The path from "Yes!" to "I do!" can be long and winding. And if you're planning on having a destination wedding, it's as much a metaphorical journey as it is a physical one. Accessibility, being mindful of your guests and a local support team will ensure that there's ease and enjoyment all the way through.
The first and perhaps biggest decision is where to have your wedding. Are you looking for a beachside getaway, a windswept moor, a glamorous ancient castle or a rugged jungle adventure? One factor to consider is seasons. In tropical locations, for example, the weather can turn at the drop of a hat. For Thailand, the rainiest time of year is typically August to October. For Hawaii, the rainy season is usually between November and March. Hurricane season for the Gulf states and the Atlantic is between June and November. And though a winter wedding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, might sound idyllic, with one airport in town, a large snowstorm could leave guests unable to arrive.
Consider the accessibility of your location, too. A plane ride away is very different from a plane ride, a train ride and a three-hour bus ride. Do any of your guests have limited mobility? Check with hotels and local vendors to make sure your guests will be able to access the ceremony, reception and other wedding activities.
Once your date and location are decided, let your guests know far in advance. According to Tracy French, owner of The French Connection Events, save the date cards for destination weddings should be sent nine to 12 months in advance. Allowing for a longer window can help guests with planning their trips, and it will help you know exactly how many guests to expect. Depending on the size of the wedding party and guest list, there's a possibility you can get group discounts on hotels or travel accommodations as well.
It's ideal to visit your location before you book to see everything firsthand. The wedding experts at The Knot recommend taking a few planning trips to scout the locations and local vendors, and perhaps meet with a local wedding planner. Though Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing software is great for communication, especially if there are no language barriers or issues with internet connection, seeing everything with your own eyes allows little room for surprises. It would be a huge disappointment to arrive a few days before the wedding and see massive construction happening next door, or that an algae outbreak has covered the beach on which you had hoped to be married.
Hiring a local wedding planner might be the biggest blessing for your big day. Many all-inclusive resorts have day-of planners or recommendations for trusted planners. According to wedding planner Jamie Bohlin, owner of Cape Cod Celebrations, planners take the stress out of organizing details, and they "also have huge vendor lists and can assist you in finding the perfect setting for your ceremony, a photographer that fits your style, a florist that will work with your budget and so much more." In case of emergencies, a planner who lives in your wedding location will give you insider knowledge and, say, help you avoid the headache of canceling vendors from around the globe. Marriage requirements vary state to state and country to country, so local planners will also know local regulations. Find out what you need, and be sure to have all your paperwork completed early to avoid legal snags.
If you're planning on shipping decor or personal items to your location beforehand, a local wedding planner can start organizing early. If it's important that you use your great-aunt's hand-stitched tablecloth, Catherine Cindy Leo of CCL Weddings and Events recommends shipping it to the destination two to three weeks prior. "This gives ample time for delivery without paying ridiculous costs in shipping and ... for inspection on the other end, in case anything does break or become damaged," she says.
Arrive a few days before your wedding so you have time to tie up loose ends and prepare some hospitable touches for guests who've traveled long distances to celebrate with you. Consider having welcome bags waiting when they arrive, filled with snacks, maps, itineraries and other fun add-ins that are relevant to the location. If the heat is overbearing, perhaps a hand fan would be a nice treat. For a snowy soiree, hand warmers could be helpful. Is the rehearsal dinner going to be a big party? Throw in some ibuprofen packets. Are the Wi-Fi instructions unclear? Add a simple how-to list to keep everyone connected.
The biggest tip for having a successful destination wedding? Relax. "Your energy as the bride is going to influence the energy of your guests," says Alison Hotchkiss, an events planner who spoke with Martha Stewart Weddings about destination wedding tips. "If you are relaxed, your guests will be relaxed. Things might not go as planned, and if that happens, stay calm and carry on."