Destination Wedding Beginnings: How to Start the Wedding Planning Process


What do you do when you’re at the very beginning of the destination wedding planning process? Where do you start, and what should you be thinking about?

You might have all these ideas floating around in your head, but in order to really start planning, you need a step-by-step plan to stay focused and make things happen! Let me try to help you!

Here, I’m going back to the basics to give you my 3 steps for getting started. Once you have these down, you’ll be ready to go!

Step 1: Visualize Everything

First things first, in order for you to start planning for the perfect day, you have to start thinking about all the details. That’s right, let’s start with visualizing your actual wedding.

Are you thinking it should be on a beach in Hawaii or in a castle in Germany? Either way, these are the first factors you need to nail down.

Just so you know: there is no such thing as a traditional destination wedding meaning, beaches aren’t required. This is all about YOU!

Your style will play an important part in your wedding. It will influence most of your decisions, and it’ll help create a unique and beautiful experience.

What will the vibe be? (Don’t just think about the location, but also the surrounding activities and décor.)

How will you showcase your and bae’s personality? If you are adventure seekers, Costa Rica might be the perfect paradise. Maybe you got engaged in Paris, and now you want the Eiffel Tower to be the backdrop to share with friends and family on your special day. Maybe the attire or the food speaks to your personalities in a unique way. The possibilities are endless.  

Let’s go a little deeper and consider different options for a second:

If you want to go for a European vibe:

You could have your wedding in Greece, Scotland, Italy, or if you really want old charm, Quebec and Montreal always warms a girl’s heart.

If you want to go for a City Charm vibe:

A rooftop in Chicago or a park in the middle of NYC is always romantic. Or, if you still want to keep it international, London could be a good idea.

Something to Think About: These locales aren’t all made equal when it comes to marriage licenses, and it can make getting married a lot harder. Most weddings are symbolic, and the couples get married before they leave at the courthouse — that way it cuts down on time, money and paperwork. Think about this when choosing your destination.

Ultimately, your preferences need to play a part in the destination.

Pro Tip: It’s easy to lose track of the ideas swirling in your head. Pin them to a board! Pinterest can help put all your inspiration together in an organized fashion to share with your planner.

Step 2: How many people will be there?

Now that we have a solid vision in your head, it’s time to think about who will be invited.

Do you want a small intimate wedding or a big event for everyone you know? Size will affect the resort you choose and the amount of mula you spend. To help stay focused, try to determine the size of your group first, and then consider whether you’d prefer it to be adults only or kids allowed.

More on size here:

There are 3 different sizes I often see, and while you may not have an exact number, just deciding on the type you are will help you get into the ballpark.

Personally, I prefer the Inner Circle category. This means we had about 45 guests, which is a good amount for a destination wedding. Some inner circle groups have less than 30 (including close friends and immediate family). Typically, if you’re thinking anything under 50, you can count yourself in this category.

The next size up would be the Friends & Family category (think colleagues, old pals from college, friends of the family). Here, you could even go as far as inviting cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few of your parents’ friends from when you were 10. I would say anywhere from 50-80 people for this group.

Then you have the Everybody You Know category, and that’s probably looking at about 100+ people. This is when your budget starts to grow tremendously. At this point, we advise you work with a travel professional for sure. Handling all of these details will definitely drive you nuts!

Something to Think About: The longer the flight or the farther away the destination, the fewer guests you invite will ultimately attend the wedding. If you invite 100 people, it’s likely only half of those will come at most. In order to get a huge wedding, you have to think easy to get to and budget friendly.

If the number of guests you have attending is important to you, you’ll want to consider these other factors:

Being smart about how you pick the date is key. Most destination weddings are 4 days and 3 nights, some do 5 days and 4 nights (my party people try for a whole week). But keep this in mind: most guests will not be able to stay that long due to work, school etc. So, look at long weekends, holidays and times where people will already be taking off. Also, think about weird times you may want to avoid, e.g. Tax Day, Christmas, graduation season, back to school season, or even Easter. Those are likely not the best times for others.

Step 3: Talk About the Budget

BONUS: Download Our FREE Sample Budget Tracker

How much is this going to cost you? There’s no secret formula, but depending on the resort, location, and number of people, you could spend from $5,000 all the way up to $50,000. I have seen it all. (Mexico is the cheapest international destination for destination weddings.)

Even if budget isn’t a big deal, it’s still essential to have one set.

However, rather than trying to come up with a large number, it’s easier to break the money up into chunks and think of it that way. For example, you might consider a Wedding Budget, a Guest Budget, a Honeymoon Budget, and then a Post-Wedding Budget.

Wedding Budget includes all of the ceremony, reception and vendor costs.

The Guest Budget includes all of the accommodations and activities for your guests, what you will pay for, what they will pay for, gifts, welcome party, spa, bridal party etc.

The Honeymoon Budget is exactly what it sounds like. Will you stay put at your destination or fly to a different location? What extra excursions will you do? (Take a look at honeymoon registries these might just help.)

For your Post-Wedding Budget, you’ll want to consider a welcome back party for those at home, if you choose.

Saving Tips

·      Avoid High Season and Saturdays

·      Work with an agent to score travel deals

·      Go local — use local vendors on the ground

·      Cut back on décor

·      Keep food and drinks casual — this will really help your budget

·      Host all special events on location — don’t add extras off-site activities unless you want to increase the budget

·      Cut back on invitations/stationary, invest in a wedding website and RSVP via app or email

·      Stay put for your honeymoon

Make sure you know the destination. Anguilla and Jamaica aren’t made equal. The pricier Caribbean locations include Antigua, St. Kitts and Grenada, and they will cost you more than the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

Also, if you are thinking about Europe, keep in mind the exchange rates. The American dollar can get you more in some countries, a lot more in other countries, but also less in some countries.

Now that you have the 3 essentials down (vision, guest list, and budget), you are ready to start choosing your location. Make sure to check out my 3 tips for choosing your destination wedding location.

Congratulations! You are on your way to becoming a destination wedding expert! Have a few more questions? Feel free to send us a note. We love hearing from #destibrides like yourself.

Eat, Drink and Cheers to Planning a Destination Wedding!