Imagine planning your wedding and not getting to meet your wedding planner in person, not tasting the food, nor seeing the venue, or smelling the flowers.
Do you feel your heart rate increasing? Terrifying right?
Thinking back, I didn’t realize the rollercoaster of emotions that went into planning a destination wedding. Open any Martha Stewart weddings article and you, of course, read that planning a wedding is hard and that a destination wedding is even harder, but there is no way to really know until you’re in it, like most things in life. Like climbing the Himalayan mountains if it’s your first and only time it’s hard to grasp the journey ahead.
Learn from my process and the mistakes I made during my journey to have my dream destination wedding.
When I was starting out, I debated with the location options. Local or international? Similar to a curious child asking why to every decision. I was stuck with the question “what to do…?”
Which brings me to our first point of consideration.
1. Answer This Question First – Why Do You Want a Destination Wedding?
Why? Why do you want a destination wedding?
- you want a small and intimate wedding
- you want to get married in an exotic location
- you and your fiance love to travel and you want to start your marriage that way
- you want extraordinary wedding photos in your favorite destination
- [ enter your reasons here ]
Tell me some of your reasons why or why not in the comments below.
Anchoring our many travels there are two locations we adore: Napa Valley, California our first real trip as a couple and Paris, France our first international trip. In the early days of planning, I was torn in two directions. Well, to be honest, I was leaning towards Napa Valley or San Francisco since both locations have everything we love.
Peter was the one that said, “how about Paris.”
My immediate reaction was disbelief, so I said no, can’t happen. “There is no way we could pull that off. How would my family go, how would your family go? It’s too expensive compared to having a local wedding,” and on and on, my mind only fixating on all the issues.
He said, “just think about it, don’t rule it out completely until you take a look at the cost compared to other venues and research the logistics and feasibility of a destination wedding in Paris.”
Going back to the WHY.
The two main reasons why we wanted a destination wedding was to travel and to create the unique memories that would be made by all.
Travel brings so much joy to Peter and me, so we wanted to share that with our wedding guests. My family had never traveled out of the country; so I wanted to share Paris with my family.
We gave our family a great excuse to travel.
So many memories… fun, crazy, emotional, intense memories we created with each of our guests.
Your reasons why are your foundation, once your concrete about why you want a destination wedding then the intense planning commences.
2. Hire a Destination Wedding Planner Early! (One that You Trust!)
ME (Delusional Bride): “I don’t need a wedding planner! We can do this all on our own, right Michele!?”
MOH (Supportive Maid of Honor): “Right, we can do this!”
ME: “This will be so much fun! I can manage our 20 person agency and plan a destination wedding!!”
Two months went by.
ME: “Why is no one getting back to me!? French follow up is the worst! The only thing we have is a venue, and they are not even replying to my emails anymore! OMG! I have no time to follow up. I’m freaking out!”
GROOM (Level headed Fiancé): “We just need to hire a wedding planner in Paris.”
Even if you’re a superhuman planner with plenty of time set aside to plan your destination wedding you’re going to need a destination wedding planner who is near your venue. Unless you’re eloping and you’re selecting a resort package, hire a wedding planner.
I started planning our wedding in November for a wedding in October the following year. I decided to hire our fabulous wedding planner in May. I waited six months! That only gave our planner less than five months to plan the entire wedding. Yes, I can be crazy at times.
Good thing we had such a gungho planner, she too was like yes we can do this!!
And yes, she did an amazing job! Want to see how good of a job, check out my previous dream wedding post.
3. Consider the Distance and Length of Stay
If your guests are buckling up for more than a 10-hour flight for the wedding, let’s say, San Francisco, California to Paris, France, then a weekend wedding will have guests sore, tired, and overall miserable. The length of stay required to comfortably enjoy the destination wedding is an important factor.
Once we had decided on the location, we calculated that seven nights, one week, at the Château would be just long enough! With one day of travel to get there, then seven nights in France, that meant the trip was nine days.
Your eyes might widen at the thought of spending seven days with your guests and for some, that may be too much. For us, we don’t get to see our family and many of our close friends that frequently so we wanted as much time as possible. We also wanted our families to truly experience France and Paris, not just enjoy the wedding. Remember, one of our core reasons for having a destination wedding was the traveling part. So of course, exploring was a big part of the wedding week.
Think about how far you and your guests are traveling. Is it 3 hours,7 hours, 12 hours by plane? Make sure you set aside enough days to recover from the traveling so that you can truly enjoy your time there.
So you might be wondering how the guests would be able to get away from their jobs and home responsibilities for so long?
Easy, give them plenty of time to plan vacation time ahead. Usually, a year in advance is enough.
4. Send the Wedding Invites at Least a Year in Advance
This is important! If you want anyone to attend your destination wedding, let them know as soon as you know the destination.
Don’t wait to get the fancy invitations, just do a quick save the date card with a website URL where they can let you know if they are planning on attending or not.
Website Tip: We had a domain with our names where we embed a Google RSVP form. Simple yes or no questions that helped us plan.
Here are the questions we used. Keep in mind we were also planning our civil ceremony in San Francisco before we left:
- Which event will you be attending? (SF, Paris, Both, Unable to attend)*
- Your best Email to send wedding details*
- First Name*
- Last Name*
- [San Francisco] How many in your RSVP
- [France] How many in your RSVP
- [France] How many nights will you stay at the Château?
- Do you need help arranging flight and travel details from our Travel Agent?
- Do you have any questions?
You want to give your guests as much time to request time off from work, coordinate child care, and save up some spending money.
Once we knew the destination, we called our immediate family members who we knew 100% would go to let them know and then send the cards to everyone.
Once you have the location and the date purchase the plane tickets asap! Which brings me to my next point.
5. Buy Plane Tickets ASAP
Don’t get caught waiting.
This is no joke, buy tickets as soon as you’re able, and tell your guests to do the same. In the blink of an eye, the prices will double, and you’ll be kicking yourself that you have to spend twice the amount on the same ticket because you waited.
Typically, three months to ten months before departure is the best time to buy international plane tickets to find the cheapest flights when traveling overseas.
6. What Type Of Venue Do You Want?
What do you want from your venue? A resort on the beach? An intimate villa or mansion in the countryside?
You can turn it into a game of this or that:
- Big city or countryside
- Intimate or grand
- Private or public
- Rustic or glam
- Trendy or timeless
- Classic or contemporary
Once you determine which descriptive terms you want, it helps knock out the venues that don’t match your adjectives.
Our top priority was privacy.
A private setting was one of those non-negotiable items for me. Especially during the wedding, I’ve always disliked public location weddings where random strangers stop and watch the ceremony. For me, it feels weird.
We also wanted the Château to be private so that no other hotel guests would be there during the week of our wedding and we wanted each room to have their own bathroom and a location large enough for everyone to have their own room. This was not easy to find, especially close enough to Paris to make day trips.
We wanted a venue that was only for our guests for the week. Think back to your biggest family event or holiday where all the family is together in one house, and everyone is comfortable and just relaxing.
We soon realized that a normal Château would not work, because essentially a Château is a very large house with a few bathrooms and not enough rooms. So we looked for Châteaus that were converted to hotels since these Châteaus would be larger and would have a private bathroom with each room.
We used a few websites and found OliversTravels.com to be the most helpful in our search.
After a lot of searching, we found Château de la Bucherie which was a 50-minute drive from Paris, has 30+ rooms with private bathrooms. It was available to privatize for the week, have the wedding and reception there, and it was freaking gorgeous!!
For an entire week, everyone lived under one french roof. One big family vacation and wedding!
7. Consider Local Transportation
Are you staying at an all-inclusive resort where you don’t need to leave? Then skip this and go to number eight.
If you’re planning on exploring and have extra days to travel, as we did, consider how you and your guests are going to get around.
We didn’t think of this until the end, we thought, “let’s just rent one of those huge charter buses/vans to drive everyone around?” Yeah, that didn’t happen, the estimate was more than five thousand euros!
In the end, each family group ended up renting a car. Guests had to get comfortable driving in France very quickly, which added to the adventure. Common challenges bring people together, and everyone had stories of getting lost, driving around the craziest roundabout in Europe, the Arc de Triomphe, and being terrified, and having to drive standard instead of USA status quo automatic cars.
If you have guests that are up for that type of adventure then wonderful, if not consider local transportation early in the planning phase and make sure it has its own budget because it can be a lot of money for you or your guests!
8. Get Everything in Writing
In full transparency, we didn’t have the best relationship with the venue we selected. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
We signed the contract then no one would get back to us. Our hearts dropped every time we reached out and heard crickets. Not only had we signed the contract but we also paid the deposit, and to our dismay, we were stuck. We needed that location because it perfectly accommodated our guests but the hotel was going through management changes, we spoke with three different managers throughout the year. Each said that they were new, and had no idea what the person before them had promised.
There are so many unknowns, and the next person might not keep to the expectations made by the previous–so get everything in writing. After months of trying to get everything negotiated, we were surprised with fees and finally a contract the week of the wedding, two days before flying to Paris.
9. Get Legally Married Locally
Unless you want to go through all the trouble of figuring out how to get married at the destination just get married locally right before you leave.
We got legally married in San Francisco instead of Austin Texas. For two reasons, we love The City so we wanted to have our civil marriage there to make it easier for the family that wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Paris. Two birds, one stone.
10 . You Don’t Have to Make a Special Trip Just to Visit the Venue
I know, for some of you reading this you might be thinking omg no way! I have to visit the place I’m going to get married before I decide!
Peter and I didn’t have the extra time to go just to see the venue, try the food and didn’t have the extra budget either. Happily, for us, everything turned out great!
Our wedding planner assessed the venue and sent us normal photos and videos which worked perfectly for us.
We also had the extra level of excitement as we drove up to the Château for the first time.
We selected two caterers for our wedding planner to taste for us. We selected the menu items and then we trusted our lovely wedding planner to choose the best, which she did!
This really ties back to point number 2! Hire a wedding planner you trust.
11. Hire a Destination Wedding Photographer + Plan a Photo Day Too
What about the photos?
Two options: Hire a local wedding photographer or hire a destination wedding photographer.
Depending on where you’re getting married hiring a local photographer for your wedding might not be the best option. So do your research and make sure you hire someone you trust and interview multiple photographers.
Peter was responsible for photography. He loves it and is a talented photographer himself. This was a big deal and I fully trusted him with the entire photography aspect of the wedding.
After interviewing five photographers, we hired Carey Nash Luxury Destination Photographer. Not only is he a talented photographer and an awesome person, but he also provides an adventure session on a separate day! Carey is famous for photographing couples in stunning locations, and this is perfect for capturing the location that you traveled so far to get married.
We had our wedding at the Château and also wanted photos around Paris. We had dreams of me in my dress and Peter in his tux in front of the Eiffel Tower and walking the streets of Paris. Well, Carey made our dreams a reality.
On Sunday, the day after the wedding, we went into the city of Paris and spent the night at a friend’s family flat. My marvelous makeup artist, Harold James, meet us at 6 am Monday morning to get ready all over again :)!
Yes! I got to wear my dress twice! This time, Peter and I got ready together which was fun–he helping me into my dress and I helped him with his bow tie. It took the same amount of time, and we were an hour late to our first location, Trocadéro. Our photographer, Carey, captured some breathtaking photos with the Eiffel Tower in the background and came up with some original compositions.
A huge thanks to Peter’s Mom and Dad, who drove us to various locations around the city!! We concluded the full 8 hour day of shooting with dinner at a cafe near the Louvre dressed in our wedding attire. We loved every minute of it!
12. Don’t Check Your Wedding Dress or Groom Tux
Dedicate your carry on luggage to your wedding dress, shoes and accessories. If it fits, pack your fiance’s tux as well. This is the extremely important luggage that you don’t want to get lost, don’t check it, even if you’re flying direct. Don’t risk it.
In one carry on I packed, my wedding dress, wedding shoes, wedding accessories, Peter’s tux, his shoes, and accessories as well. That luggage was packed tightly!
13. Don’t Forget Travel Expenses!
Flights, travel costs, conversion rates, car rentals, these are all added expenses on top of the wedding expenses for you and your guests. Of course, this does depend on the location of the destination wedding and even less if you elope.
It’s important that the destination and accommodations are affordable for your guests. When you share your big day with your loved ones, remember to notify them far in advance to provide guests with the opportunity to save money for travel and other expenses.
Interestingly, The Knot did a survey and found that destination weddings can cost less than a domestic wedding.
Our wedding was one of the happiest and most memorable days in our life, and a destination wedding was a perfect choice.
If you’re like us and decide to exchange vows in an exotic location outside of your hometown, then your destination wedding is sure to bring you permanent and happy memories for years to come, as well as some fantastic pictures!
My Destination Wedding Vendors:
Destination Wedding Photographer : Carey Nash Photography // careynash.com // @careynash
Wedding Planner : Vanessa & Caroline – Créatrices de Mariages // vanessaandcaroline.com // @vanessa_creatricedemariages
Flowers : Esther Larmarche Design Floral // estherlamarche.wixsite.com/fleuriste // @esther_lamarche_design_floral
Calligraphy and Menus : Studio French Blue // studiofrenchblue.com // @studiofrenchblue
Caterer : Entre Mets & Fragrances // entre-mets.com
Hair & Make-up : Harold James // jameshairandmakeup.com // @this_is_mrjames
Officiant : LoveGracefully // love-gracefully.com
Harpiste : La Harpe En Folie // laharpeenfolie.com/welcome-1
Tablecloth, napkins, cutlery, glasses : Options // options.fr // @maison_options
Candlesticks : Blanche Patine // blanchepatine.com // @blanchepatine
Guests favors : La Durée // laduree.fr // @maisonladuree
Tote bags : Bagart // bagart.fr // @atelierbagart