Planning a destination wedding may seem a daunting task but it is much easier than you first imagine. Having planned our wedding in France this year, I have acquired a little experience in this area.
Back to basics
Firstly, look at the type of wedding you wish to have as this will contribute to the location, venue, guest list etc.
Do you want an intimate ceremony or a large celebration?
Is your ideal wedding by the sea, in the countryside or a city?
How important is it for you to hold a religious ceremony?
Will you be providing accommodation for your guests?
A few of our own ideas of where we could have married were:
– A chic wedding in the city of love, Paris
– Rustic romance in Provence, France or Tuscany, Italy
– A weekend of glamour for a large wedding party in the South of France
– An intimate Greek affair in picturesque Santorini
– A laid back barefoot ceremony on a beautiful beach in Thailand or Mexico
Of course there are plenty of other places you can marry and if you are simply holding a blessing rather than the legal ceremony, the destination choice is endless. We went with a rustic wedding in a chateau in southwestern France.
The type of ceremony hugely influences the country. For example, in Greece as a British citizen you can legally marry. The same for Italy and Spain, I believe, although don’t hold me to this. You will need to explore this further before you decide on where you wish to marry.
If you wish to hold a religious ceremony, you will need to look at the primary denomination in that particular country.
A way around strict legal requirements, which a lot of couples are opting for, is to legally marry in their home country and hold the wedding blessing abroad.
Work out what you can realistically afford and stick to the budget. A wedding is one day of your life, albeit the most amazing time, but it is essentially one day. Also, you most certainly don’t want to start married life in debt.
Once you have worked out your budget, create a spreadsheet with expected costs and actual costs. Update and check regularly. Always find quotes from at least 3 vendors so you can compare prices and negotiate. I negotiated an extra day and extra use of the facilities (which should have incurred an additional 1k) as part of our overall venue hire package. Negotiation doesn’t necessarily need to be on the price, it could include adding other items to the overall cost and changing the order to your personal requirements.
When planning a wedding abroad, it is likely that you will receive the contract in a different language. Always ask to see the English version. And sign this.
There is a fee for sending international bank transfers, therefore incorporate this into your budget.
Everything about weddings is expensive; expect to pay up to double the price of your initial estimates.
When making enquiries to suppliers if the item is not wedding specific, don’t mention that it is for a wedding. This will increase the price. For example, if you wish to order a cake from the bakery but it is not the traditional wedding cake, order it for a ‘party’.
*A little tip, we had a few family members make decisions about our wedding that made it over budget, when we were paying for it. Stand your ground and stick to your budget!
So you have your budget in place and now you need to think about the guest list. Or maybe you don’t, perhaps you wish to have an intimate wedding.
Work out how many people who can afford from your budget and then write up your guest list from there. As you will be inviting your guests to a destination wedding, invite those who you know will genuinely appreciate this invitation. This is particularly important if you are hosting an intimate wedding as you need to be very selective. I probably didn’t think about this enough.
Have you included guest accommodation in your budget? This may influence your guest list decision as you will want your guests to socialise and enjoy each others company.
Are you inviting children? And partners? We didn’t invite partners of all our guests as we only invited 28 people, therefore it would have been unfair to invite someone we hardly knew in place of a family member. A wedding is your special time and those who deserve to be there, won’t question it.
Ensure you include your bridal party in the final head count too!
Finding a venue is very exciting. However, if you are not visiting the country beforehand (we didn’t and I strongly advise you do budget permitting), it can also be risky.
The internet is clearly your best friend here. You should by now have an idea on the type of venue you wish to marry in, whether it is a hotel on a beach, a castle in Italy, a chateau in France or even a winery in Santorini.
I searched homeaway.co.uk to hire a holiday home to hold ours. This meant our entire wedding party could stay at the chateau for 5 days and we could hold the ceremony and reception in the same place. Doing this is made it a ‘dry hire’ venue where we organised all logistics ourselves.
If you wish to hold your wedding in a hotel and are not paying for guest accommodation, you could negotiate a discount for wedding guests to stay there. Or if you hold the ceremony at another location, contact one or two hotels in the local area and see if they will offer a ‘large group’ discount.
If you are unable to view the venue beforehand, ask to see videos, testimonials and photos from previous weddings. Request room layout plans and ask to see a list of all costings.
Look at real weddings on blogs like Style Me Pretty under the ‘destination wedding’ section as you’ll be able to see venues used for real weddings. At the end of each wedding blog post, there is usually a section on vendors – look here for details on the venue and suppliers used.
When you book your wedding ceremony depends on where you will marry. For instance, Santorini books up very quickly, some over a year in advance! If you wish to hold a sunset wedding, ensure you are booking the ceremony for the correct time.
Think outside the box. If you are legally marrying in your home country, the possibilities are endless. However, if you do hold a legal ceremony, you will need to contact the local town hall/mayor or discuss with the the wedding coordinator of your venue.
You will also find independent wedding officiants online by doing an internet search.
I won’t discuss wedding planners here as I planned our own but if you do go down this route, they will be able to suggest recommended suppliers.
Searching for suppliers in a different country can be quite difficult. If you are hiring a private property, as we did, you will need to search and book suppliers yourself. If you go through a wedding venue, ask for their recommended suppliers list as they may only allow approved vendors.
Request quotes from at least 3 suppliers to compare costs and ask for testimonials. The cheapest may not necessarily be the best option for you. This is your wedding after all and you will need to select specific items to splurge on. For example, your photos will last a lifetime, therefore invest in a good photographer.
Look for a photographer who has a style you can connect with. Ours was more of a ‘reportage’ style photographer who took natural photos rather than a lot of posed photos and this worked well for us. Things to think about when agreeing a photography package: the time that s/he will be there, the style of photography, a photo list of required shots, check to see if they require food, how and when they will provide the photos and travel costs.
When it comes to food if you need to book catering yourself you can be flexible with this. Finding a typical catering company is quite easy but often quite expensive. If you are holding an intimate ceremony for 75 guests or less, you could hire a restaurant – a lot of people do this in beach resorts.
Another alternative if you have a dry hire venue is to hire a chef, which is what we did. I struggled to find a chef to hire who spoke fluent English, so I took another route. I searched for cookery schools in the region and hired the owner of one of these, a typically French chef who cooked exquisite dishes.
Design a menu you are comfortable with and that fits with your theme. Don’t forget to ask your guests for allergies and/or specific dietary requirements and let your chef/caterer know well in advance. If you need to print menus yourself, these can be designed to complement your other wedding stationary. As you are marrying abroad you can be creative with the food you provide and complementing seasonal produce and delicacies is a great idea. You don’t necessarily need to stick to the tradition of a sit down meal or a buffet. A beachside BBQ would be perfect for an informal wedding. A charcuterie and cheese board would be lovely for a pre-wedding lunch in France too.
Also consider purchasing your own wine – particularly if you marry in France where you’ll find the best wines at affordable prices.
Flowers abroad can be tricky. We didn’t have the budget to hire a florist but if you love flowers, I highly recommend you search for a florist and book beforehand. Some wedding venue packages also include bouquets and table floral arrangements, so check your options here first.
If you do go down the DIY route, take all the items you will need with you and do them a day or two before, leaving them in a cool place.
Think about the flowers of that particular country, your specific type may not be available. They may also not be in season. As I desperately wanted peonies, I was forced to use silk artificial peonies and combine them with fresh gypsophila. It wasn’t ideal but getting married abroad means you need to compromise on certain items. At the same time, marrying abroad is incredibly special and you can tailor the whole event to your own personal taste.
Stay tuned for part 2.