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The Complete Destination Wedding Checklist

by Bailey Gaddis
The Complete Destination Wedding Checklist

The price you pay for a relaxing, gorgeous destination wedding (beyond the actual price) is a lot of work on the front end, beginning about a year before that special date. The good news is everything doesn’t have to be done at once, as long as you spread out the to-dos over a 12-month period. To that end, we’ve compiled a thorough destination wedding checklist to help everything go smoothly.

12 Months Before

To get you started, here’s a list of the top tasks to tackle one year prior to The Day.

  • Decide the Essence You Want Your Wedding to Exude

Getting clear on the vibe, theme, spirit, or whatever you want to call it, for your wedding will make all your other decisions easier because you’ll have a better sense of what you’re trying to create.

  • Research Venues

Now that you’ve settled on your wedding essence of choice, start researching venues that match these needs. Mark your favorites and discuss with your partner. Once you’ve narrowed it down to your top three, contact the venues and request all pertinent information, and photos from their past weddings.

  • Confirm the Venue

Don’t get your heart set on a venue without first confirming it’s available on the date you’ve settled on, and you lock it in. A perk of planning a year in advance is that you have more flexibility with venue availability.

  • Determine Your Budget

While you want to invest in your dream wedding, know that you can create that dream without striping your financial reserves – and you do this by creating a budget. Start by taking an honest look at your finances, considering any help you may be receiving from family members, settling on a realistic budget, and committing to staying below that number.

  • Create Your Guest List

With that nifty budget in tow you can now decide how many names can grace your guest list. One of the biggest expenses of a wedding is food and drink, so each name on that list adds up.

  • Prepare To Defend Your Choices

When you dive into a life event that involves the participation of more than a few people, you’re going to get more than a few opinions. Steel yourself to deflect any unsolicited opinions by having a pow-wow with your fiancé where the two of you get firm on your reasons for having a destination wedding. Remind each other that ultimately the only people who need to be satisfied with the wedding are the two of you.

  • Make an Inspiration Board

Because there may be some tedious moments between now and the time you finally say “I do,” it can be nice to have a visual reminder of what you’re working towards. Clip images of weddings, flowers, colors, food, rings, dresses, your wedding destination, and more that make you feel excited about planning a wedding, and glue them to a piece of poster board.

8 Months Before

You’ve locked in your wedding venue of choice, committed to sticking to your budget (you can do it!), and hemmed and hawed over that tricky guest list until it was just right – congrats! You’ve got your momentum going and have tackled some of the biggest destination wedding question marks. It’s now time to narrow your focus a bit, and revel in tasks like finding your ideal dress.

  • Make Your Online Registry

While it’s tempting to register for shiny gifts you don’t really need (I’m looking at you jalapeño popper maker), it’s best to stick to items that will enhance and simplify your post-wedding life. Talk with your partner about the goods that will offer the most benefit, and together make your registry, or registries.

  • Create Your Wedding Website

Now that you have your engagement story, wedding date, location, and registry you can create your wedding website. Sites like Joy allow you to design a one-stop-shop for your guests to get in the mood for your wedding by reading your love story, discover the specifics on all the wedding events and FAQs, and access your registries.
Because destination weddings take a lot of planning on the part of – well, everyone – make sure your website includes specifics on best ways to get to your wedding destination, travel requirements, where you’ll be blocking out rooms or houses, ground transportation info, and any other essential information.

  • Send Your Save the Dates

If you would like people at your wedding (totally optional!) you’ll want to let them know ASAP when and where you’ll be getting married so they can get it on their calendar. Make sure the Save the Date includes your wedding website link so they can get a full picture of what will be required of them to get to your wedding.

  • Select Your Wedding Party

Trust your gut as you decide who you would like standing by you as you leap out of singledom, and decide with your fiancé if it’s important for you to have an even number on their side and yours.

  • Schedule a Call With the Event Planner

Make a list of every question you can think of for the event planner that has likely been assigned to you by your venue, then a schedule a call with them.

  • Hire a Photographer and Videographer

Hopefully, your event planner gave you a stellar list of photographers and videographers, you’ve combed through their websites and found the ideal matches, and are ready to confirm.

  • Research Dresses

Taking into consideration your style preferences (first and foremost), wedding destination terrain and climate, and budget, begin looking into dress options.

6 Months Before

You’ve reached the halfway point and it’s getting real. The next six months will dissolve quicker than a bride’s mascara as she’s listening to a poignant speech. But, the good news is many of the six-month to-do items include goodies like shopping, and planning the ultimate vacay.

  • Look Into Travel Requirements

There might be quite a few travel-hoops to jump through before reaching your wedding destination, especially if your wedding will be in a different country. Research whether things like visas or certain vaccinations will need to be obtained before entering the country, and ensure your passport is up-to-date.

  • Reserve a Block of Rooms, or Vacation Homes for Guests

Now that you (hopefully!) know how many people will be attending your wedding, you can figure out where they’ll sleep.

  • Book Your Airline Tickets, and Help Guests Do the Same

On average, you can find the biggest variety, and best deals, on flights when you book about six months in advance. Research the various airports and transportation options available near your wedding venue and choose the option that best suits your needs. Then, take your research and share it with guests in the following to-do.

  • Make a Travel Check List for Your Confirmed Guests

To ensure all your people turn up at the right place at the right time, make their travel planning simple by sending out a thorough and well-organized checklist, complete with a few options for each item.

  • Select an Officiant

If you’re religious, ask your wedding venue for recommendations of wedding officiants of your denomination – if you’re not bringing your own. For secular or nondenominational weddings you have more flexibility in your officiant selection, and can even have a special friend or family member become ordained (can be done online) and officiate the wedding.

  • Decide On Wedding Party Attire

Now is the time you’ll likely start receiving the “what do I need to wear?” question from your wedding party – well, at least from the ladies. Talk with your fiancé about color palate, style, and materials you would like for the wedding party’s attire and share that information with them as soon as possible – if you can include sample photos and shopping links, even better.

  • Buy a Gown

You’ve been exploring the silk and tulle-filled world of wedding dresses, have narrowed it down to a few faves, and are ready to take the plunge. Exciting! But before you hand over that credit card, check in with yourself to ensure this dress is a yes for you in all ways.

  • Purchase Outfits for Rehearsal Dinner, Reception Dancing, and Post-Wedding Brunch

While it’s certainly not a requirement to purchase new duds for each wedding event, it sure is fun to have an excuse to shop for these once-in-a-lifetime celebrations! Make a list of the events you’ll be having, which ones you would like a fresh outfit for, and what style would work best for each event – for example, a dress that’s easy to dance in could be nice for your wedding reception.

  • Buy Your Rings

If you choose to wear wedding bands it’s crucial for you and your fiancé to select options that are both comfortable and suit your personal styles.

  • Plan Your Honeymoon

After a year of wedding planning you deserve a fab getaway. Decide whether you want to have a weddingmoon – where you honeymoon in the same location you marry (great option if you’re interested in saving money) – or, desire to jet off to a new location after your nuptials.

3 Months Before

Tick tock. Time will slip through your busy fingers as you tie up loose ends in preparation for your upcoming trip of a lifetime. Allow this time to pass in an excited, instead of stressful, manner by checking off one to-do at a time and taking breaks in between to relax with your fiancé and share in your mutual enthusiasm for the big event, looming on the horizon.

  • Write Your Vows

Now is the time to peer into your heart and find the words to describe why you’re choosing to make The Commitment with your fiancé. Because this can be such an overwhelming task, start with a list of the qualities you love in your fiancé, unique aspects of your love story, and how you feel about the idea of spending the rest of your life with them. Then let your vows organically evolve from this heart-centered list.

  • Schedule a Call With Your Wedding Planner

Talk with your planner about details for flowers and other decorations, food, drinks, seating plans, venues, entertainment, and more for every wedding event you will be having. Be prepared with a list of topics, questions, and requests.

  • Book a Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist

During your phone call with the wedding planner ask for recommendations for local makeup and hair stylists.

  • Hire a DJ and Organize Your Music Preferences

Yet another question for your wedding planner: DJ recommendations. Whether you hire a DJ or create your own playlists, it’s important to spend time thinking about the songs that will create the vibes you want for the rehearsal dinner, pre-ceremony cocktails, processional, recessional, and reception. Give the DJ as much guidance as possible to ensure their surprise song selections don’t make you cringe.

  • Double Check Travel Plans for All Confirmed Guests

No matter how “on it” you believe your guests are with their travel arrangements, there will be some that need extra nudging to get it done. Draft an email to all your confirmed guests asking them to send you their arrival and departure dates, flight information, accommodations confirmation, and if needed, car rental reservations. Even though you don’t necessarily need all this information, the request will be a catalyst for them to make sure all their traveling ducks are in a row.

  • Ensure the Bridal Party Has Their Attire

Send all members of the bridal party a friendly reminder and request that they send you a picture when they purchase the needed ensemble.

  • Have a Dress Fitting

Find a tailor who comes highly recommended then work with them to ensure the length and fit of your dress is just right. Next, schedule an additional fitting for one month before your wedding departure so you can take care of last minute adjustments.

  • Purchase Your Accessories

While your dress is surely exquisite enough to stand on its own, it’s always fun to find the perfect accessories like jewelry, shoes, hair pieces, garter belt, lingerie, and any other adornment you believe will enhance your special day.

  • Buy the Extras

Mentally walk yourself through every step of your rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, and any other wedding events you may be having and figure out what extra items you envision being present. For example, what kind of guestbook would you like? Are there special decorations (not offered by your venue) that you would like featured? Make a list of any extras you would like and begin the process of hunting them down.

  • Collect Welcome Bag Items

While it’s completely optional to provide guests with a bag full of goodies upon arrival at your wedding destination, it can be a nice way to say thank you for their travel efforts.

  • Buy a Wedding Gift for Your Fiancé

Put your romantic thinking cap on and brainstorm unique gift options that will tell your fiancé that you know them well, love them unconditionally, and are so ready to spend the rest of your life with them. Get creative and remember the age-old adage – it’s the thought that counts.

2 Weeks Before

This is when many couples become overwhelmed with pre-wedding stress – but not you. Because you’ve strategically taken care of your to-dos over the past year, you’re good to go, with only a few small tasks left to check off. Allow yourself to revel in all your accomplishments, and spend time getting excited about what’s to come with your honey!

  • Pick up Your Dress

Your tailor should be done with adjustments and ready to hand over the precious cargo. (Extra tip: If you’ll be flying to your wedding destination, carry your dress on the plane, as most airlines will allow you to hang it in their coat closet.)

  • Chat with Your Event Planner

To ensure you don’t have to do anything but relax when you reach your wedding destination, have a call with your planner to iron out any last minute details and decisions. For example, confirm the wet weather plan, go over the timeline for wedding day, figure out when bouquets and boutonnières will be delivered, and determine who will be re-confirming with vendors.  

  • Make a Plan With Your Photographer and Videographer

While your photographer and videographer will hopefully be seasoned professionals, you can ensure you get the exact footage you want from your nuptials by discussing shot lists and timing needs with them.

  • Talk with Officiant

Nothing throws off a wedding like a confused officiant, so talk with them before the big day to go over the schedule and script for the ceremony.

  • Create a Packing List for the Wedding and Honeymoon

Crafting a packing list two weeks before you leave will give you ample time to add or remove items, helping to ensure you don’t forget essentials, but also don’t end up with an 80-pound bag.   

  • Book a Couple’s Massage for the Day After Your Wedding!

After all this hard work, you and your special person deserve some serious pampering.

  • Confirm Flights and Accommodations

The last thing you need is a hiccup with your flights or accommodations, so double check that everything is confirmed for the correct dates and times.

  • Finalize Seating Chart (If Needed)

If you’ll be having a formal seated dinner, complete the seating chart, resisting the urge to ask guests for input, as everyone will have an opinion.

  • Send “Details Email” to Guests

Send your guests an email that includes the itinerary for wedding events and daily excursions, so they can pack accordingly. This can also be a good time to broach the subject of speeches with parents and the bridal party.

Day of the Wedding!

destination wedding day of
It’s here! You’ve made it. It almost seems unreal that after moving through seemingly endless planning you’ve finally landed on this magical day. Now is the time to put planning behind you and fully commit to enjoying yourself.

  • Savor some alone time.

It’s all too easy to get whisked away in “what’s next” on your wedding day. Set a present, positive tone by waking up early to go on a solo walk, meditating, journaling or doing anything else that helps you step back and look at the big picture, and deeper meaning of this sacred day.

  • Release expectations.

You’ve done absolutely everything you could to prep for this day, so it’s now time to release the reigns and enjoy. There will likely be elements that don’t pan out exactly as you envisioned, but that’s to be expected – don’t let it ruin your mood. If something unexpected comes up, take a deep breath and remember that little mishaps will just make your wedding more memorable.

  • Create time cushions.

Time disappears faster than a bottle of champagne on your wedding day, which is why you want to allow extra time for all preparations. Start your hair and makeup prep about an hour before you think you need to, ensuring you have plenty of time for photos and anything else that comes up before the ceremony.

  • Have fun!

Don’t get bogged down in details, or whether or not every guest seems to be having a good time. You have total permission to fully focus on the happiness of you and your partner, doing whatever you need to do to fill this time with smiles, laughter and kissing – lots of kissing.

More on Destination Weddings:

7 Reasons a Destination Wedding Might Be For You

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