how to plan a destination wedding

My fiancé and I got engaged last August, but we had been talking for months before about someday getting married on the island of Maui in Hawaii. When that someday turned into today and the time came to set a date, we knew Maui had to be the place, and we got started on planning a destination wedding for October 2018. Now that we’re five months into the planning process (but with a whole lot of to-dos still left to go!), I can confidently say that I’ve learned a ton of tips and tricks along the way so far. Planning a destination wedding is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, I think it’s an experience that will prove to be worth it when your family and friends are together in your favorite location to watch you say, “I do.” Today I’m dishing out all of the best advice I’ve received thus far in the planning process. This will be especially helpful for you brides-to-be who are just starting out.

Keep reading for my top tips for planning a destination wedding. And, if you have any other burning questions on this topic, be sure to ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Without further ado…

1. Plan a preliminary trip.

One of the first things my fiancé and I did after getting engaged (after letting the excitement of the weekend sink in, of course) was plan a trip to Maui. We were pretty sure we wanted to get married there, but we didn’t want to commit to a destination wedding without being there and getting a feel for the whole idea in person. We’ve been to the island together so many times (my fiancé grew up going every summer and winter), so we were definitely familiar with it. But even if you’re considering a location you know well, I still think it’s a good idea to plan a “scouting” trip. This becomes even more necessary if you’re considering getting married in a place you haven’t traveled to very many times. We had a clear moment of knowing that it was the right location for us and we both felt strongly about doing a destination wedding while we were there. If we hadn’t made the trip, we might have gone back on forth on the decision for a while. Another important factor in choosing a location is making sure it even has a venue that will fit your needs. For example, if you’re wanting a big wedding but all the venues in your desired location can only hold a max of 60 people, you’ll know it’s time to go back to the drawing board. I strongly recommend researching some venues, then making appointments to view those venues while you’re on your trip.

2. Carefully curate your guest list.

Having a destination wedding means that you’re probably going to have to narrow your list of family and friends down, at least a little bit. My advice is to really spend time on this aspect—and do it early on. My fiancé and I sat down a few weeks after getting engaged and made a list of our closest friends and people in our lives who are really special to us. We put an equal number limit on our list of friends, his parent’s list of family and friends and my parent’s list of family and friends. This made it seem fair for all of us, and gave us a target number to keep in mind so that no one got carried away.

3. Send save the date and invitations earlier than you would for a traditional wedding.

For a local wedding, save the dates traditionally go out about four months in advance. For destination weddings, however, the illustrator I’m working with, Bianca of Studio Luzance advised me that it’s a good idea to send save the dates 9-12 months before the big day. This gives people time to make travel and accommodation plans early on. Formal invitations should then go out about 3-5 months out. This may seem early, but keep in mind that your guests will already have the weekend on their radar after receiving the save the date, so they will be expecting an invitation to follow from that point on. Why not give them as much advance notice as possible to book their flights and hotels? Which brings me to my next point…

4. Suggest accommodations early on.

My illustrator Bianca and my wedding planner, Lena of Belle Destination Events also recommended that I include a list of suggested accommodations to go along with my save the date. This was great advice—it’s a great way to give people enough time to plan where they will be staying for the wedding. Without some accommodation suggestions or a list of room blocks, you can bet that a bride and mother of the bride will be receiving an overwhelming amount of calls and emails asking for help with booking! It’s nice to suggest a range of different hotels—from 5-star varieties to budget-friendly options. You won’t be able to predict how your guests will want to travel, so leave the price tag up to them! Or, if you decide that you want all of your guests to stay at one hotel, be sure to make that clear on your invitation suite and website.

5. Disclose if it’s an adults-only affair.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, when you are planning a destination wedding, many of your friends who have children might want to make a family trip out of your wedding weekend. The easiest way to indicate that children are invited to the wedding itself is to address your save the dates and invitations with “and family” following the “Mr. and Mrs.” And if kiddos aren’t invited to the celebratory night, leave it as “Mr. and Mrs.” on the envelope. However, to be extra clear, it’s a good idea to include a small statement on your wedding website and/or invitations if the event is an adults-only affair. If it is, it’s nice to suggest babysitters or childcare services so that your friends can more easily plan a worry-free night of celebrating.

6. Don’t overdo the décor.

Chances are, if it’s a destination that you feel is beautiful and special to you, the setting is probably stunning enough just on its own. So, a great piece of advice I’ve received is to let the surroundings shine and go for simple yet sophisticated décor. Whether you’re getting married on an exotic tropical beach or a charming European chateau, if the location is beautiful, you won’t need to add too many flowers or accents that could just act as a distraction. This is a great way to keep things cost-efficient and spend more of your budget on other destination-related expenses.

7. Hire a planner.

If your budget allows, a wedding planner is a very wise use of your money. Remember that planning a destination doesn’t just mean that your guests have to deal with travel and time-change—it applies to the bride too! Having a planner who is either based in the location of your wedding or specializes in destination weddings is immensely helpful. I choose Belle Destination Events for my Hawaii wedding because they are based on Maui and know the lay of the land much better than I do. They are able to recommend vendors, problem solve when logistics challenges arise, and give me tips that pertain specifically to the island—and all of which are things I never would have been able to think of myself, despite how well I know my location.

8. Dress for the occasion… and weather

When choosing your wedding dress, keep in mind the type of occasion you are throwing and the weather in your destination. If you’re getting married somewhere tropical, you might want to re-think trying on that tulle and silk taffeta gown that would be way too heavy for the climate. The same goes for your groom, his groomsmen and your bridesmaids. Take note of heavy materials and embellished dresses for your girls if the location is warm, but consider adding furs, shawls, or wraps if you’re getting married in a snowy destination. Light colored linen suits are great for keeping your groom and his groomsmen cool in hot temps, while heavier, 3-piece suits will add warmth in a colder location.

Do you have any wedding planning tips to share?

And, have you attended any destination weddings? If so, what was your favorite part about the event?

I’ve love to read your two cents about destination weddings you’ve attended and what positive aspects stood out to you the most! Sound off in the comments below.

Team LC

Photos: Maui Maka Photography
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