No, I am not talking about the lovely Royal couple, Will and Kate, though it is nice to ride on their coattails.
Last year on May 1, my husband, Ali, and I got married in a little Russian Orthodox Church in my hometown, Sydney. It was one of the loveliest days we will ever remember; also a time when we got a little taste of the high life.
Planning a wedding from across the miles isn’t the easiest thing, but it sure feels like one of the most rewarding undertakings once the day rolls around. Experiencing the day as it unfolds and creating memories with families and friends makes all the upfront work – research, coordinating, last minute stressors – well worth the effort.
Add to that a generous dose of good luck (thank you, sunny days), a positive attitude, and the wedding day is destined to be unforgettable. Slight hitches are bound to happen but opt to take them in your stride; you have to laugh about something years later, right? True story: my mum lost the shoes to her outfit in the house prior to us leaving for church. A little bit of tension put any wedding jitters aside for a while. Luckily, my glam mama is a fashionista and pulled something off in the last minute.
Whilst it would be easier to leave some of the wedding planning to fate, the evidence is in the details. Aside from the rudimentary travel arrangements and specific paperwork that goes hand in hand with local marriage legalities, I’ve listed 7 tips that will help any couple in their planning of a long distance wedding.
If you have any comments or feedback, please don’t hesitate to share.
1. Choose a photographer based on a gut feeling.
Sharing images with relatives and friends located all over the world is a simple joy, especially in this digital age. It’s a lot of fun being able to relive the day through well-photographed visual reminders.
Working with a locally based wedding photographer is probably the best way to go, budget-wise at least. They have a good grasp of the area, know which locations photograph well, and should be able to advise on details such as the correct time for capturing best natural light based on season. A google search is a good start in determining well-established pros – a professionally set up website is a positive sign.
Read reviews, view client wedding albums, and shortlist only those who have a style that you’re instantly drawn to. As my husband was unable to accompany me to Sydney for a pre-wedding planning trip 9 months prior to the date, we settled on 3 photographers for me to meet with based on two things: their online portfolios and ease of communication – mainly, email.
For Ali, there was one standout photographer based on online portfolio alone; mum, dad, and I were drawn to this same photographer when we met him face to face: Antony Schuster has a larger-than-life personality and being able to flip through his wedding albums in his studio put us at ease.
At one point, he said, “I shoot from the hip.” I said, “You’re booked.” Schuster photographs candid moments, which Ali and I appreciate.
TIP: Payments (deposits) may need to be made upfront, so explore options such as PayPal to ensure safe transfer of monies. A videographer is a great add on for a long distance wedding. If you can ask a family friend to video the day, it will help stretch the budget. A dear family friend of ours documented the whole day, and we are indebted to him.
2. Location, location, location.
The venue eats up a lion’s share of the wedding budget so it is fair to say that this is one of the more difficult choices to make, especially if you are unfamiliar with the location and have a budget to stick to.
Narrowing your prerequisites to three key elements will make the decision easier. If it’s the quintessential view you are after, such as of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, explore every possible venue in the vicinity. Think beyond the obvious; your options could include museums, cafes, galleries, or even vacant apartment spaces.
The internet is a wealth of information, and I stumbled upon Deckhouse Woolwich through a search, within a search, within a search. As my family and I are familiar with Sydney, we had a good sense of its geographical location already. Ultimately, we chose this venue as it met our big 3: waterfront views, excellent restaurant style food, and modern understated interior design.
It was a pleasure to work with their dedicated management team too; Con Dedes, the MD of the Dedes Group that runs a number of other reputable restaurants including Flying Fish, helped create a package that met both our limits.
TIP: if you’re unfamiliar with a destination, it may be wise to hire a wedding consultant for a few hours to discuss your plans, or over the entire wedding planning process. They can assist with paperwork and make you aware of the finer details. Wedding planners will also work around any awkward language barriers and cultural etiquette.
The off-season may offer significant discounts though be sure to check for weather fluctuations and any deterrents.
3. Be a little bit of a tourist.
Inviting out of towners means factoring certain details into the wedding plans.
Save the Dates
Send out save the date invites as soon as possible to alert our guests of your wedding date (between 9-12 months prior). This is also an opportunity to be creative and inject your personality into the correspondence: you might want to DIY your own postcards to save on postage and paper costs.
Or, opt for something custom-made for you: Jet Set :: Save the Dates CECI New York.
Think ahead and alert the photographer if you’d like to incorporate iconic city details in your photo backdrops on the day. There’s a reason why NY’s Empire State Building, LA’s Hollywood sign, and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge are known for what they are.
Details that border on the kitschy-souvenir are even worth a thought. To me, Hersheys is all American chocolate that has a novelty appeal in Australia. Our giant Hersheys kisses bonbonniere doubled up as place cards and added a bit of fun.
Open up your home for guests to stay during the wedding week if you’re returning to your hometown. There will likely be people flying in and out a few days prior and after the wedding, so spare every couch and bed. If the location is remote from any family or friends, request a bulk discount on hotel rooms. Coordinate some side trips for city excursions and arrange a wedding lunch the day before.
Location as a theme
If you fall in love with a venue that just so happens to look over a renowned skyline, and it meets your budget – book it. Your friends and family will love you in turn, as it adds to their ‘getaway’ experience.
My friends Stephanie and Andrew got married in New York at the end of May, 2011. Though they are based in Andrew’s hometown of Toronto, they decided on a New York based ceremony – Stephanie’s hometown.
Stephanie told me:
Make your wedding be a true testament to the both of you but also include your destination. We got married across the water from New York City and our guests had a view of the infamous skyline the entire wedding. We also had touches of the skyline in our invitations, wedding menus, and song choices.
4. Don’t skimp on quantity.
For some brides, getting married in a distant location is code for minimalism. But if elaborate is your style, don’t compromise. Knowing you’ll be spending hours upon hours in the wedding dress, allow yourself to buy what you feel great in, even if that happens to be a gown with layers of tulle, intricate Swarovski detailing, and volumes of silk taffeta.
Don’t let distance, luggage restrictions, and travel time put you off. Call the airline ahead of time and explain the situation. People are happy for you when they learn you are getting married, and willing to help (or they assume this to be the case, for the giant garment bag you are carrying).
As a consequence of arriving earlier at the airport, my marshmallow of a dress was given a spare seat on the NY-LA leg (QANTAS insisted on a seat belt), and then hung in first class all the way from LA-SYD. Not bad for traveling in style.
TIP: Be sure to alert the wedding store of your travels so they can factor that in to their sewing time and provide you with extra padding and boxes for the journey. Also, it may not be worthwhile to press your dress at the final destination, even if it is just steamed; too much pressing isn’t good for the material.
5. Inspiration is in the details.
Bringing in cultural details symbolic to your backgrounds and home bases is what will make your wedding day, yours.
These details can be woven into the invitations, your choice of arrival car, a dessert table. Ali’s Persian culture was represented on our sweets table, where baklava was featured alongside traditional Russian tortes such as Mikado*, from my background.
*Think butter, cream, and layers of pastry sheets. You get the picture.
A big shout out to http://www.etsy.com; this site wins hands down for all-round inspiration. An online storefront that allows artisans to display their wares in categories spanning accessories through wedding, it is a source not only for one-of-a-kind purchases, but also for ideas.
Planning our wedding alongside Stephanie and Andrew encouraged an exchange of ideas via etsy. Stephanie summed it up like this:
The accommodating, creative, and talented vendors literally pulled off my out of town wedding. Everything from the save-the-dates to the wedding day accessories, confetti, to the menus and the hotel welcome bags- my wedding consisted of beautiful, unique, cost efficient touches that made our wedding day exactly what we dreamed. All the vendors worked with me on timelines, budget and shipped either to me in Canada or to my family in New York -where our wedding was held. If you have never been on etsy.com before, you are welcome in advance.
TIP: Etsy.com features designers from all over the world, so scroll through different countries to add another dimension to your options.
6. Itineraries and quotes
Not being the most organized person on the planet, I do know the value of a well planned itinerary. Treat this document like an important contract; once you’ve laboriously poured over the timeline, filled in the gaps – address details, phone numbers, and specific requests – and triple checked everything twice, send it to family and suppliers within two weeks of the big day.
Suppliers are so helpful in helping you coordinate the wedding day, especially if you aren’t a local. Their experience speaks volumes; they will notice when something doesn’t flow and help you iron out the details. It helps if you were able to meet them on a pre-planning wedding trip too.
Make sure you keep copies of all quotes and email correspondence in one place. Carry these as hard copies and on a USB stick when you travel. Save your emails!
TIP: Supply maps and detailed directions of wedding venue locations to out of town guests. This helps when smartphones and WIFI aren’t accessible. Or, provide mini buses to transfer from church to reception.
Be precise on the timings especially, and hire a translator if you think it will help during any part of your planning process, or throughout the wedding day.
Embrace the unexpected. When you have everything planned, there’s room enough to let the unexpected happen with minimal mess. Above all, know the vision for your day inside out and be decisive when put on the spot.
One of my favourite memories of our wedding day was when we made an unplanned stop at a hotel bar during our photoshoot on the Pier; it was a great way to toast in the evening’s events with a glass, or two, of champagne.
FINAL NOTE, a personal one: as a consequence of negotiating costs with our venue, the groom – my husband, a keen baker –made our wedding cake. What a scene stealer! It helped that we had access to a kitchen though it may be something to consider if you are wary of your destination not being able to produce the cake that you have in mind.
NB: this took a few baking attempts at home, in Brooklyn, beforehand; I was eating sponge, lemon curd, and meringue topping for days.