Words: Nicole Deuble
Planning an unforgettable destination wedding can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little research, you can create the perfect event for your friends and family (or just the two of you!). In this guide, we’ll discuss everything from finding the ideal location to hiring vendors for your dream destination wedding.
Why have a destination wedding?
For many couples, the romantic and carefree atmosphere of a destination wedding is simply too good to pass up! With a destination wedding, you and your guests can enjoy the perks of a holiday, complete with stress-less planning, cost savings, and the opportunity to travel somewhere exotic or unforgettable. Plus, fewer guests can save time and money while still ensuring that everyone who matters most can celebrate with you.
Decide where & how you want to get married
Once you’ve decided to host a destination wedding, choosing the perfect location is your next exciting step. Wherever you choose, this guide will provide tips on finding the perfect destination wedding location and ensuring it fits with your vision.
Ask yourselves: How do we want our wedding to look and feel? An intimate vow exchange or a party-style atmosphere with loads of friends and family? A beach ceremony or a city soiree? An exotic setting or a close-to-home escape? Many couples look to their favourite holiday spot or somewhere sentimental (think proposal location) for their dream destination wedding locale.
When you have a few ideas, consider the logistics for each — including any travel restrictions or attendance requirements, like passports and visas. Also think about whether your chosen location will be easy for everyone (including elderly guests) to access and navigate.
Tip: Check out other real weddings. Getting the scoop on how other couples pulled off their destination event will give you plenty of ideas and inspiration about your own celebration.Check out our full list of location guides here.
Set your budget
This is also a time to consider your wedding budget. Not the most romantic aspect of planning a destination wedding but a necessary one! When you agree on a number that you’re both comfortable spending, it will help other key areas including guest list, location, venue, and even your choice of a bridal gown, fall into place. And don’t worry, we have excellent wedding packages to popular destinations including Bali and Thailand to save you $$$.
You’ll also want to decide what you’ll be covering and what your guests will be expected to contribute. For example, guests usually pay for their flights and accommodation but you may want to pay for group excursions, meals, and transfers to and from the venue. If you’re having a tiny wedding but guests are booking a long-haul flight to join you, you may even decide to cover their stay at your chosen venue.
See our tips on where to splurge & save on your destination wedding
Select a destination wedding date
After deciding on the ideal location, you can set a date! Be sure to research the expected weather conditions at your chosen locale before locking it in, as the time of year can really affect pricing and availability. Off-season is usually discounted for a reason — take the time to research potential risks, such as the rainy season, before committing!
Shoulder seasons, or just outside peak, may offer better weather without premium pricing. Try to book your venue and block rooms as soon as possible to avoid missing out on your chosen date or risking a price rise.
Tip: Give guests as much notice as possible! Save-the-dates can be sent 8-12 months prior, followed by official wedding invitations 5-6 months before. Don’t be too disappointed if some people can’t attend due to financial reasons or work commitments, they can always join you on Zoom.
Research local marriage requirements & customs
Good to know: Each country/jurisdiction has its own set of laws and regulations for your wedding to be acknowledged as a legal union. To ensure your wedding date will mean something on paper, do your due diligence and research all the legal requirements in advance.
If you’re considering a wedding somewhere spectacular like The Maldives, where weddings are popular but not legally binding, consider a civil ceremony at home (before or after) and a symbolic island ceremony. Many holiday wedding favourites, including Thailand and Fiji, require a minimum stay in the area before the wedding (a bonus in our book!).
Tip: If you’re keen to include a few local wedding customs in your destination celebration, ask your planner for ideas or check out real weddings from your venue shortlist.
Claire & Joshua had a water blessing as part of their destination wedding in Koh Samui
Visit your chosen wedding location
Planning the perfect destination wedding involves more than just booking flights. Although not a deal-breaker, you could visit your chosen country or region to scout out venues, accommodation, and rehearsal dinner spots. This will also allow you to meet vendors face-to-face.
If this isn’t possible, we highly recommend enlisting a local wedding planner or working with a hotel or resort that offers a dedicated wedding planner. As well as on-the-ground knowledge and experience, these pros can connect you with their extensive network of wedding professionals.
Vet the vendors
Start shortlisting key vendors including photographers, makeup artists, and florists (your planner will be able to assist with ideas too). Check out their work on socials and read online reviews. Some couples choose to hire from home (if budget allows) or liaise directly with vendors via video calls and emails to get to know them better. Just remember to factor in travel and lodging expenses if you hire vendors from home or outside the venue.
You may want to leave some vendor communication in the hands of your trusted planner, who will be working hard to bring all the elements together. Remember, their goal is to make your destination wedding experience as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for a quote if a vendor’s rates aren’t clear. And always read the fine print of every contract to avoid unexpected costs.
Research guest accommodation
If you’re getting married at a hotel or resort, chances are they’ll offer great accommodation deals for your guests. However, if you’ve chosen a luxury option, don’t assume this will suit everyone. To make guest travel as stress-free as possible, create a list of accommodation recommendations that meet every budget. Ensure these are close to your chosen wedding venue and offer easy transport links. Don’t forget to ask if they offer a discounted rate for ‘room blocks’ to suit groups of family or friends.
Tip: Consider streaming a virtual ceremony for those who can’t make it in person. This is also a great idea if you’re planning an intimate destination wedding but still want to include loved ones in the big ‘we do!’.
Plan events & activities for the whole party
Show guests how much you appreciate their presence by hosting a few optional group activities. A welcome party by the pool will get everyone in a holiday mood while a post-wedding brunch is perfect for debriefing your special day. Destination weddings celebrate your union while introducing friends and family to exciting new places, so consider planning activities that showcase the local culture.
Rent bicycles for a group tour, celebrate the regional cuisine with a cooking class, head out for a day of snorkelling or temple-hopping, or book a sunset cruise. You’ll be creating the space to reconnect with people you haven’t seen for a while and help those meeting for the first time to get to know each other.
Check out our guide to keeping guests comfortable and entertained
Gift your guests with welcome bags
Speaking of guest appreciation, we love the idea of a welcome bag to greet your nearest and dearest. These are usually delivered to hotel rooms on arrival. Start with a few essentials (think hand sanitiser, water bottles, mints, Panadol, and do-not-disturb signs) and pop in an event itinerary to keep everyone up to speed. From there you can curate the contents to suit your location and wedding style.
Maps or local guides detailing nearby attractions and restaurants are always a winner while fans, mosquito spray and sunblock are nice inclusions for a tropical wedding. Treats from the local area are also on-brief, such as a small bottle of bubbly, olive oil, or beer. Perhaps a locally made sarong, artisan-made chocolate or specialty tea will add that thoughtful touch. Just ensure it’s all easy to enjoy onsite or take home again! And lastly, remember to place everything in a stylish and reusable bag with a personal thank-you note.
8 ways to get the best value when planning a destination wedding
If you’re hoping to save money on your destination wedding, here are some tips to consider:
- Snap up an all-inclusive destination wedding package. Several big-ticket items will be included (then add ‘extras’ if budget allows), and resorts and hotels generally work with proven local vendors
- A big guest list can mean big savings! Ask your chosen venue about group discounts for rooms, activities, dining, and transport
- Get married off-peak (consider a weekday or shoulder season)
- Take advantage of the natural beauty of your location, incorporating local florals and ingredients into the decor and menu
- Keep an eye out for deals when booking flights and hotels. Be sure to use incognito mode when searching for flights to avoid sky-high prices due to stored cookies
- Use local vendors. This will save you on transport and accommodation fees
- Swap paper invitations for digital invitations and a wedding website. Digital invites are also great for showing off photos from the venue and giving guests an exciting glimpse of what’s in store. Win-win!
- Get legally married before you travel. This may not be the dream for everyone, but it will cut some costs associated with a legal ceremony – leaving more in the kitty for honeymoon upgrades!
Have you checked out our tips on where to splurge & save on your destination wedding?