How to Have a Small Destination Wedding

There’s something special about getting married in a beautiful travel locale with your closest loved ones. Dreaming of having a small destination wedding? We explore the top five things you need to know.

By McCall Minnor

Small Destination Wedding
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

With small weddings on the rise, many couples are rethinking their dream ceremonies. When your guest list is on the smaller side, after all, your options as far as venue and location vastly open up. Enter: The small destination wedding.

There’s something special about getting married in a beautiful travel locale with your closest loved ones. That being said, there’s a decent amount of work that goes into having even a small destination wedding. However, with some planning knowledge, you can have an intimate getaway celebration to remember. Read on for the five things you need to know to have a small destination wedding.

Choose a Location

How to Have a Small Destination Wedding Photo Credit // Jeaninne Marie Photography

First thing’s first: Choosing your perfect location. Your destination not only influences your wedding’s style, but also your budget, travel, schedule, and potentially how many guests can attend. Alongside working out logistically, your destination should be representative of who you are as a couple. Is this a place you’ve been dreaming of visiting for a long time? Is it connected to either of your heritage? Have you been before and haven't stopped thinking about it since? Are the activities right up your alley? Ideally, your wedding location will excite you and your guests, be doable for all, and feel very ‘you.’

When looking into places, also take into account their on- and off-seasons. Peak (or ‘on’) season is typically between late spring and early fall, with off-season lasting from fall through winter. With peak season comes better weather, which works in your favor if you want an outdoor venue or to spend significant time outside. However, it also increases demand, meaning costs will likely rise. Consider an off-season date or a less trendy location if sticking to a budget is a priority.

Lastly, if possible, try and visit your destination prior to your wedding. This way, you can explore the area, do venue walk-throughs, vet vendors, and ensure it truly is the perfect place.

Research Local Marriage Requirements

If you like the idea of jet-setting to a different country, you’ll need to research local marriage requirements, or the process of steps you need to take for your marriage to be legal in another country. For example, many countries have what’s called a residency requirement, which requires you to stay in the country for a certain length of time before you can get married. For many locations this is only a few days, but for others it can be significantly longer. Most notable is France, which asks you to arrive at least 30 days prior to applying for a marriage certificate. If your budget or schedule doesn’t allow for extra time spent abroad, consider getting legally married in your country beforehand. In either case, you’ll want to have all required documents prepared. This, too, differs by country, but often includes your passport, birth certificate, any change of name documents, and your marriage license.

Select and Notify Guests Well in Advance

Small weddings tend to have around 50 people or less, but due to the travel and expenses involved in destination weddings, that number tends to drop significantly. The upside to this is that you can include an intimate group of your loved ones without causing offense to those not invited. Because of the nature of this kind of celebration, people are typically understanding. With a smaller group and longer celebration (considering you stay for a few days), who you decide to involve becomes especially important. When contemplating who to invite, think of those you most want present to experience your wedding. Immediate family and your innermost circle of friends are usually a good place to start. Tell your wedding party (if you’re having one) about the nature of your wedding before asking them to play a role, so they can politely decline if they’re unable to attend.

Once your guest list is solidified, give everyone plenty of notice, so they can mark their calendars, adjust their schedules, and start looking for deals on flights and accommodations. The closer to your trip dates, the pricier these reservations will get. Send out save the dates eight to 12 months beforehand, and keep your guests in the know about any changes or adjustments as your date approaches.

Hire a Wedding Planner

Planning a wedding from afar means you’ll need to hire a wedding planner that can take care of the on-location work. Your best bet, in this case, is to go with a local planner that specializes in or is familiar with destination weddings. Oftentimes resorts and venues have people meant specifically for this who can recommend and secure vendors, organize and facilitate, and generally be present when you can’t be. If a wedding planner isn’t in your budget, consider looking into your venue’s wedding packages, if available. That way, you don’t need to worry about any of the small details—they’re already taken care of.

Pack Smart

Shipping items like decor and gifts can be risky, expensive, and a hassle. However, when planning a small wedding, you have another convenient option. Since you likely don’t need to transport as many items, try to pack most (or all) of them in a suitcase or carry-on. Not only is this more cost effective (with an extra suitcase costing less than international shipping), but it also ensures that everything you need arrives at your destination with you on time.

How to Have a Small Destination Wedding Photo Credit // Bellagaia Photography

While intimate destination weddings can be dreamy, there’s plenty of work that goes into making one happen. From legalities in other countries to notifying guests and figuring out logistics, it differs greatly from your standard wedding planning. That being said, dedicate a good amount of time to researching your location, and don’t be afraid to ask an experienced wedding planner for help. Skimping on the details until you’re boarding a plane will only cause anxiety—and you’re always better safe than sorry.

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