From venue to guest list, entertainment to legalities, planning a wedding is daunting and time-consuming. Many couples opt for a destination wedding, but what does travelling away from home mean in terms of organisation, cost and attendees? Lonely Planet writer Sofia Levin chose to get married in Lombok, away from her home in Melbourne, whereas Digital Editor Claire Naylor tied the knot close to where she lives in London. We asked them why they made these choices when planning their big days.
Why I had a destination wedding
The best decision I ever made was to get married overseas. If you enjoy plotting and planning trips abroad, a destination wedding is simply a level up. When I got married in 2017 in Lombok, Indonesia, everyone told us it would be the best day of our lives. What we didn’t expect was for guests to admit it was the best day of theirs, too. Here are some reasons why you should have a destination wedding.
1. It’s not all over in a few hours
I can’t fathom putting so much effort into the perfect day – months, if not years in advance – only to have the entire thing cut short just as everyone’s found the courage to hit the dance floor. With a destination wedding, the celebrations last at least a few days, giving you time to have meaningful connections with everyone there. If you find the right venue, you can avoid the curfew and party all night.
2. Your mates get a holiday, too
The vibe is better when you get married overseas because everyone is on vacation. Remember to give people plenty of notice, ideally 12–18 months, so they can plan ahead, take time off work and organise any onward travel, should they want to.
3. It can be cheaper
One of the reasons we got married overseas was so we could afford to pay for a holiday for the people we love. The Australian dollar is strong against the Indonesian rupiah and, because we avoided Bali, we were able to hire a resort for four nights and fill it with 70 of our nearest and dearest – for less than the average cost that an Australian couple pays on a wedding back on home soil. Guests covered flights, which were affordable with the amount of notice we gave. Granted, it would have been a different story if we wanted to get married further from home.
4. It helps to cut the guest list
There’s a general understanding that overseas weddings are more intimate, making it easier to be strict with who’s invited. It’s also easier to predict who might not be able to make it due to work commitments, the age of children, mobility issues and whether people might prefer to hold onto their savings – something you have to be comfortable with if you get married away from home.
5. All-inclusive wedding packages
We deliberately picked a smaller, independent resort so we could make the most of a high level of personal service, expertise and fill the place with wedding-only guests. When comparing quotes in Lombok, most included everything from a wedding planner and decorations to food-and-drinks packages. You need experts on the ground if it’s going to work.
6. An opportunity to experience other cultures
When you travel to a country other than your own, you are automatically exposed to other cultures. This is an added bonus when you get married overseas. Our guests became so friendly with staff that everyone freely shared insights into their religions and cultures, celebrating their differences together.
7. Not just another wedding
If you want your wedding to be memorable, you have to do something different. Weddings I’ve attended that stay top of mind break the formula of "aisle, vows, a big smooch, a table plan, a meal, speeches, a boogie, the end". As a guest, my favourite weddings have been interstate or overseas and where the couples have made it their own, either through adding components of their heritage, getting guests involved or by picking a place that resonates with them. The best way to stand out is to commit to a destination wedding. Be smart, budget well, stay organised, find a team you trust and the best day of your life might be the best day of your guests’ lives, too.
Why I decided not to have a destination wedding
Having my favourite people all in one beautiful venue, standing on a clifftop or beach with near-guaranteed fabulous weather – it's an amazing thought. And we did consider it, but we ended up getting married about 5 miles from where we lived in London. Here's why.
1. The guest list
We knew who we wanted to be there, and could get the list to a very manageable 60 guests. But adding in a distant venue made things more difficult – would our elderly relatives be prepared to make a longer journey? What would we do about the staycationers; the members of our family who don’t own passports? How about our best pals who have three kids and can’t easily disappear for a week? Getting married overseas introduced a level of compromise when it came to our guests, which suddenly made the whole thing less appealing.
2. Where would we go anyway?!
Like many couples who have travelled together, there are a lot of places that hold significance for us, and we’d love to return there for a wedding celebration. Whilst the thought of shoving my gran on an overnight coach from Bangkok to Ko Tao was very entertaining, it probably would have killed her. Nearer destinations such as Tuscany or the Greek islands would have been stunning places to get married, however, at the time we were both working full-time and had a one-year-old, which didn't allow a lot of flexibility to go off and explore potential venues.
3. Working our way through the admin
Living in one London borough whilst getting married in the adjacent London borough meant appointments at two register offices, many photocopies of ID, several interviews with official-looking people, and various forms that needed filling in. Doing this in my hometown was frustrating and boring – doing the same in an unfamiliar distant location where you don't speak the language and can't easily be there in person... well, that was all just too daunting for me.
4. The cost for the guests
Hosting any party can get expensive, but mention the "w" word and it always seems that the price suddenly goes up. The cost of attending destination weddings all adds up for the guests too, and we were keen to make sure that our celebration wasn’t a financial burden on anyone. If you don’t want people remembering your wedding for all the wrong reasons (ie how much it cost them to attend), it’s worth considering what contributions you can make to their trip, whether that’s organising transport to get there or paying for the accommodation.
5. The pressure!
And what if the guests don't have a good time? What if your pals fork out thousands to be there on your big day and they think it's average? You’re committing people to spending their valuable annual leave on your big event, and that was a responsibility that I just wasn’t willing to take on!
Destination wedding tips
How and where you have your wedding is a personal decision and depends very much on your circumstances. If you’re going to go ahead, here are some tips to bear in mind:
– Remote locations may mean there aren’t many photographers or musicians to choose from and you may need to fly or bus people in.
– Confidence in the venue and people who run it are key. Do in-depth research online, then have a reconnaissance trip and set up meetings with several places you have in mind. If you’re considering spending on a wedding, some resorts will put you up for free, while others at least give you a discount – just ask. If that’s not an option, set up phone and Skype calls. If someone is hard to get hold of, ditch them – you don’t want to be chasing people when organising a wedding. Read reviews, but always trust your gut.
– Compare quotes, negotiate, and don’t be afraid to ask for more. Venues will often match offers made by other resorts.
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