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10 Pro Planning Tips for Your Destination Wedding

Dreaming of a destination wedding? Follow these tips from planner Michelle Garibay to ensure your out-of-town nuptials have the vacation vibes you desire.

bride and groom in outdoor setting with cactus and palm trees

1. CHOOSE YOUR DATE

Unfortunately, the best weather in popular vacation destinations tends to correlate with tourist season, so you’ll want to reserve hotel blocks and venues immediately and send out save-the-dates 10 to 12 months in advance. If you choose the shoulder season (right after peak season), you may be able to save yourself and your guests some money and still enjoy great weather!

2. WATCH THE WEATHER

The weather in most tropical locales, like Mexico and Hawaii, can be very unpredictable—a stray storm might hit when you least expect it. If you’re getting married outdoors, it’s crucial to budget for a backup plan.

3. TAKE A TRIP (OR TWO)

Schedule at least one visit to your destination to secure your wedding and rehearsal dinner venues and scope out guest accommodation options. Photos can be deceiving! Plan site tours with your top three venues and ask lots of detailed questions. If you can, take a second trip to finalize details with vendors, see samples of your flowers, schedule your tastings, and do a hair and makeup trial.

4. RESPECT THE CULTURE

“Island time” is a real thing. Nothing puts the brakes on happy planning like the sound of crickets when you expect a quick email response. But don’t mistake a laid-back attitude for incompetence. Vet your vendors carefully, of course, but plan early, try not to micromanage, and be patient (within reason).

5. RESEARCH LOCAL MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS

While there are no unusual requirements in Hawaii, Mexico and other locales have a residency requirement, meaning you need to be in that country for a certain number of days prior to the ceremony. Mexico also requires a blood test, and though same-sex marriage was technically legalized there nationwide in 2016, the relevant laws are still pending in many states, including Baja California. So if these issues affect you, consider legally marrying in the US first and having a “symbolic” wedding abroad!

6. HIRE THE RIGHT PLANNER

While portfolio, value, and services are important, it’s equally important to find someone with in-depth knowledge of the locale and culture. Ask your planner for an overview of the process, how familiar they are with the ins and outs of the area (including weather and traffic), about marriage license requirements and any other potential obstacles, as well as what will happen upon arrival. Ask about fees: Some destination markets thrive on the kickback, so while the local planner might give you a smokin’ deal, they make it up on the back end from their recommended vendors.

“Ultimately, enjoy yourself. You are on vacation, after all, with a wedding thrown into the mix!”Michelle Garibay

7. CONSIDER THE ATTIRE

Always consider the local climate when choosing your attire. You’ll be sweating nonstop if you pair a satin ball gown with tropical humidity. Also, if your wedding is outside, you may want to reconsider a long train that will easily get muddy, or three-inch heels that will stick in the sand.

8. THINK ABOUT YOUR GUESTS

Your guests are traveling out of pocket to share your wedding day with you, so make it easy for them to make arrangements to get there! Try working with a travel agent for group flights, and book blocks of rooms at a few hotels with different price points. Provide welcome bags with local treats, bug repellent, sunscreen, tourist info, and an itinerary. A wedding website is a must for easy access to important info.

9. ARRIVE IN ADVANCE

Arrive at least three to four days prior to your wedding date to give yourselves time to obtain your marriage license, rehearse, meet with your planner, account for flight delays, and press your attire. (Pro tip: always pack the dress in carry-on!)

10. BE FLEXIBLE

The key to planning from a distance is to do your research, have realistic expectations, get wedding insurance that covers liability and cancellation, and trust the venue and vendors you’ve hired. Taking unexpected hiccups in stride may give you the best stories for years to come.

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