Confession: I have never been to a destination wedding. And by that I mean,  a special place, full of romance and intrigue, where your guests can be fully immersed in a movie-like nuptial experience.

However, I have my fare share of readers asking me to comment or give advice on how to plan a destination wedding. You asked and you shall receive! I’ve done oodles of research and here it is, your step by step guide to plan a destination wedding.

1) Decide how many guests you want to come

Why is this number one? Because the number of guests you have determines your budget. Want a small wedding with just close family and friends? Then you may be able to splurge on something more unusual and exotic. On the other hand, if you want to get as many people on Destination Wedding Island as possible, it’ll be better to choose something a bit closer and less expensive.

So first get yourself a general idea of how large a wedding you want.

2) Select a location

This is where your budget info comes into play. You’ve decided on the size of your wedding, which means now you can spend endless hours  at work at home browsing websites and drooling over photos. The general rule is this: the higher the budget, the further away your destination can be. Conversely, the smaller the budget, the closer your destination should be.

So, for example: Want to take 15 – 20 people away and have lots of cash burning a whole in your pocket? Check out Tahiti, Europe and Asia. Want to take 30-50 people away with you? Check out the US Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Las Vegas, or another US landlocked location that suits your fancy.

The places listed above are traditional for destination weddings, but don’t be afraid to look outside the box! Croatia is a stunning jewel of a country, especially the cities on the Adriatic Coast. They are famed for their beauty as much as their affordability! Same with Turkey, Taiwan, Costa Rica, (especially now) Greece.

3) Set a date

Again, the budget rule plays out here. The higher the cost of getting to and staying in your location, the futher out your wedding date should be. People need time to take off work, save up the cash to get themselves to your place, arrange child and pet care, etc. If you expect your guests to pay their way for a week-long extravaganza, consider a long engagement – at least 1.5 – 2 years. This will give people plenty of time to get everything in order and plan to go on your destination wedding as a type of vacation for themselves. If they have time to get everything together, they will be all the more excited (and relaxed) when it comes time to actually jet off and go!

If you just want to get away for a long weekend and can’t bear to wait too long, choose a place that is less than 6 hours plane-travel away for your furthest guests, and give them at least 6 months notice on the date.

4) Contact a local to orchestrate your wedding.

You all know I’m all for the DIY bride and family-planned events, but with a destination wedding, you really have to make use of all the resources available to you. When you plan a destination wedding, odds are that your venue is some kind of resort or hotel – some place with ample room for your guests and all the necessary space and accutrements to throw a wedding. These places have wedding coordinators and planners. USE THEM! Most often when you book a desination wedding package, the planner comes with it. Funnel all your questions and concerns to this person – he or she is now your best friend.

The first thing to do is lock down a block of rooms to accomodate your guests. Do not wait for RSVPs to come in; assume that everyone will RSVP “yes” and book a block of rooms that would accomodate them. This is critical, especially during tourism season in your chosen destination. Send the info, including room rates and how to book, to your guests with the Save the Date.

Now you can start working with your planner on catering, decoration, entertainment, etc. Ask for local recommendations that will add a slice of culture to your wedding! Going to Mexico? A mariachi band is perfect to greet guests outside the reception. Bora Bora? Ask for one or two local menu selections, and be sure to print up the history or significance of the dish on your menus.

Jefferson Todd Photography

5) Brush up on your foreign language skills

Okay, yes: most resorts these days have a staff conversant in English. But you’re not going to spend all your time in the resort, are you? Get a couple guide books and start mapping out a loose schedule of activities for yourself and guests – you’re planning a destination wedding! Get out and see the sights, especially those with a romantic theme. Research local wedding customs and incorporate any you like into your ceremony.

So there you have it – a general non-generic wedding guide on how to plan a destination wedding. Anything I missed, or things you’d add? Leave a comment and let me know 🙂