In my few short Witty Ink years, I’ve been involved in two weddings that took place abroad. The first one took place in Belgium (I’m located in The Netherlands), and the second couple took the abroad part really seriously and got married in beautiful South-Africa. I learned a lot from both of these weddings and I thought I might share some tips with those of you currently planning a destination wedding.
For the wedding in Belgium (Chateau de Presseux, Sprimont) I was the couple’s Master of Ceremonies. Even though Belgium is very much like The Netherlands, there’s also a couple of differences. First of all, they speak three (!) different languages, Flemish (which is very very similar to Dutch), French and German. So even you wouldn’t necessarily expect it, there is a language barrier as well. Therefore, finding local suppliers (flowers, cake, music etc) might be a challenge. For this particular wedding, the couple chose to work with suppliers from Maastricht (a Dutch city very close to the Belgium border) where possible or went with suppliers willing to travel the approximately four-hour drive to the wedding venue (I know for a lot of people, this is a same country, same state, type of distance, but for us, Dutchies, driving for four hours means you’re in a different country where they speak a different language).
In the days leading up to the wedding, I kept a watchful eye on the weather forecast (the wedding party was already on location). Even though it was summer, it was very cloudy and I expected there might be rain on the big day. The reception was planned to take place outside, and during the planning, the couple was very optimistic and decided they didn’t need a backup plan of any sort. So on the morning of the wedding it started to rain, it was just a bit of drizzle, but I did bring it up with the couple. The bride (and groom) would have to walk from the main venue to the little chapel on the grounds and if there was rain, we would at the very least need some umbrellas. In addition, the guests would surely appreciate staying somewhat dry on their walk over there as well. The venue did not allow for the party to take place inside, so simply moving the festivities indoors, was not an option. We needed tents. Were we still in The Netherlands everyone involved would know a place where we would be able to purchase a few on a budget, but being in Belgium, we had to search for this information. Not only finding stores who sell the type of tent we were looking for, but also looking for those with stores near us. After locating a DIY store within 15 minutes of driving and having enough tents in stock as well (thank you Internet), we decided to keep a close eye on the weather hoping it would clear up. Which, luckily it did. A couple of hours before the ceremony was to start, the weather cleared up. It was still cloudy, with some rays of sunshine every now and then, but we all remained dry. I did, however, decide at that moment, if I was ever lucky enough to be involved with the planning of any other wedding, I would always get some sort of list together on where to get tents, umbrellas and that sort of thing. Just in case.
Chateau de Presseux, in Belgium
For the wedding in Belgium, at least I knew, that Belgium has a couple of Dutch store chains (and I know what I can get there). Now for my second wedding abroad, in South-Africa, this was not the case. Besides, the chance of rain during South-African winters is very little (tiny even), we had other challenges to deal with. I had never visited South-Africa before and the wedding was taking place in the Paul Kruger National Park, far away from major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. For this wedding I was a bridesmaid (hell yes) and later on I started to help with decoration (as I was already asked to hand letter various signs, this happened naturally) and a couple of months before the wedding I was promoted to Master of Ceremonies (however, in practice this was more of shared role with the Best Man and Maid of Honour). But Master of Ceremonies had a better ring to it than “overall meddler”. Anyway, I was very much involved in this wedding, but while thinking of decorating the various locations (one for a formal dinner on the eve before the wedding, one for the ceremony and another one for the reception), I had to think about the logistics of it all. We had to bring everything we would need (not knowing for sure if we could get what we wanted and needed in South-Africa), so it needed to fit in my suitcase (and a few others, thank you everyone), and it should be unbreakable while luggage handlers would throw around my suitcase while (off-)loading the plane(s). In the end, I’m very satisfied with the decorations, most of which got repurposed for each location. The groom’s parents happen to have a vacation home in the national park where the wedding was to take place, and they travelled there a couple of months earlier. This helped a lot as well. His mother was a great help with arranging the flowers and wedding cake, while his dad rented vans to shuttle the guests from one venue to another and arranged for the wood I needed for the signs (way to big, bulky and heavy to take with me on the plane of course). Because of this, local vendors and suppliers were taken care off, we had someone on site that knew the area and the country and would help us. We were all very grateful for their help with the planning and execution of the wedding, we could not have pulled it off without them. Unfortunately, for me, due to a miscommunication, the wood I was provided with for the signs were painted white, instead of stained a dark brown, and they were very rough as well. Knowing that there was no way I would be able to get the right pens in South-Africa, I brought a ton of them with me. A lot of white ones (12!), since this was the original plan. I brought different sizes and plenty of replacements in case the pen tips would get ruined. I brought only two(!) black pens with me, in case another project would come my way. Which luckily I did, because now I needed them badly. I managed to do all seven signs with those two pens, of which only one got ruined. But yeah, next time I’ll bring even more pens I guess. A calligrapher can never have too many pens, lol.
So as for the tips I mentioned, this post became much longer than anticipated, but here they are. In no particular order of importance.
Tip 1: Tulle
Tulle is a cheap and very flexible material to decorate any wedding venue with. For the wedding at the chateau in Belgium we used it for the stairs, railings and some columns. In South Africa we used it to make pompoms (balls), bows and to decorate the railings and columns at the site of the formal dinner, the next day we used it as a backdrop for the ceremony (draped over tree branches) and for the party we decorated again some railings with it and used it to guide guests to the right place for the cutting of the cake. Tulle is cheap, it won’t break in your suitcase, it’s light and very multifunctional. Don’t forget to bring something to tie it with. I used ribbons, but simple rope might work as well, especially for a rustic themed wedding.
So many tule bows. I made these ahead, as they were easy to travel with. I only needed to fluff them up for the wow-factor when I got there.
Tip 2: Prepare for worst-case scenarios
Try to think ahead and plan for worst-case scenarios, such as rain (which is said to bring good luck so don’t be too sad if this happens) or not having enough pens in case a vendor misunderstands and you need to change your plans last minute. Try to ask yourself “what if?”. I’m not kidding when I say there was a group of impala’s at the ceremony location (in South-Africa, not Belgium) just running around (and OMG, it was amazing) but what if they would have been scared by us (people) or another animal (lions for example) and they would have gone wild on our perfectly decorated ceremony site? I know this is a very specific problem, but it would have to be dealt with at that moment. For us, we would have gone without the tulle and just used the beautiful river and tree as a natural backdrop. It would have been gorgeous either way. Just be aware, things might not always go as planned or envisioned.
Tip 3: Book an extra suitcase (or two)
In case you’re flying to your destination wedding, arrange for extra suitcases to be booked as well. One or preferably two should do the trick. This doesn’t have to be on your ticket per se, but maybe the Best Man, Maid of Honour, or your aunt is willing to bring some extra stuff. My suitcase was too heavy and on my way to South-Africa I got lucky and wasn’t charged for the extra weight, but on my way back I was, and it was no bueno. So save yourself the stress and hassle and book those extra items of luggage. You will not regret this.
Tip 4: Be Prepared (yes again)
Bring extra rope, ribbons, tie rips, tape (painters, clear, duct), pins, paper, scissors, hobby knives and maybe even glue with you. Be prepared for any decoration mishap you can think off. I used paperclips to hang bows on the back of chairs. Bring those too. Also bring some needle and thread (color of the wedding dress, bridesmaid dresses and suits for groom and his groomsmen) in case of a wardrobe situation. But this is just smart for any wedding, destination or not.
Tip 5: Schedule for enough time
I arrived on a Monday in Belgium, while the wedding took place on a Wednesday. This was not enough time, especially since the wedding party wanted to do some touristy stuff in the days leading up to the wedding, so I had to work my ass off to make sure everything was taken care of, and I still was running around on the morning off the wedding, regrettably, I did not have any time to enjoy the excitement of getting ready. For the wedding in South-Africa, I arrived (together with most of the wedding party) on a Saturday (around 6 pm), and the wedding took place on the next Thursday. Again, I did not have enough time. Many guests arrived the next day and were able to help out here and there. But they were also in South-Africa of all places. The hippos were right there, the temptation to check off all of the Big Five, was too big. Which I totally understand. For me, it was too at times and was able to go on safari three times (I didn’t see any lions though). I have zero regrets going on those safaris (one was arranged by the couple for all the guests and I did one safari on the day after the wedding). Anyway, I’m getting off track, schedule for more time you think you need. This eliminates stress or at least lessens it and you will able to enjoy your time there, together with friends and family even more.
The hippos, being right there (view from the hotel pool deck).
I hope that these five tips will help you plan the destination wedding of your dreams. Just be aware, it might make the planning process a bit harder. Not impossible, just some additional things to think about. Good luck! And don’t forget to enjoy this process as well, before you know it, it’s over. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Sometimes all you need is someone to brainstorm with.
Here's me, the typical I've-been-traveling-for-24-hours-let's-go-on-safari-straight-away selfie, and an elephant's butt (oh and a gorgeous sunset).
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