I dreamt about getting married since I was a little girl. I feel like a lot of people know where I'm coming from... Am I right?! Growing up, I knew I wanted to get married by the age of 25, wanted my entire family around me, have my mum & dad give me away at the 'Kanyadaan' & live happily ever after. Getting into my 20s & reaching my mid-20s I knew things weren't going to go that way. Especially after losing my dad, life was just very different. However, putting all that aside, when my then-boyfriend (now husband - I still love calling him husband even after +2 years of marriage) proposed to me... a whole new vision of our wedding came about.
Vex has always wanted a destination wedding. His sister got married in Goa, & since then he knew he wanted to get married abroad too. It had never really crossed my mind like that, but once he told me, there was no going back! If I am really honest with you, I didn't know what a 'big fat Indian wedding' abroad would entail & how much work would need to go into pulling it all off all the way in a different country - a completely different continent for us!
One thing we knew we wanted from the get-go was an intimate wedding. It wasn't about numbers for us, it wasn't about going over the top, it wasn't about the glitz & glamour. For us, all we wanted was to have have our loved ones celebrate a huge milestone, together as one family. That was always the forefront in everything we did for our celebrations.
I was super lucky that Vex let me get on with a lot of things when it came to ideas, planning, etc & at one point it got too overwhelming for me. It was then I knew I would need some help, so I had to get a wedding planner on board. They are not necessary & you can definitely do it with the team/s at the venue you decide to get married at but I guess I just wanted to have one person from the UK manning everything we needed from our end. Our wedding planner was Priya Thanki, who's actually my cousins, cousin haha!
At first, we were looking into getting hitched somewhere close like Europe. But many places we reached out to didn't get back to us - they seemed to have a very chilled out, laid back approach to things & told us to wait until 2018 to start planning. A lot of these venues we felt didn't want to book a wedding 2 years in advance & some didn't understand why there were so many events. Things didn't feel right to us. That was when we looked into India. Our vision was to get married in a beautiful palace with our close family & friends for a week. But that slowly wasn't working for us when we realised our mums would need to invite quite a lot of family from India that we didn't really know ourselves personally - which was throwing the intimate wedding out the window.
We were really clear in knowing we only wanted to have our close family & friends at our wedding. We made sure it was those whose phone numbers we have in our phones and speak to on a regular basis - that was the only way we could have kept it an intimate affair. That's where Mexico came into place. A lot of people have asked me "but why Mexico?". And to cut a long story short, my cousin who renewed her vows in Mexico back in 2011 came across a website where resorts in Mexico, specifically the Riviera Maya, have full-blown Indian wedding packages. She sent that to me & my mum after our trip from Mexico & my mum from then always wanted me to get married in Riviera Maya. Fast forward to 2017, after a trip to Cancun we ended up picking the same resort that my cousin sent a link over to yes 5 years prior! It was meant to be 🙂
It wasn't until we chose our resort, where all the work started. Some of which I wasn't even aware of when it came to planning. I worked very closely with Priya to make sure it was exactly what we wanted. In this post, I'm going to share my top 10 tips on planning a destination wedding. These are all things that we learnt along the way to ensure we planned a beautiful week for our loved ones. Although not everything goes to plan, no one will ever notice because they don't know what's been planned in the first place!
I wanted to give you all enough background on how we came about wanting to have a destination wedding as well as choosing the location before getting into the good stuff (& so sorry in advance that it's taken this long to get into it). If you made it this far... then you may want to take notes, or even better! Send this link to your partner so you can get things rolling 🙂 Although these tips are for planning a destination wedding, you can totally apply this to local weddings also.
10 DESTINATION WEDDING TIPS
Let's get the boring stuff out of the way (& I'd say the 2nd most important of all)... BUDGET. Budget is so important & should try to be at the forefront of every move. Excel will be your best friend when it comes to this. There are a bunch of templates you can find for free on the internet & even custom ones on ETSY. I would always keep your budget on the lower spectrum of what you'd like to spend, but keep a good chunk aside as there are always so many hidden costs & extras you'll want to add as the days go on. Vex & I wanted to pay for our wedding ourselves and that way, we were able to do things how we wanted to without the input of parents or other family members. We were extremely lucky that all of our guests all flew out for our wedding themselves. We watched the British Airways holiday page like a hawk and as soon as we saw an offer on the resort during the week of our wedding we quickly shared the link to our entire guest list. However, we made sure their trip was worthwhile. One misconception with getting married at an 'All-Inclusive' resort (like we did) is that all the food & drink will be included within the costs of throwing a wedding. I'm really sorry to burst your bubble, but everything needs to be accounted for. I'm talking about all the food, soft drinks and alcohol is something that needs to be paid for. When it came to our resort, & many other all-inclusive resorts that we had spoken with, didn't charge for locations we used within the resort but charged us for all decoration, lighting, sound equipment, food, drink, cutlery... you name it, it is more than likely to have a cost attached. Be prepared for this all because the last thing you want is a surprise at the end of things! You can save costs on things like repurposing chairs, using silk flowers instead of real flowers & even trying a little haggling because like my mum says if you don't ask, then you don't get!
2. ALWAYS visit the venue!
My mum & I went to Rivera Maya as a holiday back at the end of 2016 & in our spare time we hunted down some potential resorts for the wedding. We used our time wisely & visited around 5 resorts that we had shortlisted. Pictures of venues are always taken with some sort of photo trickery & always seem to look better than real life. Always, always go and view the venue beforehand (again, something that needs to be accounted for in the budget). This also means you get to meet the events teams at these venues which for us made a huge choice on the resort we picked, Dreams Rivera Cancun Resort & Spa. Vex, Priya & I took a secret trip to our wedding resort in 2017. We travelled there exactly one year prior to our wedding to suss out how busy the resort was, what the weather was like & the general vibe of the place. During this trip, we actually physically planned a lot of the wedding. All locations were set, food, decor, lighting was confirmed. Highly recommend doing this!
3. Timing is key.
This is so important on so many levels. Firstly, give as much notice to your guests as possible for the timings of the wedding dates. We gave our guests just under 1 & a half years notice on dates for our wedding. This means plenty of time to book holidays, save up for the holiday/flight costs & the fun part of sorting out all the outfits to wear for the events 🙂 The next thing to bear in mind is the timings of school holidays/half terms for your loved ones. Both Vex & I have nieces & nephews which we had to think about when it came to dates. We researched the different prices during different school holidays & decided on half term time at the end of May. Another example of when the timing is key is when you're planning your wedding events themselves. We wanted to make sure our guests had a nice mix of a relaxing holiday mixed with wedding events. Therefore we tried to make sure most of our events took place in the evenings & the day time events weren't mandatory to come to in case they wanted to chill by the pool or relax instead. Apart from the actual wedding itself haha! That we, of course, wanted everyone to be at! Speaking of timings, I wanted to share how we set up our wedding events:
Private check-in - 3pm
Welcome Drinks - Tuesday 7pm-10pm
Mehndi Brunch - Wednesday 9am - 12pm
Fiesta - Wednesday 5pm till late
Mandvo & Pithi - Thursday 10am-12pm
Wedding Rehearsal - Thursday 5pm onwards (only for the family involved in the ceremony)
Wedding - Friday 3pm - 5pm
Sunset Wedding Dinner - Friday 6pm onwards
Reception - Saturday 6pm till late
4. Legal or symbolic?
It's so important to research what is required for a legally binding wedding ceremony abroad, or if its easier to simply do a symbolic ceremony & do the legal bit back at home. We had plan A & plan B. Plan A was to actually do our legal wedding on the 1st June 2017 (exactly 1 year before our actual wedding day) & plan B was to get all the paperwork sorted & blood tests are done (yes, Mexico require a blood test before doing a legal ceremony) & do the legal part in Mexico. We went with plan B, in the end, to make things easier for us. Our legal ceremony was just the 2 of us & a total of 4 witnesses under a beautiful Mayan tree, which is said to bring good luck, the morning of our legal wedding. It was just perfect.
5. Guests, guests, GUESTS!
I cannot stress how important it is to put yourself in your guests' shoes. We have been to a couple of destination weddings before & learnt a lot from them & how we wanted to do things a little differently. With every event that was planned, we made sure to put ourselves in the shoes of our guests at every stage. For example, everyone was given a cute little hamper & hangover kit during the check-in process, all the day time events were optional to our guests. Every toilet we had for our events was decked out with hair bobbles, safety pins, hairspray & perfume. And another being, we had a huge array of cooling refreshments during the wedding ceremony, cooling sprays & the order of ceremony made in the shape of a fan! Hospitality never goes unnoticed.
6. Be GREEN.
We aimed to cut out any unnecessary things our guests didn't really need to be greener when it came to waste. We didn't do formal, physical invites to any of our guests (& made this very clear to them). Instead, we set up a wedding website where our guests were able to RSVP, check the itinerary, dress codes, requesting songs & also to be up to date with messages from Vex & I. For an Indian couple to not send out a physical invite is quite a big deal in our community. I don't know about you, but we only ever use wedding invites in the car when we need to address to the venue, & let's be honest... all of our guests were staying at our wedding resort so they didn't need an invitation for the address, hehe! This also went for floral arrangements. To not only save on costs we also opted for silk, reusable, flowers for our events. This meant flowers didn't go to waste and it was also cheaper for us & our budget.
7. Surprise, surprise!
We made sure that every event had some sort of surprise for our guests. Whether that was something as small as a private check-in area for all of our guests (something we asked our venue for and they happily set up for free), to an EPIC water drum show at our Fiesta party. We also organised little notes from us for all of our guest on the plane that my cousin handed out to everyone. It also included a sheet & eye mask for everyone. This makes every step of the way special & unique to the others. It also keeps all your guests entertained (& not bored haha!).
8. Don't forget the luggage!
If I told you how I packed my wedding outfit with me, you probably wouldn't believe me! I had my reception outfit in my hands as my carry-on & my entire wedding outfit in my mum's hand luggage! Getting married abroad means trying to fit all your beautiful clothes into suitcases, not going over the weight limit, hoping that your luggage doesn't get lost & making sure you don't forget anything in the lead up to it. Not only that but any other additional things you want to give to your guests for hospitality, favours, wedding ceremony extras (in our case, we had a list of things we needed to bring for our priest)... pretty much anything & everything your venue isn't able to provide... it's gotta be packed into your suitcase or couriered there beforehand! A top tip for any Indian brides out there... pack all of your outfits into vacuum bags as it saves so much space! And... don't forget to pack a travel steam iron!
9. Don't forget your suppliers.
One thing we totally forgot about when it came to our budget was external suppliers we would need to fly in. This also goes for local weddings, you forget just how many companies, services & people are involved in weddings. For us, we had to ensure we took care of our external suppliers which included the main man DJ Envy on the decks, the super talented Henna by Divya, the soulful Grazziato & our wonderful priest Dharmasetu Das. All of which we booked travel to & from the airports, flights & accommodation for the days we needed them.
As for local suppliers, the events team at Dreams organised all of the decor, floral & lighting suppliers from their end. And for photography, we used Jhankarlo & video we used the Gallardo FIlms team - both of which had worked together many times in the past which was really important for us.
10. Have FUN!
Saving the best till last here & personally the most important & that's to have FUN. In the midst of planning, stressing, trying desperately to make your vision come to life... we forget just how quickly the wedding celebrations can be over. I feel like I blinked & we were on the way back home. But the most important thing to try & do once the wedding celebrations start is to try & let go & enjoy every moment you can! It can be hard at the best of times but memories are something we can hold onto forever. One of the best ways you can do this is to delegate little tasks to your loved ones (we tried to make these as fun as possible) & of course make full use of your wedding planner/coordinator!
I hope you enjoyed this (super long) post on planning a destination wedding. I really hope it helps any brides & grooms to be. It can be a very stressful time, managing a wedding & all the things that come with it but just remember that a wedding comes & goes but the memories will last a lifetime 🙂