Updated: Sep 26, 2019
This past summer has been totally transformative for me work-wise. I've recently had my first few experiences with destination wedding planning. For my entire events career, destination wedding planning has been my dream job and it has been a trip (ha ha ha) to actually begin to make this a reality. Coming off of this wild season, I'm full of tips and tricks for those considering the destination option. Here are my top five.
Tip #1: Destination Weddings are FAB for Lowering your Guest Count
I can't provide you with specific percentages as it varies hugely, but if you are looking to shave some distant relatives or loose acquaintances off of your guest list, a destination wedding is absolutely the way to go. As soon as there is a time and financial commitment, MANY of your guests will drop off. This creates a really unique guest list - very few people will be there out of obligation, so you'll likely end up with only close family and friends. On the flipside of this, it is important to manage your expectations - you are asking A LOT of people when you invite them abroad, so unless you're paying for all travel and accommodations, be prepared that it may not be realistic for everyone to attend. Having a lower key celebration when you get home is a good option for including those that weren't able to attend your destination wedding.
Tip #2: Consider Event Insurance
This is a biggie for any wedding, even a local one, but consider how you will insure your event before you select and pay for your venue. For Canadians, it's relatively easy to buy insurance for certain destinations including the USA, the Caribbean and the UK. If you're looking at France, Greece or Italy for example, it can be a little trickier. You are likely better off asking about it when you are venue searching, as some venues will have access to insurance that can cover their international clients and some won't. Do yourself a favour, and think about this at the beginning before you've spent any money.
Tip #3: Language is a BIG deal.
English speakers (myself included!) can sometimes take it for granted that they'll be able to communicate when they travel abroad. Often, you won't run into problems - if you head to a big city or a popular tourist destination you should be okay. HOWEVER, if you're looking at a more remote location, you might have a harder time with language barriers. There are a few ways around this - Consider engaging a planner with a working knowledge of the local language (French works for me!) or select a venue with English speaking staff that will help you liaise with local vendors, and make sure they're aware that this will be required BEFORE you book. If you're worried about it or want to avoid headaches all together, select a location that's predominantly English speaking.
PRO TIP: Avoid selecting a location where only a family member speaks to local language. This will put a lot of undue stress on that person - literally hundreds of emails will be exchanged throughout your planning process, and your family member will need to be reading, translating and replying to all of them on your behalf. This is an incredible amount of work to task on someone close to you, and may not yield the best results in the end.
Tip #4: Take Advantage of the Local Products and Services!
Part of the fun of travelling is taking in all of the local charm and indulging in the local offerings. Wherever possible, try and incorporate these into your wedding as well! If you're in France or Italy, see if you can source the wine and favours directly from local vendors for example. Ask the caterer to put together a menu based around local ingredients, and have them prepare the food using the traditional cooking methods. Pick a florist that you love and then advise them to use local florals and greens. Often, local is a little cheaper too, so that's an added perk.
Tip #5: Go with the Flow.
As North Americans, we have a tendency to want what we want and want it now. This is part of our culture and it works for us, but it's important to remember that this is not the case everywhere in the world. Cultural differences are significant and largely non-negotiable. To further complicate, there is always a little uncertainty when you travel. It's inherently more difficult to plan a wedding from abroad, and there absolutely will be more wild cards if you choose to go this route. My best advice is to embrace, stay positive and go with the flow! If you are planning a wedding in a centuries old Chateau in the French countryside using a local caterer, it might be challenging for them to create an elaborate signature cocktail or offer flair bartending. In Europe, longer cocktail hours are customary, wedding cakes are less common and multi-option event menus are practically unheard of! The easiest way to sidestep mishaps is to REMAIN FLEXIBLE, expect that the experience will be unique and unlike many of your friend's weddings - and enjoy the ride!
BONUS TIP: Consider Your Crowd.. and maybe Elope?!
This one is an extension of Tip #5. Think about how comfortable your family and friends will be with new experiences and travel in general. Think about whether your chosen destination and venue will be something they will enjoy and embrace. Even if you LOVE the idea of travel and adventure, there are people out there that might shy away. If a full scale destination wedding isn't a great fit for your crowd, consider an elopement instead. I know "elopement" is a scary word, but the meaning has changed a lot in recent years. Elopements now account for the fact that most people want at least their immediate families and/or BFFs at their weddings, so "elopement" can just mean very small weddings! Usually about 25 people or less. To appease those that won't be attending, maybe throw a dinner or cocktail reception in your hometown to loop in the other important people in your life once you return. Added bonus: The absolute MOST effective way to save $$$$ on a wedding is to lower the guest count. Food for thought.
Destination weddings are a LOT of work, and they are objectively more complicated to plan and execute than local weddings. That's just the truth. That being said, when they're good, they're incredible. I hope these few tips give you some insight into whether a destination wedding or elopement is a good fit for you. Like everything, there are pros and cons BUT for what it's worth, I wouldn't want to get married any other way.