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How To Plan A Destination Wedding – The Planning Manual Part 1

There are entire sections in bookstores dedicated to destination weddings. My dear friend Lisa Light’s book, Destination Bride, can be found on There are stacks of magazines as tall as me on the subject of destination weddings, and i think it all boils down to five (5) very basic steps.  Yup, just 5.

In my former life as a Human Resources executive i wrote a lot  of manuals.  Training manuals, policy manuals, procedure manuals, sales manuals… a lot of manuals. And all manuals are constructed the same way: You have a purpose, a general outline, and key basic steps comprised of subsets and steps.  This is exactly how you plan a Destination Wedding.

One of the greatest dangers in planning a wedding is trying to  ’eat the elephant’ all in one bite.  Almost without exception, during the initial consultation call, the bride begins to spiral as she speaks.  She is suddenly speaking quickly and going in circles and jumping from point to point.    I then tell them to find a paper bag, put their head between their knees and breathe, and remind them how to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.  For this reason, I’m only going to provide steps 1 and 2 today.

All you brides who just found this blog:  You’re homework is to complete just step 1 and 2.  THEN you are allowed to pick up your fork and read steps 3, 4 and 5, which will be published in two days.

Without further ado,
I bring to you
Step one and step two

Step 1: Define Your Vision - Most destination brides will tell you that they want a “simple wedding where my friends and family can come and just have a great time”.   While that is the purpose of their vision, it isn’t really truly what their vision is.  The vision itself is crafted from the three dimensional details.  You will need to define your vision so that it can become three dimensional.

  • Determine your budget - this is the FIRST step of defining your vision, and absolutely everything else is predicated upon this.  I know it’s not romantic or sexy, but it’s true.  Guests costs money.  And unlike the weddings i’m used to in Philly, people do not bring envelopes to destination weddings.  Your guests are already paying to come to your destination of choice, so you are not going to recoup the costs like you would at a traditional wedding.  So, without worrying about the number of guests you’re inviting, you need to know how much money you have to spent.  Also, the hotel you’ll stay in, the types of tours you’ll take, the type of music that will play..everything depends on the budget.  Once you know your budget, then you can proceed to…
  • Pick A Date – from high season to low season to peak season, pricing in destinations can swing as much as 20%.  Since you know what your budget is, you can then select a date, and consider the season and costs associated with that choice
  • Figure Out Which Destination (country) – Figure out which destination YOU want.  Not your aunt, not your brothers gardener, not your mother.  YOU.  What do you and your fiance want for YOUR wedding.  Do you envision yourself standing at the foot of a water fall in the middle of the Maya mountains? Or perhaps you see yourself with your toes in the sand, and the sun on your face.  Maybe, your dream is to stand on an ancient Maya Temple.Prioritizing along the way, the choices of locations in the world quickly narrow down to a few smart choices in the world.  By balancing your budget, desires and the “VIP” guest list’s ability to travel with you, you will quickly come to a top 2 or 3 destination list.  Search the web about your choices, and read a little bit…but not too much!  Trust me on this if on nothing else: you will become VERY overwhelmed VERY quickly if you ‘over google’…and the above mentioned elephant soon becomes a mastodon.
  • Finalize Your Guest List - One of the many perks of a destination wedding is that you are significantly less obligated to invite everyone who is even remotely related to you or once met you when you were 3.  Even still, many destination brides find their invite list swelling to 100 or more.  As a general rule of thumb, in my experience, 50% of those you invite will come.  And you’ll be surprised who does, and does not, come.  For many people, now that they have a reason to take a vacation, do…next thing you know, Second Cousin Beatrice is coming with her service cat because it has always been her dream to go to Belize (or wherever).  The size of your invite count is the single largest determinant in your budget.

The last three points – Date, Destination, Guest List – form the TriFecta of your Destination Wedding Budget.  All other details and decisions are predicated on those three points, and they all work in concert.  The trick is to know how.  Which brings me to Step #2…

Step 2:  Determine the CreaterNow that you know where on the globe you want to get married, who will join you, and what you want to spend, you have to now decide “HOW”.  How is this destination wedding vision going to come to fruition? You have two, and only two, choices.

  1. On your own
  2. With Someone Else

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do go, and again, there are many variables such as size of your group.  But regardless, you will have to figure out many things about your destination in order to make an intelligent decision.  Remember, it is a whole different country, so there’s a lot to learn and know.  It’s safe to say you will spend many many many hours trying to piece your wedding together.   Making a destination wedding is a bit like creating a theatrical production -you need musicians, photography, caterers, tents, chairs, lighting, alcohol (of course!), and a limitless list of options.  With each option, and with each additional guest, you add a variable.  Each and every variable needs to be accounted for, tracked and managed in order to orchestrate a perfect production.

And you wont have a local cell phone.

The best piece of advice i can offer here is this:  If you chose to work with a destination manager like me, or a local wedding coordinator, make the conscious decision to trust that person.  In my case, I never send you a bill, and i do not charge you anything.   I receive commission from the hotels, tour operators, and transportation companies after you’ve gone, and i work with all of them in the entire country.   So, it matters not which vendors we chose, so long as they are the right vendors for you, creating the exact vision you defined and orchestrating the vacations of your guests.

The thing many destination couples often miss is not only is this your wedding, but it is also the hard earned vacation of your guests.   And absent a destination manager, every single one of their questions, desires, tour requests and needs will be directed at you.  What type of electricity? do they have cheerios in that country? are there yoga classes? will there be bugs? can i bring my pet hamster?  You’ve got enough on your plate what with getting married and all…, so i really dont understand why you’d want to own their vacations anyway.  Let me do that.

But for some, like me, all that is fun.   To those of you who prefer to go it alone: Good Luck To Ya!   I sorta thought the point of a destination wedding was to reduce the stress, not increase it.  I live here, it’s not hard for me, and since i don’t charge you anything i do have to wonder why you wouldn’t want to use my services, but hey…to each his wedding planning own!

Part 2 will be out in 2 days and will cover the following steps:

Step 3: Lay The Foundation  

Step 4: The Guests

Step 5: The Details

Belize Destination Wedding expert Lara Goldman from Romantic Travel Belize answers your questions, doles out useful advice and shares her opinion about... well, everything! Lara's unique perspective is a breath of fresh air and exactly what you're looking for whether just for advice or for full service event planning.
Click here for the list of Lara's columns.

How To Plan A Destination Wedding – The Planning Manual Part 1

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