When my boyfriend popped the question recently, I was ecstatic. My first thought was, "Wow, didn't see that one coming!" followed quickly by, "How am I ever going to plan a destination wedding?"
Allow me to explain. While a destination wedding would be something I would enjoy regardless, having our nuptials performed overseas is actually a necessity for us (or we see it that way, at least). While I have spent my life growing up in the grand ole' U.S. of A., my fiancé, however, is from Australia. As such, we think it's only fair to attempt to get married somewhere with easy access to both families.
We are far from alone in our quest to plan the perfect wedding abroad, though. In fact, approximately 15% of couples plan destination weddings. That's one in ten couples, an increase of 25% from 2009.
If you're engaged, and thoughts of planning a destination wedding send visions of dollar signs dancing through your head, you might want to reconsider. Turns out, having a destination wedding can actually save you some cash, depending on where you decide to have it (Bear with me here. Booking an event for 200 people at the Four Seasons in Hawaii will most likely not save you cash.) Often, the cheaper price tag has to do with the fact that you will most likely have a pared down guest list when you plan to wed somewhere other than your hometown.
On the other hand, while you'll likely be spending less in some areas (for example, you might have only a couple of flower options to pick from, or a standard meal with limited options), you'll probably spend more in other areas (your airfare will be a big one, obviously).
While everyone's destination wedding planning will be different, here's some helpful info I've picked up along the way that might help you plan, as well:
Things to Keep In Mind for You:
Go Easy on Your Family
Planning a destination wedding might not be exactly the wedding your family (and more specifically, your parents) had in mind for you, especially if it means lots of friends and family can't come. Ultimately your wedding should take whatever form makes you happy, but you might want to keep that in mind when you tell them this is what you're thinking of doing.
Talk Budget Early
This is true for any wedding, but especially for a destination wedding. Prices can vary greatly from place to place (and even what's offered within the place), so knowing how much money you're going in with, and trying to stick to that budget, will help you narrow down your options. If your parents are helping you foot the bill for your nuptials, we suggest having a sit down conversation with them, sans fiancé. There's no need for your better half to be involved in The Money Chat, and it might add to any preexisting tension you already feel about it.
Get a Travel Agent/Wedding Planner
You might want to factor in the cost of working with a travel agent and a wedding planner. While it's possible to make all the arrangements yourself, these people can save you a ton of time and, in the end, may even end up saving you a lot of cash, too. Wedding planners who specialize in the place where you are considering getting hitched will have insight into the best hotels, deals and options (which is even more important if you can't afford to/don't have the time to visit the destination ahead of the wedding), and travel agents can help score your guests the best deals on travel.
Go Easy on the Honeymoon
To save some cash, you might consider having your honeymoon at the same destination as the wedding. You can always switch hotels after your guests leave to make it feel more special.
Remember Your Bridal Party
While it doesn't seem to be set in stone, I have read that, if possible, the bride should consider paying for lodging for her side of the bridal party, and the groom should do the same. If you can afford it, it's a nice thing to consider when you're asking close friends and family to travel for your wedding.
While we're on the topic, consider keeping your bridal party small and intimate. Asking too many people makes them feel like they should come, even if they can't afford it. If you feel it's necessary you can always have a conversation with your aspiring actress elementary school BFF who would otherwise be in your party, if the wedding was in your hometown. Explain that you love her, but you wanted to take the pressure off making her feel like she has to join in, even if she can't afford your shindig in Tahiti.
Exercise Your 'Let It Go' Muscles
The very essence of a destination wedding means that you might not be able to plan everything down to the very last detail. Figure out what is really most important to you (Flowers? Music? Cake?) and make sure you discuss ahead of time with your wedding coordinator or the hotel how much you can be involved with picking those things, and how much extra it will cost to pick things that are "outside the box."
Keep Seasons in Mind
When picking the date, keep weather in mind. This will force you to figure out which is more important to you: A specific date as your wedding anniversary (which means you might skip Florida as an option because, hello! Hurricane season!), or a specific place, which means you need to keep your date flexible.
Also, keep high travel seasons in mind. Getting married during off-peak travel seasons will mean better deals on travel for your guests.
Let the Destination Dictate Your Attire
How sad would it be to pick a gorgeous (expensive!) wedding dress that doesn't travel well, or that seems totally inappropriate for your casual, laid-back beachfront ceremony? Keep your destination and atmosphere in mind before you pick your dress. If you're flying, steer towards lightweight, wrinkle-free fabrics for easy travel.
Do Your Homework
Get your marriage paperwork figured out ahead of time. Some countries require you to stay there for a certain amount of time before you can be legally wed there. If you're into the idea, consider getting legally hitched in your hometown before jetting off to have the ceremony, that way you'll be certain everything is legit, and you'll save on fees for lawyers, officiants and paperwork in other countries.
Factor in Shipping Costs
If there's anything you'd like to ship ahead of time, keep those costs in mind when you're considering your bottom line.
This goes for people, as well. Are there any people (Hairdresser? Makeup artist?) who you'd like to fly in to take care of you on your special day? Typically, if you're doing this, you should pay for their flight and hotel stay.
Things to Keep in Mind for Your Guests:
Make It Easy
Your guests will already be traveling in some form to your wedding, so pick a place with easy access for visitors (think big cities or places within a short driving distance from big airports).
Save the Date ... Early
Send out your save-the-dates as soon as you have the date and place in mind so people have ample time to save up if they'd like to come. Plus, there are so many fun things you can do with save-the-dates when you're having a destination wedding! We're lovin' these.
Skip the Gifts
I know, I know. A big part of the fun of getting married is all the stuff you get! Still, if you're married abroad and people are dolling out cash just to make it, consider letting people know that their presence at your wedding is gift enough.
Be a Group
If it's possible, consider throwing in a few group activities, paid for by you. Besides the dinner/party the night before your wedding and the brunch the day after (which are pretty standard), think about throwing in another group activity that shows off the fabulousness of the destination you picked, like a bus tour into the town, snorkeling or zip-lining.
Give Them a Gift
Consider greeting guests at your destination with gift baskets in their rooms that include helpful things for the trip, like a map, bug spray, sun tan lotion or bottles of water.
Share with me, please! If you have in the past or are currently planning a destination wedding, what tips do you have for saving a bit of cash?