Destination weddings are more popular than ever. As couples report an increasing desire to trade pomp and circumstance for memorable experiences, growing numbers of brides and grooms are choosing to tie the knot away from home, with intimate guest lists, stunning venues, and cultural components that add to their celebration. But when you have the entire world on your list of potential wedding venues, narrowing the search to just one country, city, and venue feels like an overwhelming task.
The simplest approach is to choose a sentimental spot, says luxury travel consultant Sarah Brook Austin of Travels by SB. “I think destination weddings are appealing more and more to engaged couples because it is a way for them to gather all of their favorite people in a location that is special to them,” she says. "Couples often choose locations that have meaning—either where they've traveled together as a couple, where they grew up traveling with their family, or somewhere they've always wanted to go.”
Meet the Expert
- Sarah Brook Austin is a luxury travel consultant with Travels by SB, a global travel planning agency.
- Fallon Carter is the founder of Fallon Carter Events, a planning and design firm that specializes in destination weddings.
- Heather Balliet is the owner of Amorology, a full-service design and planning firm that executes events in California and beyond.
If you’d prefer to mark your marriage milestone in an unfamiliar spot—one that becomes important to the foundation of your relationship simply because you got married there—follow this expert advice to choose the place that’s right for you.
Set Your Budget
Putting together a budget is the first step of planning any wedding—whether across the globe or in your own backyard—but it’s especially important if you want to travel. “A destination wedding really does add up very quickly,” says event planner Fallon Carter, who specializes in destination celebrations. “My first suggestion is always to identify the budget.”
Breaking down spending estimates per category allows you to streamline your destination options, as you filter flights by cost and cross too-pricey venues off your list. Your financial plan will need to accommodate not just your wedding day—the venue, food, flowers, rentals—but also flights, ground transportation, overnight stays, and advance site visits. Many couples choose to offset some of the travel costs for their guests, while also hosting welcome parties, wine tastings, boat tours, and cultural experiences throughout their stay.
If you choose to work with vendors outside your destination, you’ll also need to pay to fly them (and their teams) in for your event, says Carter. For international weddings, the variations in the exchange rate during your planning process can affect your bottom line—for better or for worse; keep these rates in mind when tallying your payments.
Define Your Aesthetic
Next, narrow down your destination options by deciding on the type of aesthetic you envision for the day. “There are so many beautiful venues in every destination,” says Heather Balliet, owner of Amorology. “Knowing if you are drawn to something European or more tropical will definitely help to hone the process, rather than attempting to search the globe over.” Balliet encourages her couples to filter their choices to one or two destinations before they start researching venues. “Limiting yourself can help mitigate the possibility of getting overwhelmed by the endless options that are out there,” she says.
Envision the Experience
Destination weddings are often no longer simple, three-day affairs, says Austin. “The concept of destination weddings has evolved in the last few years to become more of a multi-day event celebration, rather than the traditional rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception,” says Austin. This means you can—and should—choose a location that offers a variety of sightseeing, local events, and activities that give you and your guests the opportunity to make the most of their travels. “With a destination wedding, the magic of that is that people get to experience the destination,” says Carter. “The travel experience is super key and it will make or break the fun, so you really want to map that out very well.”
Carter encourages her couples to picture not just their wedding ceremony and reception, but the days before and after. “Do you want to be in the woods, do you want to have a beach element, do you want to be in a city? Do you want great food, cuisine, and museums, do you want something that has a great party vibe, do you want something a bit more secluded, off-the-beaten path?” she says. “Deep-dive into places that seem like they would be able to host the experience you're seeking, and from there you can begin to go down rabbit holes of various venues that might fit the bill.”
Consider Your Guests
Both the number of guests on your invitation list and their travel needs will factor in your decision, too. If you’re hoping for a high RSVP-yes rate, pick a spot that’s easy to get to: Look for direct flights from the cities where most of your guests live, choose lodgings that require a minimum of shuttling once guests arrive, and weigh the costs of flights and accommodations. “You'll want to be aware of the travel time from the nearest airport and ensure there is easy access to your venue, as well as local hotels that can accommodate all your guests if they're not staying on property,” says Balliet.
You should also consider the comfort of older family members or those with accessibility needs. Asking your marathon-running college roommates to hike a glacier for your ceremony is very different from expecting your 90-year-old great aunt to do the same. “Sometimes travel can limit grandparents or parents and guests with health concerns being able to attend,” says Balliet. “If this is a deal breaker, you'll want to keep that in mind as you're researching your dream destination.”
Check the Weather
While even the best wedding planner can’t control the clouds on your big day, the season during which you’re planning to visit is another major factor in choosing a destination. “You have to think about temperature: Do you want it to be cold, do you want it to be hot, or do you want it to be warm?” says Carter. Some regions may have balmy temperatures when hurricane risk is highest, or the lowest prices when temperatures soar, which can affect your planning. “Weather could definitely have a positive or negative impact on the day, and that can be somewhat mitigated when choosing the time of year to get married,” says Austin.
If you imagine saying your vows during a region’s most charming season, remember that you won’t be the only travel group vying for hotels, flights, and reservations. Decide whether you want to brave the peak season travel complications (and costs), or opt for dates when it’s less crowded. “Summers on the Amalfi coast, for example, can come with heavy crowds and challenges getting around the city,” says Balliet. “If you're hoping for something more relaxed, you may want to wait until September when tourism starts to slow.”
Plan a Visit
Once you’ve landed on a general destination, Carter recommends visiting the region to look at multiple venues. “I never suggest that you book sight unseen,” she says. Stay at the hotels where you’d book rooms for your guests, eat at the restaurants, drive the roads, see every space you’d use during your event; pay attention to everything from the late-night noise ordinances to the resort amenities. “You want to give yourself time to go see it, live in it, experience it, and meet other vendors so you can create relationships with them,” says Carter. “You always should go down to visit a few venues in the area that you've selected to get the feel and the vibe, because what you see in imagery and what you experience in person are generally two different things. Go on site visits to places you aren't crazy about, because you really never know.”