Considering having your wedding in an exotic location or in a city just a few states over from the one you currently call home? Destination weddings have become increasingly popular as they're a wonderful way for couples to plan a memorable celebration with close friends and family in location that is unique, exciting, and speaks to who they are. A ceremony and reception far from home can be beautiful and blissful, but the process from "Yes" to "I do" usually goes much more smoothly if you have a professional wedding planner there to help—especially if you're tying the knot in a different time zone or where another language is spoken. Before you choose a planner for your destination wedding, here's what you should know first.
Be realistic about your budget.
Researching a wedding planner might seem like the first task to complete, but experts say that you should determine your budget before you do anything else. "Do a little research on the average cost of weddings in your location and look at your finances to determine if it's a good fit," says Kim Sayatovic, wedding planner and owner of Belladeux Event Design. "If you have a budget of $10,000, you may want to rule out a city that has an average wedding cost of $20,000." Remember other factors that will add up financially but may not be so obvious when you sit down to think about the total cost—consider things like the cost of flights both ways, hotel stays, and so forth.
Dive into research.
A destination wedding calls for even more research than a ceremony and reception in your hometown. Start by reading reviews of wedding planners in your designated area. This, Bonnie Chase, wedding planner and owner of Bliss Events, says is one of the simplest ways to gain confidence in your potential pro. "Reviews are incredibly powerful because they're written by individuals and couples who have already worked with your planner and who know better than anyone what you can expect," she says. "If the majority of reviews are glowing, you can rest easy knowing that your potential planner is a keeper." And don't let one questionable review deter you—ask the planner about it and see if there's a reasonable explanation. If you see several bad ones, however, Chase says to look for someone new.
Beware of the "planner hand off."
Many planning and design firms have teams of people who work together, which can be a great asset to you and your wedding. However, Chase notes that it's important to ask if you're going to get handed off to someone completely different from the person who you initially spoke with. "It can be stressful and frustrating to connect with someone really well, and then discover than you aren't actually going to be working with that person throughout the planning process, especially for a destination wedding," she says. "You can avoid this by simply asking who you'll be working with, and request to speak with that person before you sign a contract."
Hire a planner who speaks the same language as you.
To facilitate communication, María José Méndez Montoya, who manages destination events at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort and Costa Rica Marriott San Jose, suggests contacting a wedding planner who speaks the language that you speak very well. Google Translate can only do so much when you're at the mercy of a language barrier. It's important that you can translate your vision and communicate your requirements to this person who, not only will be running the entire show, but you will have to work closely with over several months.
Video chat before you commit.
If flying down for a quick visit isn't in your budget (that's okay!), know that technology makes it easier than ever to have face-to-face communication without leaving your home. Experts agree that it's crucial to schedule a video chat before putting a deposit down to ensure you trust and feel comfortable with your planner. Montoya also recommend creating a list of five to ten specific questions to ask while you're on the call, so you can learn more about your planner's experience and discuss your budget, stylistic preferences, and personal touches. "There are many planners in any given location and you want to make sure that your pro understands you and truly knows what is needed to customize your special day," she says.
Be available to chat at least occasionally during business hours.
"Make sure you understand that your planner will do everything in his or her power to be available to you during the day despite any differences in time zones or working schedules," says Sayatovic. "You are hiring someone to plan for a reason after all, but be considerate of their hours as well." Chances are, your planner will give you his or her full attention the weekend of your event, but you have to remember that their team is also working other clients during the weeks or over weekends. Bottom line: You may need to be flexible about being available during your planner's business hours, whenever they might be, from time to time.
Trust your wedding planner's recommendations.
By choosing someone who is familiar with the location, he or she will have insights that online research can't give you. "Destination wedding planners are familiar with the location, the weather, special hideaways, best vendors, and quality services and have existing connections and relationships," explains Montoya. "Your planner has most likely executed many successful weddings and knows from experience the ins and outs of anything that could go wrong." If they suggest a change, there is a reason why and sometimes a little trust goes a long way. She suggests making an agreement with the services that your planner offers and having open lines of communication about what is and is not feasible throughout the process.