Long Distance Wedding Planning — Do’s, Don’ts, Hows, Whys, and Tips for Staying Stress-Free.
I am a planner and a list-maker. When I embark on something, be it buying a car, looking for a new apartment, or planning my wedding, I tend to do copious amounts of research before I start. I read articles about the best ways to do things, read market trends, pricing averages around the country, blogs from people’s personal experiences, and look at individual how-tos and guides. This probably sounds like a lot, but I actually enjoy doing research and spending a couple minutes or hours now and then to get information never feels like a waste of time.
I got engaged on 1/16/15 and married on 1/23/16. So I had a pretty standard/average 12-month engagement. I did print out a 12-month wedding planning checklist from online, which helped give me a general idea on the timing of things.
A little about us: My husband and I live in Brooklyn, NY. He was born and raised in NY and will fight to the death that it is the best city ever. I was born and raised in Florida, and always knew I wanted to live in NYC someday. After working for a couple of years after college, I moved to New York at 23. About 5 months later, we met.
We met on OkCupid. I refuse to be embarrassed that we met online. I was new to a huge city in which it’s well-known that it is hard to make new friends. And even if that weren’t the case, why should I be embarrassed that a useful tool assisted me in meeting the love of my life? We messaged for a couple of weeks before having our first date at a bookstore. Five years later, we got married in a semi-book-themed wedding (and still love bookstores).
On to the reason why you’re here: We live in Brooklyn and got married in central Florida. To answer a couple of your immediate questions: Yes, we were excited to leave cold NY to go to warm FL for the wedding, and our guests also expressed excitement (many of them turned it into a vacation). Yes, it’s a true destination wedding, about 95% of the guest list has to travel. No, I am not stressing out. We visited Florida exactly one time since between engagement and wedding.
ProTip: Don’t go into your wedding planning with specific and concrete ideas. Have a general idea of what you want and the vibe, but be flexible with the details. You may find an amazing deal on specific linens or centerpieces, or you may get a suggestion from your videographer that you hadn’t even thought of, but is perfect. In terms of staying stress-free, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be open to ideas and suggestions and not be rigid in what you want. If you’re super rigid in what you want, you risk a bridezilla moment every time something doesn’t work or isn’t feasible (which WILL happen), and needlessly stress yourself out.
As you may already know, the first 3 things you MUST DO when starting the wedding planning process are:
- Write up a tentative guest list
2. Decide on a budget
3. Pick a venue
The guest list is the number one thing. Once you have an idea of total numbers, it will help formulate a budget. According to The Knot, the national average per person at a wedding is $68 for food and about $17 per person for the bar. I believe this to be a bit low, but I live in NYC, where the average price per person hovers around $200! Once you can identify your possible-total number of guests, you will be able to have an idea of budget (there are always ways to save money, that’s not what this article is about! I’m talking about average wedding costs, not a DIY-heavy or backyard wedding, please bear this in mind!).
Guest count will also allow you to start looking at venues, which always have a maximum allowed number of people.
Do not start looking at venues until you have a guest list. If you do, you could fall in love with a 100-person-maximum venue and later find out that your guest list is 150 people. Don’t bring on additional stress. Know your numbers before looking at any venues.
FINDING A VENUE
The biggest question I usually get is “how did you choose a venue? Did you go see them?”
Nope, I did not. I am incredibly lucky that my parents live near the area where we’re getting married (a couple towns over). I used The Knot and Wedding Wire, to search for venues in the city I’m getting married in.
First, Fiance and I decided that we specifically wanted an all-in-one hotel venue. For us, as a destination wedding, it made the most sense. Our guests were flying in from around the country and don’t know the area. I’m not making them rent a car and drive around looking for the ceremony or reception venue. Our hotel has a shuttle to and from the airport, and both ceremony and reception is at the same venue, which is located within walking distance of bars and restaurants in the area. For us, the convenience of an all-in-one hotel venue was what we wanted most for our guests.
So, I only looked at hotel venues on The Knot and WeddingWire. After looking through a bunch and checking some reviews, many even have pricing on there, and seeing what they offer, I picked maybe 7–9 and emailed them asking for more information. Venues on TK and WW also state their maximum number of people they can hold on site, so that made it easy to skip over some. I had pre-written a form email with my general idea of dates I was looking for, asking for pricing and menu options, asking about amenities, deposit requirements, and giving the guest count. Most venues responded in 24–48 hours with information on pricing and packages.
**This whole process of looking through venues and pictures online and emailing them took approximately 2–4 hours.**
After receiving responses, it was easy to weed out a couple that were crazy expensive, or didn’t have a honeymoon suite, or didn’t have any dates around the time we wanted. At this point, I brought in my fiance. We looked at pictures and pricing and amenities, and narrowed it to 3 venues we wanted to see.
I called those 3 and spoke to the coordinators. One of them I knew I might not want to work with (personality clash, took a long time to respond to emails), but I wanted to see the venue. My amazing mom and stepdad (my BFF had offered, too!) took a day, drove to the city, and toured all 3 venues. They even took cellphone pictures and notes! After, they called me and gave me their opinions. One was out, it was way more expensive without really offering more or having anything that justified the additional expense.
We took my parents pictures and opinions into consideration, and picked a venue. Sight unseen, we signed contracts online and mailed the deposit. We also booked a room block. We were given a choice of a few dates they had available and BAM! We had a date, a venue, caterers (included with venue), and accommodations. This was the biggest step in the planning process.
Long distance or destination weddings pretty well preclude you from doing a lot of Pinterest-DIY stuff, as everything has to be in the far away location, and you either have to mail it there or bring it with you! Our budget reflected the fact that we intended to have vendors for everything.
ProTip: Just like being flexible with details, if possible try to be flexible on dates. The venue we went with was not available on the date we originally thought about. However, they had 3 other Saturdays in the general timeframe. We chose to go with a different date because we liked that specific venue. We would have had to go with a different option if we’d stuck hard on the first date.
Next steps: florist, DJ, and videographer, oh my!
ProTip: Your venue has done a million weddings. Ask for their list of “preferred vendors.” They have vendors they have worked with a trust, and you should check out their availability and pricing first! [Note: I got my DJ company from this list!]
I repeated the exact same process, except without parental visitation for the rest of the vendors. I checked out out TK and WW for vendors, looked through them, narrowed it down to 5–7, had a pre-written email with information on guest count, date, location, colors, and the “vibe” we were going for (fun family dance party, not super formal). Received pricing and information, narrowed it to 2 or 3. Then I called and had in-depth conversations with the vendor themselves, and went with my gut instinct on who I wanted to work with (especially when the prices were similar to one another). Contracts were emailed, deposits sent.
Tip: When speaking with the vendors, ask specifically about their experience working with long distance brides. Many vendors (all of mine!) have worked quite a lot with long distance brides and were able to offer suggestions and advice, and were happy to be in contact primarily by email.
You can do A LOT online these days. Our florist has sent us pictures of bouquets, centerpieces, decor and more, showing us exactly what she is thinking for our event.
Even our DJ company has a tool online for us to do our playlists, mark the processional songs, the Hora dance, everything. It’s so convenient!
There are a few things that I got incredibly lucky on. For one, my parents live in the area, so every time I order stuff online (table names, welcome bags, bridesmaid/groomsmen gift, etc), I mail it to my parents house and they throw it in a room. Not worrying about storing things or having to take things with me was a huge help. My best friend also lives in the area and offered the same.
The other luckiest thing was the photographer. I had a friend in high school who went on to become a wedding photographer, and later switched to maternity and family photography. When she learned I was engaged, she actually OFFERED to come out of wedding-photo-retirement and shoot my wedding! As I know she is amazing and I was planning to quietly ask her, I was elated.
There will be certain things you just don’t know. I’ve never hired a DJ or videographer. Fiance and I asked them a ton of questions, and just went with the ones we felt seemed to understand what we wanted and the vibe we were looking for, and that we felt we could work with. The videographer even sent us a bunch of videos he has done for previous weddings. Again, it came down to personality and gut instinct.
Once your vendors are all booked, you’re most of the way there! By now, you’ve picked colors (or a theme, if you’re doing that), you have a guest list, flowers, centerpieces, the venue, a caterer (if your venue includes one), and more! All of this is happening organically. Every time you find a vendor, they are adding their ideas to what you are doing, and you’re getting a clearer idea of what will happen on the day.
Tip: Ask the vendors for suggestions! They are wedding vendors, they’ve done a ton of weddings. Give them your general ideas and vibe, and ask for their opinions on things that work best/don’t work, suggestions, and more. My florist actually picked my centerpieces. I wanted something short and pretty but not a ton of flowers, and she sent me a couple of pictures of options, and she was exactly right! Listen to your vendors, they are the experts.
Organization Tip: Some people prefer wedding binders or books, and others have lists and checklists. Personally, I used spreadsheets. I had 2 that I used most. One is titled “Guest List” and has everyone on the guest list, the next column is their addresses. The next is how many people in each row are invited (because at the top I have a (=SUM B:1-B:200) formula to keep count of how many people were invited. Next is RSVP column. It is also a formula column, with 0 for not coming and numbers for how many RSVP’ed yes. Next couple columns are the guest’s food choices (we’re doing a plated meal). Then a column for gifts we’ve received. I make a short note of what we got and when. Last column is Thank You Note and I put “yes” and the date I sent one.
My other spreadsheet is the one for the budget. I created it using lists of needs/vendors from online (Attire, Venue, Caterers, Photo/Video, Tips, Stationary, etc), and I have columns for who the vendor is, what services we’re getting from each, how much we paid for deposits and what date we paid them, and the date and total left due for everything.
I keep my spreadsheets on Google Drive so that I can access them from anywhere and immediately note the thank you notes written and such, like if I mail out a thank you from work. I use these 2 spreadsheets all the time and they are incredibly detailed and organized, and perfect for me!
Now it is detail time. Some are more important than others, like the dress! I went shopping in NYC, and bought a dress there. I got it at Macy’s, and after alterations, Macy’s mailws the dress to one of their Florida stores, who steamed and pressed it, and I picked it up there on the morning of the wedding with my big sister. Convenient! One less thing to take with me! Look for convenient details like this, and make sure to ask the stores this question.
Money Saving (for guests!) Tip: If you’re having your groomsmen wear tuxedos, have them rent them at a national chain so that (if one exists there), they can return the tux at the destination instead of paying for additional rental days! Many of our guests used our wedding as a reason to have a vacation in Florida and hit Disney and such. I didn’t want them to have to pay extra for the tux, and the groomsmen were all able to drop it off at a nearby Men’s Warehouse the next day. This is a detail many people don’t think of for destination weddings.
We went to a physical Things Remembered store when they were having a sale and picked out groomsmen gifts, but then went home and bought them online, so they can be mailed to Florida easily. Same with bridesmaid gifts.
Tip: Buy as much as you can online and have it sent to a location near your destination. If you don’t know a single solitary person in that location, try asking the venue for suggestions on where you could store stuff, or keep everything at home with you and suck up the cost of shipping it all to the venue in the days leading up to the wedding.
Something you are probably wondering: Did we fly to Florida a bunch of times during the planning?
Nope. We booked the venue in March, had all of the other vendors booked and contracts signed by June. In September, over Labor Day weekend, we took our one and only trip to Florida. During this four-day trip, we met every single vendor in person, did the catering tasting and a venue tour, two different cake tastings, and made time for family and friends while we were there. It was a busy weekend! But it confirmed our vendor choices, and we got a better idea of all the details, and we got to pick our cake flavor and dinner choices!
After choosing the menu, it was time to buy invitations! Because we chose a plated option, we needed to put the dinner options on the RSVP.
Money Saving Tip: Check out vistaprint.com. I got my Save the Dates (necessary for a destination wedding!) on there, I added our pictures and information onto a postcard template, and they came out really really nicely. Vistaprint gave me great quality, and when I needed to call customer service about something, they immediately fixed the problem! And if you wait for sales on their site, you get GREAT deals. 100 postcard save the dates: $24. I got 40% off the whole order plus free shipping. (Extra money saving protip: postcard stamps are only 20 cents. Go buy them at a post office, don’t just buy forever stamps.)
Tip: Make sure all the hotel room block information and details of the location are on your wedding website, and have it all done before you send out your save the dates with the website printed on it. This would also be the place to include any registries. Etiquette states to never put registries on the invitations.
For invitations, I did check other sites, but it was a lot more expensive. I went back to vistaprint and got 100 invitations and 100 matching RSVP cards in a cute template and put in all my custom info, plus 100 plain white envelopes for each. Total cost: $110 including shipping. About one-third to one-quarter the cost of the fancy invitation sites. The envelopes are plain white, and I’m sure I could have gotten some fancy nice envelopes, but it wasn’t something I was going to worry about. Envelopes just get thrown away!
Tip: We sent out our invitations 10–12 weeks ahead of time, instead of 6–8. Since it is a destination wedding, I just wanted to give everyone plenty of planning time. It also gives them longer to get the RSVP’s back.
Money Saving Tip: Stamps come in blocks of 20. We had 88 invitations to send out. Instead of spending extra on stamps, we hand delivered 8 to friends who live in our city!
Generally a wedding where people stay at hotels have welcome bags given to guests at check in. Typical welcome bags have water, soda, candy, snacks, some information about the area, and a wedding schedule.
I purchased bags online and had them sent to my parents house. I got nice canvas tote bags from my favorite bookstore in NYC, and got them on sale.
Money Saving Tip: To fill the bags, I went searching online. Dollartree.com and similar stores have things like 6 packs of bottled water for $1, or 5 bags of peanuts for $1. Best of all, I saved $100 on shipping by doing an in-store pickup at the local store in my parents’ town, and one of my brothers picked it all up for me!
Or at least low-stress!
I have a very supportive family and friend group, and people willing to give me advice, answer questions, be a sounding board, or let me rant…so that helps!
I am very laid back about this whole planning process. I’m trusting my very experienced vendors to know what they’re doing and only checking in about once every 4–6 weeks by email (it’s more often as the wedding looms closer). I went into this process knowing as much as possible (yay research!) and knowing that no matter how hard I try, something will probably go wrong at some point.
In fact, we had big snafu! Our hotel/venue ran out of rooms for Friday night in our room block! They couldn’t add any more at the discounted rate. Instead of freaking out, which would have been easy to do, I took a deep breath and solved the problem.
My solution was to pull up Google maps, zoom in on the area, and call a couple other hotels in the immediate area. The first two were not able to do anything for me on pricing, but the third was amazing! I spoke with the Director of Sales, and she listened to my story (I was not upset or crying, I was just very matter of fact that I wanted to be able to offer reasonable rates to my guests). She actually set aside 20 rooms for that Friday, gave me a discounted rate AND did not make me sign another room block contract. PLUS she gave me her direct contact information and told me to have my guests reach out to her directly for the discounted rooms. A perfect solution! I put that information on my website ASAP.
Things will go wrong. It’s a part of life, not everything will be perfect all of the time. Don’t cry and freak out. Think about the issue and find a solution. If you’re not sure, ask one of your vendors. Chances are high that they have seen the same or similar problems previously and may be able to offer a solution.
As a general rule, no matter how upset or stressed you are, do not yell or scream at people. First of all, you get a lot more accomplished and people are more likely to listen to you and work with you if you’re calm. Secondly, throwing a tantrum doesn’t solve anything.
Sure, things are going to go wrong, and stressful situations might happen. But if you have a positive attitude, it helps a lot. I went weeks where I didn’t have anything wedding-related to do. I accepted that something could go wrong on the day of the wedding, and if it did, it did. At that point, would be too late to do anything about it.
But you know what? We had a very fun party with our friends and family, danced the night away, and at the end of that day, we were married. And that is what really matters.
My biggest tip for staying stress free: Remember that it is just one day. It’s a party, you’re going to have fun. Your friends and family are coming to celebrate with you! Just enjoy it. You’re going to miss out on everything if you freak out over little things. If someone gets the wrong plate of food, they’re adults, they’ll tell the waiter and it’ll get fixed. A bridesmaid is wearing the wrong shoes? So what, the focus is on you anyway! IT’S JUST ONE DAY.
Your focus will be on the marriage, not on the wedding.
Have a happy, fun, amazing, dance-y, family-full destination wedding!
If you can’t afford the wedding you’ve been dreaming of since you were a little kid, you’re almost definitely going to stress out about it. But you should NEVER go into debt for a wedding, and it’s important to remember that you aren’t that little kid anymore. Most of those fairy tale Cinderella ideas might not be what adult-you would really want, if you were starting from scratch. So try to stay open minded in the planning process.
Small ceremonies can be super beautiful and meaningful. Large weddings can be very fun. Find the vibe that fits you as a couple.
One of the most important things that Bridezillas seem to forget is that the day is about BOTH of you. Even when he didn’t want to be involved in what flowers I picked, now-husband was interested in the general idea and liked seeing the pictures. I kept him updated about various details and we both read over every contract.
It’s his day, too. And he does have opinions! He didn’t know he had opinions on venues until presented with a couple options, but all our final decisions were made together. He was supportive and listened to me, and he was happy to offer his opinions on food, cake, venue, and more. It’s about you both!
He especially enjoyed the food and cake tastings!
Include your partner. Be flexible. Trust your vendors. Ask for advice and suggestions. And remember that your guests are important. When making venue and travel decisions, consider how it will affect your guests. Be considerate of everyone and try to enjoy the process!
The real key to staying stress-free is to not take it all too seriously. A wedding is a serious event, sure. But it’s a party, a celebration of love, and a family affair. It’s not the end of the world if the flower girl’s flower petals are the wrong color, and you need to remember that when it all seems to be super important. The little things won’t be a huge deal!! And if you can manage to take it all a little less seriously, then you’ll definitely enjoy the planning process a lot more!
Originally published at jyssica.blogspot.com.