Planning a Destination Wedding
First, we want to congratulate to everyone who recently got engaged over the holidays! We are kicking off the year talking about destination weddings and sharing our interview with our friend, Sara Johnson. Sara gave us some great insight into what it was like to decide on having a destination wedding and the details that went into making it come together. If you think you might want to have a destination wedding, read on to see what you might need to plan for!
SE: Thank you so much for talking with us Sara! When and how did you and Jarrod decide to plan a destination wedding?
SJ: Jarrod & I decided to plan a destination wedding almost a year before we got engaged.
SJ: I know! We did that for a couple reasons. First, Jarrod used to be a DJ, so he was constantly seeing people drop tens of thousands of dollars on an event that didn't even last a full 24 hours. The idea of that didn’t sit well with us. It often appeared like everything was so rushed and the couple didn't always get to enjoy their guests. We, however, are people people! It was important to us to be able to spend time with our friends and family and actually enjoy them at our wedding. They are also the ones who would keep us accountable in our marriage, so we wanted them to have more involvement than just attending an event for a few hours.
Second, we didn't have a bunch of money to spend. So we decided that if we were going to spend money on our wedding, would rather have a week-long party with our friends and family rather than a short event where we felt rushed in every aspect of it.
SE: We know that guests at a destination wedding usually spend significantly more than at a local wedding. What reaction did your families have when you told them?
SJ: Right. That is another reason we planned so far in advance. We wanted to make sure that everyone was on board with our idea and would have plenty of time to plan. Our families were just as excited as we were about the idea, so we were even more excited to start getting our friends on board!
SE: You said you didn't have a bunch of money to spend, but it seems like a destination wedding could easily be more expensive than one at home. What was your budget & how did you manage it?
SJ: We had a budget of $10,000 and ended up spending around $13,000. It was critical for us to have our family there, so we ended up paying for some members to come who couldn’t afford it. Look around for deals. It might take some time & effort, but trust me, you can find them. When we booked through our travel agent, they gave us certain pricing and said they couldn’t go any lower. We looked them up on Groupon and found a lower rate, so we called them out on it and ended up getting the Groupon rate.
SE: Relatively speaking, that is a low budget. What did that include?
SJ: Everything - my dress, our travel and hotel for the week, as well as another week for our honeymoon, flowers and makeup. Our budget literally covered everything.
SE: That’s incredible! Sounds like you’re great at finding deals. What was your experience like booking with a travel agent?
SJ: I think it helped a lot as far as finding flight deals and getting a hotel package. The hardest part was that we were the largest group our agent had ever worked with, so there were definitely some frustrating moments trying to make everything come together. It makes a big difference when someone has worked with larger groups, but she did her best to work with us and everything ended up working out in the end.
SE: Did you work with a wedding coordinator in the Dominican as well?
SJ: We did not hire a coordinator in the Dominican to do anything with our wedding. The people at the resort thought we were nuts for not using a coordinator and kept pushing for us to use one, but Jarrod & I didn’t feel the need for it. We had a friend here with us in the states who spoke fluent Spanish, so she helped a ton in coordinating and negotiating prices with our makeup and flower vendors over there.
SE: Why didn’t’ you feel the need to have a coordinator to ensure you had a spot over there?
SJ: Jarrod and I are very laid back / go with the flow people. Our idea was to walk the beaches by the resort with our photographers at some point during the week and just pick a spot for the ceremony as well as pictures. The hotel staff knew that we were coming in for our wedding so we just coordinated our reception dinner and dancing with them.
SE: Give us a quick rundown of the week and some details from the wedding itself.
SJ: Prior to leaving, Jarrod and I found some activities that we wanted to do on the island, and put together an itinerary for our guests. Nothing was required of them, besides attending the wedding, but we wanted to let them know where we would be and when. They were free to join or do whatever they wanted! We volunteered at a local church for a day, explored some tourist shops, went on a crazy waterfall hike, and hung out at the beach playing volleyball!
The wedding day was fairly easy going. We had already set the time and let our guests know the location, so for us, everything worked out great. A few locals and some other tourists joined in at the wedding and that was totally great for Jarrod and me. We didn’t mind them partaking in our amazing experience! The weather was perfect and the lighting was beautiful. We had set aside a designated area for our reception and after dinner, we went back to the main hotel for our DANCE PARTY!
That night Jarrod & I headed to the other side of the island for our honeymoon. It was a separate place for us to have our own memories.
Just in case you’re wondering, the cost of the round trip travel and stay at an all inclusive resort for seven days & six nights was $940 per person! That is a steal of a deal if you ask us! As flexible as Sara was with many of her details, she had a few insightful suggestions for anyone planning a destination wedding. We made some bullet points below of things she felt would be helpful to consider in your planning process:
Make sure you have the cash that you need to pay the vendors you use. Sara forgot hers and went through a hassle trying to communicate with her bank back home when making withdrawals, even though she had already informed them she would be out of the country
When booking with a travel agent, check all options for lower prices (such as Groupon) and make sure that they have worked with a group your size for international travel. It will save you the headache
Take your wedding dress as a carry on
Wrap your jewelry in saran wrap to keep it from tangling
Check your expectations – Sara & Jarrod find it easy to go with the flow of things. If you are not someone who can easily adjust to changes, you may want to reconsider having a destination wedding, or ensure that you have a coordinator at your location that is acutely aware of your expectations
Make a flexible itinerary for your guests if you plan on having a longer stay for your destination wedding (some are only three days as opposed to Sara’s week long adventure). This will give your guests some options & let them know when and where they can hang with you!
Bring a separate bag for your honeymoon & arrange for someone to take your other belongings home. This way everything is fresh & new for just the two of you
Ask people to wear sunscreen! You don’t want lobsters in your pictures
Have someone else be in charge of room assignments when booking the hotel packages. There is enough for you as the bride to take care of already
There’s a lot that goes into planning a destination wedding, but it can be one of the best experiences of your life. Whether you want to do something short and simple, or have a longer celebration like Sara & Jarrod, the details are always important. If you have any questions or need any advice, we are here for you!
Photography: Titus Haug