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WEDDING
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TIPS ON PLANNING A DESTINATION WEDDING

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Sivan Ayla Wedding

As many of you know, this past June I tied the knot in Greece. Yes, that country across the world whose primary language is GREEK! And no, I had never been there before, I’m not from there, my husband is not from there, and pretty much everyone in attendance had never been there (with a very small exception of 1-2 people). Many asked me (and still do) why I had chosen Greece to get married when both of us have such an extensive amount of people in our lives–family, friends, co-workers, friends of friends, networks, obligatory invites, service people we love, childhood doctors, family friends, second cousins…you get it???

It may come as a shock to many, but I wasn’t really the type who dreamed up her wedding for years, just waiting for the moment it was time to plan my own. I was actually very laid back for someone who typically takes event planning very seriously. Sure I had 500+ pins in my Wedding board(s) on Pinterest, but that really means nothing until you put it into motion, in which case, almost none of my pins became a reality for my wedding. And I’m not saying that with any regret or remorse at all.

The thing with destination weddings that I think many tend to forget or not realize at all, is that one of the primary reasons to do a destination wedding is to keep everything low maintenance. The planning, the guest list, and the stress should pretty much remain at a minimum, and that is exactly what went down for my wedding. Now, being a girl and all I of course had my “things” that meant a lot to me, and worked very hard to make them happen, as I was pretty much giving up the whole DIY wedding that most presumed I’d have.

Prioritizing 1-5 things that mean most to you while planning a destination wedding will help you gain perspective on all the thousands of other things that can become part of your wedding if you let them, or easily dismissed. I planned my entire wedding over email and Skype sessions with the sweetest people I’ve ever met and wait for it…no wedding coordinator / planner / day-of planner / coordinator. What I did have, though, was an incredible restaurant owner who was very knowledgeable in regards to vendors, a mother who is OCD about planning, a maid of honor who knows my vision before it appears in my head, and 2 sisters who make everything possible even in a crisis. A support system is crucial, no matter how big or small, as things are bound to go wrong.

If I had to sum up all my wedding planning advice in a nutshell it would be on this list:

-Make lists. Writing out a physical check list of things to do will save your life. I know by now I have to be preaching to the choir about such a basic task, but list-making has become an art in my life that I’ve pretty much taken to the next level. How, you ask? Well, I have different notebooks for different parts of my life (work, wedding, blog, random) and the lists are made in phases so I can add to the list, mark off my progress, and allow space to write out any follow-up needed. It’s probably too complicated to explain but trust me, lists will never quite end while planning. However, your mind will start to lose it closer to the day and will need the reminders.

Prioritize. As I mentioned above, my top priorities were: the dress, the flowers, and the chairs. I got the dress (full story here), I worked with an incredible florist, and the chairs didn’t happen. Here’s why: because I wasn’t going to have much decor or personal touches I reallllllly wanted ghost chairs at the wedding. I just felt it needed a little of me somewhere and that’s what I chose. However, getting married on an undeveloped island meant everything had to be imported. Shipping rates (even from the bigger Greek islands) were outrageous. I tried countless times to find a reasonable vendor but unfortunately I had to move on from that.

Sidenote: I literally never saw the chairs even once…good thing I didn’t splurge, huh?

Become friends with your vendors. They are going to be handling / working on the most important day of your life, you want them to like you. Luckily I genuinely fell in love with all the people involved in my wedding and didn’t have to work too hard to develop a strong relationship with them all. I began researching photographers, florists, DJs, etc. almost 2 years before the wedding so I had a lot of time to get friendly with my peeps. We are all friends on FB & Insta, too, and upon arriving the entire island already knew our crew. You can’t beat that kind of hospitality.

Go privately-owned, if possible. I know this may contradict my previous statement about keeping planning to a minimum–and corporate places make it fairly simple as far as choices go–but working with vendors of your choice and having the flexibility to do pretty much what you want is really nice. Nothing was off limits for us and a lot of great last minute additions happened once we arrived on the island. I know pre-set packages offer an ease on planning but for us who need just a tiny bit of control / input / creativity, working with a privately-owned venue is key.

-Adopt a ‘we understand’ mentality about the guest-list. A lot of people probably won’t be able to come. Unless you’re flying everyone out, that is. But if you choose a destination wedding you have officially signed up for a lot of declinations and you must be prepared for that. We of course hoped that all of closest friends and family could make it but unfortunately there were some that just couldn’t attend. While it is sad to recognize, you also must truly be prepared and understanding to that. If you feel resentment you are likely going to damage relationships and that is something I highly avoided and genuinely did not feel. We had 60 people in attendance and honestly, that number was perfect. By the wedding everyone had a chance to meet and mingle on the beach and at all our events and the ease of knowing people are just fine at your wedding is something I would never trade. Feeling comfortable in the presence of so many special people was a feeling I cannoteven describe properly.

Check conversion rates daily. I had to make a lot of international wire transfers to my vendors for deposits and the rate fluctuated daily. Most vendors will be understanding to this and give you some leeway to make the transaction on the best rate day. Also, talk to your bank about needing to make multiple transfers to see if they are able to waive any fees involved in doing so. The fees alone get costly.

Consider different food presentation. With the extensive menu of Greek food we wanted for our wedding, a plated meal just didn’t make sense. A buffet seemed a bit casual to me but I knew it would ultimately give everyone more variety, which is what I wanted. After testing the food at one very long and filling lunch, we asked if each table could be served family-style, and were pleased to discover that, yes, our fabulous restaurant owner was very willing to do this. Just one of many perks of finding a private venue! Serving the food this way still gave everyone the option to try everything without having to keep getting up (something I feel people are counting whenever I’m at a buffet lol).

Don’t forget the music. Paul and I spent a chunk of time the day before our wedding scrolling through 1000’s of songs on my Spotify trying to pin-point our song, the song we would walk down the aisle to, make an entrance to, etc. It may sound super un-sentimental, but these conversations must be had and it is probably more effective to do so when not under a ton of pressure to pick a song 12 hours before the day.

Break in your shoes. I told the back-story on my beautiful wedding shoes (here) and sadly the first time I even slipped them on to take one step was the wedding day. By the time I walked to the venue from our hotel (next door, mind you), I was dying to take them off. They were cutting my ankles like crazy and from that point on I was barefoot.

Depend on natural beauty. I live in a city with some of the top make-up and hair people in the world and still prefer to do my own. I just never look the same, which sounds bizarre (I know), so there was no way in HELL someone across the world I’ve never met was coming near my hair or face. Yeah, yeah, I might sound a little bride-zilla-ish but not even lying, YouTube and nice Sephora people are 100% attributed to my wedding day look. Talk about DIY! Also, don’t forget you’re probably going to have a killer tan by then so minimal make-up will do just fine. Just don’t forget a good anti-humidity spray for your hair if you’re doing a beach wedding.

Learn the words ‘no,’ ‘I just need a moment please’ very well. On and leading up to your day, people will be all over you trying to help. Everyone most likely has really great intentions, but if you’re at all like me (easily overwhelmed), all the human interactions back to back will start to kill you slowly. My hotel-room phone rang off the hook and there were knocks on my door every 5 minutes. It drove me N U T S . Eventually I had to disconnect (literally) my phone and post a nice sign letting people know the bride needs her time. After I made it clear I didn’t need any more help or baby-ing, things were really nice. I spend a few hours before getting ready for the wedding on my gorgeous balcony overlooking the ocean writing out my vows, and taking in the day. I was extremely emotional the day of the wedding. Any little thing made me cry and so having this time to let myself be a hot mess was kind of necessary.

Take 3 moments. After the ceremony when you’re re-united with your now-husband, make an effort to stop and remember 3 special moments the rest of the night. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. A good friend shared this piece of advice with me just before the wedding and I am so grateful for the reminder because I now have 3 distinct memories ingrained in my mind forever.

I could go on for day about all the details and learning experiences from planning a destination wedding, but the above are some of the more important lessons I learned. And just because I love a list, I’m going to give some general wedding advice I have to share:

-Don’t spend an arm and leg on the invitations. I was on that train for a hot minute until I realized that Photoshop (or Etsy for those who aren’t Photoshop-savvy) and a good printer will not only make them just as great, but cheaper, AND custom!

-Make sure you can function / move in your wedding dress.

-DO register. People love the ease of not having to think (even though that doesn’t sound too thoughtful), and you will be pleased as well.

-Take a honeymoon (if possible). Having some time alone to decompress and process what just happened was very necessary. Especially after a perma-vacation with 60 people. Love you all, but bye!

-Double, triple, and quadruple check your seating chart.

-Taste all your drinks and food to make sure it is prepared to your liking.

-Don’t be afraid to forgo typical wedding stuff like a cake, champagne toast, etc. My wedding was anything but conventional and I didn’t even think twice about things that were “missing.”

-Remember to smile walking down the aisle. I was such a ball of nerves the second leading up to walking down the aisle, my parents had to keep whispering “breathe” and “smile” to me. The emotions were taking over!

If any of you have any other specific questions please feel free to comment or email me!

 

Penny for your thoughts?