DIY Destination Wedding Planning Guide


Does the idea of reciting your vows in a dream location surrounded by your closest friends and family sound like the perfect wedding? A destination wedding may be exactly what you’re looking for! 

24 percent of marriages are destination weddings and it’s easy to understand why. A destination wedding is not only a romantic and special experience, it’s also a lot of fun! 

Over the years, I’ve photographed hundreds of destination weddings. I understand what goes into planning these events and how to make them successful. If you’re thinking about planning a destination wedding, use this simple DIY guide to help you prepare for the big day. 


10-12 Months Before

Choose A Date & Venue

If you don’t already have a location in mind, it’s time to do some research. There are so many beautiful places to get married. Some of the top destination wedding locations include:

  • Hawaii
  • Tahiti
  • St. Lucia
  • Caymen Islands

Look at your top destination choices and find out what venues are available in the area. Even if you aren’t interested in a wedding package, talk to the venue’s coordinator to find out your options. Make sure to ask about the high and low season in the area so you can plan accordingly.

Aim to choose a date that:

  • Works with your schedule
  • Will work for your guests
  • Makes it easy to find and buy tickets
  • Has the best chance of good weather

Create Your Guest List

Once you know your venue capacity, create your guest list. This will likely be smaller than a traditional wedding list. Attending a destination wedding is fun for everyone, but it’s also a big time and money commitment. Remember this when you send invites, so you aren’t offended if some friends and family can’t make it.


Book Your Wedding Photographer

Your wedding photos are one of the most important parts of your wedding. Your photographer will capture the emotions of the big day and help you preserve the beauty of your wedding forever.

Here are a few things you should look for in your wedding photographer:

  • Local knowledge of the area
  • Experience
  • Great reviews and references
  • A beautiful wedding portfolio
  • Friendly attitude and great service

Wedding photographers book up quickly-- especially in popular wedding destination areas. Spend time researching photographers, and plan to book the one you choose at least 10 months before your big day.

Other Wedding To-Dos

  • Send save-the-dates (give your guests plenty of time to plan!)
  • Determine your total budget
  • Review legal requirements for getting married in the area
  • Decide on your color scheme and a theme (if you will have one!)

9  Months Before

Book Your Vendors

Once you’ve selected your photographer and are moving into the nine month mark, start researching and booking other wedding vendors. This includes:

  • Florist-- Decide on bouquets, boutonnieres, ceremony flowers, and reception centerpieces.
  • Caterer-- What kind of food do you want to serve? Will it be seated or buffet style?
  • Entertainment-- Will you have a live musician? Look at local artists who would be a good fit for your big day
  • Officiant-- Will your ceremony be religious or civil? This may affect the kind of qualities you look for in your officiant
  • Videographer-- Decide if you want a wedding video and look at vendors in the local area. Your photographer may have some great recommendations.

Buy A Gown

Depending on the wedding dress you choose, it can take months for it to arrive. Then you still need to have it fitted. Don’t let this part of your wedding cause you any stress. Plan ahead and purchase your gown at least 9 months ahead of time.

Other To-Dos

  • Investigate local cultural traditions you may want to incorporate
  • Renew your passports or apply for visas, if necessary
  • Register for gifts
  • Select and order your wedding bands

6 Months Before

Book Travel & Lodging

Start looking at tickets to watch for the best flight deals. Though it may be tempting to wait until the last minute to try and get a better deal, be careful! You don’t want to get down to the wire and be unable to find a flight.

It’s also time to book your lodging. If you’re getting married in a hotel, reserve a block of rooms for your guests. If not, look at hotels or other lodging options in the area. You should plan to have all this information nailed down by the time you send out your invitations. 


Plan Your Decorations

If you opted for a wedding package from a hotel, your decorations may be taken care of.
However, if you are going for a complete DIY wedding, take some time to think about your plan. 

There are some important things to consider:

  • Are you purchasing or making decorative items at home? How will you transport them? What’s the cost of transporting them? 
  • What will you do with the decoration after your wedding?
  • Can you go through a party store or your hotel to rent decor items instead?

Research Group Activities

As you plan for your destination wedding, pay special attention to your guests. It’s a big deal for these friends and family to take time out of their busy schedules to attend your destination wedding. So take time to ensure they have an enjoyable experience.

Look into nearby group activities you can recommend to your guests. You may even want to reserve or book these activities in advance. You should also research local restaurants or other amenities and create a wedding guest guide.

Other To-Dos

  • Launch a wedding website
  • Order invitations
  • Select attendant attire

3 Months Before

Create a Timeline

Whether or not you’re working with a wedding coordinator, you’ll need to create a wedding timeline. This should include the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and the wedding day. Here are a few things you should include in your timeline:

  • Your hair and makeup appointments
  • When you’ll take photos
  • When you and your bridal party will eat
  • When the ceremony will start/end
  • When cocktail hour will start/end
  • When the reception will begin
  • Order of events during the reception
  • When all event rentals need to be returned

Every wedding timeline will be different. And remember, it’s okay if you get a little off-schedule on your wedding day. Here are some great examples to help you plan.

Other To-Dos

  • Finalize any last decoration details
  • Send Invitations
  • Confirm and finalize vendor details
  • Schedule hair and makeup appointments

1 Month Before

Create Your Photography Shot List

It’s important to provide your photographer with a wedding day shot list-- particularly when it comes to family photos. Talk to your photographer about what type of list is needed. A good wedding photographer is sure to get all the important wedding day shots. But if there’s a specific family grouping you want, let your photographer know.

Confirm Honeymoon Itineraries

A month before your wedding, check in on your honeymoon itinerary to make sure all details are finalized. This is especially important if you’ll be traveling somewhere away from your destination location. A few things to confirm are:

  • Flight tickets and seats
  • Lodging
  • Activity bookings
  • Get your ring cleaned

With everything else going on, it can be easy to overlook additional travel details for your honeymoon. Taking some time to confirm your plans will prevent any stress on the week of your wedding.

Other To-Dos

  • Write your vows
  • Choose your wedding playlist
  • Put together guest welcome bags/kits

Week of the Wedding

Apply for a Marriage License

You typically have to apply for a marriage license in the destination you’re visiting. However, if you’re getting married outside of the United States, this process may be a bit more complicated

Review and understand the requirements ahead of time so you know what to do come the week of your wedding.

Relax and Enjoy Your Wedding!

Your wedding is a time to celebrate, stress-free! All your hard work and careful planning has paid off. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy this special time with your friends, family, and soon-to-be spouse.


Choose The Best Destination Photographer for Your Wedding

Planning a destination wedding certainly has its difficulties. In many ways though, it’s much easier than the traditional wedding planning process. Especially if you do it correctly. 

If you have questions about how to plan a destination wedding in Hawaii, give me a call at (808) 295-1166. I am a Hawaii destination wedding photographer and have been photographing weddings in Hawaii for many years. I understand the time and effort it takes to pull off a fabulous destination wedding. 

Looking for a photographer to capture your destination wedding in Hawaii? Contact me! I would love to learn more about your wedding and how we can partner together on your special day.

Kristen Hook