Planning a Destination Wedding?
10 key elements to consider when planning a destination wedding in Europe
Also including common mistakes and how to avoid them!
CHOOSING A LOCATION FOR YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING
The general rule is don’t over complicate your decision. When it comes to destination weddings in Europe, the choice is huge. Lots of people would immediately think of the winery rich Tuscany or the golden sandy beaches of the Balearics, but we are all different and there is a perfect destination wedding spot for everyone. Choose a location that means something to you. For example, hikers might want to choose the French Alps or nature lovers the beautiful lake valley in southern Austria. I, and my fiancé Niki, love warmth, so we’re considering locations like Sorrento in Italy, Costa Del Sol in Spain or the ever popular and simply stunning Santorini for our destination wedding.
VISIT THE VENUE IN ADVANCE…IF POSSIBLE
This is the most obvious top-tip, but perhaps the one that is most often missed. I have seen so many couples booking a venue and putting down the deposit without actually ever seeing their venue live, only to be disappointed when they find out that it has five year old photos on the website and in real life now looks rather “tired”. It is a great way to establish positive relationship with your venue, which is really important as there will be some unexpected last-minute changes and having supportive staff who have met you and understand your needs is very useful! If you can’t manage an “in-person” visit then ask the venue if they can give you a virtual tour, by having the venue manager walk you around via FaceTime for example, you will still have the chance to have a good look at the space and the opportunity to plan the practical aspects of your day.
SELECTING A DATE FOR YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING
After choosing your location the very next thing to decide is your wedding date. While we all love the late summer weddings, there is more to consider here than just the month. For example, main season weddings will drive your cost almost to double vs off-season dates. Venues will have lots of enquiries from general holiday makers during peak season so you’ll be competing for in-demand slots. It is also important to research your location, for example in August the Costa Del Sol temperatures can rise into the 40s while the sea is not that warm, but in September the weather is still in the late 20s/early 30s, so warm but much more comfortable and the sea is perfect for swimming at the time of year. After the summer months, many beach locations are also MUCH cheaper and with fewer tourists roaming around. So by choosing a slightly later date you’ll have a much more exclusive experience and quieter, more intimate environment for your destination wedding photoshoot.
When you have chosen, don’t forget to save the date as soon as possible. this is lot more important that most people think. Let your guests know about your wedding as soon as you have your date and location fixed (even if you haven’t finalised the venue yet). The more notice you give people the better. Your guest will really appreciate that you’ve thought about their preparations too; booking time off work, purchasing flight tickets well in advance and saving up for a holiday spending money!
DECIDING ON THE NUMBER OF GUESTS TO INVITE AND HOW IT WILL AFFECT YOUR BUDGET
First things first let’s brush away the misconception that destination weddings are cheaper than weddings in the UK. In the UK a wedding with 50 people is considered intimate, but when it comes to weddings abroad, even this can be a challenging number. First you need to decide whether you are willing to pay for your guests’ accommodation. This is far the biggest contributing factor to your destination wedding budget. The average cost per head, in popular locations in main season can be around £300 per standard double room for a 5 night stay.
So having 50 guests and paying for their accommodation and food will immediately mean you are looking at a wedding costing 20k + . If you are on a budget, the recommendation is to plan for around 20 guests. That way you are much more likely to come in around £15K total including your honeymoon. Some couples decide to ask your guests not to give gifts, but instead, paying for their own transportation and flight tickets and you then cover their accommodation. Most reasonable guests would be delighted at this very generous compromise.
RESEARCHING THE LOCAL LAWS AND RULES
Now you’ve picked your location, you know the date you’d like, you need to make sure that you can you officially get married in your chosen destination wedding spot. A quick bit of research on the gov.uk website will give you information about requirements for getting married abroad. Some places like Gibraltar or Australia have very straightforward rules, but some like Spain where you cannot get legally married unless you’re a catholic can be trickier.
If you are planning a symbolic wedding ceremony abroad (and will get married officially in the UK) obviously this is not an issue, but if you want to get legally married you need to do your homework which leads us to my next point.
BOOKING A WEDDING PLANNER OR GOING IT ALONE?
The first bit of advice you will be given in any destination wedding group, is to book a wedding planner as it can make your life MUCH easier. There are few things though you should be aware of that are in the “small text” when booking a destination wedding planner. The cost of an independent wedding planner can sometimes outweigh the benefits, but not always. More and more destination wedding venues have their own planners who can be much cheaper than a private one. Of course that means you are tied into a particular venue so that may not be the best option for you if you want a planner to help you to choose the most suitable venue and suppliers for your needs. So while having a private planner can cost more, they will be able to offer a much more bespoke experience with lot more flexibility.
I have personal as well a professional experience of this now; the planner my fiancee and I have chosen, Sofia`s Weddings and Events in Italy will take care of all the boring legal bits and hiring the venue, but we are able to book our own wedding photographer and suppliers. If you want to do more of the planning yourself a good planner will facilitate that but if you need a bit more guidance they will have a recommended list of suppliers. Personally I would recommend going with a private planner but as ever, shop around!
FINDING YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Unfortunately, this is the element that too many couples underestimate the importance of. There is really only one question to ask yourself. You’ve organised the most amazing event in your life, spent a fortune on it and put heart and soul into it, so would you like an OK destination wedding photographer who does an OK job, or would you rather have someone who captures the true essence of your event? Even if the photos are not that important for you at the planning stage, trust me, it will become one of the most important parts after your wedding.
The truth is that the photos will be one of your most important factors, it’s how you will remember your amazing day in years to come. If nothing else make sure you do your research and chose the right photographer. If you are on a tight budget, a good way of saving on photography is choosing someone UK based who is clearly a great photographer, but not that experienced with destination weddings yet. These photographers are willing to compromise on their bottom line to gain the experience and the images for their portfolio. There are also photographers like me with homes/ family abroad, and that means we may not charge as much for travel if we can combine the shoot with a family visit or short break.
A WEDDINGS DRESS TO SUIT THE LOCATION
This might not come as a surprise, so it is rather straightforward reminder. If you do get married on the beach in 30C degrees, then having a long veil and train attached to your wedding dress might not be such a good idea! There are brilliant designer wedding dresses you can buy, but we recommend buying it from a vendor who has dealt with destination weddings before and can give you advice on how to care for and pack your wedding dress for example. They will give you great advice, for example, did you know that most destination wedding dresses only get damaged on the journey because the bride keeps checking on it? So choose an experienced destination wedding dress specialist, follow their advice, like check your venue has a steamer at hand(!) and you will be fine.
SETTING AND MANAGING YOUR WEDDING BUDGET
As I mentioned above destination weddings can be just as expensive as getting married in the UK, however there are some clever tips on how to get the most from your budget. As well as saving money by choosing an off-season date, and by using a planner who might get better offers than you could from their regular suppliers, there are other ways to save money. One big expense when it comes to planning weddings abroad is room decoration and bouquets. Flowers and floral arrangements can be expensive abroad, if you expect to have the same type of flowers you would have in the UK but there are local versions that will cut costs significantly. How about having an olive branch instead of roses when getting married in Greece or Italy, or having seashell decorations on the tables in Spain or Santorini instead of the expensive table centres used traditionally in the UK.
“Think locally and think outside of the box and your money will go much further.”
RESEARCH SUPPLIERS AND HOW NEW BREXIT REGULATIONS MIGHT IMPACT THEIR SERVICES
The right suppliers can make (and sadly sometimes break) a wedding. I have explained the benefits of having a private wedding planner above, but it is also equally important to research recommended suppliers. Some photographers for example are only recommended because they work on commission with the planner, so they might not necessarily the best choice when it comes to your dream photos. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing photographers out there who work regularly with planners, but there are just as many who are not, so take a little time to explore your options. A simple and effective way to check suppliers is customer reviews on Facebook, Google, and just generally looking them up on Instagram or Pinterest. Follower count, likes, reviews on these platforms are usually great way to judge someone’s reliability.
Another important thing is having a contract directly with the suppliers. This cuts out any possible communication issues if you need something sorting. For example if the photographer delivers your photos late, you can deal with them directly, instead of through a planner which will only add extra time and frustration. Brexit regulations on suppliers is something you may now need to be aware of. I am an EU Citizen and also permanent resident in the UK this does not affect the service I can provide to my clients, I am still able to travel to and fro with ease. However sadly after Brexit British photographers are required to pay extra permit and insurance when they photograph destination weddings, and this will inevitably drive-up their price. The best way to tackle this is booking someone with EU citizenship living in the UK, so you get uninterrupted customer service, with no customs or permit issues that could hold the photographer up or even prevent them from making it if they haven’t completed the paperwork properly. Again from personal experience, form me this was too high of a risk and so we have decided to book an Italian photographer who lives in the UK, but often travels back to Europe.
BUYING WEDDING INSURANCE AND TRAVEL INSURANCE
There is probably nothing more important than to have comprehensive insurance cover. This year lots of couples have learnt the hard way how difficult it can be to deal with certain venues and suppliers due to the Covid-19 regulations. Having wedding insurance that covers “vis major” is my recommendation. It is definitely spending some time researching the best policy for you, it may well be time and money very well spent. Don’t forget to ask your suppliers and venue what their policy covers and what happens if you cannot travel due to any restrictions.
I hope you find these wedding planning tips useful. Please take a look around the website and if you like my portfolio and approach, I would love to hear about your wedding plans.