This post is sponsored by Basic Invite. All opinions are honest and my own.
Let me start out by saying that choosing to have a destination wedding with our closest friends was the best decision we’ve made during wedding planning.
First, a bit of background. Immediately after getting engaged, we focused on everyone around us. We tried to find locations with which everyone would be happy, but soon realized that it was an impossible task. Everyone had something to say about every detail we chose, something was wrong with every decision we made. Soon enough, our wedding wasn’t ours anymore, but everyone else’s. And planning became a dreadful chore. Once we hesitantly made the decision to have it in California wine country, thinking everyone would be able to make it there given it’s in the country and a location accessible to most. Once the naysayers came through on that as well, we took a step back, and went back to the drawing board. This time, to focus on us and what we wanted. And after exploring some options, really thinking about all the places we had been and fallen in love with, we decided on Santorini. And immediately, the excitement, joy, and the feeling of anxiousness to get the planning started flowing in, and I knew it was the right decision. Really thinking back, it’s hard to believe we were even considering other locations…Christian and I had discovered Santorini’s magic for the first time together, and remember saying that if we ended up getting married, this would be it…given this and how much we loved traveling together, a destination wedding in Santorini was the only thing that made sense! After finding out that our destination wedding was going to be less than half the cost of a wedding in the States, everything seemed to be falling into place. At first we were again worried about others, but came to terms with the facts: if people wanted to be at our wedding, they would find a way. We were giving them more than a year and half notice, after all. And it was our moment, so we needed to do what felt right, to us…
With the wedding approaching in less than four months, I found some things to be super helpful throughout the planning process, especially at the beginning. Looking back, I wish I had some wedding planning guidelines specific to destination weddings, and especially Santorini, to lead me in the right direction. Saying that there are a lot of information out there on wedding planning is an understatement, so I wanted to focus on destination/Santorini-specific details that proved to be important so far. I hope you find it helpful!
1. Hire a Wedding Planner
The very first thing you should do, after deciding on a location (not venue!) is hire a planner. Normally, I am a DIY-kind of person, and would have definitely done everything myself if we were keeping it on the States-side. But given all the logistics involved with planning something overseas, a planner local to the destination is a must! My planner, who’s in the same time zone, has the ability to go check things out on my behalf, plans Santorini weddings all the time, knows all the popular and unique venues and all the vendors and has a relationship with them, has been so helpful and a huge weight off my shoulders. She helped us find the location that’s perfect for our wedding size. Something else I found out is that a lot of venues reserve popular wedding days/dates for planners with whom they work. So if you do decide to do it yourself, which I would not recommend, you may not actually be able to get the venue you want, and on the day you want, without a planner. In choosing a planner, I used reviews on Google, WeddingWire, and recommendations from other brides on Santorini Wedding Facebook groups. All of them offered out-of-the-box packages that were a lot more budget-friendly when compared to the custom options. Furthermore, with packages that you get from wedding planners, at least in Santorini, you don’t have to pay as you go—you just make a deposit to your planner, and pay the rest when you arrive at your destination for the wedding. This gives you more time to save up, unlike local weddings that you have to pay for as you’re booking them…It’s a great perk that caught me by surprise!
2. Select an Out-of-the-Box Package
As far as the package, you will get a lot of different options from most planners, but they all fall into two big buckets: symbolic vs. not. If you don’t have a strong preference, I would highly suggest a symbolic one for a destination wedding, especially if it’s outside of the States/your own country. The reason is simple: logistics. If we had decided on a civil/religious ceremony, getting married for the first time at the wedding, then we would have had to translate all our documents to Greek (which adds hundreds of $$$ to the total), get the marriage license within the specific timeframe required (and also get that translated), pay more for someone that can legally perform a religious/civil ceremony, and have them mail all the paperwork back in time for it to be valid in the US. All this was a lot more money, work, and stress than getting married in court before or after the wedding, and having a symbolic ceremony. We chose to do it before, and a lot of couples may fear the loss of sentimental value of the ceremony, but it hasn’t diminished it at all for us, because we feel that a wedding is a celebration of our love in front of all our loved ones, not legal paperwork! 😊
3. Hire a Travel Agent
In addition to the wedding planner, you will also want to hire a travel agent. I know what you are thinking, and I agree: if you’re planning a destination wedding, you are most likely already a savvy traveler and the thought of an agent probably repulses you or makes you laugh. But hear me out: it’s not for you; it’s for your guests! (Even as a frequent traveler, I ended up booking with the agent at the end because of the deal. Just make sure to insure all your travel—so much can go wrong, you want to make sure you are protected!) Depending on your friends/family, some or most are probably inexperienced travelers, and possibly never have left the country. For those folks, it’s a good idea to have an agent that can book for them. Most agents work for commissions on hotels, cruises, etc. so that means no cost to you or your guests (make sure you ask during your initial consultation when you decide on the details). I booked mine using reviews on Google, Wedding Wire, and the Knot. Something else I found out is that agents usually go through a bigger booking company, which buys out a lot of the rooms in more popular accommodations. What this means is that the agent may be able to get rooms for you at hotels or resorts that seem to be “sold out” online or when you try to get it yourself. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these agents may not work with the exact hotel you are looking for, so if you have a strong preference, then discuss it with them during your consultation, before making a commitment to them. And also remember to have a couple of different options with varying price ranges if you’re not providing accommodations for your guests, especially if the wedding hotel is considered to be on the more luxurious or pricier side to the average person.
4 & 5. Manage Guest List and Invitations
After deciding on the planner and package, it’s time to figure out the guestlist, something that saved us quite a bit of money by doing a destination wedding. With the way destination weddings are set up, they tend to be much smaller than regular weddings, and involve a TON more planning. So inherently, due to the natural process that you go through planning a destination wedding, you already have an idea of exactly who is coming way before you send out your invitations. At least, that’s how it worked out for us! As soon as we had decided on the location and the date, we came up with a list of people we wanted to invite and reached out to them. From their immediate reaction, we knew who was in and who was out!
So basically, we ended up sending an informal save-the-date electronically, and by the time it was time to send the invites, we knew exactly who was coming based on who had already booked hotels and flights. When it was time, we got our invites from BasicInvites.com. With almost unlimited colors (180 different options) with instant previews online, it was extremely customizable and we were able to get the card exactly how we wanted it – down to the littlest detail – to match our shades of blue, white, and silver theme. With the free Address Collection Service, the site took the stress of collecting addresses from me and enabled the guests to complete a simple form. With everything else going and having so much to figure out, I was very thankful for all the help!
For our main invites, I decided to go with their new clear collection, combined with regular colored inserts to wrap up the theme. They turned out so beautiful, romantic, and on point with the theme colors and the destination. The pre-labeled addresses on the envelopes added an amazing professional touch, and Basic Invite made it so easy with all the matching stationary (coasters, keepsake guest books, etc.) for a complete and cohesive look.
So that’s it—these are my most important tips to get you started on planning your dream destination wedding! What did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!