Planning a wedding can be an overwhelming and expensive undertaking. From securing accommodations to finalizing the food and décor, there are details that can spiral into major setbacks if not organized properly.
While some are gung-ho about hosting their ceremonies close to home, many couples choose to take the party abroad and have a destination wedding instead, which brings its own host of problems.
According to the popular wedding website, The Knot, approximately 350,000 destination weddings occur each year.
Destination weddings allow couples to double-up on the experience and enjoy both a wedding and vacation all in one, alongside their most beloved friends and family.
But that beach-front fun comes at a cost. Couples have to put a lot of control in the hands of others as most of the time meeting physically with vendors, sampling the menu or seeing the destination venue up close is not an option due to proximity and monetary reasons.
Tara and Matt Soloway witnessed this stress first hand when they set out to plan their own destination wedding in Jamaica.
“I felt overwhelmed trying to pick the right destination and location and then navigate how all of our guests would get there, “ explains Tara Soloway.
This predicament lead the couple to found LUXE Destination Weddings, a boutique wedding firm that assists couples on everything from budget to event design.
According to Soloway, destination weddings are more popular than ever and continue to have increased interest year over year. The exact price of the wedding package is contingent on factors such as location, travel date and travel party size, which is why Soloway is wary of listing a specific dollar figure, but rather suggests establishing two budgets.
The first budget “is based on what they feel comfortable spending on the wedding day itself and the second budget is what they feel comfortable asking their guests to spend on travel,” says Soloway. After all, if you want the budget to be respected being honest about what you and your crew can afford is crucial, then price can be organized accordingly.
A 2017 survey of TripAdvisor travelers saw that of the 2,000 respondents, 40 per cent book their vacation rental stays six to twelve months in advance while an additional 34 per cent book their trips three to five months in advance, TripAdvisor’s Director of Communications, Laurel Greatrix, told Yahoo Canada Finance.
If you’re planning on a destination wedding, here are some tips, tricks and insights to consider before taking the plunge overseas.
Travel during the “sweet months” or low season
Often groups make travel arrangements during the winter so they don’t have to endure the cold, but because this is high season in travel, groups can expect the rates to be higher too. The summer will often be lower in costs, but as Soloway mentions, “it can also be the rainy season in certain locations.” Soloway says couples need to find the “sweet spot” which are the months of November and May. “We definitely find these months to be the most popular.”
Each location differs, so what may be a low season in one country may be the premium time to go in another. Knowing the weather conditions (including hurricane watches) is essential when planning.
The bigger the group, the bigger the discount (sometimes)
Traveling in groups can help when it comes to booking arrangement, especially because in many cases, the bigger the group, the more potential there is to get a group discount. After a travel budget has been determined, searching for group rates on flights, accommodations or on-site activities, for example, can help lower some of these costs. “Destination weddings tend to have smaller numbers due to travel logistics so this can be a key factor in making destination weddings more affordable,” says Soloway.
“Destination weddings tend to have smaller numbers due to travel logistics so this can be a key factor in making destination weddings more affordable,” adds Soloway.
Use apps to track and manage spending
“There are apps out there that allow the group to track and input what each person has spent on communally-used and purchased items such as taxis and groceries,” says Laurel Greatrix of TripAdvisor.
The buy and sell platform known as Tradesy can also be helpful since it allows users to scan through and purchase wedding attire or accessories which have been formerly worn by other users. Can’t afford a Vera Wang? How about a gently worn Vera Wang?
Read online reviews from other guests too so you can see recent feedback from those going through the same process. There’s a reason why peer reviews are so prevalent—people don’t hold back with their experiences or tips on saving.
Keep guests together
Some guests may be tempted to book their own travel accommodations in the hopes of getting a better deal, but Soloway says by doing this “there’s always the risk that there won’t be availability or prices may even increase.” She stresses to her clients that it’s important to “talk with their friends and family right from the start about what they feel comfortable spending, and using that to weigh into their decision about what to book.” Opting for a rental that doubles up as a wedding venue and a place for guests to stay can be cost-effective and convenient. If guests choose to stay elsewhere they may have to pay an extra fee to attend the ceremony at the hosted venue, which can be an unnecessary pain.
“You’ll be surprised how much value for money a large group can get, even for lavish properties,” explains Greatrix. “For example, this luxe Scottish mansion features world-class amenities like a theatre, indoor pool, gym, two kitchens, and even a private island, which averages around $22,630 a week, but at 13 bedrooms and a capacity of 32, it works out to a very affordable $101 per person, per night.”
Scale back and realize what you already have
Soloway emphasizes setting priorities on what’s imperative to include in the wedding ceremony.
“A couple who wants to prioritize the guest experience could scale back on their décor by bringing some items with them from home, which would free up a bit more room in their budget for that fire dancer show they’ve been dreaming of,” she explains.
“Other couples might really want to ramp up the wow factor on their décor, so they could opt to bring their own music for their reception rather than booking a DJ.”
A destination wedding doesn’t have to be out of country
It’s nice to fly overseas, but Soloway also recommends places in Canada that can accommodate wedding needs. She points to Vancouver Island (specifically Tofino at The Wickaninnish Inn), Newfoundland (such as Fogo Island) and Prince Edward County as three locations in Canada worth considering. “They’re still a bit of a destination but not necessarily a plane ride away.”
Beware of food and beverage charges
“One of the biggest misconceptions about a destination wedding is that if you host it at an all-inclusive resort, there won’t be any additional fees for any of the food and beverage details,” explains Soloway. “If you’re choosing this route, private events will incur additional fees that wouldn’t be covered in the all-inclusive package from the hotel.”
Making sure you know exactly what you and your guests are getting in terms of food and drink can make for a less frustrating and money draining experience. Some resorts or vacation rentals have accessible kitchens too so you can prepare a meal instead of spending more money out.
“Preparing even one meal a day in your kitchen can have a major impact on your overall spending, especially if you’re traveling with a group,” Greatrix adds.
Consider getting “married” ahead of time
There are certain service fees and requirements that come with getting married in a different country.
“Some countries require a blood test, which can only be done on location while other countries have a longer residency period, meaning couples would have to arrive ‘X’ number of days before they can have a legal wedding,” Soloway notes.
The latter requirement could mean that couples would need to accommodate their stay for longer, incurring more charges.
Often such fees are included in the overall price of the package, but it doesn’t hurt to see if you can avoid the added cost and instead opt to get all the paperwork and legal work done before the big trip. This way the destination wedding is all about the celebration with friends and family, and it could help make the honeymoon that much sweeter.
However, having a civil wedding at home and a symbolic wedding abroad may not sit well with all those guests who have to spend money and time to fly across the globe for a “party.”
Budgeting expenses for such an occasion is something that Brent Soucie, CPA, CA and VP of T.E. Wealth, helps clients do on a daily basis. Soucie, who eloped with his own wife, notes that oftentimes “parents will sponsor their children’s wedding” and regardless if you’re doing a traditional or destination wedding, “anticipating expenses, pricing things out before you commit and making a plan to save instead of spend,” are all important responsibilities to uphold before you get hitched.
“Financial independence is not rocket science, but you have to save more than you spend, or spend less than you think so you have something to save,” says Soucie.
If you’re interested in getting married abroad make sure to review requirements outlined on the Government of Canada’s website.
Most popular destination wedding locations
We asked representatives from travel websites Expedia and TripAdvisor as well as Tara Soloway from Luxe Destination Weddings to give us the six go-to locations people are seeking out to host their destination weddings. Here’s what they picked. (Photo via Greg Walters/Flickr)
No. 6: St. Lucia
St. Lucia is a breathtaking place for destination weddings, and places like Pigeon Island and Jade Mountain’s Celestial Terrace are among the selections to house intimate ceremonies, complete with picturesque scenery. St. James Club Morgan Bay is a definitive wedding venue with full-service offerings to check out. (Photo of St. James Club Morgan Bay via Facebook)
No. 5: Costa Rica
“Costa Rica has a bit more of an exotic appeal, which has definitely led the country to gain more attention,” says Tara Soloway, Luxe Destination Weddings. There are also a ton of activities to entertain including horseback riding and hiking. (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)
No. 4: Nicaragua
“Nicaragua has become more accessible for group travel thanks to an increase in flight and hotel options,” says Tara Soloway of Luxe Destination Weddings. (Photo via iaramburu/Flickr)
No. 3: Jamaica
This luxury home in Montego Bay is great for groups as it includes a pool, access to tennis courts and fitness centre, and full staff including a cook, butler, housekeepers and more. It averages around $11,700 a week, but at 9 bedrooms and a capacity of 18, it works out to $93 per person, per night. (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)
No. 2: Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is the second most popular spot for destination weddings, according to Mary Zajac from Expedia. “It’s popular because of the all-inclusive aspect, complete with wedding planners on site to help with any coordination.” (Photo courtesy of Luxe Destination Weddings)
No. 1: Mexico
This luxury home in Cabo doubles as a wedding venue, where the bride and groom can exchange vows in front of sweeping ocean views. With 12 bedrooms in total, a private infinity pool and access to the local resort, there is plenty of space for the bridal party and family to enjoy a vacation before, during and after the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)