Folks often ask what I would have done differently to make our destination wedding story one with a happier outcome. There’s no way I could’ve known that the hotel was planning construction or that they’d go bonkers once I told our story publicly. You can ask the venue all the questions in the world but if they’re bent on defrauding you, it makes no difference.
Most of what was in my control went really well (solidarity fist bump for all the control freak event planning Type-As out there, booyah), and there were so many bright and shiny moments – like my Dad’s adorable toast and my brother’s precious turn as preacher and my Mom and Aunt dancing and shouting that they were having more fun than they’ve had “since the 70s.”
Also, my sister would like me to mention that she makes everything awesome, and as my Mermaid of Honor, she really did.
As for lessons learned, I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for the past 9 months. For all you gals & guys out there planning a wedding, here are a few truths, lessons and observations I discovered along the way. (Many are so simple, I know, but sometimes you just need an outsider to validate them for ya!)
1. YOU DO YOU
It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn and one of the toughest rules to follow, because everyone has an opinion about how things should be done and it’s easy to get off track when even little things seem like such a big deal.
But it’s your wedding, so if you want to skip reception traditions like making the single ladies scramble for the bouquet, you do you. If you want to wear pirate accessories with your white dress, you do you. If you want to get married at the courthouse, you do you. If you want Jello shots instead of a 3-tiered cake, you do you. If you don’t want to invite your creepster relative who no one likes, you do you. If you want to skip the added logistics of a huge bridal party, you do you. If you want a Richard Simmons impersonator to perform your ceremony, you do you.
You can’t please everyone, and you don’t have to.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION
You already know things didn’t go our way at all during wedding week, but that was just the nail in the coffin. I spent months tracking down the gruff wedding manager, politely asking simple questions about the budget and getting condescending replies, if he bothered to reply at all.
Based on his rudeness alone, I nearly moved venues, but I didn’t want to make life harder (or more expensive) for our guests who’d already booked at the hotel, and I was uncomfortable backing out of our agreement. It didn’t seem professional (OH, HOW I LAUGH AT THAT NOTION NOW). That’s me, worried about hurting feelings, stepping on toes or being branded a Bridezilla.
Don’t let your inner doormat take over if something feels off.
Of course we had no idea what shenanigans the hotel was up to behind the scenes, but we could’ve avoided their scam altogether if I’d just recognized an unworthy business partner upfront and bailed before they had the chance to bilk us for so much money. That’s a big regret and a painful lesson learned!
3. BE “SELFISH”
I cringe to even put that in writing, because it’s contrary to everything I believe in. When it comes to planning your wedding though, it just makes sense. Rick and I bent over backwards trying to be accommodating, and it added 100 times the stress to what was supposed to be a chill beach wedding.
We chose a location that was more convenient and less expensive for guests to get to (until Silver Airways botched that whole effort); we chose a date that would make it easy for my travel writing friends to attend (most didn’t) and would give guests enough time to plan and save; we chose a venue that would accommodate a larger number of guests based on RSVPs (then more than half backed out toward the end); we created a detailed website and welcome email with information on how to get around, what to wear, what to bring (most just texted us with questions without reading).
We made most of our decisions in light of everyone else’s needs, when in reality, we would’ve been quite satisfied alone on a beach in Hawaii!
I never recommend being selfish, but for your wedding, be sure you are really doing what YOU want to do.
4. SET A 60-DAY LIMIT ON PINTEREST RESEARCH
Pinterest is both the best and the worst thing that’s ever happened to wedding planning. I recommend diving in and making your Pinterest boards in the first month or two of planning. Solidify the projects and ideas you’re going with for your wedding and then never go back (except maybe to snag instructions). Not a day went by that I didn’t see some adorable DIY wedding idea that I just had to add to my list, and eventually I was in over my head.
5. BE PREPARED TO ANSWER THE SAME QUESTION 100 TIMES
I heard this from so many brides before we started planning, but didn’t understand the magnitude until I was knee deep in questions myself. Some were understandable; after all, many of our guests had never traveled internationally. I had to remind myself that not everyone has a thick passport or knows how to navigate a new country, and that’s ok. Hence, the comprehensive wedding website where all questions were painstakingly answered.
It made no difference though; we still got text messages asking us where the wedding was going to be and at what time. (Hint: it’s on the invitation!) Of course, I always wanted to be gracious and patient, especially with everyone who was making the effort to be there in person, but there were moments where I was screaming at my phone and pulling my hair out. Wedding planning can take you to new mental places, y’all.
6. BEWARE OF THE PHRASE “IT ONLY HAPPENS ONCE”
I guarantee those four words will cause you to open your wallet more often than you planned. I was never planning to spend big bucks for a veil, reception booze, ties for the groomsmen … but I ran out of time, and saying “it only happens once” made it easy to spend, spend, spend, when normally I’m so conservative with money.
While we stuck with our budget for the most part, when it came to the honeymoon, I was so exhausted with planning the wedding that I ended up booking at a super expensive all-inclusive, just to save time. It quite defeated the purpose of having a smaller wedding when we just blew a bunch of money on what was easy for the sake of our own sanity. It happens though, so be ready and think about adding some padding to your budget so you don’t overspend.
7. BUDGET BIG FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
The only line item I’d really say is worth a good chunk of dough is photography/videography. These moments really only happen once, and you don’t get a redo of your first look at each other or Grandma & Grandpa doing the Jitterbug. (Oh yeah, that happened!) Prioritize quality photography above all other expenses.
8. STAMPED RSVPS ARE NOT A GUARANTEE
I thought including a stamped RSVP card would make it easy for folks to respond, but it didn’t make much difference. We probably got about 20% of them back and the rest we had to contact individually. And I was SO stressed about matching the dang stamps to the envelopes!
9. BE A DIY BRIDE OR A DESTINATION BRIDE. NOT BOTH.
Make your own favors, they said. Have a casual beach wedding, they said. It’ll be fun, they said!
I just had to have it both ways, and I tell you what, y’all. The money & time spent being both Martha Stewart and Samantha Brown negated any funds saved by doing everything ourselves. Designing, sourcing, crafting and packing all our DIY goodies (while gorgeous!) was a lot to take on in addition to coordinating travel plans and whatnot. While I’m really happy with how the little details like favors and decorations turned out, they were hardly worth the struggle and the extra bag fees.
Who buys shells to take to the beach?! This gal.
10. NEVER LOOK AT WEDDING DRESSES AGAIN
Once you’ve plonked down your credit card, do whatever it takes to never look at a wedding dress ever again. Trust me, y’all, you don’t want to work yourself into a tizzy if you come across your dream dress a month later.
11. PREPARE TO FIND OUT WHO’S ON YOUR SQUAD
Rick and I were absolutely showered with love & good wishes from friends and family, and were bowled over by everyone who spent their time and money to be with us in person from as far away as Italy, Afghanistan and Australia. All that love makes me hesitate to even mention this, but the overflow of kindness from some made the silence from others that much more obvious. It’s not even about attendance or gifts – you never know what someone is going through financially or why they can’t make it, especially when it’s out of the country – but I was really surprised at the invited guests who just didn’t seem to care at all. No note, no RSVP – nothing!
While it may have hurt my feelings then, there’s a lot of freedom knowing who’s really in your corner and who’s just a Facebook lurker.
12. NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE DETAILS AS MUCH AS YOU DO
In general, brides tend to be particular about the little things – colors and napkins and silverware and etiquette. With my background in PR and event planning, I readily admit that there may have been a few moments where wedding planning became a detail-oriented work project rather than a fun event. Throw in the fact that I’m used to having hundreds of thousands more dollars to work with, and you can probably see why I was a bit frazzled.
I don’t know that there’s any solution to that – it’s just my nature. But I was far more worried about fonts, word choice and music timing than I probably should’ve been leading up to the big day, and in the end, no one – including Rick! – really noticed the tiny details. Food, beach & rum drinks seemed to be the major priorities for all of our guests.
13. HOPE FOR THE BEST & PLAN FOR THE WORST
Everyone says, “It’ll all work out in the end.”
I’m here to tell you, there’s a chance it might not.
Just knowing that should take a weight off your shoulders because even if everything is a mess, you will find a way to make the best of it, even if making the best of it means laughing maniacally when the hair “stylist” turns your head into a bird’s nest an hour before you walk down the aisle (see below for what I asked for on the left versus what I got on the right), or when the “DJ” plays the same song three times in a row.
Not to say perfection is unattainable. On our honeymoon, we met another couple that just got married and they couldn’t stop gushing about how wonderful their wedding was and how they wish they could do it all over again. Rick and I just stared at them aghast.
It could go either way. Just be ready to roll with the punches.
If you have an inkling that your guests or venue might give you trouble, for the love of your own sanity, just elope. If we had it to do again, we would’ve run off and saved ourselves some serious stress.
Then again, we always would’ve regretted not getting married in The Bahamas if we skipped town, and our parents would’ve been heartbroken. (See? It’s hard not to consider everyone else – even after the fact!)
I hope that these lessons & observations will help you navigate your own wedding planning obstacles, and that you’ll feel empowered in your decision-making. May your planning seas be ever smooth and your marriage be long and happy!
If nothing else, our debacle has shown me time and time again that I’ve married the perfect man for me, a rock solid guy who knows how to weather my ups and downs, keep me safe from wedding venue lunatics and remind me that fonts and stamps aren’t really that big of a deal.
In the grand scheme of things, knowing that in my heart is more valuable than one “perfect” day could ever be.