Planning a wedding can be tough. Sure, it’s a super-happy time of life. After all, you’re getting married! To your best friend!
But while it might be a super-happy time, it also tends to be a super-busy time.
There are 1001 decisions to be made about everything from clothes to flowers, food to cake, guest to where those guests are going to be sitting. And let’s not forget vows, invitations, and honeymoon plans. Or the challenge of staying within budget.
Now let’s add some distance to the whole planning process. How do you go about making all of these decisions about your big day when you’re not even living in the same place?
OK, take a deep breath, because we’re here to tell you it can be done. And it can be done without stressing you both to the max.
So who are we to be dishing out advice on this topic?
I’m Lisa. I met my now-husband, Mike, when he was living in Papua New Guinea and I was living in Los Angeles. We started our relationship long distance. We got engaged seven months later, while we were still long distance. And just to complicate things, we decided to get married in my home country of Australia.
And I’m Eva. When we got engaged, my Ecuadorian partner was living in the US. I was living in Holland. We got married in my home country, Belgium. With 4 countries involved, this adventure might sound like a logistical nightmare. But we managed to plan our Big Day with our loved ones by our side and within our budget.
These are our best tips on how to plan a wedding when you’re in a long distance relationship (and do it so that you still want to marry the person when the big day finally comes.)
1. Talk about hopes and expectations right from the start
It’s important to talk through your expectations and hopes from the very beginning. Even before you get into serious wedding-planning mode you should talk about what you think you want.
This will help you get a better understanding about the things that are really important to each of you. it will help align your expectations and your budget, and it will help make decisions easier when the time comes.
So, ask and answer questions like these:
- What do you want our wedding day to be like?
- What is really important to you about our wedding day?
- Where do you want to get married?
- When do you want to get married?
- Who do you want to marry us?
- Who do you really want to be at our wedding?
- How much money are we prepared to spend on our wedding? What about our honeymoon?
- Are there things about our wedding that we already know will be important to our families?
- What do we need to decide first? (E.g., guest list and budget, or where we want to get married?)
2. Be flexible about the things that don’t really matter to you
When it comes to their wedding day, everyone has some things that matter a great deal to them and other things they don’t really care about one way or another. So, know what the things are that really matter to you, and be flexible about the rest.
Lisa’s story: “I didn’t really want to have a cake at our wedding, but it was important to my mother. So we had a cake, because having a cake mattered more to her than not having one did to us. My mother was doing the lion’s share of overseeing the details of our wedding—which was held at my parent’s house—and it seemed entirely reasonable under the circumstances to shrug and order a cake.
It’s particularly critical to be flexible and relaxed if you need to delegate tasks like picking vendors. My mother organized everything from hiring the marquee to picking the vendor for our reception dinner. We couldn’t be there to taste-test things ourselves, so she did that for us. We did pick the menu for the reception, but she chose the vendor.”
3. Get organized
Get organized. Fast. I don’t care if you never make a to-do list in any other area of life… use one when you’re planning your wedding.
Here’s a link to a wedding to-do list to get you started. Don’t pay too much attention to the time frames attached, you can do all of this in a lot less time than nine months, trust us, but you should use a list like this to keep you on track.
4. Divide up the tasks
When you’re in a long distance relationship (and particularly when you’re getting married in a third place altogether) it can be hard to feel really connected to the process.
You don’t want to arrive at your wedding day a bit shell-shocked, wondering, “How did I get here again?” One way to avoid this happening is to divide the tasks so that both of you feel involved in the process.
Eva’s story: “We took about 10 months to plan our wedding, and set our budget and shares very early on. As I was living within driving distance from the location of our wedding, most of the organization for the day itself fell on my shoulders: scouting venues, finding a DJ, photographer and florist, tasting cake… My husband chipped in by taking care of decorations, wedding bands, and invitations on his side of the globe – anything that was not too heavy and not perishable was not bound to borders.”
Pro-Tip: Always carry a camera or a smartphone, so you can share small details of the preparations with each other via text or email.
5. Consider working with a wedding planner
Again, especially if you’re in a long distance relationship and planning your wedding in a different location, consider hiring a wedding planner. Just make sure you like and trust the person you hire, since they will be your go-to person and co-ordinating all the details for your big day.
6. Consider a destination wedding
Having a destination wedding (going somewhere like Vanuatu and getting married on an island there) can save you a lot of time, stress, and even money. It can help keep the guest list contained, and the venue will take care of most of the details related to food & decorations.
Destination weddings are not for everyone, but if you’re in a long distance relationship and have limited time and energy to oversee a lot of details, do consider whether you want to get married somewhere exotic surrounded by just a handful of family and close friends.
7. Think through any potential long distance complications well in advance
To avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure you know precisely what you need to do in terms of official permissions, visas and other documents.
This is critical if one of you needs a visa for travel, or specific documentation to get married. If this is the case, this issue should be your top priority. Discussing flower choices can wait. This can’t.
Eva’s story: “The most painstaking part for us was the application for the marriage license. As my husband is not an EU citizen, we needed to gather tons of documents before we were even allowed to get married. This journey took a lot of effort from both of us, and our moms (who spent many days waiting for their turn at some official register) and involved consulates, embassies, certified translators, soviet-style stamps and signatures.”
Start by answering these questions:
- What documents or permissions do you need to have in hand before the wedding?
- Will anyone need a visa to enter the country for the wedding?
- Where do you plan to live after we’re married?
- What visas or permits will we need after the wedding (E.g., if you plan to file for a US green card or permanent residency elsewhere, start organizing that as well.)
- What are the implications of where we want to get married on our post-wedding visa plans? (E.g., if you want to live in the USA after you’re married and one of you is not a US citizen, it’s wise to consider getting married in the US.)
8. Research prices in your different locations
Do some research on pricing, VAT and sales tax, to actually benefit from residing at different locations.
Lisa’s story: “I bought my wedding dress in the US because it was much cheaper there than in Australia. I put it in a dress bag and carried it onto the plane as hand luggage, then asked the flight attendants to hang in the coat closet for me. They were happy to help.”
Eva’s story: “For our wedding, we had the favors, invitations and decoration made in Ecuador (mostly by our family) and the wedding bands in Ecuador and the USA.”
9. Embrace your differences and find ways to use them
Implement elements from your different backgrounds and serve it up with your own personal sauce.
Lisa’s story: “We used a world map as a seating chart. Each table was named after a country one of us had lived in, so guests were assigned to sit in Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Uganda, etc. And since we met and got to know each other via email, we put quotes from our letters inside the table numbers—different quotes for each table. We also served Thai food because we both love Thai food.”
Eva’s story: “We served Belgian food, an American-style cake and got everyone on the dance floor on a mixture of salsa, reggaeton, Belgian classics, 80s pop and new wave.”
10. Think about logistics for your guests
Don’t forget your guests that are traveling from afar—if you’re in a long distance relationship there are bound to be a number of those.
Make sure they can navigate their way out of the airport, give them some suggestions for places to visit, and advise them on hotels and restaurants.
Lisa’s story: “We made a simple website for our wedding. It provided details about the times and dates, and the gift registry. But we also included information on accommodation nearby, things to do and see in the area, and great places to eat.”
11. Plan other parties in different cities, too
If you’re in a long distance relationship, chances are good that some of your friends and family won’t be able to make the wedding, especially if it’s in a different country.
If you can, plan multiple parties in different locations so that everyone feels as if they have the option of celebrating with you somewhere.
Lisa’s story: “We got married in Australia in my parent’s backyard, and practically everyone who came to the wedding had to travel to be there. So we had our wedding on the Saturday, and a much more informal brunch back at the house the next day. That gave us a chance to actually catch up with all those people who’d made such a huge effort to be there for our big day.
“But because we also had many family and friends in the US who couldn’t make it, we planned some additional parties. We hosted a big dinner at a local Lebanese restaurant back in Los Angeles six weeks after our wedding—a place with cheap food and a big dance floor. We also had a party several months later in Washington DC, at my sister’s house. And another party in Atlanta, where Mike lived after university.
So, all up we had five different wedding events. Our wedding invitations were actually designed and made by my sister to look like airline tickets. Inside each invitation was five boarding passes—each “boarding pass” listing the details for a different event. It was pretty crazy and we were definitely ready to be done with the whole world-wide wedding tour by the time we hit Atlanta, but it was also really fun.”
Pro-Tips: Really be intentional about keeping the costs down for all of these additional events. Pick cheap and cheerful restaurants or host a gathering at someone’s house.
Also, five different wedding parties is a lot. Think really, really carefully about adding all that extra planning to an already-complicated equation. Consider live-streaming your wedding instead, so that people can log-in online and watch you say “I do.”
Finally, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of planning extra parties, consider hiring someone to put together a video of your wedding day that you can play at your other events, or make some displays with wedding photos.
12. Talk about things other than the wedding, too
When you’re planning your wedding, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making every conversation about the wedding, and every visit about organizing wedding logistics.
When you’re in a long distance relationship, however, your time together is really limited. It’s especially important for you to remember to talk about other things, too. Set aside “wedding-free time” during Skype dates or visits to talk about other things going on in your life.
13. Schedule your arrival at least a week before the wedding
Do not plan for one or both of you to arrive just a couple of days before the wedding. There will be a bunch of things that need organizing and doing in those last days before the wedding. You don’t want to have to rush through these, and you’ll need time to reconnect, get over any jet lag, and enjoy being together.
14. Finally, enjoy – you are getting married!
Eva’s story: “Except for the nerve-wrecking paperwork, and the occasional bout of sadness and deep missing that is part of a long distance relationship, we enjoyed preparing for our wedding very much. It was a shared project, and it felt wonderful to work side-by-side for almost a year towards a day that all of our guests loved. I didn’t let worry and stress overtake the joy I felt in preparing. As I knew precisely what to do during my trips to Belgium, with all appointments set, I could feel the steady progress.”
Do everything you can while you’re planning your wedding to keep the big picture in mind. And that big picture is this: You’re getting married!!
This wedding day is not your happily-ever-after. It will be (hopefully) one shining, lovely day near the start of your happily-ever-after.
Remind yourself that despite all your planning and hard work your wedding day is not going to go perfectly, and that’s OK. The important thing will be that you’re there, together, making promises that you mean with your whole heart.
And did we mention together? After all this time in a long distance relationship, how amazing is that?