Welcome to this post! If you are reading this just to read, I hope you enjoy it, if you are reading this because you are recently engaged then WOO HOO CONGRATS, and enjoy! I want to first start off by saying our wedding was not a “true destination wedding” but we planned it from 1,251 miles away (Florida to New York) and I can only imagine that we had to deal with some of the same things someone planning a destination wedding in Jamaica, for example, would deal with. I hope you can learn tips and tricks from this whether you are planning a destination wedding or not and urge you to reach out if you have any questions, I LOVED planning my wedding and would do it all over again tomorrow if I could.
A little back story first. Greg and I were born and raised in the Northeast and knew that even though we were making the move to Florida, we would still have our wedding up North for a few reasons, 1- Have you ever seen the fall colors up North… do I even need to explain myself? 2- Florida is hot and our September wedding would probably be an 80+ degree day filled with humidity, no thanks. 3- We knew we wanted a big wedding with all of our family/friends and making people travel would most likely drop our guest list count. As bad as this sounds, the churches Greg and I grew up going to were just that, we grew up going, but then went away to college and eventually moved away- we wanted to get married in a location that meant something to the both of us. We had vacationed in the Finger Lakes for a few years with our families combined and I had always envisioned having our wedding there at one of the vineyards overlooking the lake… also for many reasons including the location, the attractions, the beauty, and the memories. For those of you who do not know, the Finger Lakes is a region in New York named for its series of long, thin lakes filled with vineyards, breweries, and distilleries- this sounds like the perfect wedding destination, right?! Because of this area being a bit of a drive from our friends and family in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, many guests made a long weekend or even week trip!
Okay, so lets’ get to it. There are many reasons why couples are interested in a destination wedding and let me tell you, if you want to do it, do it! Yes, some family members are going to be mad because they cannot financially afford the trip, they cannot afford to take time extra time off work, or your parents might even be mad because you are not getting married in your hometown but this is your day and I promise it will be worth it in the end- luckily our parents were on board from the start but we did have some guests who could not make the 4 hour drive for us especially because… wait for it… we did not have kids at our wedding, we understood.
#1 step– get a wedding binder, for real, you will not regret it. It helps keep everything organized and when I say put everything in it… put everything in it from your “To Do List” to receipts. It is fun to fill and will limit stress. I had so much fun with mine which ended up almost filling a 3-inch binder, oops!
Do I need a wedding planner? Here is my answer: if you are the least bit organized and enjoy planning things then no. I planned my wedding by myself from 1,200 miles away. I made it fun. Was it stressful at times, yes, but I knew what the end result was going to be. My venue did come with a day of coordinator that I e mailed throughout the planning process which did come in handy and I would recommend (My day of coordination also helped throughout the process as needed because of our situation: if I needed dimensions of the room to plan where tables and decoration would be then he provided them, he helped pick the wine we would be serving, and even provided a recommendation on where to get our cake- he was the best).
Picking the location/venue. This is totally up to you, some people want a destination that holds a special place in their heart (like us) and others want a destination that is new, either is fine and I urge you to do whatever the two of you want, after doing research. I do not know much about Caribbean locations but the time of year is probably very important to keep in mind… I’d stay away during hurricane season as an example. It may be hard to believe but if Hurricane Irma was a week later we would have had to get in a car and drive 20+ hours to New York for our wedding because EVERYTHING was shut down here in Florida. Look up different venues and see what comes with each no matter where you are getting married. If you are the type of person that does not want to spend excess time hiring vendors then look for a venue that provides it all!
Deciding on your vendors. There are many ways to go about this, for us, the internet was our best friend because we did not know anyone who lived in the Finger Lakes area to provide recommendations- WEDDING WIRE and THE KNOT were the main websites we used other than google. We did not have much luck with the “app communication” so I would recommend sending messages through your personal e mail or communicate by telephone. When communicating with vendors weigh the pros and cons, don’t automatically go for the cheapest option because more than likely they will work with you. For example, Greg and I did not need an engagement session because we were not going to fly up to NY just for that, our photographer ended up dropping the price because of that. Ask all the questions you can think of and believe me there is not a stupid question- We asked each one “What happens if you cancel on us?” which I would recommend asking and getting the response in written form and… put it in your binder. Our photographer canceled on us with less than 3 months to go but we had the contract printed out to refer to (things ended up working out for the better). OFFER A CASH PAYMENT! We got a little extra with a few of our vendors by doing this!
Meeting with the vendors. Unfortunately, we did not get to meet our photographer, videographer, or band before the wedding but we trusted our decisions because of the research and communication we had previously done. My biggest piece of advice for someone planning a “destination wedding” is to plan a time to go to your location before the wedding. We flew up to New York 8 months before the wedding and took care of the following within a 5-day period: food and cake tasting, planning the rehearsal dinner, picking out flowers, visiting the church, meeting with our day of coordinator, hair and makeup trial, etc. It was actually fun doing a full week of planning and took off a lot of stress; when we got back from that vacation almost all of the “big stuff” was done, we were able to relax and take our time with the little things for the next few months. I constantly had people at work ask me “How are you planning this wedding all by yourself, you don’t seem stressed at all”. That was a good feeling even though on the inside I was stressing, a little. I understand some people may hire and fly their vendors to their venue location, that is another good option!
Guest List. This is probably one of the hardest parts of the wedding planning process. I don’t even know how to give advice because it is different for everyone and depends on many things including your venue size. I would start off with making a list of everyone you could possibly think of inviting and then to eliminate from there, if your parents are helping with the wedding, out of respect, ask who they would like to invite. Do not feel bad if you end up not being able to invite someone, they will hopefully understand. My other recommendation is to not invite more than your venue can hold, sure they say about 20-30% cannot make it but my parents invited 210 to their wedding and 206 came. Don’t over chance it.
Sending save the dates. For those planning a destination wedding you will need to send your save the dates out a little earlier, we sent ours out 10 months in advance. Sending early will not only allow your guests to plan in advance but if they know they will not be able to make it, then you can start to invite those off your “B list”… if you have one. For those not having a destination wedding, I’d say 6 months in advance is ideal, you do not want to send it too early. Have fun with your save the dates! We ordered ours off of VISTAPRINT because the quality and prices were great, they always have a sale and if not, contact the live chat and ask for a current coupon- my favorite cheap thing to do! Remember, you do not need a save the date for every person, you need one for every household, don’t make the mistake I almost did and order 235 when I only needed 115.
Sending invitations. This can get tricky and is based off of a few things. If you are having a sit-down dinner you will most likely have to give your venue a final count a few weeks before the wedding (ours was 3 weeks and we could not make any changes after that). If that is the case, send your invitations 10-12 weeks out and make your deadline a week or 2 before that final count is due; 2 weeks before our final count was due, we were waiting on 62 people!!!!! If you are having a buffet, I’d say 8 weeks out gives your guests enough time to RSVP, hopefully. Once you get your RSVPs back I recommend doing your seating chart on paper, I printed out a simple circle from Word and then used stickys to move people around as needed, it worked out great.
Packing. If you know me, you know I hate packing. Whether you are getting married 1 mile or 10,000 miles from home, begin this process early and make a packing list. You do not want to forget something (I use to have dreams I woke up the morning of the wedding and realized I forgot to pack my wedding dress- wedding nightmares are a real thing!). The hardest part for me was getting my dress up to NY; the company I bought it from offered to ship it but I declined as my dress was not leaving my sight! I called the airline a few weeks before and they told me to approach the customer service desk when I got to the airport and they would be sure to keep the first few overhead compartments empty for me; my dress was my carry-on. Some bigger airlines have a closet up front, call before to find out if that is an option. (I did not get my dress pressed before this as I knew it was going to be wrinkled when I took it off the plane, I made an appointment for when I got to NY to have this taken care of). Greg rented his tux from Men’s Warehouse (the worst but most convenient company we found) and was picking it up when we got there so this was not an issue for traveling. Luckily, our parents live in Pennsylvania/New Jersey and held 90% of our wedding items in their house- from there they drove it to New York when we arrived up North a few days before.
Out of town boxes. These were SO MUCH FUN to make, my mom and I got together and did them all by ourselves! Greg and I knew we wanted to have a little something at the hotels for the guests that made the drive to celebrate with us. We ended up making the box below filled with: a map of the area with things to do, snacks (pretzels, gum, mints, Hershey kisses, pringles) and a water bottle. Everyone loved them. My mother in law bought the boxes and I’m not sure where, but click here HERE for a link of what we used. We got the cardstock and ribbon from Michaels and used double sided tape for the front. The front says- Thank you for making the trip and sharing our special day with us. (Most hotels will hold these and hand them out as your guests check in but just to be sure, let your guests know to mention they are there for the ______ Wedding)
Things may (or shall I say will) go wrong. You are planning a wedding and you cannot control everything. Go with it! Think of the end result, you are GETTING MARRIED. The night before our wedding not only was my sister vomiting and missing the rehearsal dinner but we had tornado warnings and all I could think about was “What if Mollie gets sick while standing up with me? What if she can’t be in the wedding? What if the weather is like this tomorrow? That means no outside pictures, no fireworks, no drone from the videographer, and frizzy hair”; but guess what, September 22, 2018 ended up being the most beautiful, weather perfect day Geneva, New York has seen and my sister was by my side, feeling 100%. As perfect as I make it sound 2 things did go wrong but we laughed about it as it was happening. The first was after the limo took Greg and the bridal party to the church it forgot to come back and pick up me and my dad, I remember saying “Dad, it isn’t coming back”, looking nervous he said “It will, it is probably stuck in traffic”… after 20 minutes of waiting on the side of the road we called and then it came back to get us. The second thing that went wrong was my dad ran out of gas after dropping our dog back off at the house after getting pictures, it caused the reception to start late but that is it. I’d say we are pretty lucky.
After the wedding. RELAX AND ENJOY YOUR TIME. Take it all in because you are married! Greg and I stayed in NY for a few days to do wine tours but flew back to Florida 3 days after the wedding. We took the rest of that week off work because a few friends and family members came back to Florida with us to continue the celebration. We did not go on our honeymoon right away and I am glad we chose to do it that way. We were able to get home, open our cards, and not feel rushed to get out the door again. By waiting, were able to save money and vacation days- we are 1 month away from our 18- day honeymoon and have something else to look forward to! Keep an open mind about this, I know a lot of people are doing this lately and have no regrets.
Tips. DIY can be your best friend. I am not the craftiest person but I had help from friends and family and was able to save money this way. If someone offers to help, take it. Play around on the computer and have fun, I made my wedding invitations and wedding programs on Microsoft Word… yes, you read that right and I received compliments on both.
Ask your venue for assistance. We knew we wanted a lot of corks for decorations, our venue ended up providing us with over 1,000 to play with, for free! We barely purchased any decorations for the wedding.
Write out your vendor thank you notes ahead of time and have someone in your bridal party hold them. You can hand them out at the end of the night and won’t have to worry about sending them right after the wedding.
If you can, make payments ahead of when they are do. A lot of vendors require their final payment 1 month to 1 week before the wedding and if you do not plan, that can be a lot at once.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out, like I said I had the best time planning my wedding and would love to help others if I can.