Whether you want a wedding outside the U.S. or in your hometown after moving away, there are unique challenges in planning a wedding from out-of-town. Destination weddings are fun, romantic, and exciting, and can be executed expertly with some careful planning.
Your guests will need plenty of time to make travel arrangements and request time off from work for your destination wedding, especially if you're getting married over a busy holiday weekend. After you book your venue, send out your save-the-dates about 1 year in advance so your guests can mark their calendars and begin prepping to celebrate with you.
Research Local Laws
Before setting your wedding plans in stone, make sure to research local laws to avoid surprises. For example, I planned my wedding reception in a state park in New Jersey, only to later realize alcohol is not permitted and there is a strict limit to how man cars will fit in the parking lot.
Also, research what you have to do in order to obtain your marriage license. If you're getting married in the Denver area, read "How to Get a Marriage License in Denver."
Plan Details Virtually
Your destination wedding will have a lot of moving parts, with supplies and help coming from all over. Using Google Docs and Google Sheets to plan your wedding will help ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
The great thing about Google Docs and Sheets is that they can be shared via email with anyone. You're working in Chicago while your fiancé is finishing law school in Pittsburgh and your parents are helping plan your Denver wedding? No problem. You can all look at your wedding budget and edit it in real time. The documents save automatically and are stored in the cloud.
After thoroughly planning out your wedding weekend itinerary, share the document with all vendors, friends, and relatives who are involved in executing your wedding plans.
Consult a Local Wedding Planner
Destination resorts often have an on-sight coordinator who can recommend wedding pros they usually partner with and assist you in arranging your wedding plans from afar.
If your venue doesn't have a coordinator, consider hiring a wedding coordinator based in the area of your wedding. If you haven't budgeted for a full-service planner who can help you find local vendors, at least consider hiring a local day-of coordinator who can support you in executing all of the wedding day details.
If you're getting married in the Denver area, check out our directory of local planners and coordinators.
Read Reviews and Get Recommendations
Browse the internet to get a feel for what past clients are saying about your prospective vendors and check out what people are saying about them on social media. Also, put local networking to use. Once you book a vendor you really like, ask them for their suggestions. For example, if you find an amazing caterer, ask them which florist they love to work with.
Be Upfront About Your Budget
It's quite common for wedding pros to hold-off on giving a price quote until they've had the chance to meet with you face-to-face. You don't have time for this process if you're planning from out-of-town, of course.
When you reach out to vendors, be upfront with your plans and budget. Explain that you're planning from out-of-town, what you're hoping to accomplish with their services, and approximately what your budget is. This will help you quickly find the vendors that are right for you.
For more budgeting tips, check out "How to Create a Wedding Budget."
Schedule Meetings for the Same Day
If you can arrange at least one visit before booking your vendors, meeting with them in person will definitely bring you peace of mind. While you probably won't visit the Bahamas to check out your potential wedding venue in advance, you might be able to schedule a visit to your wedding locale if it's in a nearby state.
You won't have time to meet 5 different photographers, so before coming to town, narrow down your favorite vendors. Schedule appointments with all of your prospective vendors for the same day or two so you can crank out as many meetings as possible during your short visit. While time may be limited, don't forget to read all vendor contracts carefully before signing them.
Make Payments in Advance
If there's one thing you don't want to worry about, it's transporting large sums of cash to pay vendors in person on the wedding day. Always ask vendors if it's possible to pay in advance via credit card. Be sure to ask for a receipt and pay off your bill right away.
Consider National Chains
Using a national chain when possible can reduce some potential confusion. Renting the groomsmen's attire from a chain such as Men's Warehouse will allow you to easily make arrangements from anywhere.
The groomsmen can go for a fitting at the Men's Warehouse near their home, and their information can be sent to the Men's Warehouse near the wedding location. It will also be simple to get a replacement of the correct color tie in case anyone spills mustard on theirs!
If possible, have your ceremony and reception in the same location so your guests don't have to worry about transportation. Before booking your venue, consider whether it's easily accessible from local hotels and an airport. It's a nice gesture to reserve a block of rooms at a hotel so that your guests don't have to decide where to book a room.
For more ways to welcome your guests, read "Accommodating Out-of-Town Wedding Guests."
Simplify Your Decor
Traveling with loads of decorations and favors can be challenging. Consider keeping your decorations simple. Try to rent a venue that has natural beauty and doesn't need a lot of decor. Brighten up your venue with flowers arranged by a local florist, and consider renting other decorations and purchasing favors from local providers instead of trying to bring them with you.
Plan Your Flight
If you'll need to fly to your wedding destination, it's never too early to sign up for airfare price alerts from Airfarewatchdog or Kayak. Before purchasing your plane ticket, consider the airline's luggage policy. If you have a lot of DIY decorations or attire to pack, consider flying with an airline such as Southwest (domestic flights only) which allows you to check 2 bags for free. If possible, put your most important belongings in your carry-on luggage so you don't have to worry about it getting misplaced.
Arrive a Few Days Before the Wedding
Can you imagine missing a flight and not making it to your own wedding? Leave plenty of time in your schedule to arrive to your wedding area without feeling rushed or panicked, and encourage your family and wedding party to do the same. This will give you time to tie up any loose ends, track down missing luggage, purchase local supplies, pick up rentals, and meet with vendors, if necessary.
Rent a Home
Skip the hotel and consider using Airbnb to find a home to rent near the wedding venue. You and your wedding party will be traveling from out-of-town with luggage, wedding clothes, decorations, etc. Having a house to settle into for the weekend will help everyone feel at home, reduce stress, and prevent important wedding items from getting lost. You'll also save money by cooking in, instead of staying in a hotel and dining out.
Be an Early Bird
Remember, it's never too early to start planning. Nail down as many details as you can in advance so you'll have time to hammer out any last minute issues. Start by booking your venue and the vendors that are important to you, and branch out to smaller details from there.
Soon you'll be well on your way to an amazing, memorable destination wedding!