Thinking about a destination wedding? Marrying someone from a different country? Don’t know where to start planning?
Don’t worry — this international group of expats and travel bloggers have got your questions covered.
7. How have you dealt with well-intentioned people who want to give traditional wedding gifts when your mobile lifestyle doesn’t mesh with the usual gift registry model? Did you refuse gifts? Set up an alternate registry?
Andrea: We were actually pretty silly about this and did a registry for traditional gifts. I knew a lot of people don’t want to just give money and wanted them to know what types of things we needed since we had already been living together for years before we got engaged. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the presents we received, but we’re still not settled and having to move everything around with us now is a little bit of a hassle. We already had a lot of stuff to begin with, however, and a few extra boxes probably don’t matter too much at this point.
Emily: We set up a small registry in the US with things that pack well – sheets, towels, small kitchen gadgets. Luckily most people got the hint and either went that route or just gave checks, which pack very well!
Laurel: We asked for cash, but did set up an English language registry in Germany (which wasn’t so easy to find). A few guests did bring gifts, which we appreciated, but it did end up costing almost an additional $500 to take them back to Germany with us.
Lindsey: For our Philadelphia event, most guests understood this and planned accordingly. There were a couple unwieldy gifts like a pizza stone and a set of dishes, but we made it work.
Sam: This was something I really struggled with, especially with the more traditional members of my family in the US who really wanted to give physical gifts. But given the electrical differences between the US & Europe, and the limited luggage capacity, it just wasn’t possible. The majority of our guests gave through our Honeyfund site. We set up a website for our honeymoon, and included prices for all of the fun things we wanted to do so then people could just pick and choose. We made sure to take pictures of us doing each of the activities too so that we could send a photo with our thank-you card.
Satu: When we invited our friends and family we made clear that we’d rather them spend the money intended for gifts in the travel expenses to come and join us on the wedding day. We still did get some actual gifts, but these were very well thought out and often partly hand-made, ones that had lot of value for us emotionally.
8. How do you choose a honeymoon destination when you’re always traveling or already abroad, and make it more special than just another trip?
Alyson: We flew to Maldives from Sri Lanka, a couple of days after the wedding. We wouldn’t normally chose to visit that sort of resort island, we’re more backpackers than luxury travellers, but it was nearby, easy to do and we were very keen scuba divers back then. We thought it would probably be the only time we would take that sort of trip, it certainly was pretty special, a week of diving and staying in a honeymoon suite in a lovely resort.
Andi: Our favorite country in the world is Brasil, so we immediately knew where we wanted to honeymoon. We specifically chose places in the country that we had never been to before and properties that were outrageously romantic. We also traveled to one of the most exotic island’s in the world, that just so happens to be located right off the Brasilian coast and was a dream destination for both of us.
Andrea: Our honeymoon just ended up being four nights on another Whitsunday island and then we took the entire year off to travel the following year. We always call that our “real” honeymoon =)
Elizabeth: We had our wedding and then we did nothing! We were going to head to some other islands and travel around a bit but then when we got to paradise and had the wedding, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beach and ended up spending almost two weeks sunning ourselves, eating, sleeping and other such honeymoon activities…it was just what I needed.
Emily: We never really do beach trips — our vacations tend to be more active. So for our honeymoon, we went to Aruba, which was a new country for both of us. We relaxed more than we ever have on a vacation, but there was still enough to do that we didn’t get bored just lying on the beach.
Kaley: We chose it based on the fact that I’d always wanted to go to Italy, and this was my chance to do it in a very romantic way. My husband’s cousins made it their wedding present, so they paid for nice hotels and transportation (by train, a great way to travel in Europe).
Laurel: We choose to honeymoon in Canada since we were already there, but visited destinations that were new to both of us. It was very romantic.
Lindsey: Make it different than the trips you normally take – if you’re used to being very active (hiking, biking, etc.), make it relaxing. Almost five years later and we still haven’t taken our official honeymoon so we’ll see how that goes this year!
Michi: I chose a location we had never traveled to, and one that was close to Spain, as David had to return to work. We made it more special by indulging a little more than we usually would when we travel.
Sam: I travel enormous amounts for my job, so when we were looking for our wedding destination, I wanted total relaxation. I didn’t want to go to the typical honeymoon spots and somehow ended up stumbling across St Lucia, an island that had an Anglo-Franco history and decided it was meant to be. We ended up choosing an all-inclusive resort there, and splurged for a room with a Butler, which was a ton of fun — after so many months of scrimping and saving, it was definitely nice to experience a week of luxury!
Satu: We went straight on to Italy from our wedding with a group of friends, and then few months later had the real honeymoon in Portugal for a long weekend. We did not book extravagant honeymoon accommodation etc, just picked a spot where we could do the activities we liked, eat good food and enjoy each other’s company. In a way it was just another trip, but knowing it wasn’t, seemed to be enough.
9. Did you plan a smaller wedding or gathering with friends in your home/current country?
Andi: Yes, once my husband immigrated to the USA we had a small courthouse wedding. My grandparents were our witnesses, since they were unable to make the trip to Argentina. Then we had an intimate dinner with some other of my family members.
Emily: We planned a party in the US four months after our wedding in Chile. We did not call it a wedding or do any kind of vow renewal, but I did wear my dress again after much pleading from female family and friends (ok, and because I wanted to). A family member hosted in her backyard, and we did a lunch buffet with dancing. It was low key and lots of fun.
We planned to do this from the outset because I knew some important people wouldn’t be able to make it to Chile. We only invited my bridesmaids and immediate family to the wedding itself, which turned out to be a blessing when the 8.8 earthquake hit Chile a week before our wedding. Getting even those people into Santiago when the airport was shut down for several days was a nightmare – one group actually didn’t make it – and it would have been total chaos with more guests.
Kaley: I am in the process of doing so currently. I want to do a small reception-type party this summer in the States.
Laurel: A few friends threw me a bridal shower before my wedding and we held a brunch after our wedding for my husband’s German friends. It was casual but worked well and was a good opportunity to catch up with everyone.
Lindsey: Three years after our official wedding, we organized a wedding reception in Philadelphia for our friends and family who weren’t able to attend our Paris event.
Michi: My mother-in-law organized a wonderful reunion in the Spanish countryside for those who hadn’t been able to attend the wedding in California.
Sam: Because we didn’t invite any extended family to our French wedding, we did do a reception in the US about two months afterwards. Like our wedding, it was pretty low-key as well, with just cake and a simple buffet, but we did hire a photographer to take family pictures so that they could have some keepsakes as well.
10. How did you incorporate the culture and traditions of your fiancé into your wedding without it looking cheesy?
Andi: Our entire wedding from start to finish was created by the both of us, so it was exactly what we wanted. If it appeared cheesy in any way, we couldn’t have cared less, because it represented us and our love. Everything was in English and Spanish, so that all of our guests could follow along.
Emily: I resent the implication that the fiancé’s traditions are always cheesy! In any case, Chilean weddings aren’t hugely different from weddings in the US in terms of the ceremony. The main difference is that all weddings, regardless of budget, have a full open bar, and they last until 5 am — neither of which was a hard tradition to incorporate.
Laurel: We did a log cutting tradition that is famous in Bavaria, where the couple must work together on a two-handed saw to cut the log. It was strange for our Canadian guests, but we explained it to them and just went with it. Our German guests were very confused that we were getting married outside and not in a church. They were also confused when we had them blow bubbles instead of throwing rice, (which is illegal in national parks) but they ended up being more enthusiastic about it than the Canadian guests. I think all of our guests enjoyed seeing the different traditions but appreciated that we explained them in advance so they could have some idea of what to expect.
Kaley: I think we had to incorporate my traditions actually. We had a Spanish and American flag hanging up at our reception, for one. We said our vows in English and Spanish. We introduced our Spanish family and friends to the glass-clinking tradition of getting the bride and groom to kiss.
Lindsey: We went for modern flourishes in the space we decorated and the only traditional touch was our piece montée (croquembouche). My husband insisted on having it and it certainly turned heads.
Michi: We had a bilingual notary marry us, and the architectural style and feel of Santa Barbara is very Spanish. We also set up the seating traditionally so that David and I ate at the same table with his family, my sister, and cousins.
Sam: It was more so about me incorporating my traditions into our French wedding! We got married at the city hall, but we wanted to do more than just a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sort of thing, so we met with the Mayor beforehand and asked if we could incorporate a few things into the ceremony. I had friends read a text in both French and English, and we were supposed to have some music too but there were last-minute technical difficulties. I also wanted us to have an American-style cake — luckily my husband had no attachments to the typical French croquembouche and we were able to find a fantastic American baker here in Paris.
Satu: It all welded together quite naturally, and the locals of the village we got married in added lot of their traditions to the wedding and the days preceding it, partly to our pleasant surprise.
11. When planning a wedding abroad, where did you scrimp and where did you splurge? Would you have done it differently?
Alyson: I would not book a wedding package if I had my time over again. I think we would have done better to just go to the country and work it out for ourselves on the ground. There was so much included in the wedding package that we didn’t need or want and some elements were done very badly. We wanted an elephant at the ceremony, doesn’t everyone? The hotel arranged this and charged us $400. I don’t think that money went to the owner of the elephant. We probably could have arranged something similar for $20 if we had done it ourselves and the money would have gone to the people who deserved it. It sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, really, we had a great time, it was everything we could have wanted in a wedding, a little bit crazy, very Sri Lankan, my Mum and Dad say it was the best holiday they ever went on.
Andi: We splurged on our wedding location, photographer, champagne, and honeymoon. We scrimped on my dress, invitations, and decorations.
Elizabeth: I will never regret having a private ceremony with only me and my husband, as it was the perfect, stress free day but when I look back at my pictures and my makeup isn’t how I wanted, our a bow was not just right, I think about how nice it would have been to have others there. This is a great option for couples getting married whose families are not able to come over but of course it would have been that much more special had my closest loved ones in attendance.
Emily: The only thing I would have done differently was an earthquake-related snafu – after the ceremony, the caterers informed us that the wine (purchased separately from their services) hadn’t arrived. They hadn’t told us before because they didn’t want us to freak out. Cue my dad, my brand new husband and me throwing all the cash we had at my brother-in-law and sending him to the nearest liquor store. It worked out fine, but it would have been nice if we’d realized earlier and had time to get the wines we wanted instead of racing to get any old thing. Luckily the champagne came with the caterer, so we were able to drink that during our first course.
Laurel: We splurged on our location, getting married on the rooftop of a luxury hotel in the Canadian Rockies. We also splurged on a harpist that played before and during our wedding ceremony. Both were definitely worth it. I saved on table decorations by forgoing flowers and creating candle and water centerpieces instead. We wouldn’t have done anything differently. It was a wonderful day that we shared with close friends and family.
Kaley: I scrimped on guests, meaning I didn’t invite the friend of the friend, if you know what I mean. We splurged on the meal — the open bar, the food, etc. In Spain, food and drink is very important.
Sam: We saved by limiting the number of people we invited. I got recommendations from friends for the hair and make-up artists, so that helped as well. On the splurge side, one of my big tips is: it’s worth it to pay extra to do trials beforehand with the hair and make-up artist so you don’t end up with any surprises on the big day. It’s also worth it to take the time to meet with the photographer beforehand to make sure you click. These are pictures you will hopefully be keeping for a lifetime, so you want to be sure they end up meeting your expectations.
If you already live together and don’t leave on your honeymoon right away, another good tip is to book a nice hotel at least for your wedding night — it helps make the “specialness” last a bit longer, instead of just going back to your normal bedroom. We weren’t leaving on our honeymoon until almost two months later, so we got a room with an Eiffel Tower view and ordered room service and champagne, and it was a blast!
My last piece of advice is — until you actually get married, you think your wedding is about you and your (future) husband. Once you start the process, you realize it actually most about others. Everyone will have an opinion about what they think is right — your mother, your future MIL, your friends, etc, and they can at times be just as invested in the process as you are. Sometimes they do have good advice, but sometimes it is okay to put your foot down and say “Thank you for your comments, but that is not what we want”. Even if that is easier said than done…
Satu: I think the most important thing is to have a wedding that looks like and suits you personally, not to go by someone else’s wishes and standards. I’m very happy how everything went and would like to do it all again, with the same person and in the same location though!
12. If you decided to elope, how and why did you come to that decision — and how did you explain it to your friends and family?
Elizabeth: We talked a lot about having everyone come to Thailand and planning a still small event but after researching it and trying to plan something I was so overwhelmed with the cost and task of organizing such a soiree and gave up before I even started. We explained this simple idea that we didn’t have the desire to have a big wedding and they all understood. We also asked everyone to send some some words for our day and read them together after dinner with pictures of our lives surrounding us. While I would have loved to have everyone there for my wedding day, having that special day just for us was even better.
A HUGE thank you to the following:
Questions courtesy of these engaged bloggers:
Jess: Canadian engaged to a Canadian, living in Malta
Kaitlin: American engaged to a German, living in Germany
Lauren: American engaged to an Australian, currently traveling
Susan: American engaged to an American, former expat
(Me): American engaged to a Brit, living in Paris
Answers courtesy of these married bloggers:
Alyson: British married to an Australian. Wed in Sri Lanka, 2003
Andi: American married to an Argentinean. Wed in Buenos Aires, 2011
Andrea: American-Australian married to an Australian. Wed on Hamilton Island, Australia, 2010
Elizabeth: American married to an American. Wed in southern Thailand, 2012
Emily: British-American married to a Chilean. Wed in Chile, 2010
Kaley: American married to a Spaniard. Wed in Zamora, Spain 2012
Laurel: Canadian married to a German. Wed in Banff National Park, Canada, 2011
Lindsey: American married to a Frenchman. Wed in Paris, 2008
Michi: American married to a Spaniard. Wed in Santa Barbara, California, 2010
Sam: American married to a Frenchman. Wed in Paris, 2011
Satu: Finnish married to a British-Irishman. Wed in Slovenia, 2007
For those curious, I’ve uploaded the full un-edited answers to each question on Scribd.