Things I have learned Planning my Destination Wedding

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Planning a destination wedding is not easy. It is even more challenging when the destination wedding is outside of the US. After my own experiences planning our wedding in Puerto Rico, I realized having a destination wedding was the best decision we could have made. There are so many details to be aware of that I was glad my wife and I had a checklist. Since I have had first-hand experience, I wanted to share my story to help others planning destination weddings. As a wedding photographer, I have heard many stories, but I learned the most in planning my own. Here are my top 4 tips for destination wedding planning.
Hopefully, these collected stories of destination weddings can help you as you plan your own amazing wedding getaway.

Tip 1: Trust the Local Expert’s Personality Connection:

We had our wedding at the San Juan Marriott on the famous Condado Beach, which is not too far from old San Juan. Marriott has wedding and event coordinators on staff, and we certainly were grateful for their help. Their professional wedding staff helped us to find all the local vendors we needed. (Except for the photographer of course.) Finding a photographer was pretty easy for us and we’re so happy we chose him. Our personalities and values were aligned and we felt like he had a very clear understanding of our vision for the day.
Aside from the personal relationship with your destination wedding photographer, trust the locals to help you with your planning. They will be able to help you get in touch with professionals who know the area, know the space you’re celebrating in, and the know-how to plan the party. Put your faith in the local professionals.

Tip 2: Know the Marriage License Requirements

One of the real concerns in planning our destination wedding was the marriage license. Puerto Rico has certain marriage licensing requirements, and this can really put a damper on the wedding if you don’t follow the rules. Thankfully we had guidance and didn’t have any snags! One of the trickiest parts of receiving the license is medical information.
“Medical certification that meets all the tests required for marriage in their place of residence. Such a certificate will be valid for a period of ten (10) days from their expedition. After 10 days, the couple will have to get a new certification to get married.” This tight turnaround was so important to know ahead of time! My wife and I had our blood test taken in NYC and we sent the records to our contact in Puerto Rico. That way, when we arrived 4 days prior to the wedding, we were able to complete the form.
Whatever country you’re planning to marry in, make sure you research the licensing requirements and dates ahead of time. That way, there are no surprises! The wedding planners at your specific resorts or venues will traditionally have this information readily available.

Tip 3: Be A Savvy Travelers

I have heard a lot of stories about traveling with a wedding dress. When it came to our experience, we ran into a small issue. I had spoken to the manager of the TSA and explained we were traveling with a wedding dress. He stated that we could walk through. But, when going through the security screening, another agent said we had to put the dress on the belt. This agent was very pushy and said the garment could not be held and walked through the scanner. So, reluctantly, my wife put the dress on the belt. The agent was literally shoving the dress through the scanner to go through the x-ray! I had to tell him to stop and called for the manager.

What can you take away from this experience?

  • First, make sure that your dress is well packaged in its garment bag. The wedding garment bags that come from bridal salons are heavy-duty, but make sure to gently fold any delicate lace or tulle to be ready for the overhead compartment.
  • Secondly, arrive in plenty of time for your flight. International flights have longer and more rigorous security checks.
  • Most importantly, make sure that your gown is clearly labeled with your name and address. Just in case.
Here is a great blog post from Alaska Airlines about how to travel with your wedding gown.
Keep in mind the restrictions of other items that you can and can’t travel with on international flights. Make sure that you remember the 3oz restriction for liquids in your carry-on bags! This is especially important for your wedding day makeup items and hair care products. When in doubt, check it in the bag.
A mother who helped her daughter plan an international destination wedding wrote an amazingly informative post on Trip Advisor. Here is an excerpt of her tips for handling customs:
“Learn the customs restrictions for your destination. In Mexico, for instance, there is a ban on items from China being brought into the country for resale. If you get the wrong customs agent, the number of items you are carrying for a wedding could be misinterpreted this way. Most nations are happy to see brides come to their country for a wedding but be prepared for the agent who is having a bad day. Chances are that you will breeze through customs, but bring receipts, cover or cut out labels that could be suspect, and be prepared to answer questions.”
Consider having your ceremony and reception items and favors shipped directly to the venue. Or, split the items across members of your family or bridal party. Just make sure that you are planning ahead to ensure all of the important parts of your wedding day make it there on time!

Tip 4: Handling the “Who Pays for What? “ Dilemma

Of course, with our wedding, there was a big discussion about should we pay for the hotel and flights for the wedding party. Well… that is a big topic. Since we had a small wedding party, we paid for the rooms for both the Maid of honor and Best Man. There is no single rule on the etiquette of this: it all depends on how close you are to some folks.
One thing you can do to help your guests with costs is to talk to the hotel about blocks of rooms. We worked out a deal with the hotel to receive a 20% off room rate if we booked a certain number of rooms. Hotel discounts for multiple rooms are not uncommon, but what you might not know is that you can also negotiate a discount with specific airlines. AA, Jetblue, and Delta all have opportunities for discounts when there are many people purchasing tickets. Call your favorite airline carrier for more details.
And for some helpful information on “Who Pays For What” here is a great article from the Knot:
After five days of wedding events for our destination wedding, (family dinners, bridal dinners, rehearsal dinner, wedding, and thank-you brunch) all 64 of our closest friends and family had a blast. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. But at the end of the day, it was worth it.
A destination wedding is not for everyone but when you love to travel and experience the food and culture of another country, there is nothing like it. I hope that these planning tips help you as you build your beautiful day.