The Ultimate Destination Wedding Planning Guide

tips

Destination weddings are my freakin’ jam. I love traveling, I love seeing beautiful places, and I love love. If you and your boo are planning a destination wedding, I’m here to help! This blog has tons of ideas for locations both inside and outside the U.S., a guide on what to do in the months leading up to your wedding, and so much more. I can’t wait for you to dive in!


Choose a location for your destination wedding

First things first: we’ve gotta decide on a location for your destination wedding. There are so many scenic ones to choose from, it can definitely be overwhelming to figure out where to even start. Below, I’ve listed my favorite locations so that you have a better idea of what direction you want to go in!

Within the U.S.

Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree truly has my heart as a Southern California wedding and elopement destination. In fact, I have an entire blog post dedicated to my favorite Joshua Tree wedding venues! JT is a beautiful national park, located right where the Mojave and Colorado Desert meet. SoCal isn’t exactly known for its deserts, but Joshua Tree is seriously such a unique, hidden gem if you’re willing to find it.  Plus is right near Palm Springs, which is a super dope honeymoon spot. 


Santa Barbara, California

Situated right on the coast of Central California, there’s a quaint little Spanish beach town called Santa Barbara. I mean, the city being on the beach is enough for me to want to pack my bags and hop on a flight, but that’s not all that SB has to offer. There’s amazing hotels, great seafood, and the shopping is to die for. If you’re looking for a destination that’s intimate and quiet but still bursting with culture, I would definitely recommend Santa Barbara!


San Francisco, California

Okay I promise this is the last California destination on the list! San Francisco is a little ways from Santa Barbara, about 8 hours north. The city of San Francisco is so unique in itself, and there’s so much to see and do (even though the city only covers about 46 square miles). It’s definitely a heavily trafficked/metropolitan area, but if you get married in the offseason, you won’t have to worry too much about that! Their City Hall is one of the most beautiful, architectural city halls I’ve ever seen, and would be a stunning venue in itself. 

Las Vegas, Nevada

Of course I had to include Las Vegas in the list of my favorite destination wedding locations. If you’re planning on eloping, I have an entire guide dedicated to how to do that in LV! Located in the state of Nevada, Las Vegas is the place to go if you want to get married in style. And for all my party couples out there, Vegas would give you the time of your life! The nightlife, the luxurious hotels, and even the scenic state and national parks nearby provide the ultimate good time for anyone getting married. 


Oregon Coast, Oregon

If you’ve never been to the Oregon Coast, you’re seriously missing out. The PNW is typically known for its rain, moody weather, and hipster crowd, but the Oregon Coast is a destination that will blow your mind no matter how old you are. In the fall and winter the fog overtakes the coast to provide the ultimate moody setting for your wedding, but in the spring and summer you get beautiful, warm, sunny weather. There are forests, waterfalls, and bluffs all along the Oregon Coast that adds so much diversity to this already breathtaking location. 


Outside the U.S.

Italy

At the time I’m writing this blog, I just recently got back from Italy (Positano, to be more specific) and holy shit… it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Italy would by far be one of my number one recommendations if you’re planning an international destination wedding! You have so many different areas to choose from depending on what your vibe is, and of course I’m here to help you out as well. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves, because I’m not sure what I could add to them to convince you to get married here. 


Scotland

Rolling hills, lush greenery, and all the whisky you could imagine. Getting married in Scotland could mean getting married in one of their numerous castles, or saying “I do” right on one of their world-renowned lakes. Fun fact: Scotland is the only country in the UK where you can literally get married anywhere, as long as you have a registered celebrant. This means that if you want to have an intimate wedding or elopement at a super scenic location, the world (of Scotland) is our oyster! 


Hawaii

Okay, do I even have to explain why getting married in Hawaii would be a dream come true? Not only are there multiple islands to choose from, but if you choose the right season, the weather will be absolutely perfect for your wedding. Just think about saying your vows at a beachfront venue (or heck, even on the beach!) while the sun comes up, then changing into your swim clothes and jumping into the ocean. How freakin’ cool would that be? Hawaii has so many things to offer, plus it’s a highly sought after honeymoon destination!

Greece

When you think of Greece, the island of Santorini is probably what you picture first. But there are countless other islands in Greece that don’t get enough credit as tourist destinations. But you know what that means for us? Less tourists for your wedding! If you do some research, you’ll find that islands like Naxos, Milos, and Crete are just as beautiful, if not more than Santorini. You and your love will have the best time exploring the villages, sinking your toes into the glistening white sand, and soaking up the never ending sunshine. 

Mexico

Beachfront wedding in Mexico?? Ummm, I’m hearing tequila, dancing, and a wedding no one will forget. The tropical weather in Mexico is a climate that no one can pass up, and there’s a very low chance that you’ll be stuck in your hotel because of rain or other inclement weather. They’ve got top-notch resorts, stunning scenery, and of course the amazing food. Plus, there are tons of activities readily available for couples wanting to embark on some adventures before or after their wedding! 

Belize

I recently went to Belize myself and was amazed at how beautiful it is. Ever thought about having a Belize island wedding?? You can literally rent a private island here and have the best time of your life. Raye Caye Island is my personal recommendation for this, and you cannot go wrong with them. And one of the best parts about this destination wedding location is that it can be pretty budget friendly, even if you’re inviting friends and family! If you consider the cost of renting a venue in the U.S., having a destination wedding abroad in Central America is much less expensive. And less $$$ does not equal less quality; you still get some of the best seafood ever, amazing service, waterspouts, and an unforgettable experience for your guests. Let’s also not forget the ease and convenience of traveling to Belize from the U.S.!


Do you want to honeymoon at your wedding destination?

If you’re going as far as planning a destination wedding, chances are you’ll want to honeymoon in the same spot. But that’s not the case for every couple! Think about your dream honeymoon location, and then decide if that’s the same place you want to have your wedding. Some couples decide to get married somewhere a little closer to home so that friends and family can easily attend, and then have an international honeymoon with just the two of them. Or some couples want to make the most out of their travels, and get married somewhere in Europe and spend their honeymoon exploring nearby countries! Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s everything you want and nothing you don’t. 


Set a budget for your destination wedding

The dreaded B word… I know, but it had to be mentioned eventually. Setting a budget for your destination wedding will make the process go a hell of a lot smoother, trust me. Sit down with your partner and have a realistic conversation on what you two want to spend on your wedding and your honeymoon. If family members are contributing to the cost of your big day, make sure it’s clear to them that just because they’re helping out financially, doesn’t mean they get to override you and your partner’s choices. 

Here are some things to consider when creating a budget for your destination wedding:

  • Destination wedding planner (highly recommended!)
  • A wedding venue (if you want to cut down the cost of this one, you can have an intimate outdoor wedding somewhere scenic)
  • A wedding photographer (that’s me!)
  • A wedding videographer
  • Florist 
  • Caterer/baker
  • Wedding officiant
  • DJ/live band
  • Wedding attire 
  • Accomodations for you + your guests
  • Flight tickets
  • Rental car/rideshare services

If you’re staying at a hotel, most of them offer discounted rates for room blocks for you and your guests. Definitely take advantage of this if you’re planning on covering the cost of accommodations! 


Consider utilizing a travel credit card

I’m not saying you should get a credit card SOLELY for the purpose of your destination wedding, but I am saying that if you choose the right one, the pros will definitely outweigh the cons. A good travel credit card can get you a decent amount of rewards points, which you can then utilize for your honeymoon. Especially if you’re paying for accommodations for your guests, this could be a great option. You can check out all the best travel credit cards here


How many guests do you want?

It’s time to narrow down the guest list. Are you going all out and want all your friends and family present? Let’s do it! Keep in mind that the more guests you have, the higher your budget will most likely have to be. If you’re having your wedding at a hotel, you’ll probably be charged per person if they have in-house catering. 

If you want to cut down the costs, consider having a destination wedding on the more intimate side. This gives you more options in terms of location (you won’t need a large venue) and food (everyone can go out to eat afterwards!) which leaves more room in your budget. I get it though – you don’t want anyone to feel left out. If that’s one of your concerns, you can always have an intimate destination wedding and a larger party back home to include everyone who couldn’t make it! 


Consider hiring a destination wedding planner

If you want the planning process to be as stress free as possible, take this advice: HIRE A DESTINATION WEDDING PLANNER. Especially if you’re having an international wedding, it can be quite the hassle to try and coordinate with vendors, well, internationally. Save yourself the trouble and hire someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. Plus, they’ll help you bring your vision to life while sticking to your budget! 


12 months before your destination wedding 

Plan a site visit 

If you’re able to, visiting your destination to scope it out (with your wedding planner if you’re hiring one) is highly recommended. If need be, you can tour venues, locations, do tastings, and really get a feel for how you want your wedding to look! Plus, being there with your planner will give you so much peace of mind because you know that everyone is on the exact same page. 


Book a hotel room block

You’ll want to reach out to a few hotels (or the same hotel you’re hosting your wedding) and start looking at rates for room blocks. You want to do this before you send out Save the Dates so that your guests can start booking their rooms right when they receive them. Hotels usually require a deposit to be paid upfront in order to reserve your room block, and then they give you a discount code or special link to send to your guests to book at a discounted rate. 


Find your destination wedding attire

If you’re ordering a wedding gown, they usually take 6-9 months to be ordered and tailored. There would truly be nothing worse than not having your wedding attire in time for your wedding, so it’s better to be safe than sorry! Start looking or at least booking appointments to find your wedding attire about 12 months before the date of your wedding.  


9 months before your destination wedding 

Create your wedding registry/website

Woo hoo! We’re 9 months away from the big day. This is a great time to start creating your wedding registry at your favorite stores, and also build out your wedding website. Especially when having a destination wedding, wedding websites are so useful because your guests can have all the information they need in ONE place. You can build out your site on platforms like Zola, With Joy, and Minted


Send out Save the Dates

You can send out Save the Dates physically or digitally with your wedding website! This is totally up to you, and dependent on if your budget allows for ordering physical copies. People do love keeping these as keepsakes, hanging them up somewhere in their home, and just receiving them in general. So if you’re trying to decide between the two, I would recommend sending physical ones, especially if you’re using your engagement session photos. 


Check flight prices

Now is also a good time to start checking flight prices for your destination. You can use apps like Hopper to track specific flights and get notified when prices are about to go up so that you can book accordingly.


6 months before your destination wedding

Book your flights

Now that it’s 6 months before your destination wedding, you’ll want to book and confirm your flights! Once you find a great deal, I would notify your guests via your wedding websites that now would be a good time to book. Sometimes people forget about booking flights, especially this far in advance! It doesn’t hurt to give them a little reminder 😉 


Order your passports

If you’re traveling out of the country and don’t have an updated passport, now is the time to take care of that. Especially because of COVID, some offices have crazy turnaround times for passports, so again, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 


Think about transportation for your guests

If you’re having your ceremony and reception in different places, or if you guests need to get from their hotel to your venue, it’s time to start thinking about transportation for them. To make it easy on everyone involved, you can ask your hotel if they provide shuttle service for you and your guests. If it’s not complementary, see how much they charge and figure out if your budget allows for it! The other options are renting a bus if you’re having a smaller guest count so that you have transportation all day long. 


 0-4 months before your destination wedding

Send out invitations (with the dress code!)

Around 12 weeks before your wedding is a great time to start sending out formal invitations if that’s already in your plan. And don’t forget to include the dress code in your invitation! Especially for a destination wedding, your guests will probably want to have their outfits picked out well beforehand. And you definitely don’t want a million people texting you and asking what to wear. So if you haven’t decided on a dress code or color palette already, you should definitely think about it!


Have final wedding attire fittings

Whatever you and your partner are wearing for the wedding, make sure you have your final fittings around 2 months before your date. You do not want to be waiting on your tailor to get your outfit back days before your wedding – nobody needs that kind of stress! Have everything set and ready to go so that once it’s time to pack, you don’t have to worry about a thing. 


Research local marriage laws

Especially if you’re getting married out of the country, researching local marriage laws is an absolute must. Do you need an officiant? How many witnesses do you need? What type of ceremony will you be performing? A lot of couples decide to get legally married in their home state for ease and convenience, and then have their wedding at a destination. This would probably be the most stress-free option, but if you’re up for the challenge, be sure to do as much research as possible! Your destination wedding planner could also definitely help you out in this department. 


Get fucking married

You can let out a sigh of relief – it’s finally time to have fun and get fucking married. I know that this was quite a lot of information to take in – but I hope it was well worth the read! 

If you’re interested in having me as your destination wedding photographer, you can reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!