Three Key Timing Elements to Keep in Mind When Planning a Destination Wedding
It's a little different than planning a celebration that takes place close to home.
Organizing a destination wedding doesn't have to require an extended timeline—the right team can build your tented reception or beachfront party on even the tightest schedule. But when you're booking hotels, interviewing vendors, and planning a weekend's worth of parties and activities at a location hundreds (or thousands) of miles from where you live, getting a head start on these three planning elements can make the entire process go more smoothly.
Choosing—and Saving—a Date
Narrowing down your search to a general area—whether it's Napa Valley or Montauk—is the first step, and then you can start visiting potential venues. But unlike other events, where picking a date is up to the couple, a destination wedding in a popular area requires more flexibility. "The date isn't determined by the date you want," says Augusta Cole, executive director of Easton Events. "It's determined by the hotel availability. The most important thing when you're assessing a destination is where your guests are going to stay—and if you're looking at somewhere that is a hot spot for destination weddings, other people are going to be scooping up the rooms." Since gathering addresses, designing a save-the-date, and perfecting your wedding website are projects that can take up to eight weeks, Cole recommends spreading the word ASAP with an email note that lets family and friends mark their calendars and start thinking about travel plans; then, send a save-the-date with about eight months notice, and an invitation roughly three months before your big day.
Booking Your Vendors
Hiring vendors for a destination wedding can mean spending extra time looking for the best options in an area you don't know well. "It's not so much that if you're planning at home you should wait until six months out—you should still book in advance—but you just might know the go-to people, and it isn't going to take as much research or conversation," says Cole. "You need more time to vet your options." And if your destination is one that's especially sought-after, then you could be racing against other couples with the same vision. "It also comes down to popular demand of the location," says Cole. "If you're going to a highly coveted wedding spot, you do want to book early because there's going to be a lot of competition for venue locations, the best caterers, and the best photographers in the area. The earlier you start your research, the more likely you'll get the best local resources—but if you wait and book later, you often have to bring in talent, because the best people locally will have already been spoken for."
Visiting the Site
Unlike popping into an event space 20 minutes from your home, you'll need to factor in time during the planning period for site visits—Cole tells her clients to expect to make two trips to the venue. "If they want to go more than twice, they can," she says, "but we should be able to accomplish everything we need in two key visits. You should not have to go every month." And don't expect to cross off everything on your to-do list during Saturday and Sunday trips. "Be prepared that you'll need to take a couple weekdays off for planning," says Cole. "Remember that your vendors work on the weekends, so even though weekends are more flexible for you, you might not be able to meet your cake baker or have a tasting with your caterer because they're producing events over the weekend."