destination wedding bride and groom recessional
Ahava Studios

As you're planning your destination wedding, it can be very helpful to take advice from someone who's been in your shoes before. I'm Alex, and I spent a year planning my oceanfront wedding in Florida. I'm sharing some of what I learned throughout the process of planning my destination wedding in hopes that it will help you as you're putting your dream wedding together. The biggest takeaway: While planning a wedding from afar can come with a few unique and unexpected challenges, it's certainly doable with the right tips and tricks. 

If you have your heart set on a destination wedding (or, like this editor, just happen to live a thousand miles away from your dream venue) here are a few tips to consider:

Think wedding weekend, not wedding day

If all of your guests are making the trip to celebrate with you, keeping them comfortable and entertained throughout the weekend should be a priority. While you’re technically not obligated to entertain guests beyond the wedding itself, hosting ancillary events like a welcome party or day-after brunch, or even organizing a few activities guests have the option to partake in throughout the weekend, will show them how much you appreciate their making the effort to be there with you. Our wedding weekend included a Thursday night welcome party for our families, a Friday night rehearsal dinner followed by a welcome party for all guests, a Saturday lunch and beach party for all guests, the wedding itself, and a casual Sunday brunch. That’s a lot of events! It was important to us that our guests felt welcome and taken care of. Be prepared to allocate some of your wedding budget to other weekend events and be ready to mingle with your guests all weekend long.

The RSVP “regret” rate might be higher than average

And that’s OK! If you’re planning a wedding far from where the majority of your guests live, you have to understand that not everyone will be able to make the trip. Sometimes this might even include good friends or close family members. Don’t take it personally! If you’re worried about guests not being able to attend, send out save-the-dates at least six months in advance of the event. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of inflating your guest list because you anticipate a high decline rate—that’s just setting yourself up for trouble.

Put extra trust in your vendors

Since you can’t be on the ground overseeing every detail throughout the planning process, it’s crucial to hire vendors you can trust. I found WeddingWire’s vendor directory to be extremely helpful. Reading reviews and flipping through storefront photos gave me a solid idea of which vendors would be a good fit, even though I couldn’t physically be there to meet them. I found my photographer, florist, band, hair stylist, and makeup artist through WeddingWire and then interviewed them over the phone. If you plan to interview over the phone or via a video call, I recommend coming up with a list of 5-10 specific questions, taking thorough notes, and asking them to email over any additional work samples (photos or videos) they may have. I ended up hiring all of my vendors after one or two phone calls. I’m happy to say they were all amazing!

Plan one or two pre-wedding visits if possible

After getting all my ducks in a row through online planning, I took a trip to Florida to do a site walk-through and meet my vendors in person. Even though I was already very familiar with my venue, having grown up vacationing there, it was helpful to see the space through an event planning lens, plot out where we wanted everything set up, and finalize details on-site with my vendor team. This trip can also be a great opportunity to scout potential guest accommodations, visit prospective rehearsal dinner venues, and check out local restaurants and other spots to suggest to guests. I highly recommend factoring at least one planning trip into your wedding budget—it will eliminate guesswork and put your mind at ease. Of course, make sure to stay organized and schedule any necessary meetings ahead of time to make the most of your limited time there.

Be prepared for a lot of schlepping

A wedding involves a lot of stuff, and it all has to get to the final destination somehow. Anticipate a lot of packing, stacking, tracking, and hauling. Since there was no way it would all fit on a plane, my parents kindly drove 18 hours in a car stuffed with table linens, vases, my wedding gown, and veil. My grandparents, who have a house near the venue and generously allowed me to hoard items there, had a garage overflowing with welcome bags, flower girl dresses, corn hole boards, and boxes upon boxes of table numbers, cocktail napkins, and matchbooks. My husband and I boarded the plane with four giant duffle bags stuffed with escort cards, place cards, menus, programs, signs, ribbons, and who knows what else. I promise it’s worth it when you see it all come together.