Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding

by Darcie
darcie and logan beach

Logan and I are getting married in October in Bali. We chose Bali because I lived there and loved it, and Logan was happy to oblige on the condition that we would go to Hong Kong, where he used to live, for our honeymoon. We’re both very excited to show each other a place that’s really special to each of us.

But before the honeymoon comes the wedding, and we’ve learned a few things about the ins and outs of planning a wedding abroad.

Choose a destination that’s meaningful.

We’ve gotten asked A TON why we aren’t getting married in San Diego and why we chose Bali instead.

While there have been some people who are super excited for an “excuse” to go to Bali, others have seen it as an inconvenience – either financially, time off from work, or because traveling abroad is outside their comfort zone. In these situations, we’ve had to, more or less, defend our decision.

Bali is very special to me, since it was the first place I traveled solo and lived for several months without knowing anyone on the entire island. Sharing my story with our invitees has helped them to understand why we are getting married there.

Hire a local wedding planner.

This is an absolute must. As a foreigner (or non-local if your wedding is domestic), there’s pretty much no way to plan and organize a wedding if you’re not there to see things for yourself and talk with people in person. It’s essential to have someone “on the ground” to be able to do the talking for you.

For starters, you may not speak the language. In Bali, there’s plenty of English spoken in the service industry, but there’s still room for misunderstandings if you’re not knowledgeable about local processes and really just conveying your vision for the wedding.

Local wedding planners also have established relationships with local vendors. This can save you money, help you differentiate between someone who might take advantage of you as a foreigner, and provide recommendations for preferred vendors to save you the hassle of weeding through the endless options for each decision.

I’ve had many friends who got married locally in California who didn’t have a wedding planner, and they all say that it’s incredibly time consuming and overwhelming because there are just so many options for each decision. It’s SO much more complicated when the wedding isn’t local.

Save yourself the hassle and stress, and find yourself a local wedding planner.

Consider getting an accommodation agent.

I’d never heard of this before, but our wedding planner introduced us to a local “accommodation agent” who will help our guests find whatever accommodation they are looking for at no cost to them. Whether guests want a hotel, resort, or villa, our accommodation agent can arrange it for them.

Having her has saved us SO much hassle, as we’ve already been asked a lot for recommendations on where to stay. If you’re very familiar with the area and want to block of rooms at a local hotel, by all means, go that route.

But if your wedding is in a place like Bali where there’s various types of lodging people might prefer, it might be helpful to have a place (or person) to steer guests so you don’t end up becoming a travel agent for them.

No one wants that; weddings are stressful enough without adding that to your to-do list. It should cost you and your guests nothing and should actually SAVE them money. Win-win.

Be okay with not having total control.

A non-local wedding requires you to surrender some control. For Logan and me, it just wasn’t feasible to get to Bali to check out venues. We had to look at the options online and then trust our wedding planner to give us her opinion since she’s seen the venue in person.

Unless you’re okay with traveling several times to your wedding destination before the actual wedding, you’ll have to make decisions and put down deposits on the venue, DJ, band, etc. without in-person inspections or meetings. 

Go there at least once before wedding.

While Logan won’t be going to Bali before our wedding, my mom and went a few weeks ago. We met with our wedding planner, did hair and make-up trials, tasted the reception food and cake, and visited the venue. We are so glad that we made the long trip for this purpose.

We were able to get the lay of the land in Canggu (where the wedding will be), so we can speak knowledgeably about the area to guests. Without the recent trip, I would have felt much more anxiety before the wedding because so many variables (like the venue, hair, make-up, food, cake, etc.) would have been unknown.

Plan events other than the wedding.

You and your guests may be traveling a long way for the wedding. Make it worth their while to plan activities the week of the wedding.

Logan and I are getting married on a Thursday (it’s also our anniversary), so we are encouraging our guests to leave the U.S. on Friday after work. It’s common for flights to Asia to leave a midnight, which will have them arriving in Bali on Sunday.

We are planning to have events each day leading up to the wedding that our guests can opt into if they want, and then have a brunch and pool party at the villa we’re renting the day after the wedding.

Part of our motivation for having a destination wedding was to extend the time we get to spend with our family and friends to celebrate this big event in our lives. Having activities planned is essential to corralling a large group of people.

You might even consider having two groups at times if you’re having a large wedding. For example, one day we are having a ladies’ spa day and the guys will have the choice between surfing and golfing.

Create your wedding website.

Guests needs a place to go to have all their questions answered, and believe me, there are SO MANY MORE for a destination wedding. Without a wedding website, you will be constantly fielding questions about minute details.

It’s VERY easy to create a website. You need no knowledge about building a website. Both The Knot and Zola are great options because they have templates you can choose from for free and easily customize with your details.

Be sure to do a FAQs page, and keep in mind that no question is too basic, including “Do I need a passport?” People will forget, and then may blame you for not giving them the proper information with enough advance notice.

Bring your own photographer.

While this is the more expensive route to go, I highly recommend it.

These days, it’s very common to have engagement photos taken. Logan and I agreed that we wanted to have them done, and we saw it as an opportunity to get to know our photographer and get comfortable not only with her and her style, but also get comfortable in front of the camera so we don’t look stiff, uncomfortable, or overly posey in our wedding photos. (Side note: the featured photo for this post is from our engagement session!)

We created a custom package with our photographer which includes engagement photos, rehearsal dinner and wedding day coverage, day-after “adventure” shoot, a second photographer, and travel costs for both of them.

While some photographers do charge a ton more, do your homework and find someone who loves to travel. Those photographers are less likely to charge “travel fees” because they’re looking for an opportunity to travel, and they’re excited to do what they love (take photos) and get to adventure around a new place.

While I’m far from an expert,if you have any questions about planning a destination wedding, I’d would be happy to give my input! And I have TONS of recommendations about Bali specifically if you’re thinking of getting married there. Comment below or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.

Featured image by Bria Peterson Photography

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