Destination Wedding Guide: How To Plan a Destination Wedding

While destination weddings are some of the most beautiful ceremonies to take place, you may not know where to start when it comes to actually planning one. However, a destination wedding isn’t impossible and with a bit of early planning, you can make sure that your dream wedding happens in real life. Follow our easy guide below for how to plan a destination wedding and tips to add to your wedding checklist.

hawaii destination wedding invitation

Step by Step: How to Plan a Destination Wedding

Planning a destination wedding starts with allowing yourself enough lead time to organize the details. Whether you’re hesitant to choose a destination wedding or you’re already set on hitting the beaches of Oahu, make sure you formulate a checklist and learn how to plan a destination wedding before booking a flight. Follow these steps below to jump start your planning process:

  1. Choose your destination. The first step in planning a destination wedding is choosing your ideal location with your partner. You should base your decision on the weather and season, along with being realistic about your expectations. Don’t be afraid though to go for your first choice and make your vision come to life.
  2. Choose a wedding package or hire a wedding planner familiar with the area. When planning a destination wedding, you’ll want to purchase a wedding package or hire a local planner to save you some trouble. You may even want to purchase and hire both to cover all bases. Do your research and make sure your wedding planner has access to vendors and a good reputation.
  3. Set a budget. Keep finances in mind by setting a detailed budget for the actual wedding and its associated expenses, along with a budget for travel and non-local vendors. It’s also important to consider the form of currency used at the destination so you can keep track of what everything costs.
  4. Organize your guest list. Since this is a destination wedding, there’s less pressure to extend invitations to acquaintances, co-workers, or people you’re not close to. Keep your guest list small to moderate since your loved ones and close friends will be the main ones buying airfare for your destination wedding. If you need help with planning out your guest list, refer to our guide on wedding guest list etiquette to answer all your questions.
  5. Send out invitations early. Send out wedding invitations far in advance so guests can save money on their airfare. This is important in ensuring that your closest family and friends make it to your wedding.
  6. Agree on terms with any non-local vendors. Since you may be in a destination you’re not too familiar with, you should bring your own photographer and make-up/hair artist with you. Be sure to negotiate their travel and make sure they’re taken care of so your big day can go smoothly. To make sure you get the most out of your photographer, review our wedding photography checklist before sealing the deal.
  7. Make sure your officiant can officiate. Research all legalities related to weddings to make sure your officiant can actually officiate and declare you and your loved one as ‘married’. This is important since some laws require the couple to be present in the country for longer than a day.
  8. Book a hotel that offers group discounts. Since most guests will be booking their own airfare and paying for their lodging, you should lighten the load by arranging a group discount with a hotel near the ceremony location. This way, guests will be able to save a bit of money and stay in the same hotel. Your guests will feel more comfortable being surrounded by friends, family, and wedding participants in a reserved hotel block.
  9. Organize shuttle service for day-of wedding. Make sure you provide a way for your guests to get to the ceremony day-of.

When to Send Save The Dates for a Destination Wedding?

If your destination wedding will be during tourist season, you should send save the dates to guests 10 to 12 months in advance so guests can book their airfare and lodging early. Airline prices can be unpredictable so you’ll want to give your guests as much lead time as possible to have a say in when they book their flight. While save the dates are not obligatory for local weddings, they’re necessary for destination weddings where guests may have to save in advance to witness this special day.

When to Send Destination Wedding Invitations?

One of the most important steps in the planning process is deciding on when to send destination wedding invitations. You should send out destination wedding invitations 4 to 5 months in advance of the wedding date. Since proper etiquette calls for sending save the dates beforehand, your guests won’t be too surprised about your destination wedding once they receive official wedding invitations. Be sure to be informative in your wedding invitation wording and include a link to your wedding website if you can’t fit all of the details on the invitation.

destination wedding save the date

Popular Wedding Destinations

Some of the fun in choosing a wedding destination comes from the beautiful scenery and romantic elements that you may not get at home. Here are a few destination wedding locations that are quite popular, trusted, and known for some of the most beautiful scenery in the world:

  • Dominican Republic
  • St. Kitts
  • Jamaica
  • Los Cabos, Mexico
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Oahu, Hawaii
  • Costa Rica
  • Turks and Caicos
  • Italy

Destination Wedding Tips

We’re not quite done yet! When it comes to destination weddings, there are a few ways you can avoid mishaps and be extra prepared. While you should allow some room for imperfection, follow these tips to ensure that your destination wedding planning goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Visit the destination beforehand. Whether you’re booking a local wedding planner or going with a package, you should always do your best to visit your prospective wedding destination before fully committing. It’s a good idea to explore specific areas and peruse the location so you can form your own opinions on the destination.
  • Consider the weather. The most popular destinations often have the most unpredictable weather. Do your research on the season surrounding your prospective location, especially if you’re headed to a tropical destination. You can then offer guests recommendations on what to wear.
  • Consider tourist season. Whether or not your destination is in tourist season during your wedding day can be a huge factor in your wedding’s success. It’ll be harder to find vendors in off-seasons. On the other hand, you’ll also want to make sure your wedding is peaceful without interruptions due to a convention or major festival.
  • Do your vendor research. When it comes to vendors, you won’t be able to interact with them directly on a regular basis, so you’ll want to screen them and check their work out. Read reviews, ask for references to other work, do a video interview, and ask the hotel you’re staying at about potential vendors. If you’re able to visit the destination beforehand, meet with any potential vendors during your preliminary trip in person.
  • Let the bridesmaids and groomsmen know you’re planning a destination wedding before they commit. Since most of the wedding party will probably be booking their own airfare, you should include your intentions for a destination wedding when you ask your loved ones to be apart of the bridal or groom party. This way, they can make a genuine decision on if they have the budget or time to be in your wedding.
  • Gift guests with welcome bags. Once your guests arrive, don’t forget to gift them with bags full of useful items! These gift bags can include sunscreen, slippers, sunglasses, mini-fans, and anything else that might make their trip comfortable.

While destination weddings may seem complicated, many of them can actually cost the same as tying the knot in a big city, if not a little less. Be sure to ask a friend or two to help you with plans and research. Feeling overwhelmed may be natural, but with the help of your loved ones, your destination wedding will be one of the most special experiences of your life. Now that you’re well-versed in planning a destination wedding, don’t hesitate to make this idea a reality and turn your big day into the wedding of your dreams.