Don’t Eat All the Chickens in the Village – Top Tips for a Destination Wedding

20 Jun

Are you totally over the buffet choices at your local Marriott Hotel?  Destination weddings can be an exciting, exotic choice when planning your big day. Who wouldn’t want to be married on a beautiful tropical beach or a pristine, snowy mountain?  BUT. There is a lot more to consider than the backdrop for your wedding photographs.

When Roberto (of Roberto Farren Photography) and I became engaged, we were already guaranteed a destination wedding for at least 2/3’s of our attendees. I’m from New England in the US.

Roberto Farren Photography

Boston, MA skyline at sunrise.

Bob was born and raised in London, to an English father and Portuguese mother.

Roberto Farren Photography

Moody skies over the Queen’s House, Greenwich, London

We were living in London at the time, but spent a lot of time visiting my family in New Hampshire and Boston and Bob’s mother’s family in Portugal.

Copyright Joe D'Cruz Photography

Santa Clara a Velha, Portugal

While it didn’t take us too long to decide to hold our wedding in Portugal, it wasn’t a decision we  rushed, and it certainly wasn’t one that we made alone. I discussed the decision with my parents and my close friends, who were the ones who would be traveling furthest if we celebrated our wedding anywhere but New England.  I knew that the length and cost of the flight would unfortunately mean that some aunts, uncles and cousins, and most notably, grandparents, would not be able to attend.  This applied to Bob as well, who had family and friends that weren’t able to join us in Portugal, even though the distance and the cost was a little less overwhelming.  What we did know was that, for those that were able to sacrifice the time and money to join us in Santa Clara-a-Velha (the small Portuguese village where Bob’s mom was born and lived until she married his dad and moved to London with him) it would be not only a wedding, but a trip that they’d never forget.

My immediate family was able to make the trip, as were most of my closest friends and some of my extended family.  Bob speaks fluent Portuguese, and was able to make great arrangements for accommodation for all of our non-Portuguese attendees, which was a massive help.  I learned enough nouns and colors to get through most of the rest of the planning, and we were also extremely lucky that we were both able to take sabbaticals from our jobs, get to Portugal a month early, and work out the final details in person.

We took a lot of different factors into our decision and planning… here are some of the important ones, including some we learned along the way, and a couple that we wished we’d learned earlier:

Some tips as you make the decision to hold a destination wedding:

  • If you, like us, have family and friends all over the world, talk to people.  Get feedback from parents (especially if they are helping to pay for your wedding) and close friends, and work with them to make the best decision for your core group of people.  On your wedding day, your marriage is more about the people that surround you than the place you’re standing.
  • Consider other guests as well: Will they need passports or visas? Do they HAVE passports? How long are flights? How much will flights and accommodations cost them? Will older guests be able to travel the distance comfortably and safely? Will there be a language barrier?  Know the answers, plan ahead, and provide people with as much info as possible.
  • Speaking of info, don’t forget the following: currency; customs; key words, if you’re going to a country with a different language; cultural differences, especially cultural no-nos; weather; electrics (will they need power adapters to charge/use electronics?); driving (which side of the road, etc) and the list goes on.
  • Don’t forget the budget: Given 3 equal piles of money, what you can do in London is different than what you can do in New England is different than what you can do in rural Portugal.
  • If you’re going somewhere off the beaten path, give a heads up to the locals as applicable.  This was particularly needed in our case… we let the local bar, cafe and gas station know that about 40 Brits and Americans would be descending on the village.  While they were able to order enough beer and wine to keep us jolly for the week, we managed to eat all of the chickens in the village by day 4.  I’m not even joking.
  • Unless you are going to a resort that specializes in destination weddings, be aware that things you’ve come to expect might not be  the norm in other places.  Things like wedding favors, make-up artists, and vegetarian meals don’t exist in the small village of Santa Clara (“Yes, this is vegetable meal… it only has bacon and a little bit of chorizo.”).   Think ahead, make lists and double check.
  • Do your homework.  Do you need a marriage license from where you live before you are married abroad?  Do you need to file paperwork, show birth certificates, or produce proof of your first communion to priests or city officials?  We did.  Go ask Google what you’ll need.
  • Amazon Prime has not quite reached every last corner of the world… hold on to your good attitude, and if wake up on your wedding day to find out that you need to pick up your wedding favors at a gas station from a man on a motorbike, then go pick up your wedding favors at a gas station from a man on a motorbike.  It’s a wedding, it’s a marriage and it’ll be a great story!
  • Think about having a low-key gathering closer to home following your destination wedding.  Roberto and I traveled back to New England a few months after our Portugal wedding for a cookout at my parent’s house.  All of my family and friends that hadn’t made it out to Portugal were able to attend and we had a great time celebrating and sharing the memories of our Portuguese wedding.

Once you think you’ve covered all your bases and make your decision, enjoy the process!  Destination weddings are an adventure for all involved.  Don’t get too stressed about the details (who cares that the ribbon on your bouquet is a shade lighter than the ribbon on your flower girl’s basket? NO ONE!) and enjoy the location for the reason you chose it.

Copyright of Joe D'Cruz Photography

Making our escape from the village in a second hand Land Rover. TO ADVENTURE!

Thanks for reading,



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