Wedding Planning Guide

how to plan a destination wedding: 10-step guide


Planning an out-of-town wedding may seem incredibly daunting. Where do you even start? Organizing a wedding is challenging enough, so is it really worth the stress of coordinating with an event venue located a few thousand miles away, figuring out airports to fly in to, locating suitable accommodations, and possibly communicating in multiple languages? To answer these questions, you must ask yourself what creating a once-in-a-lifetime memory means to you. We hope this post on how to plan a destination wedding will make the process a lot smoother for you.

The good news is that destination weddings are becoming more common and accessible. Although leaving your hometown or country may sound like more work than it is, destination weddings come with many perks that can streamline the wedding planning process. Believe it or not, but destination weddings are often more affordable than domestic weddings. The average destination wedding starts at $20,000, while domestic weddings can start around $30,000. This amount can increase or decrease based on what you want to feature at your ceremony. Keep costs down by only inviting your closest friends and family and hosting a memorably intimate micro wedding.

Bringing your dream wedding to life is not as hard as you think. You should start planning your destination wedding 12 -14 months out. With a clear vision and a little help from a wedding planner, you can achieve all your wedding goals. We’ll walk you through everything you need to get started in our 10 steps to destination wedding planning.

Step 1: Brainstorm a Location

Obviously the first consideration in how to plan a destination wedding is picking a location! Think back to your favorite vacation as a couple. What did you love about the location? Did the weather play a big factor? Did you love the people and the culture? Was the architecture inspiring? Is there a dream destination on your bucket list? Answers to all these questions should help steer you toward a wedding location. Here is a quick destination wedding checklist of things to consider when planning your location.

  • Reflect on your past travel experiences for guidance on what location might bring you the most happiness.
  • Take the unpredictability out of a destination wedding by visiting the location before you start planning. Committing to a ceremony, hotel, and resort sight unseen is a costly risk to take. It is not advised to ask friends and family to make extensive travel plans to a location that you haven’t experienced firsthand.
  • Understand passport and visa requirements. Will your guests need to fill out a bunch of travel forms to attend your wedding? Make sure they are informed well in advance.
  • Have a gauge on current travel risks and warnings. Is there political instability, an increase in crime, or an outbreak of a disease that would make the destination a poor option?
  • Research your wedding date to see if any huge cultural events or sporting events may be taking place during your wedding weekend.
  • What will the weather be like during the time of the year your wedding is planned? Be sure to include this information on your wedding invitations so guests can pack appropriately.
  • What languages are spoken in the destination? Will your guests be able to get around comfortably only speaking English?

Step 2: Set a Budget

Before you start finding a venue and picking out decor, it’s important to understand the budget you are working with. We have created a detailed breakdown of how to piece together your wedding budget. Even if you have a smaller budget, there are some very creative affordable venues you can consider! With your budget established you can begin to make planning decisions. Your first major decision will be to choose between carrying the brunt of the planning yourself or opting to work with a wedding planner. Working with a wedding planner that is local to the destination can ease the stress of planning an event in an unfamiliar place. They can recommend venues, florists, photographers, and other vendors that are reliable and seasoned. They will most likely end up saving you money in the long run, which will cover the expense of hiring them.

Asking guests to book travel, accommodations, and potentially take a few extra days off work or away from their children will often trim down the number of guests who will actually attend your destination wedding. It is estimated that about 40% - 60% of guests invited to a destination wedding will RSVP and attend. Knowing your guest list will most likely be smaller than if you hosted your wedding in your hometown, this will keep your costs lower for essentials like food, drinks, and venue size. Choosing a location that is extremely popular for weddings can sometimes drive costs up. If looking to trim your budget even further, consider off-season dates or a weekday or Sunday wedding.

Step 3: Find a Knowledgeable Wedding Planner

Your wedding planner will be your go-to person throughout this process. As we mentioned earlier, a wedding planner who is familiar with your wedding destination can make the planning process much easier. Picking the right venue, caterer, and guest experiences can be overwhelming if you are not familiar with your location. Do your research and find a planner that has developed close business relationships with vendors, fun local activities, and great chefs. If you do not speak the local language, finding a wedding planner who can speak it fluently will help make the destination wedding planning process smoother.

Step 4: Research How to Make It Official

Be sure to research requirements for legal weddings in your location. Government documents vary in different locations, especially if you are travelling abroad. Will your wedding be a symbolic celebration or a legal union? Many couples choose to have a legal ceremony in their city before their destination wedding.

Step 5: Send Save the Dates Early - Keep Guests Informed

Be sure to send save the dates to guests as soon as you have solidified plans. It is advised to send notice nine months to a year before your event to give your friends and family enough time to plan for your wedding. It is best practice to reference your wedding website on your save the date, so guests can stay up to date with lodging recommendations, travel checklists, and advice. Your official wedding invitations can be sent 3 to 4 months before your wedding date.

Traveling is incredibly exciting but comes with its own set of requirements. Your wedding website should remind your guests that they may need to update their legal documents, such as IDs and passports, prior to booking their tickets. Did you know that getting a passport usually takes 6-8 weeks to process? International travel may also require additional documents that differ from domestic travel guidelines, so be sure to keep your guests well informed.

destination wedding

"The Location" save the date by Pixel and Hank

Step 6: Find Lodging Recommendations - Keep Your Guests Together

Accommodations are one of the top concerns guests have about destination wedding planning. Guests will feel much more comfortable if they are sleeping at an establishment that is hosting additional members of your wedding group. As the saying goes, “safety in numbers.” Although you are not responsible for covering all your guests’ accommodation costs, it is helpful to include a few options that cater to different budgets. List the resorts, neighboring hotels, and B&Bs in close proximity to the wedding venue. The wedding party should be encouraged to stay at the same location as the couple to ensure that rehearsals and the ceremony go off without a hitch. This lodging recommendation is key to planning a destination wedding that will run smoothly. The last thing you want is for people to be scrambling around for rides to the venue!

Location is everything. Be sure to know how far the venue is from hotels and the airport. Cost savings are important but staying at a location that is closer to your venue is worth the money. Having a hotel room nearby to rest between wedding events, to change into different outfits, and crash after a night of dancing is important. The last thing you and your guests want to do after a night of good food, drinks, and dancing is to make a long trek back to their accommodations.

To make things even easier, look into hotel services such as shuttles, rides share services, and the overall walkability of the area and add this information to your wedding website. A wedding planner that is familiar with the area will be able to give you suggestions about the best routes to take and the safest and most reliable car services to use.

Step 7: Finalize Your Wedding Vendors

As your destination wedding draws closer and closer, it's time to start finding and signing contracts with different wedding vendors. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind when choosing your vendors.

  • Photographers - Work with a local photographer that is familiar with the most beautiful and unique places to take wedding pictures in your destination. You may want to schedule a day shoot before your wedding at some cultural landmarks to help you remember the charm of your destination. Feel free to print our checklist of questions to ask your photographer.
  • Music Entertainment - Will you be creating your own wedding playlist, hiring a local band, or choosing a DJ? Whatever route you choose, be sure to include some hit songs from the local region. Your wedding guests will love dancing the tango, performing a hula, or listening to a collection of mariachi songs. An authentic music selection can really lock in lifelong memories about your wedding destination. Need help finding the right entertainment? We have a great checklist of questions to ask your wedding DJ or band.
  • Florists - Capture the beauty of a destination by picking a florist that not only understands popular wedding day florals, but also local arrangements that will leave a lasting impression on your guest.
  • Caterers - People don’t fly halfway across the world to eat food they can get back home. While you want to provide dishes you know your guests will enjoy, work with your caterers to see if there is a way you can infuse some local ingredients or dishes into your wedding menu. A local bakery can also create a unique cake for your event. Adding a cocktail that shows off the local fruit or liquor is another way to create a well-themed cohesive menu.

Step 8: Coordinate your Honeymoon

Consider extending your trip as a part of your honeymoon. You can stay a few extra days at your wedding location or make plans to travel to nearby cities and countries. Travelling from one destination to another can also be quite affordable since you have already probably completed the longest travel route.

Step 9: Plan a Few Tours & Activities for Guests to Enjoy

Your wedding will be the highlight of this trip for everyone but making memories during your stay is also important. It is rare to have family and friends together at a distant destination, so make the most of it! Planning short day trips, spa treatments, or exploring the city together will make your wedding an event to remember. Be sure to list a few of the breakaway outings you have planned on your wedding website so guests can decide if they want to join in!

Step 10: Plan Themed Day-Of Decor

The location, setting, food, flowers, and surrounding culture will help set an unforgettable ambience for your destination wedding but subtle decorations can also help carry a theme forward. Think how you can feature wedding signs, menus, table goodies, and wedding favors to amplify your destination wedding theme.

A clever hashtag for guests to use when posting photos to social media channels can also reinforce your wedding theme. Think of a clever way to tie in the location of your wedding to the phrase you choose. #partnersinparadise #happilyeveraruba


The location is picked. The wedding is planned. Everyone is ready to go! Here is a destination wedding travel checklist to help get the essentials where they need to be.

  • Keep your wedding bands and other important items like sentimental jewelry, the wedding dress and tux in your carry-on bags. You never know if your checked luggage will be delayed or lost in transit! Avoid a wedding day disaster by keeping meaningful items in your possession while en route. It would be a shame to spend so much time planning the perfect destination wedding and then have an airline misplace your wedding dress.
  • International travel often requires a set of healthcare precautions. Pack all medications and prescriptions you may need. Speak to your healthcare provider about the vaccinations that you may need before taking your trip.
  • Prior to leaving, contact your cell phone provider to understand international phone plans. Will your phones work at your chosen destination? If you find that you are limited, download a texting app and establish meeting times and locations for all guests. Loop hotel reception into this information so they can assist your guests if needed.
  • Different parts of the world have different electrical outlets. Make sure you research or ask your wedding planner for the types of chargers and adaptors you will need to bring.
  • Alert your credit card company of your international travel. This will save you the headache of dealing with flagged transactions and restricted card use while you are traveling. Having the local currency on hand is also important for tipping or for cash-only situations.

And there you have it! We hope our 10-step guide and destination wedding packing checklist helps you understand how to plan a destination wedding for the ages.