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bridal and groom at a destination wedding

How to Plan Your Dream Destination Wedding

It may not be wedding season in the Northern Hemisphere right now, but it is the perfect time for a destination wedding set in warmer lands! Read on for a crash course on making your dream wedding a reality.

Table of Contents

1. All-Inclusive Resorts
2. Find a Local Guide
3. Dealing with Local Vendors
4. Bringing Vendors
5. Hire a Wedding Planner
6. Budgeting
7. Travel Credit Cards
8. Be Flexible
9. Guest Favors

We knew pretty much right away that we would be planning a destination wedding because we wanted to spend more than just a couple of hours with our guests at our wedding. I have photographed, attended, and been in enough weddings to realize how fast the day goes by.

For us, we really wanted our wedding to be more of an experience than a day. Plus, it felt more like planning a three-week honeymoon than just the wedding! Also: I love to travel. If we could combine an epic trip with all of our friends?! YES. THAT was what we wanted. So we started planning.

Italy was on the possibility list while also looking into having the wedding at an all-inclusive resort somewhere like Mexico. But the more I started looking at these "all-inclusive" beach weddings, the less excited I got. Read on for what I learned in the process of planning my dream wedding.

1. All-Inclusive Resorts

all-inclusive cliffside resort

When you first look on the website of an all-inclusive resort, you may see that the wedding package is included with a stay. But that’s usually configured for a small number of guests, with very few options to personalize. Once you start to add on the guests or want anything other than what is offered, the price quickly increases. Do your research thoroughly for the number of guests you are expecting and everything you would like included!

A Note on Resort Photographers

When it comes to the photography package, you might not get a lot of images and end up paying a ton extra for an average amount of images. Also, this is huge, they might not allow you to hire your own photographer or videographer. I was not in love with the style of photography some resorts offered. For the cost of what they would have paid the resort photographer, it was more worth it to have them hire me! If your resort does allow you to bring your own photographer, do it because they’ll most likely also cover the rehearsal dinner or a day after shoot.

2. Find a Local Guide

bride walking into a wedding ceremony

You’ll want to get to know the lay of the land before your wedding, so find a local guide to chat with about the best things to do. Or even better, try to get there for a visit yourself before the wedding! Maybe you even have an awesome photographer that you can bring with you for your engagement shoot.

Either way, between travel agencies or even asking on Facebook, you’ll likely find someone who can tell you what the area is really like. Is it good for tourists? Is there plenty to do and be entertained? If you’re thinking of anywhere in Italy, we very highly recommend Ashley. She coordinated flights, airport pickups, hotels, and restaurants. You can check her out here: www.l'esperta.com.

3. Dealing with Local Vendors

bride with her dress on a wall

Most emails I sent went unanswered for weeks. The wedding industry looks very different outside of the U.S., but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Vendors really don't seem to be tied to their emails, phones, and businesses like we are here. Just be prepared. I try to respond to clients within 24 hours, but that most likely won't be what you will find when planning a destination wedding, so plan further in advance than you might expect.

The responses started coming in. There were endless late nights spent researching Pinterest, blogs, Google reviews, Tripadvisor, and anywhere else you can imagine. Then we chose our venue. We decided on Masseria Potenti in the town of Manduria in Puglia, Italy.

Planning a destination wedding extra credit tip: Try and learn the language. I tried, and I really didn't get far enough to be fluent, but I think it's nice even to be able to say you are learning.

4. Bringing Vendors

decorating destination wedding venue

Maybe you’ve found a photographer, and you absolutely love their work or them as a person. Maybe it makes you a little nervous to hire someone for the day that you've never met before. If so, then I would recommend bringing your photographer/videographer and other essential vendors with you. Yes, you'll have to cover their travel and accommodations, but to me, it's totally worth the peace of mind knowing that you're going to have a reliable vendor at your side.

Honestly, it's hard to argue with the fact that your photos and video ARE the only things you have after the wedding day is over and to show to all the people who weren't able to make the trip. I knew this was the highest priority on our list from day one.

5. Hire a Wedding Planner

bridal party and wedding planner

So we actually did not do this. I know, I know... what was I thinking?! I was across a whole ocean, had never been there, didn't speak the language, or have any contacts! Okay, the thing is, I am a pretty low-key person and laid back for the most part. I thought a wedding planner was an unnecessary expense because what can't be found from a search on all the great blogs out there? Turns out a lot. I had a really hard time finding a DJ and hair and makeup team.

It wasn't until I found a website similar to The Knot, but fully in Italian, which I had to copy and paste into Google Translate, did I find the majority of vendors in our area. Fortunately, I had the time to sort through all of this, but had I known what I was in for, I would have hired a wedding planner from the start. I ended up with a fantastic hair and makeup team, DJ, and I even stumbled across an amazing Pizzica (the traditional music of the area) band, Scazzicapietti, that we had come in during the reception and surprise everyone! But it was a lot of work to find them, and again don't forget – the communication isn't the same as in the U.S., and don't expect it to be!

6. Budgeting

entertainment at a wedding

It would be a big mistake to go into planning a destination wedding thinking it will be cheaper because your guest count will be smaller. You definitely can, but if you really want to make something special for your guests, who are most likely spending their one vacation a year on you, I think it’s a good idea to try to cover some of the costs of them being there. We paid for the events we had scheduled, and yes, it made it more expensive, but actually still less than what we would have paid for a wedding of around 150 people at home. I think it was a nice way to say thank you to everyone for spending the time and money to get to our wedding.

We also didn't want to take for granted that people may have missed pay from work, paid babysitters, dog sitters, or even just used up precious vacation days. So we really tried our best to cover what dinners and events we could. To give you some possible ideas, we planned a welcome dinner, a wine tasting, the rehearsal dinner, and the wedding. But we also planned a "free" night for the guests, so they had a night to do what they wanted without feeling bad about missing out on something we had planned.

7. Travel Credit Cards

If you have the money to cover a lot of the wedding expenses, consider opening a card like the Chase Sapphire Business Credit Card, or even better, the American Express Gold Charge Card (read: CHARGE CARD means you pay the balance in full every month). These offer somewhere between 25,000 to 80,000 points for spending a couple of thousand dollars within the first couple of months, which is easy enough to do when paying for a wedding. You may even end up with enough points for a couple of plane tickets. But again, if you are going to be paying hundreds of dollars in interest every month for a year, then no, it's not worth it.

8. Be Flexible

This might come partly from my being a wedding photographer, but I just have to say not to get too wrapped up in the idea or "vision" of your wedding. Whether you're getting married in Tahiti or Timbuktu, things might go wrong. But please don't forget that you are marrying your person, your best friend — and that this one event does not define who you are as a couple. As long as you both show up, do the damn thing, eat, drink, and be merry (and married!), it IS perfect.

9. Guest Favors

unique guest favor and wedding book

Why stick to boring guest books? As your attendees walk in, instead of scratching down their signature, let them pin their favorite place to visit on a World Pin Board Map. Choose from a variety of styles to match the theme of your wedding:

  • Modern Slate: This style gives a minimalist meets industrial grunge vibe. Inspired by old blueprints and scratched chalkboards.
  • Rustic Vintage: This style brings the vintage character of aged paper and hand-drawn maps of the earlier ages.
  • Golden Aged: This style is inspired by pirate maps of antique aged parchment.
  • Classic Marble: This style has a pure, white elegance with its Roman and Greek architectural influence.

So before this turns into a book, I'll just say that I think the best reason to have a destination wedding is that you get all this extra time to spend with your guests. Chances are (hopefully) your guests will make a vacation out of this experience. They may not spend the whole time in the wedding location, but if they do spend a couple of nights before the wedding, then it affords you the opportunity to have some unique once in a lifetime experiences.


Amy is the owner and photographer for Love, Sunday which specializes in weddings and destination weddings. She also owns The Babe Festival, outdoor boho inspired boudoir shoots which she uses to bring awareness to domestic violence and donates some proceeds to a local domestic violence organization. Aside from photography she loves travel, CrossFit, and tacos! Not necessarily in that order. Currently living in Mystic, CT with her cute new husband! Find her on Instagram at @lovesundayphoto All photos: Sunshine & Reign Check out our highlight reel HERE!

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