Dreaming of a destination wedding? Who can blame you? There’s something so unique, special, and FUN about a wedding away from home, whether it’s a romantic European destination wedding or something tropical and exotic. However, as an Irish wedding planner with many years of experience creating dream destination weddings, I can tell you that they come with their own set of challenges. That’s why you need a clear destination wedding planning checklist to help you map out what needs to be done and when. Of course, you can adapt the advice below to your timeline and location, but this breakdown will get you headed in the right direction from the start!
Here is my ultimate destination wedding planning checklist:
12+ Months to Go
- Choose your date and destination. From an Irish destination wedding in a romantic castle to French villas and Italian lakeside palazzos, the possibilities are endless! Once you have a specific location or region in mind, check which seasons are best and pencil in a few possible dates.
- Work out your budget. Your budget will influence every other wedding planning decision, so it’s best to get this out of the way early on. While couples won’t normally pay for their guests’ travel, be sure to include your own travel expenses as well as extras like baggage allowances, currency exchange fees, and insurance.
- Draft a guest list. Your destination guest list can be as small as just you two or as large as you choose and can afford. Be realistic about how many of your guests you think will be willing to travel. It’s also a good idea to start collecting email and postal addresses.
- Hire a destination wedding planner. It’s a game-changer to have a seasoned professional on board and will make the whole process a much smoother and less stressful experience! They will also make it much easier to find the best local vendors.
- Research wedding venues. If possible, you should plan a trip to your destination so that you can view potential venues in person. It’s not essential, but it is also a great way to meet vendors and get a feel for your destination.
- Check legal marriage requirements in your location. Don’t leave this until the last minute! There can be a fair amount of admin to deal with, so the sooner you start gathering the necessary documentation, the better. For an Irish destination wedding, your marriage licence application must be submitted at least three months before your wedding date.
- Update your passports and travel visas. Another important thing to check is that your passports are current and that you have the necessary travel visas for your chosen destination. This is something you don’t want to have to worry about just before the wedding!
9-11 Months to Go
- Finalise your wedding venue and secure it with a deposit.
- Reserve your accommodation if hotel rooms are not included in your venue booking. You can also start researching accommodation options for guests or negotiating block bookings.
- Order and send your save the dates. It might seem early, but the more time you give guests to make plans and travel arrangements, the better. (And the more will be able to attend!)
- Buy your airline tickets. Buying flights early often means securing a better deal. And don’t forget to book time off work (including your honeymoon).
- Start looking for your wedding outfit. Take the location of your destination wedding ceremony into account and ensure that you will be able to transport it on an aeroplane.
- Choose your wedding party. Remind them to check their passports and travel visas too! You can also start looking at attire options, whether you’re buying them off-the-rack or having them custom-made.
- Create a wedding website. This is the best way to keep your guests informed about travel and transport, additional activities, COVID-19 regulations, etc.
6-8 Months to Go
- Finalise your vendors. By now, you should have most of them booked. Be sure to get everything in writing and read your contracts carefully.
- Order your wedding invitations. Be sure to include details of your wedding website so guests can get the most up-to-date information online!
- Start planning additional events. One of the best parts of a destination wedding is the pre- and post-wedding activities and events. This is where you get to spend quality time with your guests enjoying the location.
- Book wedding day transportation, if needed. Ideally, your wedding ceremony and reception will be at the same place but if travel is needed, set up a shuttle service for your guests. It’s also a good time to consider additional transport needs like airport and hotel transfers.
- Finalise your honeymoon plans.
3-5 Months to Go
- Send out your invitations. Have a system ready to start collecting RSVPs from your guests.
- Buy your wedding rings. This is also the time to cross any other accessories like shoes, veil and undergarments off your list.
- Finalise the menu. Work with your venue or caterer to create a menu that is seasonal, delicious, and that both of you (and your guests) will love!
1-2 Months to Go
- Have your final wedding dress fitting and prepare your outfits for travel.
- Plan welcome bags for your guests and purchase necessary items. (Do leave some room for a few local treats from your destination though!)
- Begin writing your wedding vows (if relevant) and finalise the details of your ceremony with the priest or celebrant.
- Confirm flight and hotel reservations.
- Get any necessary vaccines and health checks or documentation.
- Buy gifts for your wedding party and your fiancé.
- Double (triple!) check that all legal documentation has been prepared and/or submitted.
1-2 Weeks to Go
- Follow up the last few RSVPs and send the final headcount to your venue and caterer.
- Check travel arrangements for your wedding party and family so you know when everyone will arrive at the destination.
- Create a wedding day timeline and share it with your suppliers. (Your wedding planner will help with this!)
- Finalise your seating plan for the reception.
- Make full payment to your vendors.
The Last Few Days Before the Wedding
- Arrive at your destination ahead of your guests. Take this time to settle in, calm your nerves, and get over your jetlag, if you have any.
- Meet with your wedding planner to confirm any last-minute details, do a final walk-through at the venue, etc.
- Schedule your hair and makeup trials.
- Finalise any legal requirements for your marriage.
- Arrange for your welcome gifts to be delivered to the guests.
- Relax, enjoy the pre-wedding festivities, and get married!
I hope this destination wedding planning checklist has been helpful to you! But, of course, if you need more support for your destination wedding in Ireland and beyond, do get in touch!
Slán go Fóill,
Images by Lisa O’Dwyer