Planning a Destination Wedding

August 22, 2018

We knew pretty much right away that we would be planning a destination wedding.  I wanted to elope on a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway.  Or maybe in the desert of Morocco with just us and our photographers.  But Seth wanted a more traditional wedding at home.  So a destination wedding was a natural compromise!  The main reason for planning a destination wedding was we wanted to spend more than just a couple hours with our guests at our wedding.

I have photographed, attended, and been in enough weddings to realize how fast the day goes by.

For some people it’s most important that they get married in a certain church.  Or that guests who they know wouldn’t be able to make it out of town are able to attend. Totally get that.  But for us, we really wanted our wedding to be more of an experience than a day.  Plus it felt more like planning a 3 week honeymoon, than just the wedding, which is pretty awesome!  Also: I love to travel.  If we could combine an epic trip with all of our friends?! YES. THAT was what we wanted.

So we started planning. I actually did start looking in the US; in California,

but the more research I was doing it was going to be more expensive to have it in IN the country.  Plus we still wouldn’t be getting the kind of experience we wanted. Hotel prices and airfares to the west coast were the same, if not more, as having it somewhere super cool like Thailand (which was on the list at the time- along with a Brunch with Giraffes Wedding in Kenya, and a treehouse in New Zealand).  But eventually we narrowed it down.  Seth had always wanted to visit Italy.  I did not have that much interest in Italy oddly enough

(before you judge me just know that I will now admit how very very wrong I was for having ever felt that way!!  ITALY IS MAGIC).

I had been to Europe a couple of times, but Italy was never on the top of my list.  However, we left it on the possibility list while also looking into having the wedding at an all inclusive resort somewhere like Mexico.  But the more I started looking at these “all inclusive” beach weddings the less excited I got.

Planning a destination wedding tip #1: All-inclusive resorts that offer weddings start out looking inexpensive, or even free, but anything you want to add to the base package, adds up, fast.

I wasn’t going to be picky about florals + decor.  Not because I’m cheap but they just didn’t matter more than where I knew I wanted to spend a good amount of our “budget”. (Air quotes for the fact that Seth would laugh at the idea I tried to have a budget.)  Where I wanted to spend it was on photography and videography.  The all inclusive thing seems pretty inexpensive since you don’t have to pay for a reception since it’s being held at an all inclusive resort, the guests dinners are all included in the price for their stay.  However, I knew that I wasn’t really crazy about the style that was offered in the packages.

Also- and this is huge- they might not allow you to hire your own photographer or videographer.

I actually have shot a wedding in this situation.  For the cost of what they would have paid the resort photographer, it was more worth it to have them hire me.  Someone who they knew, trusted, liked my style, and would get a lot more images from.  The beauty of hiring a destination wedding photographer is that they most likely will also cover the rehearsal dinner, or a day after shoot.  So all in all, just don’t get lured into the notion of “free wedding”.  It might still be exactly what you want, but do your research thoroughly for the amount of guests you are expecting and everything you would like included!

So anyway, back to our story!  We were deciding pretty much between Mexico and Italy, and we happened to be at dinner one night sitting with another couple that we didn’t know.  She was a flight attendant for Delta, so of course she had Italy recommendations, but she also had a friend who is a travel agent that lives in our area and specializes in Italy only travel.  We planned the meeting and I said to Seth “let’s meet with her just to get the idea out of my head”.  Ha!  Enter Ashley.  Ashley owns a travel agency called L’Esperta and let’s just say she had a ton of great ideas to share!  Even though I thought the time of year we needed to have the wedding (late December) wasn’t going to work with Italy, she told us it was a wonderful idea and gave us some great recommendations on areas.

Planning a destination wedding tip #2: Try and connect with someone that knows the area very well, especially if you are not planning an all inclusive resort, or if you will want to plan excursions from your all inclusive resort.

Or even better, try to get there for a visit yourself before the wedding!  Maybe you even have an awesome photographer that you can bring with you for your engagement shoot!  Either way, between travel agencies, or even asking on Facebook, you are more than likely able to talk to someone that can tell you what the area is really like, if it’s good for tourists, if theres plenty to do and be entertained.  If you are thinking of anywhere in Italy we very highly recommend Ashley, who ended up being the travel agent for a lot of our guests.  She coordinated flights, airport pickups, hotels, and restaurants.  You can check her out here: www.l’esperta.com

So after we met with Ashely, we had a lot of homework to do.

Planning a destination wedding tip #3: Do not freak out when vendors don’t respond to your emails that quickly.

Most emails I sent went unanswered for weeks.  The wedding industry looks very different outside of the US.  I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing that vendors really don’t seem to be tied to their emails, phones, and their businesses like we do here, but just be prepared.  I know I try to respond to clients within 24 hours, but that most likely won’t be what you will find when planning a destination wedding.   Which again is ok as long as you know that and don’t think that the entire country of Italy has decided they don’t want your wedding.

After the responses started coming in, and endless late nights researching Pinterest, blogs, google reviews, trip advisor and anywhere else you can imagine, we chose our venue.  We decided on Masseria Potenti, in the town of Manduria, in Taranto, in Puglia, in Italy… hahah geography can also get confusing!  Maria and Chaira, the mother and daughter team who own the venue, were a dream to work with.  They were so kind to speak and write in English for me and really worked with what we wanted for our wedding. So now that we have the venue picked out, which is also going to take care of florals, decor and catering, what else is there?

(Planning a destination wedding extra credit tip: Try and learn the language.

I tried and I really didn’t get far enough to be fluent, but I think it’s nice even to be able to say you are learning.  I mean if someone came here from Italy and just started speaking Italian at me I wouldn’t understand them so I’m not entirely sure why we expect it to be the other way around?  Fortunately most other countries are taught multiple languages so it works, but you know what I’m saying.)

Planning a destination wedding tip #4: You can bring certain vendors with you!

And you probably should. Maybe you have found a photographer and you absolutely love their work, or them as a person.  Maybe it makes you a little nervous to hire someone for the day that you’ve never met before and worry about exactly what they are going to deliver. If so then I would recommend bringing your photographer/videographer with you.  Yes, you’ll have to cover their travel and accommodations, but to me it’s totally worth the peace of mind of knowing that you’re going to love your photos and who they are.

Ah. OUR photographers and videographers.

I’ll preface this by saying I know I am biased.  Buuuut honestly it’s hard to argue with the fact that your photos and video ARE the only thing you have after the wedding day is over, and to show to all the people who weren’t able to make the trip.  I knew this was the highest priority on our list from day 1.  I started researching photographers in the area we were getting married, but then I met Amii and Andy in person at a photography convention, and I just fell in love with them.  Amii + Andy Kauth own Sunshine & Reign Photography, and I knew there was no one else I wanted with me on that day.

Our videographer was a no brainer from day, like, negative 3 years, Elizabeth Caron of Elizabeth Eve Productions.  Elizabeth is also EXTREMELY talented but also so easy to work with. She has a vibrant, energetic, incredibly positive personality, just like Amii + Andy, and I knew I also wanted her to be the one hanging out with me all day.  She hired a second videographer from the area, Valerio Magliano, who was also so fun and easy to work with.

Planning a destination wedding tip #5: It’s worth it to hire a wedding planner.

So we actually did not do this.  I know, I know… what was I thinking?! I was across a whole ocean, had never been there, didn’t speak the language or have any contacts!  Ok the thing is I am a pretty low key person, pretty laid back for the most part.  To me I thought a wedding planner was an unnecessary expense because what can’t be found from a search on all the great blogs out there??

Turns out a lot.  I had a really hard time finding a DJ and hair and makeup team.

It wasn’t until I found a website similar to The Knot, but fully in Italian, that then I had to copy and paste into Google Translate, did I find the majority of vendors in our area.  Everything I was finding on the bigger more popular sites had vendors in bigger cities like Rome, which meant paying for transportation and accommodations.  Fortunately I had the time to sort through all of this, but had I known what I was in for I would have hired a wedding planner from the start.  I ended up with a fantastic hair and makeup team, and DJ, and even stumbled across an amazing Pizzica (the traditional music of the area) band, Scazzicapietti, that we had come in during the reception and surprise everyone!  But it was a lot of work to find them and again don’t forget- the communication isn’t the same as here, and don’t expect it to be!

Planning a destination wedding tip #6: You’ll save money, but you’ll spend money.

It would be a big mistake to go into planning a destination wedding thinking it will be cheaper because your guest count will be smaller.  You definitely can, but if you really want to make something special for your guests, who are most likely spending their one vacation a year on you, I think its a good idea to try to cover some of the costs of them being there.  We paid for the events we had scheduled, and yes, it made it more expensive, but actually still less than what we would have paid for a wedding of around 150 here.  I think it was a nice way to say thank you to everyone for spending the time and money to get to our wedding.

We also didn’t want to take for granted that people may have missed pay from work, paid babysitters, dog sitters, or even just used up precious vacation days.  So we really tried our best to cover what dinners and events we could.

To give you some possible ideas,  we planned a welcome dinner, a wine tasting, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.

But we also planned a “free” night for the guests so they had a night to do what they wanted without feeling bad about missing out on something we had planned.  An added bonus was that we got married the day before New Year’s Eve so most of our guests were able to stay and enjoy the AWESOME NYE party that Masseria Potenti put on.  It was so fun because really who wants to pack up and leave the day after a wedding, especially when the wedding doesn’t end until 1:00am?  Not these people, and it gave us a reason to extend the party a little longer!

Planning a destination wedding tip #6.5: Open a credit card with great travel rewards

This one doesn’t get it’s own number because you have to know yourself well enough to know whether or not you can be trusted with credit cards.  If you have the money to cover a lot of the wedding expenses, consider opening a card like the Chase Sapphire Business Credit Card, or even better the American Express Gold Charge Card (read: CHARGE CARD means you pay the balance in full every month).  These offer somewhere between 25,000 to 80,000 points for spending a couple of thousand dollars within the first couple months (easy enough to do when paying for a wedding) which can be enough points for a couple of plane tickets.  But again, if you are going to be paying hundreds of dollars in interest every month for a year, then no it’s not worth it.

Planning a destination wedding tip #7: A wedding is a wedding is a wedding but is not the marriage.

This might come partly from my being a wedding photographer, but I just have to say not to get too wrapped up in the idea or “vision” of your wedding.  Whether you’re getting married in Tahiti or Timbuktu, things might go wrong.  But please don’t forget that you are marrying your person, your best friend and that this one event does not define who you are as a couple.  As long as you both show up, do the damn thing,  eat, drink and be merry (and married!) it IS perfect.

So before this turns into a book, I’ll just say that I think the best reason to have a destination wedding is that you get all this extra time to spend with your guests.  Chances are (hopefully) your guests will make a vacation out of this experience.  They may not spend the whole time in the wedding location, but if they do spend a couple nights before the wedding then it affords you the opportunity to have some cool once in a lifetime experiences.

If you think I forgot any planning a destination wedding tips, comment below, I’d love to hear your feedback!  And now, enjoy some of my favorite photos from the week, and check out our highlight reel HERE!

All photos: Sunshine & Reign

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