You’ve decided to embark on the journey of planning a destination wedding (congratulations!)—now where do you start?
It goes without saying that planning a destination wedding (or any wedding, for that matter) takes time, organization, and a bit of know-how. You need to figure out how to get things done, when to get things done, and how to avoid having a stress-induced meltdown in the process.
The secret sauce that makes planning the perfect destination wedding a breeze? Experience. After you’ve got a couple successfully-planned weddings under your belt, you start to learn who to talk to, how long things take, and where to go for the best deals!
Obviously you don’t have that kind of time, but don’t worry—I’m here to help! Planning incredible destination weddings is what I do and I’ve definitely learned a thing or two over the years. To help you stay organized, I’ve put together a checklist that breaks things down month-by-month from more than a year out all the way to your big day.
Use this list to get an idea of when you need to start focusing on certain tasks, but if you have any questions or want to know more about how to get all this done, hit me up!
12+ MONTHS TO GO
Announce your engagement
Choose a destination
Decide on a budget
Select your venue
Draft a guest list
Order your save-the-dates
Send out save-the-dates
Make sure your passports are up to date
Select your bridal party
Book the honeymoon suite
Get organized—start a binder to keep track of all your wedding business!
Phew! I know that sounds like a lot when there’s still more than a year till the big day, but trust me: a destination wedding takes twice the planning that a regular wedding does.
Checking off the big stuff now (like choosing your destination and venue, creating a budget, and deciding on your guest list) gives you plenty of time to adjust plans if need be. Want a Caribbean wedding but found out that your wedding date is smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season? Pick a different destination or settle on a different date! Found a gorgeous venue but the price isn’t so pretty? No worries, you have time to shop around for the perfect place within your budget!
Keep in mind that your guests need to know when the wedding is ASAP so they can request time off work and make travel plans. Nailing down the location, venue, and date this far in advance helps ensure your friends and family will be able to come celebrate with you.
Don’t let this first chunk of the list overwhelm you! The more you get done earlier on in the process, the smoother the rest of the planning will be.
9-11 MONTHS TO GO
Start wedding dress shopping (and read our post on how to travel with your dress!)
Choose your menu and cake
Create a wedding website with any travel details your guests might need
Research and book excursions (I recommend one per day!)
Book a block of hotel rooms for your guests
Secure a wedding DJ or band
Now that you’ve got the major decisions out of the way, it’s time to start perfecting the details. This stage is all about creating your dream wedding experience—think food, music, fun activities, and (of course) the DRESS!
Take time to think about what sort of vibe you want your wedding to have, factoring in your personalities as a couple as well as your guests’ personalities. Do you want something luxe and elegant, or casual and laid-back? Is your guest list full of young, party-loving friends or older relatives who might need special considerations?
Striking the right balance between the things you want and the things you know your guests will enjoy is the key to a truly amazing destination wedding experience. (Remember, your friends and fam spent money and traveled a long way to be there! Your wedding is about you, but happy guests make for a happy celebration. 💖)
6-8 MONTHS TO GO
Take engagement photos (if you haven’t already)
Buy your plane tickets—get those early bird deals!
Order your wedding invitations
Decide on your wedding party’s attire
Choose dates for bachelor/bachelorette parties
Make contracts with vendors
We’ve hit the halfway point! There’s still lots to do, but give yourself a pat on the back for making it here.
6-8 months out, things are getting real! Now’s the time to dot the Is and cross the Ts with your wedding vendors, book those plane tickets, and order your wedding invitations (I personally love Basic Invite—use the code “TravelBash” to get 20% off your order and free shipping!).
This is also the perfect time to book an engagement shoot and plan your bachelor and bachelorette parties—a.k.a. the fun stuff! If you have awesome friends, they’ll likely handle the bulk of the planning for those parties, freeing up your time to keep focusing on wedding details like the bridal party’s outfits.
3-5 MONTHS TO GO
Send out wedding invitations
Book transportation to and from the airport
Next up on the list: getting those beautiful invites you designed sent out!
This is also the point where you should be finalizing your honeymoon plans. If you feel like your budget is starting to stretch a bit thin here, one of the easiest ways to save cash on your honeymoon is to plan to stay at the same destination where you’ll be getting married.
Hopping to another city or nearby island keeps things feeling fresh without having to shell out for another international flight, plus once you and bae are alone you can tailor your experiences and activities however you please without worrying about what your guests will like!
Regardless of whether you’re staying put for the honeymoon or venturing somewhere else, make sure you get everything planned and booked now! Nothing worse than scrambling to plan a major romantic trip last-minute.
2-4 MONTHS TO GO
Plan the destination welcome party and your rehearsal dinner
Order welcome bags or favors
Book a hairstylist and makeup artist
Write your destination wedding welcome letter
Create a seating chart and place cards
Oooh, we’re really getting down to the wire now!
At this stage, you’ll be adding those special touches that take your destination wedding to the next level—an amazing welcome party for when your guests arrive; the perfect, heartfelt welcome letter; and bomb-ass welcome bags packed with everything your guests need to have an incredible time during their stay. (Follow the links above for guides on all of these things!)
Now’s the time to get your hair and makeup artist booked—don’t leave it too late, as they can get busy with clients fast—and plan your rehearsal dinner.
You’ll also (hopefully) have your guest list finalized, so you can create a seating chart and make or order place cards.
2-4 WEEKS TO GO
Double- and triple-check all reservations/bookings/vendors
Write your vows
Put together a packing list
About a month out, you should be checking to make sure everything’s golden with your bookings and getting started on your vows (writing from the heart can take longer than you think!).
You should also take a minute to create your packing list now. Leaving it to the last minute means you’re way more likely to forget something important, so save yourself the headache and get it out of the way!
1 WEEK OUT
Check the weather at your destination
Make sure you have the correct outlet converters
Take a trip to the spa—wedding planning is stressful, so make sure you’re also taking care of yourself before the big day!
Prepare any payments that need to be made (to vendors, etc.)
Travel to your destination
Deep breaths, brides-to-be—we’re almost there!
At this point, virtually all of the planning, booking, and organizing should be done. Double-check that you’ve packed everything you need for the trip, take a peek at your destination’s weather forecast, prepare cash for any payments that need to be made onsite, and (most importantly) take a day to hit the spa and RELAX.
Next stop: the airport!
Get your wedding dress steamed
Check out the venue
Apply for a marriage license
Assemble welcome bags and distribute to guests’ rooms
Manicure and pedicure
Trial hair and makeup (make sure it’s exactly the look you’re going for!)
You’re officially in paradise now and all that’s left to do is prep for the big day: apply for a marriage license (and read up on the ins and outs of changing your name abroad), scope out your venue, get everything ready to welcome your guests, get your mani-pedi done, and do a test run of the hair and makeup you want for the wedding (better safe than sorry).
Last but not least: don’t forget to show your dress some love, too! Get it steamed, spotless, and ready to go.
Enjoy your day!
You made it!!
Your guests are here, the venue is perfect, everyone’s eating and laughing and dancing, and you look stunning. Shake off any lingering stress or worry and enjoy yourself! You’ve earned it.
I hope this checklist helps you plan a wonderful, worry-free wedding! Let me know if there’s anything I can add to make it better for the next bride. 🙂
Eat, drink, and be married abroad!