While we can't think of any place better to tie the knot than home sweet home, we're not blind to the perks of a destination wedding. And with nearly 25 percent of couples choosing the jetset I Do's, we tapped industry vet Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event to fill us in on what you need to know before booking your flights.
Think about budget.
Along with reviewing costs of a desired location, be cognizant of the fact that your friends and family will be shelling out savings to travel. "There's nothing worse than planning a wedding in a beautiful place and then realizing that the people who mean the most to you won't be able to join you," says Lilly, "so we start by researching all the resorts that work within a couple's budget and within what friends' and family's budgets will allow."
Plan multiple scouting trips.
Once you decide on a destination, be prepared to take at least one planning trip (it's unfortunate, we know). "One is absolutely necessary and two is best, because the first one is mostly a fact-finding mission," says Lilly, who explains you'll spend the first trip reviewing venues, and the second trip will be about the details: securing vendors, finalizing the menu, considering seating arrangements, etc.
Utilize local vendors.
Working with the locals is usually less expense because you skip the travel and lodging fees, says Lilly. But this creates more reasons to book multiple site visits: trial hair and makeup, catering tasting, floral samples, etc. Work with your venue's events team, who will likely have a list of trusted local vendors that are familiar with the location and can work within your budget.
Skip the hometown flair.
"More often, the destination sets the theme of the wedding and it's about celebrating this incredible place," says Lilly. If you're feeling a little homesick, consider injecting a small nod to Chicago into the wedding favors.
"So many brides today are big DIY brides," says Lilly. "I think it's wonderful because everything is so much more personalized and a reflection of the couple." Lightweight paper items like seating cards, menus and programs are easy to prep in advance and either ship or pack in a suitcase. "I can't tell you the amount we pack into suitcases, from votive candles to framed photos of family members on their wedding days," she adds. "Those kinds of things are personal touches you can transport, either to save money or because you know it's exactly what you want."
Consider the location when dress shopping.
Just because the ceremony is on a beach doesn't mean you have to kill your ballgown dreams, but you don't want to look completely out of place either. Consider a dress that's appropriate for the ceremony and then change for your reception. "Some brides are even changing three times, from the ceremony to the reception to a going away outfit," says Lilly. "And the way fashion works today, you could find a ballgown-style dress that's tea length and have the best of both worlds."
Keep the honeymoon in mind.
Lilly says about half her couples stay and enjoy the location for another week while the other half hop a quick plane ride to another wonderful, often similar, location. "In many ways, you're not able to relax and enjoy this gorgeous destination during your wedding," she says. "We all know how hectic the wedding weekend is, and the honeymoon is a way to really seal in all these beautiful memories, but I also understand that some people want to head out to a new location. Both work really well depending on your budget."
Hire a planner.
"We work with brides who don't have a budget to ones who have a very small budget and our job is to maximize it in order to realize the vision of their wedding," says Lilly. "That's where a planner is helpful, when you need to really stretch that budget." And when it comes to planning a destination wedding, it's practically a must. Whether it's a week-of coordinator through the venue or fully committed planner, a person familiar with the couple's wishes — and who is on-site to make sure everything is running smoothly — is worth the cost.