no matter what, let’s be honest.

      • Keren

        Yeah, actually in events that require a simple “yep” or “nup”, I totally agree. I guess in this case we were asking people to tell us 1. You’re coming, 2. How many people “you” is, 3. You’re booking the same flights as us, 4. You’d like to stay in our guest house, 5, you want to stay for X nights. Too much for an online RSVP!

      • Helen

        We had about a 10% return rate. My heart goes out to those organising a wedding with 2 or 3 times our guest list.

      • Digital RSVP’s just made it easier for me to know exactly WHO hadn’t bothered to RSVP. Then I got to send emails threatening them that they would have to eat tofu surprise (not a meal choice), drink water, and stand because they can’t click a button. That usually worked.

      • DM

        I guess I’m out of the norm here, we only had ONE person not reply.

  • up_at_Dawn

    Okay- new favourite phrase “emotional gunk”. Sums up the not-fun, icky, and fraught parts of planning a wedding.

    • Helen

      It’s a weird hole, aye. One of my team members also found a really good (but slightly irreverent) passage in a book which I’ll send to you too. My email: hmsteemson@gmail.com – flick me yours and I’ll send them over.

    • Helen

      Derp – sorry. I totally put the wrong comment on here. Sorry for the confuse! Emotional gunk. This is what it feels like, aye.

  • BrightLikeTheSun13

    That picture of the first kiss with the flower petal confetti floating down? Absolutely stunning! It took my breath away.

  • Vanessa

    The kiss and the officiant and the flower confetti might be the most gorgeous wedding photo I’ve ever seen.

  • scw

    YES PLEASE to your offer to share what your friend/celebrant came up with re: community. we’ve been working on our ceremony recently (as I commented earlier this week) and want to focus on our community but can’t find any readings that feel right.

    • Helen

      It’s a weird hole, aye! One of my team also found a really good
      (but slightly irreverent) passage in a book which I’ll send to you too.
      My email: hmsteemson@gmail.com – flick me yours and I’ll send them over.

  • Adrienne Z

    This is amazing. Also, would love to see more of the ceremony language you created!

  • Bket

    I don’t usually get all verklempt about other people’s weddings; they have what they have / we have what we’re having. But, hot damn, this is AMAZING and FABULOUS and WONDERFUL and WOWZA.

    • Helen

      Verklempt is my new favourite.

  • Lindsey d.

    This is one of my favorite APW weddings today. Beautiful and full of good advice. And the baby in a diaper and bowtie made my day.

  • Caitlin

    YOU DID YOU OWN HAIR?!? It looks AMAZING!!!!
    Everything about this is gorgeous, but that just floored me. Damn I’m jealous of your hair doing abilities! Spectacular!

    • Helen

      Well, we made our lady friends do our own hair, so we can’t take too much cred, really. A lot must also be said for cheap sponge hair inserts. $8 from the chemist for all the volume you could wish for .

      • Another Meg

        Hallelujah to sponges for big hair.

  • Elizabeth

    I knew this was a Corey Torpie wedding. Her photos are FANTASTIC every. single. time. My fav APW vendor by far.

    • Helen

      We’re huge, huge fans. Her after care was exceptional too. Create communication and lots of little surprise extras that made getting the photo files extra special.

  • clairekfromtheuk

    Gah! My eyes!!! So pretty!

  • kt in kc

    That looks like the most fun wedding EVER. :-)

    • Helen

      And these don’t even show the four hours we spent in the pool pretending to be rich people from the seveties/synchronised swimmers. We found one of our hair sponges on the filter the next day.