Do’s and don’ts for destination weddings

Jan 23, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

In comparison to traditional wedding ceremonies and receptions that typically take months to plan and cost tens of thousands of dollars, a destination wedding may seem like a pretty fuss-free alternative.

Destination Wedding

But consider everything that can go wrong after you've left the state or even the country to exchange your vows. What if the photographer botches your sacred wedding photos? What if you are clueless about a vital legality that makes or breaks the validity of your marriage? What if your travel plans flop because of weather woes?

To prevent problems like these from spoiling one of the most important events of your life, heed the following do's and don'ts:

Do invest in a wedding planner and travel advisor

Cindy Johnson, a wedding and event stylist for Platinum Events Group, says it's important for these professionals to be well-seasoned and specifically experienced in destination weddings. "These key individuals work as your consultants, planners and coordinators. They keep you well-informed and cut your research time in half. They have the inside scoop on the destination, properties, and suppliers," she explains. "It's just like hiring a real estate agent when buying a home or consulting with your bank before making an investment. Hire the right professionals to guide you through the process."

Don't wait to send save-the-dates

Destination weddings are generally more time-consuming and expensive for guests to attend than are traditional ceremonies and receptions. That's why Johnson advises brides and grooms to send save-the-dates as soon as possible. "Keep in mind that this is a big investment for your guests and they may need [to arrange] time off."

Do try to visit your destination before your wedding

Mary Vaira, president and owner of the destination wedding website,, advises brides and grooms to visit their desired destination before finalizing the wedding venue contract. "This advice applies to weddings in the United States as well as overseas. No matter how extensive the description provided by the villa owner or hotel, there is no substitute for actually visiting the location," she explains.

Don't overlook the destination's legalities and customs

The most important legalities to be aware of, according to Carol Rosen of Party Designs by Carol, are the officiant and the marriage license. "Be sure to check websites and with the local coordinator to be sure all is in order," she advises. "The license could be easily done in two hours -- or it might require two weeks. If you are bringing your own officiant, be sure that he or she meets the legal requirements for your destination."

Do prepare to keep guests informed

Your guests are less likely than you to be knowledgeable about the destination and travel options available to them. Odds are that if they have a question, they'll turn to you and your fiancé for an answer. Vaira recommends being prepared with answers about travel accommodations, directions, weather, dress, foreign currency, passports and medical requirements. "It's best to provide this information in one place, like a wedding webpage. It's also a good idea to look into discounted wedding group rates with different airlines and make sure to provide your guests access to the discount code," she adds.

Don't be afraid to bring your own photographer

You may balk at the expense of hiring your own photographer and paying his or her travel expenses to accompany you on your trip, but doing this is a great way to ensure you get the best wedding photos possible. Evan Godwin, head photographer for Purus Weddings, says that when dealing with your own photographer, "you know how to get a hold of them should there be an issue, and this makes things much easier when dealing with albums, prints or even just getting a DVD of the images."

If something goes awry with the destination's photographer or an out-of-country vendor, Godwin says it can be very difficult to handle the situation from a distance.