This Bride Had The Most Beautiful Destination Wedding — Here's How To Plan Your Own
Planning a wedding is an unforgettable experience and can lay the foundation to one of the most exciting milestones of a couple’s journey together in life, if not *the* milestone.
Between the surge of endorphins of a proposal that sweeps you both into an unreal level of romance to the non-stop swarm of loving messages from family and friends, the timespan from proposal to wedding day can truly feel like a fairytale. My favorite part? The giddy “OMG”s shrieked each time you look down or pass a mirror and catch a glimpse of your hand with its shiny new companion. A bit less magical than rocking your dreamy new ring, however, is taking on the ever-daunting task of bringing every detail of your dream wedding to life.
For years, whether it’s on Pinterest, Instagram, or scribbled in a weathered journal you kept from younger years, most romantics like myself have kept a tally of what their wedding would one day look like. And before you know it, it’s time to shift from casually pinning and saving ideas to hitting the ground running IRL. From narrowing down the perfect location and tablescapes to finding the ultimate dress (or two!), curating the moving parts to your wedding is a process you’ll want every bit of advice and wisdom that you can get your (newly shimmery) hands on.
Should you decide to take the exciting leap of celebrating your wedding abroad, the online search for diving into everything from venue options, foreign cultural traditions, language barriers, and more can feel endless. At times, there may even be a lack of information (or translated equivalents) that will leave you scouring message boards or other online forums for other couples who have been in your shoes. But fret not — there are plenty of brides who have perfected their big day in beautiful, exotic locations across the globe. Whether it’s a gorgeous Mediterranean gathering, an island-inspired bohemian escape, or any dreamy vision in between, I’m here to tell you that with the right tips at hand, you can make your wedding abroad come to life — without blowing your budget— embellished with equal parts adventure and unforgettable bliss.
How To Plan A Destination Wedding In 2023
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For our wedding day — or rather, week of celebrations — we selected Bodrum, Turkey as our destination. With family members traveling from the US, Europe, and the Middle East, this beautiful coastal town on the Turkish riviera made for the perfect backdrop to our international guest list. Think royal blue Aegean waters, picturesque Mediterranean islands, and white sailboats floating in the distance. Not to mention, we loved the excuse to provide (and strongly advocate for) an unforgettable vacation for everyone we love in a gorgeous, exotic destination. Here are ten things I learned from planning my wedding abroad!
1. Your Fantasy Location Might Not Be Your Final Choice
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While gathering initial inspiration for your wedding abroad, you may be dead-set on a popular location that you’ve spent years gushing over photos of online. However, many top destinations are now pricier or have limited in availability due to high exposure online and increased demand from new international appeal. In addition to reaching out to those top favorites on your venue wishlist, I recommend taking a look at lesser known destinations in the same country or region you’re interested in. By doing research beyond viral locations, you can find amazing hidden gems that feature the same landscape or cultural elements, but at a more affordable price. Plus, you provide a more custom experience than some of the “cookie-cutter” types of plans that are routinely repeated for weddings at larger venues in high demand.
When selecting Turkey as the destination for our wedding abroad, we initially thought Istanbul was the obvious choice for a venue. However, once taking a closer look at other lesser known, gorgeous locations along the Turkish coast, we discovered that basing our wedding in the luxurious beach town of Bodrum would mean less hustle and bustle of the capital city and a more peaceful, laid back experience. Our wedding planner, who was based locally in Bodrum, could easily coordinate everything needed for our special day in town. By bypassing excessively popular venue options in Istanbul and opting for a more “hidden gem” feel in Bodrum, our wedding party was able to all stay within walking distance (or a short cab ride away!) to everywhere we included in our lineup of events, eliminating the stress of getting in and out of a larger city. During the entirety of our stay in Bodrum, we experienced five star service and treatment from everyone from hotel concierge to taxi drivers to the owner of the restaurant where we hosted our Rehearsal Dinner. The small town feel made it feel like we, as Bride and Groom, were the talk of the town, with everyone itching to show us just how amazing local hospitality could be – and boy did they succeed!
Pro tip: Reach out to friends, family or your extended network for those who've traveled in/around the country you have in mind for your wedding. They might have a personal take on a stunning location to keep in mind that’s lesser known to tourists.
2. Choose A Home Base For Your Crew & Festivities
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The best way to offer a seamless experience at your wedding destination is to have a hotel and/or resort as the “home base” for your friends and family to all enjoy each other's company in one place. By selecting a clean, comfortable, and quality uniform accommodations for everyone in your party, you can simplify the process of coordinating plans to see one another, address incoming questions about events and in general keep things much smoother having everyone at the same place. Plus, it allows your guests to get cozy and socialize with one another while you’re on bride and groom duty.
In having the majority of our guests stay at the same resort (including us!), we were able to see everyone conveniently, get quality time by the pool or the beach, as well as refer everyone to the same on-site eateries for meals, drinks, and more. Our absolute favorite part of our wedding experience abroad was being able to essentially “live” with our loved ones gathered all in one place for almost a week, enjoying daily Turkish breakfasts along seaside views and seeing our guests leisurely enjoy the amenities of the resort, without the stress, confusion or separation of everyone at different hotels.
The concierge at the hotel is also highly aware of — and often prioritizes — larger bookings and parties, so they're equipped and ready with information to guide your guests on local tips, recommendations and information for getting around town. And of course, a financial perk is that with a large group accommodation, you should be able to negotiate a great discount on standard rates for rooms, suites and villas. Trust me – as bride and groom, you’ve earned the villa!
Pro tip: Design and send over a stylish itinerary for the hotel staff to print + place inside each of your guests’ rooms along with an optional souvenir to serve as a warm welcome for your family and friends. They can refer to the itinerary for all event information from date, time, location, and dress code for all of your wedding events.
3. A Wedding Planner (+ Odd Planning Hours) Are Non-Negotiable
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Even the most buttoned up brides will need the assistance of a wedding planner for their international nuptials. Between possible language barriers, cultural customs, and a close-knit local network of vendors that are much less visible to the social media eye, having a wedding planner based in your destination who's familiar with the local community is truly non-negotiable if you’re based in the States. While some couples might start their wedding planning journey by seeking a wedding planner first, followed by landing ceremony and reception venue(s), we started our wedding planning by securing our dream venue and resort (same place!) first and foremost. After that, we got wedding planner recommendations from the venue manager — this way, the venue team had a set recommendation for a wedding planner who had worked on their property before and was familiar with the in’s and out’s of what would work best on-site according to our ceremony and reception visions. We worked with the amazing Eda Kanitürk of @edavecicekleri to bring our dream wedding vision to life. Once your wedding planner and venue are locked in, it truly opens up the rest of the process in such a fun way, with your planner at your (virtual) side to guide you through the rest of details, choices, and approvals.
Keep in mind that with English as their second, third, or even fourth language, there will likely be a need to over communicate and clarify exactly what you’re looking for. Visuals, mood boards, and video examples are key in communicating your vision and helping your planner understand your style and taste fully, beyond any language and cultural differences. From tablescapes and floral arrangements to music and unique decor, it's absolutely crucial as a bride to share as much inspiration as possible with your planner so that you can feel confident knowing that when you wake up and walk down the aisle on your big day, that any misunderstandings will be minimized thanks to a thorough planning process.
In respect to the expected time zone differences between you and your wedding planner, expect early mornings, late nights, and weekends as opportune moments to schedule calls and check-ins. Frequent weekly check-ins with your planner in the beginning of the process are imperative to lay out the foundation of your wedding, share all of the inspiration, and get key vendors locked in and approved. In the few weeks leading up to the wedding, cue up any last check-ins about once a week to seal all of the final details and plan for in-person meetings preceding the wedding, once you are planning to finally land in your destination abroad. After months of planning, it was such an exciting moment to meet our planner in person in Turkey and have her assist on site throughout all of our celebrations, leaving us stress free and in pure wedding bliss.
Pro tip: Communicating via WhatsApp was an extremely useful tool for us, as we were able to text over questions as they were top of mind to us and have our planner address them via text or on our many thorough calls. We were able to share much of our visual inspiration by sending photos this way as well!
4. Vendor Choices Will Be More Limited (But That Might Be a Good Thing!)
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In executing the vision for your perfect wedding, choosing your vendors is such a critical piece of the puzzle. From the wedding cake to the DJ to hair and makeup, it can be overwhelming to narrow down a competitive market and compare quotes, offerings and style differences between them all. However, one ironic perk of planning a wedding abroad is actually having fewer choices at your fingertips for vendors. While it seems counterintuitive, the classic saying “less is more” comes to mind. In my experience, it was surprisingly refreshing to have our wedding planner only present 2-3 options for key vendors for floral, cake, hair, makeup, and DJ options.
As someone who absolutely loves the challenge of scouring online profiles and reviews of local vendors, it was far less stressful to have the options narrowed down for me right off the bat, due to a naturally smaller pool of wedding industry services in Turkey. By only having a few options to choose from, it allowed me to focus on the ones at hand and truthfully let go of the micro-managing I tend to feel Stateside. With a language barrier between myself and most of the vendors, I leaned heavily on my visual examples to speak for themselves, and it worked!
The most interesting part of the puzzle? Choosing our reception menu without being able to have a tasting on-site in Turkey. As a giant foodie, this was laughably the biggest surprise to myself and my then-fiance, who could see that I was enjoying the process of letting go and trusting that everything would be perfect, despite such little differences in planning abroad. In the end, the food was to die for and everyone in our party raved about it!
A stark reality of planning a wedding abroad is realizing how over-the-top the industry can be in the United States, with so many overpriced options and fluff around certain services. Choosing from only 2-3 makeup artists, hair stylists, cake options, DJs, etc, quickened the process and allowed me to freely focus on the big picture of how our wedding day was going to *feel* for everyone there. It taught me the art of letting go and trusting the process, which I (and the rest of any type-A brides out there!) will be forever grateful for.
5. Your Guest Count Will Likely Be Lower (In A Beautiful And Intimate Way)
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Much like expectations for your vendor pool, your expectations regarding the guest list and overall turnout will realistically be much lower for a wedding abroad. Even with the closest of friends and family members, it's great etiquette to keep in mind that there will be likely less of those invited who are able to make the lengthy trip, depending on the location, logistics, time off, personal, and work projects, etc. While it was naturally ideal for us to hope that every single person invited would tag along and take part of our big day, we were very understanding with all of our guests who had valid reasons as to why they couldn’t travel to across the globe, despite their loving wishes and happy blessings. Our wedding party happily turned out to be a close-knit family affair, with over 80 guests and relatives attending – many of whom we hadn’t seen in over twenty years. For this reason, the tighter and more intimate setting and guest count allowed us to truly connect with our loved ones in a way we’ll never forget. And for those friends who did make the journey to celebrate us, it created a new level of gratitude.
Pro tip: Since those family and friends who can’t attend your wedding abroad are still eager to celebrate you as Bride and Groom, seize the opportunity and host an amazing pre- or post- party celebrating your nuptials in an easier-to-access location where people can easily gather and you can enjoy a mini wedding with your Stateside crew! With my family based in Miami, we invited our closest friends for a beautiful pre-wedding dinner party under the stars, followed by a mini Bachelorette weekend to kill two birds with one stone! This weekend getaway was a fantastic way to make the most of everyone’s time who had traveled to be in Miami, knowing they wouldn’t be able to make it to Turkey. It was a hit and one of the most memorable moments of our pre-marriage season!
6. Embrace Local Cultural Traditions + Educate Your Planner On Your Own
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Just as food, fashion, language, and landscapes vary from place to place, wedding culture and customs in each country are heavily influenced by years of tradition and spiritual practice worldwide. While there’s every wedding style under the sun in the States, you may encounter or more streamlined or one-way tradition when conducting weddings abroad. First and foremost, it’s an important distinction to consider your wedding abroad to be a symbolic — meaning it's non-legally binding in that country. That way, a lot of the paperwork is avoided in the destination of your choice and you can focus on keeping the ceremony and reception purely as a celebratory event. That being said, in order to make your marriage legal back in the States, you'll have to take the steps and carry out a legal ceremony either before or after your wedding abroad.
When it comes to popular Stateside wedding practices, you might have to map out, educate, and provide your planner with visual examples of certain customs that are second nature to American wedding planners. Elements like a bouquet toss, cake cutting, first dances, and parent dances aren’t things you can assume your wedding planner will include, so make sure to clearly outline which American wedding traditions (or others!) you’ll want to highlight on your special day.
In planning our wedding in Turkey, we had to take a few key details into our own hands like asking our some of our favorite family members to serve as the officiant during our ceremony and the emcee/announcer during our reception, as officiants aren't a traditional part of weddings in Turkey and our DJ — like many vendors — wasn't comfortable speaking English. These quirks made us great problem solvers and allowed us to get our family and friends involved with heartfelt favors that made our vision come to life on an even more personal level.
Additionally, we wanted to complement our reception set up with a traditional Sofreh Aghd, a Persian wedding table bedazzled with items meant to bless the bride and groom on their union, including sweets, candles, fresh flowers, mirrors, and more. It was important for me to walk through each step in curating the Sofreh Aghd with our wedding planner and send her the exact inspiration and details to work off of in gathering the items locally. Thanks to our endless chats, her resourcefulness in Turkey and her general amazing taste, the Sofreh turned out even more beautifully than I ever imagined.
7. Your Money Will Go Much Further
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A popular reason many couples dip their toes into planning their wedding abroad is not only the allure of an exotic backdrop, but the fantastic perk of knowing that your dollar will often stretch much further in other countries when it comes to paying for a wedding. Where the industry in America is inflated beyond belief, the market abroad can be very humble with offering truly luxurious locations, services, and planning at a much lower price.
To clarify, the picture-perfect wedding of your dreams will likely still cost you a pretty penny abroad, but the amount will likely be significantly lower overall in comparison to mimicking the same setup you have in mind in the States. This financial benefit can influence everything from getting a five star hotel or resort experience at half the price that you’d pay in the US, to the ability to deck out your venue with a deluxe variety of floral arrangements at a much lower price point. With a bit more wiggle room in your budget, you may have the option of adding unique little touches to your event that make your guests feel truly special such as a small gift, covered meals, or other little mementos that show how much you appreciate them making the journey to celebrate you.
For us, having our wedding in Turkey allowed us to give our entire party a five star experience at a seaside resort with daily complimentary breakfast — and I’m not talking about a sad muffin and orange juice, because it was a full on over-the-top traditional Turkish breakfast served daily! And if you're a numbers person, I have the receipts to prove my destination wedding was a huge savings!
- $6,000 included ALL wedding planning services from our planner and all florals, decor, and tablescape items for the wedding ceremony and reception. In my local area, wedding planner services are at ~$5-10K alone, and florals at $2-5K. I feel like this is really where we got the biggest bang for our buck and got the look and services we wanted for half the price!
- $20,000 for combined resort and venue cost covering 3 locations on the property for 3 separate events, also including all appetizers, dinner, cake + unlimited alcohol/open bar at our wedding. In my research, a similarly plated multi-course dinner alone would be ~$15-30K, and coastal/waterfront venue rental for something similar to ours would be $10K+
- $500 for bridal hair and makeup, which would usually go for $1-2k.
Pro tip: Consider your now-expanded budget an opportunity to host 1-2 additional events or gatherings beyond the wedding day to make your guests who have traveled feel truly special. We hosted a Welcome Party complete with a fully catered traditional Turkish feast and a cultural ceremony the day after our wedding that highlighted dance, music and you guessed it – another delicious feast for everyone to remember forever. Hosting three back-to-back gatherings was something we never would have been able to afford in the US, so it was our pleasure to spend a bit of our carved out funds on our guests who traveled far and wide to be with us. Plus, who doesn’t love multiple bridal looks to shop for! 😉
8. Your Honeymoon Just Got Cheaper
Just like most couples who find the thrill in traveling and exploring new territory together, planning our honeymoon was the most exciting pay-off of the wedding planning process. Knowing we’d be able to keep the party going and experience our first week together as husband and wife on our honeymoon was thrilling. While many modern couples are deciding to push their honeymoon out to cater to work schedules, or just to get a breather after bringing your monumental moment to life, we decided to keep it old school and dive right into ours!
By basing your wedding abroad, you'll be in a much better position to purchase affordable plane tickets and hop right over to your honeymoon destination if it’s in reasonable proximity to your wedding destination. From Turkey, we were easily able to hop on our plane to Spain and Italy, where we sipped, ate and vacationed our way in newlywed bliss. Not only did our entire spend on plane tickets for our entire trip pre and post wedding add up to much less than starting off Stateside, but we also enjoyed the nice perk of having already adjusted to the European time zones so we could be active without worrying about the jet lag crash!
Some couples might opt for staying put at their wedding destination abroad for their honeymoon, as they bid adieu to beloved wedding guests and enjoy some romantic R&R without the buzz of friends and family around. If you’re already in love with the resort or hotel you’ve made yourself home at for the wedding, why not just extend your stay and get a super relaxing honeymoon without the hustle and bustle of any further travel?
Pro tip: Book your travels on a mult-city plan from the airline you fly the majority of your trips with. You’ll not only save money by letting their algorithms place together all the legs of your trip in one fell swoop, but also lots of time in honeymoon planning, which post-wedding organizing, is the best gift of all. We used Turkish Airlines for our combined travel to and from Turkey, Spain, Italy and the US.
9. Post-Wedding Logistics Are Important
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Perhaps the most important and overlooked element of all is what happens AFTER your wedding. While a Stateside wedding might mean being closer to home or able to cater to the logistics of where decor, gifts, wardrobe, and other details will be kept once the party’s over, it’s a much more crucial process to plan this portion of your wedding out if taking place abroad.
Everything from your formal dress(es), tuxedos, and suits to thoughtful gifts, jewelry, or new funds from loving family and friends must be safely transported back to the US. Without a car or an option to leave and pick up anything at a later time, it was a very key part of the process for us to research dollar limit amounts and pre-plan packing logistics for how to get these important items back home. Not to mention, we had a whole honeymoon’s worth of travel ahead of us, and we didn't want the pressure of holding on to these irreplaceable items!
Your family is the most trustworthy, and if you’ve got a close relative who lives nearby back home, it’s best to give them an important heads up and ask if they're willing to help by transporting items back home with them until you make it back yourself. For us, we planned ahead and brought one extra compact carry on each, where we’d plan to place my wedding dress (gently rolled up!), my husband’s tuxedo (again, rolled up in a designated suit carrier), as well as any physical gifts we received and could safely pack alongside. Two of our relatives who live close by to us in California were happy to assist as they were traveling directly back home after the wedding in Turkey and upon arrival from our honeymoon, we were able to retrieve our items. It was a foolproof system, but only because we planned ahead and reached out for assistance ahead of time so they knew what the plan was.
As far as any financial gifts, we wanted to avoid having any physical forms of money gifted to us at the wedding so we didn't have to carry it or deposit it into our accounts while abroad, so we offered our guests the convenient option of donating to our Honeymoon Fund on our wedding website. This was definitely the easiest way to go, and highly recommended for anyone else planning their big day to not only use this digital feature, but also take advantage of creating a free wedding website to fill your invited loved ones with all of the exciting details!
10. The Best Part: It Will Feel Like A Vacation!
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Of course, *the* key element that drives the dream of hosting a wedding abroad in a gorgeous setting is providing yourselves and your favorite people with a trip of a lifetime. For those with families spread out across the globe (or the US!), inviting beloved family and friends to celebrate this exciting milestone all together in one exotic place is an irresistible opportunity to reunite and enjoy a vacation as one big, amazing group. For those with to-be-spouses with the majority of family in faraway places, it also is a heartfelt way of making it easier for his/her family members to attend without worrying about the extensive costs of a ticket to the US.
By choosing Turkey, we were able to embrace all of our family members from the US, Europe, and the Middle East in a central location and spark a reason to drop their daily routine and meet for a momentous occasion, all while enjoying a vacation of a lifetime by the sparkling Aegean Sea. Witnessing the looks of relaxation, happiness and joy on everyone’s faces amidst beach-side breakfasts, festive outbursts of dance and song and zen-laced moments on strolls around town were the greatest gift of all. Knowing that a wedding abroad was not only centered on our union as one, but our family’s ability to reunite made us like all of the extensive planning was worth every last drop.
Pro tip: Given the climate of each location will vary, keep a close eye on the typical seasonal weather around the time of year you’re aiming for your wedding to take place and consider that the temperature and daily forecasts will have a large impact on the comfort of you and your party upon visiting. From wind to rain to above or below average temperatures, it’s wise to ask your planner first thing in the process to advise the optimal times of year to host your wedding and avoid any unfriendly weather conditions as best as possible.
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If you’re thinking of planning your wedding and the idea of doing it abroad is intriguing to you and your future spouse, take this as your sign to go for it and don’t look back! It’s a bold decision to depart from the norm and think outside of the box. You might be met with resistance from your families, but I promise you that if you follow your heart, everyone will be absolutely amazed once it all unfolds on that special day. Whether it’s 10,000 or 10 miles away, there’s a magical place that has your name (+ future new last name!) written all over it. Happy planning, bride!
Photography courtesy of @niceofwedding.