The Ultimate Destination Wedding Checklist
Planning a destination wedding has many similar elements to a local wedding—you have to scout ceremony and reception locations, choose your bridal party, and, of course, select your wedding dress. But there are fundamental differences that arise when you throw travel into the mix—you'll likely have to find vendors abroad, help facilitate your guests' travel plans, and ultimately figure out how you're going to get everything to your selected location. The gist? The main difference between destination and domestic weddings often involves an elevated stress factor.
Fortunately, though, these stressful variables are ones you can control, especially if you follow our step-by-step destination wedding checklist. To help you plan for your faraway big day efficiently, we've listed out every decision you need to make in the order you need to make them. First up? Deciding on your desired location. For some, this is a no brainer. But for others—particularly those who have traveled the world with their soon-to-be spouse—choosing where to host your destination wedding is often the most difficult part. Something to keep in mind on your search? Date. If you know that you want or need to get hitched in September, make sure your destination's climate is compliant (you don't want to plan a wedding during hurricane season, for example).
Other important decisions include sending out save-the-dates as soon as possible (you want to give your guests the maximum amount of time to make travel plans) and nailing down vendors (work with your venue during this process—but don't trust them wholeheartedly). Ready to discover all the rest of these need-to-know details? Click through for your tailored guide to planning the best-possible destination wedding.
Decide on a Place and Date
These two go hand and hand. If getting married in a specific location is your dream, you'll want to research weather patterns, so you don't inadvertently choose a date during hurricane season. If you can visit any of the sites you're interested in, you should do so. If not, call prospective resorts and ask to speak to their event planners. Don't just rely on photos and website details. (It goes without saying, but make sure your cell phone plan includes international calls, if relevant.)
Create a Budget
While brides and grooms don't normally pay for guests' travel expenses, you'll still be putting lots of dollars out for things like the reception, flowers, and a photographer.
Come Up with a Preliminary Guest List
Start out with your dream list, but then be realistic: Will your elderly relatives be willing and able to fly to Jamaica or Italy? Alternatively, keep the list small from the start if you have a modest budget.
Research Marriage Requirements
Many countries require you to arrive a few days before the wedding can take place, while others make blood tests a necessity.
Make Your Travel Plans
Book your flights and hotel accommodations early to ensure timing—and to get the lowest possible rate.
Create a Wedding Website
It's the perfect place to keep your guests informed. Update your site whenever you have more details to share, such as exact dates, hotel accommodations, weather updates, and more.
Mail Save-the-Date Cards
Do this about nine months before the big day. Give the date and location of your wedding and be sure to include your wedding website's URL.
Pick Your Bridal Party
Though the selection process (ask your best friends and sisters, of course!) is no different than if you were marrying at home, there's one caveat when it comes to choosing bridesmaids for a destination wedding: If anyone will be very pregnant on your wedding day, she may not be able to fly.
Work with Your Resort to Find Vendors
You might need recommendations for services like a photographer, musicians, florist, and officiant. Again, before booking anyone, make phone calls to each vendor rather than putting all your trust in the hotel's suggestions.
Get a Passport or Visa
If you're applying for your very first passport or visa, budget at least 12 weeks ahead of your departure to begin the process—it could be months before these documents arrive back in your hands, especially during the busy spring and summer seasons.
Book a Block of Hotel Rooms
Ask for a group rate if you can guarantee a certain number of rooms ahead of time—doing so could save your guests a significant chunk of change.
Find Your Wedding Dress
But before you decide on the one, consider your destination wedding location's climate. If you're getting married in the mountains, a strapless gown may look out of context (and might not be warm enough!). In terms of timing, order your bridal gown about nine months ahead so it arrives in the salon with plenty of time for multiple fittings.
Order Your Bridesmaids' Dresses
Your 'maids' dresses should be ordered about six months ahead. As for the guys? Plan to have their outfits figured out about four months ahead.
Book All Vendors
Get signed and countersigned contracts from the musicians, caterer, baker, or anyone else you've booked for the big day. Everything you discussed and ordered should be listed.
Send Out Invitations
You'll want to mail out those invites (at least) eight to twelve weeks ahead of the wedding, to give your guests ample time to make final preparations. They should have made the bulk of their travel plans earlier in the year, though—which is why sending out those save-the-dates just under one year out is so critical.
We've officially arrived at the fun part: This to-buy list should include wedding rings, guest favors (if your venue isn't already handling them!), bridal party gifts, and honeymoon clothes.
Help Guests Pack
Adding a section of packing tips to your wedding website will help attendees be prepared. They likely know to bring bathing suits to a beach location, but may not think to pack a hoodie to combat those cool, nighttime ocean breezes. The same logic applies to your dress code style. If you're planning on hosting special dinners, guests will be dress-code-ready—and won't show up in shorts, tees, and flip-flops when dressier attire is expected.
Plan Guest Transportation
Providing reliable transportation is a small, but appreciated way to welcome your friends and family—plus, it'll reduce the cumulative amount of cash they'll have to spend over the course of the trip.
Confirm Every Detail with Every Vendor
Two days before the wedding, call the officiant, caterer, photographer, and all your other vendors to confirm arrival or delivery times, addresses, and what they're doing at or bringing to the wedding. Give them your groom and maid of honor's phone numbers too, in the (likely) case that you can't be reached on the big day.