It might not seem like it at first, but planning a destination wedding needn’t take any more effort than organizing one at home. Having organized my own four-day celebration abroad, I can say with confidence that it can actually be easier...

Here are some key destination wedding planning tips I picked up along the way. 

Wedding rings amongst shells on a sandy beach.
Someone's best man isn't taking the ring bearing duties seriously © Jasmin Awad / EyeEm

Location, location, location

Naturally, deciding on a destination is the first step. There are three main ways to do this: pick a place that’s meaningful (perhaps the country where you met or where family resides), work backward according to your budget or simply find somewhere convenient to both you and your guests.

I’d planned to get married in the Philippines, my mother-in-law’s home country, but it would have blown our budget. We settled on Lombok in Indonesia because it was near enough to our Australian guests but far enough away from popular Bali to provide a new experience.

The ultimate guide to having a destination wedding

A couple hold hands as they walk along a palm-shaded path at a hotel resort.
All in the name of research... © Inti St Clair / Getty Images

Plan a research trip

If time and budget allows, visit the destination before the wedding. Research potential accommodation and ceremony options in advance, make a shortlist and then head there a year before the big day.

A hotel website isn’t always the best indication of facilities and you won’t know how helpful staff are – or about extra costs – until you meet in person. A reconnaissance is also a good opportunity to scope out your guests’ travel path. For example, you might discover that flight delays are common or that certain modes of transport are preferable over others.

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A newly married couple hug on the beach.
Pay heed to weather trends when choosing your outfits © JGI / Daniel Grill / Getty Images

Consider the weather

This is important both for the timing of the ceremony and guest attire. If you’re hoping to get married somewhere tropical, try to avoid the peak of summer and rainy season for your best chance of a clear sky and general comfort. In cooler climates, prepare for all eventualities – yes, rain is always a possibility. 

When choosing your wedding outfit, dress for the climate and encourage your guests to do the same. At our beach wedding, I went barefoot and swapped silk for lace, while guests kept cool in linen suits and flowing summer dresses. Giving guests proper guidance on attire, ie advising against high heels because of uneven terrain or suggesting they bring an extra layer in locales that get cooler at night. 

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Sort out the legalities before you go

There are certain requirements you’ll need to fulfill for the marriage to be recognized on home soil. Not only do you have to make sure that your marriage is valid in the country of your wedding, it may also have to be authenticated when you return. Be sure to check your local laws and those of the country where you plan to wed.

If it all seems a little overwhelming, plenty of people – myself included – choose to have a small civil ceremony at home either before or after the destination wedding, which takes the pressure off.

Carry your outfit onboard

It’s not worth thinking about the possibility of a wedding dress or suit in checked luggage getting lost in transit. Don’t risk scrambling to find another outfit or damaging your clothes – most non-budget airlines will happily hang your suit bag for the duration of the flight.

Make sure you have something to protect your outfit when you go through security as the x-ray conveyor belt can leave black marks on both the covering and light-colored clothing.

A congregation of wedding guests pose on the beach.
The more organized you are, the happier your guests will be © Apel Photography

Keep things simple for guests

Whether you’re keeping things low-key or inviting 100+ people, try to give guests 12 months’ notice so they can plan time off work in advance. Consider organizing your wedding during school holidays so any parents on the guest list don’t have to worry about taking their kids out of school.

Once save-the-dates have gone out, put together an information pack to send either with your invites or via email to make the journey as easy as possible for those attending (we made our own website using Squarespace). Include information on flight routes, transfers, any recommended medication or required visas and general information about the destination. Not everyone will be able to afford to travel, so be sure to mention that you understand it’s a big ask.

One of the reasons we chose Lombok is its affordability. Indonesia is relatively cheap to get to for Australians and being outside of busy Bali meant that we were able to cover a few nights’ accommodations as a sweetener for the same cost as the average wedding back home.

Create an itinerary

The same way a hotel might leave a welcome note on the bed, it’s nice to provide an itinerary for guests as they arrive. Thank them for making the trip and provide information and timings for the wedding day. If your wedding trip takes place over more than one day, plan some optional activities for guests to have some fun and get to know each other.

We asked friends and family to host yoga and meditation each morning, threw a welcome cocktail party and organized a day trip to a nearby island.

A couple post in front of the fog-shrouded Eiffel Tower.
Once you relinquish a little control, a few hiccups along the way won't matter © Encrier / Getty Images

Manage your own expectations

I’m a bit of a control freak, so it might come as a surprise that getting married overseas was the best thing for me. Arranging things from afar meant that I had lower expectations than if I had been on the ground during the planning phase.

There are things that don’t go to plan during any wedding, but being away from home can make it easier to accept things beyond your control, like when our take-home gifts got stuck in Denpasar customs (they were still there six weeks later) and when it poured with rain just an hour before the ceremony (it stopped). So long as you have a supportive staff or a wedding planner and do everything you can to ensure the day goes smoothly, it will. Don’t let hiccups ruin the first day of the rest of your life.

A couple embrace on the beach.
A wedding abroad creates long-lasting memories © Fabiano Mesquita / Getty Images

Remember it’s about you, not the destination

Little touches can make all the difference at a destination wedding. Treat it like a holiday, but remember that everyone is there for you. For us, it was about acknowledging our roots. Having been legally married before we arrived, we asked a dear friend to be our celebrant and wrote our own vows and ceremony. We incorporated wedding traditions from both sides of the family throughout the afternoon and evening, which made it not just meaningful for us, but a unique experience for guests.

Don’t forget – if the idea of a wedding abroad sparks your wanderlust, just think of all those honeymoon options...

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Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

This article was first published Feb 21, 2018 and updated Feb 15, 2022.

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