I met Mimi at the age of six, in first grade. I first met her husband, Gavin, at the age of 11 when we all attended the same middle school. We went to different high schools, saw each other once or twice in college, but mostly were just friends in the world of social media. After my close friend, Claire, attended Mimi and Gavin’s wedding and I started to see their wedding photos pop up in my feed. I was absolutely hooked on the beauty of it, and I was thrilled for them that they had planned a destination wedding! Seeing as I’m pretty sure that I want a destination wedding (not that I’m engaged), I wanted to hear from someone firsthand what it was like to plan a huge event from afar! Conveniently, Mimi and I happened to be in town over the same weekend, so we got together with wine and sat down to chat. One of the big things that I learned from her is that she hadn’t been able to find almost ANY articles like this in the process of researching for her wedding, so she was more than willing to answer all of my questions! Her tips and advice for every question I asked her were all amazing, and she willingly shared some of the images from their intimately beautiful day with me as well!
- How did you transport your gown, or was it purchased in Greece? And if it was purchased in Greece, how did you handle alterations?
I purchased it stateside. I got my dress from BHLDN on clearance. I ended up needing to pick a gown that wasn’t as stiff, so it actually helped streamline what types of gowns I was looking for. I had to pick something that I knew I could pack and fold, so I bought an expensive garment bag, and that was my primary carry-on.
I did alterations stateside as well. What I was worried about, mostly, was getting the wrinkles out. My dress was silk chiffon, and you’re not supposed to press it. I read a bunch of blogs and different things about different ways to get wrinkles out of silk chiffon, and ended up buying probably 8 trial steamers on Amazon and then buying like, 8 yards of silk chiffon and crumpling it into balls, and then hanging it out and steaming it to see what burnt it, didn’t burn it, etc. I ended up finding this really great Jiffy steamer. It has this very intricate internal mechanism to prevent the water from spitting back out, which is how the silk chiffon will burn. I put that in my checked luggage, and in hindsight I maybe should have put it in my carry-on just in case they lost my checked bag, but everything ended up being fine. We also practiced using the steamer on Gavin’s suit, which also fit in the garment bag I’d purchased for my dress.
- What else did you pack? Did you bring any other wedding elements over with you?
We mainly packed just clothing, and got everything else over there. We had a wedding coordinator in Greece, who also acted as a translator for us, so we did all of the florals and the decorations from vendors over there, which actually helps support their economy. Greece is struggling economically, and we wanted to make sure that we were supporting the local vendors over there. It was actually really great for me, because part of the reason why I wanted to have a destination wedding is because I would have never been able to let go. I would be up at 3am painting a leaf so that it’s the perfect gold color, and come the actual day I would be a wreck and nothing would be fun anymore.
- What are some reasons why you decided to have a destination wedding?
We always talked about going abroad, and the first iteration of this was doing a Honeymoon in Greece, which morphed into the idea of eloping in Greece. But when we started telling our friends and talking about eloping with people we were surprised when they expressed interest in going to a wedding abroad, so we got our asses in gear, made a guest list, and sent out invitations a year in advance.
- How did you handle the guest list with the constraints of intimacy? And what about invitations/RSVPs?
We did have to cut our guest list, mostly because of the venues. We wanted to get married on Santorini, overlooking the Caldera, and these venues are small! We could only have 40 people say yes, so we cut it down. We could invite 30 people each; I got 30 and he got 30. Unfortunately you have to be okay with cutting your list, and people are going to get their feelings hurt. It sucks, but there’s only so much you can do. People will talk negatively about your decision, regardless.
To save money we didn’t do traditional invitations, because they can be quite expensive. I made all of the save-the-dates with an online postcard maker, printed out everything at work, and mailed them. We had all of the actual invitations online. When we sent out the physical save-the-dates we included a one-page letter that basically said, “here’s what we want to do…no pressure.” We understood that it was a lot of money and a big commitment, and didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to attend. On the back of the letter was the entire invitee list so that people could travel together, stay together, and hopefully save money.
Another thing we did that is a little unorthodox was we didn’t allow any plus-ones unless we knew them, and we didn’t allow children because of liability concerns abroad.
Because we were living in a different country, venues required a headcount a lot earlier. We were getting married in June and told guests to return RSVPs by February, but didn’t really need them until March. Because we had a smaller guest list I wasn’t afraid to text people to ask if they were coming, and we felt comfortable enough with checking in with people just to say “hey, we need a head count.”
- Did you, or anyone else have any problems while traveling?
We were so lucky. No one really lost their stuff. No one got sick, hurt, or lost. We realized that the people we surround ourselves with are extremely self-sufficient, and everybody was able to get around easily because they had so much time to plan their trip.
- What was your biggest obstacle with planning a wedding abroad?
Cultural differences. The most difficult thing for me was that I’m American, and I want all of the contracts, and liability clauses, and all of the other critical documentation/paperwork, but there’s just none of that in Europe. You just wire them money with no contract. Word of mouth is their contract. I really had to let go of my traditional American values of contract-driven form and just trust the venues. I did my research on all of the wedding coordinators and venues, which have Facebook pages and other forms of social media. I even went as far as to reach out to random couples on their Facebook who didn’t know me, but seemed to somehow be involved. Trust their expertise and trust the process. In the end, it will be perfect because it’s about the marriage and it’s a celebration about the marriage.
- Okay, so… budgeting. Weddings can be very expensive. How did you handle creating and sticking to a budget for a destination wedding?
The trick to any budget is you over budget. Cut corners where you can, such as religiously checking airfare prices to find the best deal, and finding a consigned dress that you can alter. We also opened a travel credit card to accrue mileage and planned an entire mock trip a year in advance to see the venues and help plan for what to expect spending-wise. Overall, we budgeted $11,000 for travel and accommodations, which includes multiple family members’ travel and our honeymoon, and $10,000 for the wedding.
Mimi’s Top Tips for Saving Money Abroad
Open up a travel credit card ahead of time to accrue mileage
Watch the money exchange rate and take out cash when it’s lowest to help optimize your spending
Eliminate the bachelor and bachelorette parties and skip on having a Bridal Party
Create digital invitations to send to guests in lieu of mailing paper ones
Don’t be afraid to shop around on prices for everything – especially alterations
Don’t pay for hair and makeup – practice and hone your skills, or utilize friends’ skills!
Reuse wedding flowers and floral décor in the reception
Cut your photographer early and skip on the photos of the dance floor and end of the night. Everyone has their phones out and will capture those moments for you
Remember to budget for wire transfer fees and possible emergencies. Ask your wedding coordinator and/or venues if they can give you more money in-person to help cut down on multiple fees
- How did you find your vendors?
Because Santorini is tiny, everyone knows everyone. Greece has very specific vendor laws and they do not allow outside vendors to come in, as to help support the economy. There are only two florists on the island, so I let my wedding coordinator use her best judgment based on what I wanted. I did my own research up front to see what I liked, and then started looking at the wedding coordinating agencies. I ended up choosing Divine Weddings Santorini and coordinating through them. My best advice is to do your research, and lots of it.
- Let’s talk itinerary. How did you plan for you and your guests? Did you supply accommodations for everyone, or were guests on their own?
We kept an ongoing, updated itinerary online that was sent out to everyone who RSVP’d, that included the name of the hotel we would be staying in, and so on, and details of everywhere we would be traveling to during our two weeks in the country. That way guests could make their own plans and decide what they wanted to join in on based on their own time constraints and budgets. We also made sure that everywhere we stayed/rented had at least 8 additional places to sleep for our immediate family members, whom we helped pay for their travel abroad.
For non-Family guests, my husband and I offered to front travel money (thanks, travel credit card!) to help guests start the planning process and had them pay us back later, booked a ton of AirBnb and other rentals ahead of time (that offered great cancellation policies) and offered them to guests to stay in and allowed them to either accept one of our cheaper sleeping options, or make their own accommodations. I used email a lot to introduce people who I knew were traveling alone and tried to pair them up to help them save money and avoid them staying by themselves. We mostly used booking.com because they let you cancel a lot closer to the travel date than most places.
Since Santorini is very location-specific it was very easy to travel from place to place. We tried to have everyone stay in a place where they could walk home from the reception. We also rented a lot of shuttles to bus everyone around, to both help people get from the wedding to the reception, and to allow guests see a lot of the island. The good thing was that if anyone did happen to miss the bus it was only about a 15-minute walk.
- What was your favorite part about having a destination wedding?
We have a completely unique connection with 30 or 40 people, and a memory that is unforgettable. Just being on Santorini with my closest friends was so damn special.
Additional Advice for Wedding Planners looking to go Abroad
Remain available. Before, during, and after the wedding people might need your help or attention. Be cool with being contacted
Know the marriage license laws! Your ceremony abroad may not be legal back home
Remember to do research on the country you’re going to. Not everywhere has the same customs, traditions, laws, licenses, and so on
Images for this blog post were provided by Mimi, the bride.