While the idea of a wedding away is certainly not brand new, recently Destination Weddings have exploded in popularity. And why not? It's an opportunity to say your 'I Dos' in an exotic location that you've always wanted to visit, and you can invite your closest family and friends to enjoy the experience with you. On top of all that, it can sometimes be a more budget friendly option than a traditional wedding at home. It's no wonder loved-up and savvy couples are finding it the perfect solution.
The first thing you'll need to do is decide on a destination. It sounds simple enough, but keep in mind you're planning your wedding day: the biggest day of your life, so you want the destination to be absolutely perfect. Chat to your partner about their dream destinations; let them know yours and chances are you'll find a place that tops both of your 'must-visit' lists, or at least a location that fulfils the majority of each of your criteria. If you're a die-hard mermaid and he's a bit of a thrill seeker, do your research! Places like Bali and Fiji offer beautiful beaches and swoon-worthy sun-drenched pools and resorts, as well as exciting activities like diving, hiking, mountain biking and parasailing. Combine them and you've got destination perfection!
The average cost of a wedding in Australia is upwards of $35,000, so it's no wonder couples are starting to look abroad in their quest to save some much needed cash. Destination Weddings may cost less and they have the added benefit of giving you and your guests an opportunity to explore another country and culture. On top of that, you'll have more options to allocate your intended budget in different ways than you would a traditional wedding: you may wish to have a rehearsal dinner, or pay for flights for the bridal party as a gift, or indulge your guests in a pool party the next day.
You'll find many resorts and hotels offer at least one, if not several, all-inclusive destination wedding packages. These can include accommodation for the bride and groom, the ceremony and celebrant, reception (including food, drinks, styling, flowers and entertainment) and can often even include services like hair and makeup for the bride and bridesmaids, the cake, transport and photography. Your best bet is to make a list of your top five venues in your chosen location and get in touch. Ask for a list of their packages, and make sure you're clear on exactly what is and isn't included. Read the package inclusions carefully and if you're unsure: ask! For example, a package may include photography, but may not specify whether you'll receive prints or a CD or how many finished images you're entitled to.
Prices for destination wedding packages can start from as little as US $2,500. Keep an eye out for details like pricing in US or local currencies as well, and make sure you use the current exchange rate to convert it, so you're certain you understand the price.
Many resorts and hotels also offer special group booking packages, where they give a discount on the price of accommodation to groups of people over a certain size. This means your guests might be able to save a bit on their accommodation too, so it's worth investigating and informing your invitees, as it might impact on whether they're able to afford to come or not.
A wedding is certainly joyous news and is always a cause for celebration, however some of your family members (particularly those who are older generation or have a fondness for tradition) might be surprised or even shocked that you've decided to have a destination wedding. Take the time to think about how you announce your decision to those you're inviting, especially people who are likely to be surprised or disappointed that you're not having a traditional wedding. Consider announcing your plans face to face, so that you can explain your decision and answer any questions anyone might have. You could also consider hosting a small dinner party to announce your plans. Pay particular attention to your grandparents and parents, and make sure they understand that it's still a 'real' wedding, they're still invited and perhaps even allocate special tasks so that they know you're keen to have them attend.
Once you've broken the news to your closest family and friends, it's best to send out a 'Save The Date' as soon as possible: between twelve months and six months minimum is considered an appropriate amount of time to allow people to save up for flights, schedule annual leave from work and make their own plans, remember: your guests have a lot to organise too, so make sure you allow them a decent period to get everything done.
Remember to make it as easy as possible for your guests: find out about group discount deals, information and pricing for flights and accommodation, passport and visa requirements and a little bit of background on the location (for example: climate, culture, local laws, cuisine and local attractions). Include all these details with your invitations and Save The Date cards and you'll find that most people will be happy to travel to attend your big day.
The best reasons
There are myriad reasons to opt for a destination wedding, and not all of them are budget-related. You may save money by having a wedding away, but there are loads of other benefits that you probably haven't even thought of. There's the obvious: having an opportunity to immerse yourself in another country and a different culture, the not-so-obvious: your wedding can become a wonderfully dreamy extended holiday break for you and your fiancé, and if you want to you can include your guests as well. Consider having a breakfast or brunch the day after the wedding, so you get a proper chance to see everyone without the time pressure of the reception. Kick back with a barbeque, a pool party or just cocktails under the swaying coconut palms and enjoy some special time with your favourite people! A rehearsal dinner is also a great way for you and your partner's families to get to know one another in a more informal setting.
Then there are the hidden benefits that you probably haven't even thought of: because a lot of the organisation is being taken care of for you by your wedding coordinator or destination wedding specialist, it's actually less stressful than organising a traditional wedding. Rather than being responsible for every single detail, you're more like the overseer: making decisions, asking questions and ensuring that everything is just the way you want it. Another great hidden benefit is that you can have your honeymoon in the same place as your wedding! So no early morning wake up calls or flights, no extra packing, and no need to do anything but just kick back and enjoy being newlyweds. Plus, a destination wedding provides the perfect excuse for a sneaky pre-wedding getaway. What could be better for a bride and groom than to personally visit the resort say three or four months before the wedding, just to ensure you know exactly who'll be your contact on the day, what the ceremony location looks like and just how fabulous that panoramic Pacific Ocean view really is. Spa treatments, massages, food and cake tastings and pre-wedding romantic dinners are all a must (of course!).
The nitty gritty
If you can't make it to your venue before the wedding, don't fret. Numerous couples have organised their destination weddings with the help of either a destination wedding specialist or an on-site wedding coordinator at your chosen resort. Whether you choose a specialist or the resort's dedicated wedding planner, this person will be your 'man on the ground' - organising logistics, bookings, chatting to wedding vendors and ensuring it all comes together for you on the big day.
In your discussions with your new best friend, make sure you get, in writing, confirmation of exactly what you've booked and what you will receive on your wedding day. Remember to ask questions about anything that's unclear, like the exact location of your ceremony (ask for photos too!), details on your reception (for example, will you have the venue to yourself or will other parties be present?) Your wedding coordinator will happily answer all your questions and confirm anything that's unclear. They live to make your dream day a reality, so make use of them. No matter what you need, they'll be happy to help.
Check out all your visa and travel requirements at smarttraveller.gov.au, where you'll find up-to-date information on the country you're travelling to. Remember, if you're travelling outside of Australia you will need a valid passport. Whilst Australia honours an Australian passport up until its expiry date, some countries will not allow you entry if there isn't sufficient validity on your passport. Some countries will require a visa, others have special agreements for Australian travellers allowing visa wavers or entry without a visa for short-term visits. However, every country has different rules and regulations so it's important to check with your travel agent, destination wedding specialist or the embassy representative for your intended country of travel to ensure you have all the necessary documentation, and to make sure you're prepared for any other travel requirements.
Be aware: not all countries will legally marry you. Australia will honour any wedding that is bound by the laws of the country in which you're married, but it's best to double check with your wedding coordinator or destination wedding specialist about the legalities of marrying in your country of choice.
Some countries will require a Single Status Certificate, which shows whether you've been married in Australia in a specified period. Some other countries may require a solicitor's declaration that you are both 'free to marry'. And you may also require a blood test.
Once you're legally wed, you will need to obtain an international wedding certificate and any other supporting documentation before you leave the country. International wedding certificates are recognised by banks, however if you want to change your name on your driver's license, passport or for any legal purposes, you'll need to complete a "Change of Name" form and pay the fee through the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in your state.
It's the little things...
There are a few small things you can do to ensure your destination wedding goes off without a hitch (well, except the actual 'getting hitched!')
- Research and discuss high and low seasons for your top destinations to find the best possible time for the best possible price
- Aim to get a tentative headcount from your 'Save the Date' cards, so you can give the venue an estimate of how many people will be attending. It will help them to organise the ceremony and reception and to price everything accordingly
- Think carefully about transporting your dress. Treat it like precious cargo because you don't even want to think about the repercussions of a lost or damaged wedding gown. Most designers and boutiques recommend hanging your gown in a garment bag and alerting the airline at check in that it requires a hanging space. It's worthwhile reading up on each airline's luggage requirements as well so you'll know in advance if you will have to pay extra or not.
- Read up on local culture and traditions so that you can be respectful and aware of local laws and religions. You might even find something that speaks to you! Incorporating a touch of local culture or tradition is a beautiful way to acknowledge the country that is hosting your wedding. Arriving in a Tahitian canoe, having a Balinese blessing or being able to say 'I Do' in the native tongue are some good examples
- Take suggestions from your hosts on food and drinks for the reception, they know what's local, what's fresh and what's good. Besides, why travel all that way just to eat something you can get at home? Imagine a local feast, complete with lanterns and overflowing tables of fresh fruit and seafood.
- Incorporate a touch of your location into your stationery, decorations and favours, whether it's a map of the island embossed onto your invitations, vases overflowing with frangipanis or a sprig of local herbs tucked into every napkin, there are plenty of ways to give a nod to your wedding destination.