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8 Expert Tips for Planning the Ultimate Destination Wedding

Sure, you can get married on a tropical beach but with these eight expert tips, your destination wedding will be a surprising and creative event that embraces a country's culture.

When you think of a destination wedding, you probably picture some version of the following: barefoot newlyweds standing on a tropical beach, a resort-style dinner reception, and dancing under the stars (to at least one Bruno Mars song). While there’s certainly nothing wrong with this tried-and-tested formula, if you’re going to ask your guests to travel somewhere special for your nuptials, why not help them dive into the local culture, while also celebrating your unique love story? Here are eight expert tips for creating a wedding itinerary that highlights a sense of place, favors the unexpected, and guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those you cherish most.

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Set the Tone With Invitations

There’s no better way to get people excited about your destination wedding than a memorable invite. “Invitations are the first touchpoint of your event, as they set your guests’ expectations. However, only spend money on invitations if they excite you. And if they do, go all out and send guests something small and practical that also sets the mood of your destination,” recommends Kaleigh Nothrup of Kay Northrop Events, a Rhode Island and Boston-based wedding planner who creates out-of-the-box wedding experiences. For example, if you’re headed to Italy, consider sending a bag of personalized pasta with your wedding website details. Not only is this memorable, but it’s also downright delicious.

INSIDER TIPCheck out BoxFox, My Layover Box, and A Signature Welcome, which specialize in creating bespoke wedding gift boxes

 

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Tell a Story About Your Destination

On your wedding website, paint a picture of what will happen from the moment your party touches down. “Be sure to include practical information on the weather, how to pack, the taxi/Uber situation, tips for adjusting to the time change, average costs of things, airport transfers, and must-see spots,” Northrup suggests. In addition to logistical details, consider adding a list of books, music, and movies related to your destination to help get your guests in the mood before the weekend even begins. Need a little inspo? Head on over to Fodor’s 2022 Go List on Spotify.

INSIDER TIPDon’t forget to include a reminder for guests to check their passport expiration dates. “With today’s snail-paced passport renewal rate, I’ve unfortunately had guests miss international weddings because they did not renew their passports in time,” Northrop cautions.

 

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Keep the Guest List Small-ish

Most wedding planners recommend no more than 50 attendees for a destination wedding. Any bigger, and it becomes more difficult to coordinate excursions, both from a logistical and cost perspective. Keeping the guest list more intimate also allows couples to choose more adventurous ceremony locations, whether that’s proclaiming your love on a mountaintop or under a waterfall. If you are considering a harder-to-reach ceremony spot, remember to account for the needs of those attending, to ensure all your guests feel safe and comfortable on the day of.

INSIDER TIP“While 50 guests or less is an ideal count for an adventurous destination wedding, it’s important to remember there will likely be an attendance [on average between 15 to 30%],” explains Northrup. Therefore, Northrup recommends couples aim to invite around 70 guests.

 

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Send Your Guests an “Insights” Survey

The more you personalize your travel experience, the better it will be. One way to do this is by sending your guests a survey prior to the wedding weekend, filled with questions beyond the typical RSVP. Think: How do you spend time when you’re traveling? It’s 5 o’clock! What are you ordering at the bar? You might even ask for their favorite songs, which you can add to the wedding weekend playlist. While you won’t be able to please everyone (that’s a different, longer article), co-creating the experience will help your guests to feel a part of your wedding—rather than just witnesses to it—and convey your appreciation for everything they bring to the table as unique individuals.

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Choose Accommodations With a Sense of Place

Architecture, design, ambiance, artwork—each of these contribute to transporting your guests. Take it from Pierre Jochem, the General Manager at one of the most historic properties in the world, La Mamounia, located in one of the world’s top cities for destination weddings: Marrakech, Morocco.

“‘Properties that have a sense of history and heritage can enrich your wedding guests’ experience. Every detail matters, from decor and design to delivering bespoke weddings that are uniquely catered to a bride and groom’s standards. Engaged couples should choose a hotel that is not only a place to sleep but an experience in itself,” says Jochem. Of course, destination wedding accommodations don’t have to be luxe to be memorable. It’s all about selecting an establishment that champions local history, culture, and design, so when your guests wake up on the morning of your ceremony, they know they aren’t in Kansas anymore.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Reinvent the Wedding Timeline

“When it comes to creating your destination wedding timeline, do what feels unique and authentic to you as a couple as you’re under zero pressure to stick to a particular order of events. Want to get ready together? Do it. Want to take all your photos earlier in the day so you can head right to the party? Do it. Hate the sit-down dinner thing? Go with a buffet, food truck, or even a live cooking class that highlights a local culinary experience,says Carissa Corsi, Founder & CEO of Carissa Corsi Events. “Let’s face it, traditional wedding trends are fading. You’re the tradition, so pave your own path.”

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Think Outside the Destination-in-a-Box

From the Bahamas to Bali, there are many ultra-popular wedding destinations that spring instantly to mind. But exploring options beyond the beaten bridal path is worth the effort. Take Italy: While most couples choose the rolling hills of Tuscany or the azure waters of the Amalfi Coast, Rome-based travel consultant MarloAnna Di Crasto suggests you branch out to lesser-known parts of the country. “For something unique, adventurous couples should consider one of the seaside towns sprinkled all over the Italian peninsula, such as Gaeta, which is situated on a point between Rome and Naples. Gaeta offers a charming historic seaport setting with beaches, bluffs, and picturesque gothic cathedrals. Wherever you choose to tie the knot, local consultants and wedding planners will be an invaluable source of knowledge about hidden gems, so make sure you ask around.”

INSIDER TIPLooking to celebrate in Gaeta? Di Crasto recommends Aeneas’ Landing Resort located right on the beach, as well as La Bonita Weddings (La Bonita) which has sweeping views of the Gulf of Gaeta.

 

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Add a Restorative or Mindful Element

Overindulging has always been central to the wedding experience. While cocktails and cake aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, why not help your guests to unwind or at least recover from the festivities? “More and more travelers are adopting a holistic approach to health and wellness beyond just their physical health, to include their mental and spiritual well-being,” says Jennifer Campbell, Product Manager, Asia, for luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent. “While certain destinations immediately come to mind for their wellness offerings, like India or Southeast Asia, others are less obvious but just as transformative. A safari in Kenya or Tanzania is by its nature a spiritual experience. It’s organic and raw, but also allows guests to indulge in a range of spa treatments while being soothed by the sounds of the bush,” says Campbell. “In Peru, local participation in ancient traditions are ingrained in local culture and still very much alive today, especially in the Sacred Valley.”

Wherever you and your partner say “I do,” the people you share that moment with will be a big part of what makes it unforgettable. So as your guests begin to arrive at the hotel and your itinerary clicks into high gear, don’t forget to stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and smile: you are officially on vacation with all of your favorite humans!

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