How to Plan a Destination Wedding
So you want to plan a destination wedding, but perhaps don't know where to start. That's fair, considering planning a wedding in general can prove to be quite stressful, let alone when it's being planned from afar. But the truth is, although there are many moving parts, planning a destination wedding is actually not as intimidating as you may think.
It's been proven that couples who choose to get married away from their hometown are happier with their wedding experience in the end, and this is mainly due to feeling less stress throughout the destination wedding planning process. With the majority of the little details being taken care of for them, couples can focus on the bigger priorities of the celebration that make them happy.
We're here to take you through the simple steps of how to plan a destination wedding, so there's no second guessing if you're on the right track!
The Steps of Planning a Destination Wedding
- Step 1: Determine your budget
The first step in setting your wedding budget1 is to sit down with your fiancé and any other important family members who may be contributing to the total cost. You should decide what amount each of you is comfortable with setting aside, and then start researching how far that budget can take you. It helps to have an estimated guest count handy, and a list of your non-negotiables to ensure you're not cutting anything out that may be of particularly high importance to you as a couple. Keep in mind that with destination weddings, the couple does not have to contribute towards each guest's travel arrangements
and resort stay.
Other factors that impact a destination wedding budget include the luxury level of your resort venue, time of year and day of week of your celebration, wedding package add-ons and customizations, and much more. In 2023, the average cost of a destination wedding booked through DestinationWeddings.com was about $9,850.
- Step 2: Decide if you'd like to work with a Destination Wedding Specialist
Let's face it; it's always helpful to have an expert assist in coordinating the details of a wedding. Add in the fact that you're getting married abroad, and the decision seems like even more of a no brainer. The benefits of using a destination wedding planner are vast, and include everything from making sure you're choosing the right venue based on your preferences, to taking care of all your guests' travel arrangements (as well as your own). What's more is that oftentimes, their services are 100% free of charge.
On top of an expert Destination Wedding Specialist by your side, you'll also likely have an onsite wedding coordinator stationed at your chosen resort to offer assistance along the way. While your Destination Wedding Specialist will be there to help guide you to your ultimate venue and take care of all travel arrangements, your onsite resort coordinator will be the one handling all the day-of details. These two people will be there to ensure you have a stress-free planning process from start to finish.
- Step 3: Choose a location
With so many amazing destination wedding locations to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is the perfect fit for your nuptials. Think about the type of setting you want when saying "I do." Are your toes in the sand with an ocean breeze at your back? Or are you in a lush, private garden surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna? It's also important to consider the proximity of your location to you and your VIP guests; if you have grandparents who will have trouble traveling, it might be a good option to choose an island with short, direct flights.
Mexico, Jamaica, and Punta Cana are amongst the most popular destination wedding locations of 2024.
- Step 4: Research the marriage requirements
Depending on where you're getting married, there may be a few hoops to jump through if you're looking to legalize your marriage in your chosen destination. Mexico marriage requirements, for example, call for the couple to arrive a few days early and have a blood test and chest x-ray done, amongst other things. To keep things simple, the majority of destination wedding couples choose to have a symbolic ceremony while away, and legalize the marriage either before or after the celebration abroad.
- Step 5: Choose a wedding venue
Once you know what country you're going to, the next step is to research what type of resort wedding venue you wish to play host to your ceremony and reception. Many all-inclusive resorts offer a variety of onsite venues to choose from; white-sand beaches, gorgeous gardens, oceanfront piers, and panoramic sky terraces are just a few of the options you may find. If you're in need of a religious venue, look for a resort with a chapel on site
- Step 6: Select a wedding package
Destination wedding packages can come in all shapes and sizes (and price points!). All-inclusive wedding resorts offer bundled packages for an affordable price, but also provide custom, a la carte options for couples looking to personalize their big day. A typical all-inclusive wedding package comes with the ceremony site, simple décor, floral arrangement(s), wedding cake, and onsite coordinator to assist with all the details. Usually, if a couple meets a minimum room night requirement when staying in a qualifying room category, this wedding package will be free of charge. Elaborate wedding packages can cost upwards to $10-20,000 and include everything from reception entertainment to a photography package. South Asian and Indian wedding packages can also be found in certain destinations.
- Step 7: Book a wedding date and accommodations
When considering your ideal wedding date, keep in mind both your destination's peak season and rainy season. Although prices may be at their lowest during hurricane season, you need to prepare a plan B location should inclement weather threaten to move your celebration indoors. Additionally, many resort venues will hold only one wedding per day, so it's important to secure your wedding date as soon as you learn it's available. You'll also have the option to choose the ceremony site, start time and reception venue at this time.
- Step 8: Send out save the dates
As soon as you have your wedding date secured, let your guests know the important information. When it comes to destination wedding planning, the sooner guests know the details, the better! Many people need to schedule time off work, arrange for babysitters, etc. We recommend sending out save the date notifications 10-12 months in advance if possible. Now is also the opportune time to let your guests know how to book their travel arrangements. Put them in touch with your Destination Wedding Specialist to ensure they get booked on time for the best rate.
- Step 9: Finalize the details
Now comes the (extra) fun part! Look through real wedding inspiration and work with your onsite wedding coordinator to finalize the fine details: ceremony and reception décor, food menu and signature drinks, a day-of timeline, etc. As the big day gets closer, be sure you and all of your guests have your flights and accommodations booked, and any last-minute details have been communicated. Then sit back and enjoy what's sure to be the best day (and vacation) of your life!
How to Plan a Destination Wedding on a Budget
Here are our top tips on how to plan a destination wedding on a budget:
Plan ahead and pre-book
Get married on a weekday (rather than a weekend)
Because let's face it, every day in paradise is a good day to tie the knot!
Book at an all-inclusive resort
Nix the extras
Let your gorgeous locale speak for itself and do away with any unnecessary décor that may distract from the natural beauty
Your Destination Wedding Planning Checklist
We've gone over the broad steps on how to plan a destination wedding, but now let's take it one step further. Here is your ultimate destination wedding planning checklist.
- Determine your budget (accommodations, airfare, wedding package, etc.)
- Create an initial guest list (and then refine it)
- Start working with an expert (if you so choose)
- Research locations and marriage requirements
- Build your wedding party entourage (bridesmaids, groomsmen, etc.)
- Create a gift registry (or honeyfund)
- Select a wedding package (and customize it to your vision)
- Research and secure any other vendors you may need (DJ, photographer, etc.)
- Purchase your wedding dress (and other wedding attire)
- Confirm your passport is valid (renew it ASAP, if not)
- Finalize the details with your coordinator and vendors (day of timeline, photo list, etc.)
- Make a packing list (feel free to use ours, here!)
- Organize your paperwork (vendor confirmations, legal documents, boarding passes, etc.)
- Collect any extra cash you want to bring (tips, emergencies, etc.)
- Jet off to paradise!
- Have more destination wedding planning questions? Visit our FAQ's to learn more!