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Choosing a Destination
"There are four factors. Weather: Make sure it's not hurricane season. Dates: Make sure it's not spring break, or flights will be astronomical; also be sure it's not when locals go on holiday -- like August in Europe -- or it will be a ghost town," says Alison Hotchkiss, an events planner. "Language: Are you okay if not everyone can speak English? And travel convenience: Is it just one direct flight, or connecting flights to a boat and then a bus ride?"
Hotchkiss adds: "And visit the location beforehand; you'd hate to show up for your wedding only to find out the photo on the website didn't show the big construction site next to your reception. I love Sayulita, Mexico. It's an old fishing village about 45 minutes from Puerta Vallarta, and it has both luxurious and affordable accommodations. I also love Harbour Island in the Bahamas, which is quaint and easy to get to."
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Your guests, who will be traveling for the event, may want to make a vacation out of the trip. Try to pick a place that will be enjoyable for most and is not too difficult to get to. Guests are usually responsible for their own travel and accommodation expenses (though some hosts choose to treat their guests, which is a lovely and generous gesture). Keep in mind that if the trip is expensive, some people may not be able to join you.
It's helpful to send your guests save-the-date cards and information packets as early as six months in advance. Some airlines and hotels can provide group discounts if bookings are made early enough. As the departure date approaches, send your guests an itinerary so that they know the date, time, and location of each scheduled event.
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"In tropical areas, there's a higher risk of hurricanes and other natural disasters," says Hotchkiss. "I also think it's more challenging to predict costs if you're not familiar with the location and culture. Let's say there is a change in management from the time you booked the wedding to the actual event, or you negotiated a deal with the sales manager at the hotel but there was miscommunication due to a language barrier. A good rule of thumb for all brides is to get things in writing, as much as you can."
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Organizing the Details
When you are visiting your destination to start planning your event, you'll have a lot to do, so organize your trip well ahead of time, and plan to meet with as many people as possible, such as the officiant, the photographer, and the caterer. Inspect the accommodations and the rehearsal-dinner and ceremony sites. Find out what types of transportation will be required. And look into the activities the locale has to offer your guests, such as boating and hiking.
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Marriage regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Be sure to check the requirements of the location where you are getting married as far in advance as possible.
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You may want to enlist some local professionals to help in the planning. Resorts and hotels often have their own wedding planners or resort managers who will handle many of the details. Or you can hire a wedding consultant based in the area (or one who makes frequent trips there), who can recommend local photographers, florists, and caterers. It's also helpful to work with a travel agent, who can arrange travel plans and accommodations for you and your guests, as well as provide brochures and other information about your destination.
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Problems That Arise
"Your energy as the bride is going to influence the energy of your guests," advises Hotchkiss, pictured here. "If you are relaxed, your guests will be relaxed. Things might not go as planned, and if that happens, stay calm and carry on. The day of the wedding should be about you and your fiance. When you are in a foreign country, you take the risk that your expectations might not be met. You may say you want the cake to be peach, but without showing them a color that is specifically peach to you, it might turn out orange. Just roll with it, because it's going to create a story in the end that I promise you will laugh about later."
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"Consider shipping certain items to your destination, rather than getting them locally. I always send specialty linens and paper items. Most hotels offer the cookie-cutter linens like white, ivory, or some nautical color they've had since 1984. It's also nice to be able to control the look of your menu cards, welcome letters, and escort cards. They're really easy to box up, so it makes shipping a breeze," says Hotchkiss.