How to Plan a Destination Wedding – From Research to “I Do”

Planning a wedding should be fun, but it’s always a little bit of a challenge - and if you decide to plan a destination wedding, there are a few extra logistics to think about. Tying the knot somewhere far from home is unbelievably exciting, so this guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to plan a destination wedding - from researching the perfect place to saying “I do!”

bride and groom first dance at their destination wedding in crowsnest pass alberta

How to Plan a Destination Wedding

Here’s your step by step guide to planning your destination wedding!

Researching Destination Wedding Locations

Once you’ve decided to plan a destination wedding, the next step is to figure out where you want to tie the knot. Needless to day, there are lots of locations around the world that would make a beautiful place to exchange vows! To narrow down your options, I recommend starting by thinking about what kind of vibe you’re going for - how do you envision your wedding day?

You can have a destination wedding somewhere warm and tropical, somewhere by the ocean, somewhere in the mountains, in a place where you can spend your honeymoon relaxing or in one where you can have some adventures… or maybe a little bit of both! Brainstorm, dream up what your perfect wedding day would look like, and start making a list of potential locations where you may want to say “I do.” 

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Making a Guest List

I recommend working on your guest list (at least a rough one) before you even look for a destination wedding venue, since you’ll need to find a venue that’s the right size. For a destination wedding, guests may need more time to plan, since they’ll need to book travel and find accommodations, so it’s best to let people know early on what you have planned!

Finding a Destination Wedding Venue

Once you’ve settled on a destination wedding location, it’s time to get more specific! Finding a venue is important, as this is the place where you’ll host your big day. Many couples find an all inclusive resort to host their wedding, which has the advantage of having everything you need in one place - somewhere for you and your guests to stay, a gorgeous ceremony site, a place to dance the night away, and often you’ll also have a coordinator who can help with paperwork and local marriage laws. 

Since visiting your destination wedding venue in person before you book may not be an option, it’s a good idea to do a virtual tour!

Send Out Save The Dates

Once you have a date and a venue, it’s time to send save the dates to your loved ones! Couples usually do this a little bit earlier than they would for a wedding close to home, to give their guests more time to plan. At least eight months out is ideal for sending out save the dates! 

Book Vendors

Vendors are a huge part of any wedding day, and it’s important to hire professionals! I recommend finding your photographer first (don’t look too far - I’m available for photo and video!), then work on finding a florist, hair and makeup artist, and whatever other vendors you need. Depending on the venue you booked, you may have catering and possibly other vendors included in your package, so be sure to consult with your venue coordinator, and see if they have any recommendations. 

Book Travel Arrangements

Make sure you book your travel early on - this saves you stress and you can often find better deals. I recommend arriving in your destination wedding location at least a few days early! This is extra important if you’re crossing time zones, but even if you aren’t, being there early allows you to relax and settle in. It can also be really nice to spend a day or two before the wedding hanging out with your closest people - whether it’s a pool day with friends or a dinner with family, it’s great to have some quality time.

Find Your Wedding Attire

Make sure to shop for your wedding attire with plenty of time to do alterations! When you’re shopping, think about how you’ll be getting your dress or suit over to your destination wedding location - suits are usually easy, and as long as a dress isn’t too big, it can easily be folded (carefully) into a carry on. Make sure that where you’re going will have a steamer available to get rid of any wrinkles, or bring your own portable one!

bride and groom first kiss wearing grandmothers heirloom wedding dress in crowsnest pass alberta

Learn About Local Marriage Laws

At least a few months out, make sure to find out how you can get legally married during your destination wedding. This depends a lot on your location - in some places, tying the knot is a breeze, but in other’s it’s nearly impossible. 

Make sure you know what you have to do, and if you find out that you can’t get legally married in your location (there are a few countries that require residency), don’t panic! A lot of couples choose to do the paperwork at home. If you do this, it means that on the day of your wedding, you won’t have to worry about it, and it can be nice to focus on the moment and just enjoy yourselves. Don’t worry - a signature isn’t what makes things “real,” exchanging vows does! Your ceremony won’t be any less special if you do the paperwork another time.

Send Out Invitations for Your Destination Wedding

Two to three months before the big day, send out the official invitations that allow your guests to RSVP. This is a little earlier than usual, but again, for a destination wedding it’s better to do things a little bit ahead of time! 

Write Your Vows

Don’t put this one off too long! Writing your own wedding vows is way more meaningful, so in the weeks leading up to your wedding day, make sure you set aside some time to write them. Starting early gives you time to brainstorm, write, and edit, and it’ll be a lot less stressful.

Make a Packing List

As the day approaches, you want to take as much stress off of yourselves (and each other) as possible. One way to do this is to make a packing list. Start at least a few days before you start traveling for the wedding, and write down everything you need. Write down big things, like your wedding attire, and small things like your toothbrush - and everything in between! Having a list will ensure that you don’t forget anything, and will make the packing process easier.

Saying “I Do”

This is it - the big day is here! The night before your wedding, make sure to sleep well and relax, and on the morning of, eat a big breakfast, stay hydrated, and enjoy the moments leading up to marrying your best friend. You’ll tie the knot in a beautiful location, and all that planning will come to life as you have the wedding of your dreams!

Ready to Plan a Destination Wedding?

My job as a photographer and videographer is to document your love - none of the fake, posed stuff, but all of the real, incredible moments that make your wedding day yours. The laughs, happy tears, and little moments are what make this day special, and if you’re ready to plan your destination wedding, I’m here to help you remember every incredible moment! Contact me to get started.


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If you like unconventional, honest, friendly and real photos, I’m your person.

Sam Wildridge is a candid + lifestyle photographer / filmmaker based in Wainwright, Alberta. Sam has been capturing wedding, family + corporate photos for 9 years and defines her style as "organic storytelling".


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