Take Homes from Planning a DIY Wedding Overseas

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Photo by Anna Roussos

I know posts like this are a dime a dozen these days, but during the year and a half that my husband, parents and I planned out our big day, I got a lot of really solid advice. Here's a few things that are definitely worth passing on if you or someone you're close to is newly engaged:

1. You can have anything you want- just not everything. 
Somehow, some way, we pulled off a "destination" wedding- and a pretty big one- without a wedding planner. This was not without some sacrifice in what I envisioned for our wedding. In this day and age, with the internet's seemingly endless supply of picture-perfect weddings stuffed to the gills with lush florals, fancy personal cocktails and epic couture gowns, it's easy to think this is the reality for most people and that a wedding without these things is somehow less than perfect. It's not. It will be less extravagant, it will be yours, and it will be perfect.

2. Compromise
So, as I was hinting above, compromise. I promise you, it's not the end of the world if you go for a cake because your parents feel strongly about that tradition, or you find a bargain dress instead of that 7k number you spotted on pinterest. At the end of the day, it wasn't a big deal that not every table had a garland on it, or that my wedding dress wasn't my favorite choice, or even that we cut a plastic cake neither the husband or I had any interest in and served sheet cake to our guests. Nobody cared. Everyone had a good time in spite of these little details that may seem so important now. And really, one well-placed garland, a beautiful string of bistro lights, and plain wooden tables and chairs ended up looking completely perfect under the mountain scenery of Crete. Lush florals, fancy glitter bombs and extravagant gifts won't really be missed.

3. But not on the important stuff...
I followed the general rule of picking three non-negotiables: an awesome photographer (see above,) our restaurant venue, and bistro lights. Don't ask me why. My husband had his own picks (great Cretan food and a live Cretan band- he agreed on the venue with me) and my parents (who definitely get a say if they're footing more than half the bill- common sense, really) really wanted that cake-cutting moment and for us to marry at the village church rather than the larger monastery down the road, so they got it. In the end, we were all happy with our choices and happy with each other, because we focused on a few important things, and found reasonable (and frankly really pretty) solutions for everything else.

4. Make choices with your guests in mind
My wise, just married before us cousin put this perfectly: for a wedding to be "easy" for your wedding guests, it often has to be really, really complicated for you. For our purposes that meant: arranging buses with specific pick ups and drop offs so everyone could imbibe freely, offering plenty of food and drink while we took wedding portraits, scrambling at the last minute to buy up all the shawls and scarves in Old Town when we realized the temperatures would get cooler at night than expected, and having a diverse set of dishes for our family-style meal, so that any paleo, vegetarian or gluten free friends would be as well-fed as our non-dieters. None of this was easy, but, as my Dad kindly reminded me, a wedding is not, in fact, "all about you." You're really just hosting a really big party that (in our case) people went through great effort to get to- so make sure they're well cared for.
(In this vein, we also put a lot of work into an easily navigable website and welcome bags for everyone who traveled from so far. I'm really glad everyone agreed on that last one- it was a simple way to show everyone how much we appreciated the effort they made to come to our wedding.)

5. If you want your guests to dance...
Then dance! Another pearl from my cousin, haha! I have social anxiety- FOMO, is-everyone-hanging-out-without-me nervousness that, compounded with a Cretan band and a guest list of mostly non-Cretans, had me envisioning an awkward, empty dance floor the whole night. I feared that without a DJ, our reception would be a big fat flop. So when Laura passed on this tip from her own DJ, in addition to polling friends for song requests, buying a few cheap props for people to play with and cherry-picking every single song on our list, we took that thought to heart and kept our feet moving as long as we could- and it worked! Our super-nerdy, not-cool dance moves aside, our dance floor was packed the whole night. If that is something at all important to you, remember that when your social anxiety kicks in ;)

So there's my biggest take homes from planning this wedding, without a wedding planner, in a foreign country. A few smaller, but definitely valuable pearls:

- Even if you're skipping the planner, a day-of coordinator is well worth the money to take the sweat off of you and your family.
- Throw a few get-togethers before the wedding- this allows both sides of the family and friends to meet and mingle before hand, and makes for a less awkward atmosphere on the big day
- If you're planning a destination wedding, you should expect a few people who are important to you to not come. It hurts. It sucks. Try not to take it personally, and modify your expectations beforehand to be aware of this.
- Don't feel pressured to do things if you really don't want to. It is sort of your day, after all.
- If you're not organized (*raises hand*) google has an awesome template for wedding planning. Just google it (no really.) It's bare bones, uncomplicated and super easy to use!

What about you? Any other newlyweds with some solid wedding advice? I'd love to hear :)


  1. Stunning photos. These are good tips for anyone planning a wedding :) I like the tip with planning things with your guests in mind. I think that's really important.

    1. Thanks, Emmett, although the credit is 100% in our awesome photographer. I think keeping guests in mind is super important- your wedding is ultimately you hosting a party, after all (: