How do you choose a wedding location when you and your love hail from opposite sides of America, made a living traveling the world, and your guests are arriving from every corner of the globe? That was our question when Jack and I got engaged last October (while abroad in Greece, of course!) Finding the perfect wedding destination was definitely a puzzle, but so much fun to solve.
To give you the low-down, I am from the Pacific Northwest, traveled the world from a young age, worked abroad for years in France and spent my entire adult life in NYC. Jack, my hunky future husband, is from the South, with family all over the country, a traveler too and has a huge crew of Texan pals in New York. I'm a Sagittarius, happy to wed anywhere (wedding on an Amazonian riverboat please?) and Jack is a Taurus, while super adventurous, he's far more decisive and considerate.
So how did we choose our perfect wedding destination? Here, I divulge our ten step process.
1. Eliminate Where You Don't Want To Get Married
As world travelers and a destination wedding photographer myself, we knew we wouldn't be “heading home” to get married. Coming from opposite sides of the country, it didn't make sense to favor one side of our family to the other. (Plus, Washington's weather is so tumultuous, and Texas really isn't quite “us”).
So we eliminated all the places our potential guests lived: the PNW, the South, NYC and Paris.
2. Determine Your Ideal Guest Count
Picking a destination is much easier when you know how many people you have to accommodate at potential venues. A larger wedding means you may need considerable space and more vendor help, ie an experienced larger hotel (which may cost more) or building a marquee space on a lot of land. If you're happy with an intimate wedding, you can more easily throw your party at your budget just about anywhere.
Jack and I made a “Must Invite” list and determined 40-50 guests was our dream wedding giving us the option to marry just about anywhere in our budget…
3. Ballpark Your Budget
This may come before step two, so you may want to do these in tangent, but the easiest way to narrow your search much is by knowing how much you can spend. Working within a tight budget? You certainly can get married anywhere, but flying to the Maldives may be a bit tougher than say, a road trip to the sea cliffs of Maine. Unlimited budget? Lucky you! The world is your oyster!
With wedding expertise and resourcefulness in my blood, I considered our budget quite reasonable. Even though I'm in the wedding biz, I really preferred to keep costs down for everyone; so I hope and plan to spend well below the national average.
In my experience, weddings outside of the USA are often much cheaper with a small guest count like ours. We set our sights on countries like Mexico, Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Morocco, (and even our beloved Vietnam!) and considered a “destination” wedding in California since only a few guests live in the Golden State.
4. Grab Your Globe – Where Will Your Guests Travel From?
If you're worried about whether your nearest and dearest will make it to your fête, take a look at the globe to see which destinations are equidistant to all of your beloveds. It will likely be impossible to make it equal for everyone, but there may be options that make it easy for the majority of your guests.
Important tip: just because a destination is geographically closer, it doesn't mean it takes less time to get there. Traveling from New York, I've ventured to weddings within the USA that took longer to get to (and were way more expensive) than most of my weddings in France!
Use tools like Rome2Rio to see how many different routes your guests can take to your favorite destinations. This will help you determine the ease of travel for everyone, given the number of options they may have by plane, train, car or boat.
For us, getting married in Europe would be just as easy for our largely New Yorker (& the handful of French) crowd as heading to the West Coast. However, my own family in the Northwest would have to travel far and pay much more for flights.
While with layovers traveling to the Baja could take up to ten hours from New York, Mexico seemed pretty reasonable price-wise for everyone in the States, but our European crowd may not make the trip. Vietnam was much too far, and flights to Morocco from everywhere in the States (besides NYC) was kind of a big ask.
5. Start Your Venue Research
By now you should have some favorite destinations, so start searching for wedding venues within your budget, and that fit your ideal guest count.
Italy and Mexico began to shine as the most logical options for our wedding crew. I started by browsing through Bridal Musings' Real Weddings in our countries of choice. As a gigantic Airbnb lover, I used the “Suitable for Events” filter to see which homes and villas could house 30-50 guests and host our event (see how to do this on our recent Airbnb Venue guide). I also searched on The Venue Report, a personal favorite wedding and travel site of mine.
Then there was the Google venue search madness. I like using the image search function, so you can quickly scroll through “wedding venues in Italy” and click the ones that “wow” you.
Being the Sagg that I am, I made a list of about 50-100 possible venues in Italy, Mexico and elsewhere in Europe that were within our budget, that could host our intimate wedding.
6. Narrow Your Favorites As A Team
While I'm super adventurous and can adapt to anything, Jack is far more decisive about what he likes (which helps so much!) We sat down, I showed him all of my selections: where they fit on the map, what they offered for our wedding, and the rest of the fabulous details.
Jack chose zero! Ha, sometimes that happens! Happy with the travel challenge (I love this stuff) back to the drawing board, I went. This time I knew more specifics about what we wanted, specifically more luxurious lodging. So many of our venue options were really rustic spaces which I love, but Jack wanted something a bit more special for our wedding, which is a compromise I am more than happy to make.
7. Which Destinations Offer A Variety Of Accommodation Options?
Brides and grooms, this is something as a guest, friend, bridal party member, and photographer I really would love for you to consider: which of your destinations offer a variety of accommodation options for your guests? I'm not talking “the ocean view suite vs the garden suite”, I'm talking convenient, luxe rooms at your venue, plus affordable Airbnb's nearby, plus other cities in the area that offer a range of hotel prices to choose from.
Your wedding should always be exactly what you two want as a couple and represent your personal story. And let's not forget, it's an invite, no one has to come! But if you're thinking about making your wedding less expensive for your guests and want as many people to come as possible, consider a destination that is affordable for that freelance friend who can't quite splurge these days.
I've been to a number of friends' weddings where the only option for lodging was $300+ a night, with 3-night minimum stay, so I stayed at a cheap motel a two-hour drive away. Often, I'm okay with splurging when it's a close friend or perfect opportunity for a vacation, but I do wonder if couples are really thinking of their guests' financial struggles to get to their party.
We considered this matter very carefully. If we married in rural Italy, we wanted a venue or Airbnb that we could afford to house most, if not all of our guests in order to share the financial burden. Otherwise, we wanted to throw our party in a town near a plethora of Airbnb's, hotels and bed and breakfasts – like a few of our favorite beach towns in Mexico.
8. What Activities Does Your Destination Offer?
Traveling far and wide, your guests will thank you for choosing a wedding destination that has plenty to offer to a variety of vacationers. Whether that be a tropical wedding with beach access and jungle adventures or wine and culture lover's retreat in Europe, if you're choosing an “out-of-the-way” location, make sure there's something for your guests to do after the “I do's”.
My family is from Croatia, and while Korcula is such a dream vacation to Jack and myself, we knew our New Yorkers might find the village of Blato a little too low-key and out of the way. So we stuck to more central destinations that offered a bit more activities for every kind of traveler.
9. Call Venues, Read Reviews, Stalk On Social Media
Now it's time to get deep on the Internet.
Look for any reviews on wedding forums, Google, travel review sites and Facebook to see what past couples have to say (and remember, often people only review when they're angry, but happy customers don't always chime in). Call your favorite venues to receive any brochures, ask for virtual tours on Facetime and all the relevant pricing information.
Google Image Search your venue to see if they pop up on any blogs, providing fresh, real wedding inspiration for the venue. My favorite way to find masses of photos of hotels and venues is searching location tags and hashtags on Instagram.
10. Go With Your Gut
So, which is really your favorite? Do any particular venues vibe with your wedding vision? Which destination feels right for the two of you?
I'm a dreamer so I could see us getting married anywhere, but Todos Santos, Mexico is special to the both of us. We want our wedding to feel like a ruckus party, and the idea of our favorite taqueria making fresh tortillas and street tacos on the beach in Mexico fits that image.
We figure most of our guests could feasibly travel to Mexico, and loads of super affordable lodging options exist on Airbnb within five minutes of the venue. Best of all, the Baja offers wild adventures for guests like us, and an easy-going beach trip for the more relaxed travelers.
And most importantly to me, Jack loved Villa Santa Cruz. I live for travel, so whenever I can get others excited about a destination I'm happy. The villa is the right amount of luxe for our wedding while allowing us to have a riotous fiesta.
Now embark on your search for the perfect wedding destination! Check our travel section and take inspiration from our real weddings around the globe. Still not sure if a destination wedding is right for you? Consider these factors to decide if you're meant to marry home or away.
Loving my Real Bride Diary? Read all about our Mexico wedding plans so far.