How to Plan a DIY Destination Wedding on a Budget

As an avid traveler, I always wanted a destination wedding. In my mind, I saw myself getting married in Italy in a gorgeous lace dress with some ruins crumbling in the background. After the ceremony, there would be lots of food and wine around a big communal table with our closest friends and family. 

My fiancé Kevin had a very different vision. He wanted a local farm-to-table feast at a coastal California venue with everyone he’d ever met celebrating with us and dancing into the night. 

Photo by  Josh Appel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Luckily we both agreed on one thing: the budget. And that budget didn’t really accommodate either of our visions. So we went back to the drawing board… and this time we sat down together with a calculator. 

1. Define the kind of wedding you want 

Figure out what’s important to each of you. Do you want a small, casual wedding? Or a big, formal affair? Day time or evening? DIY or all-inclusive? What’s most important — venue, food, photos, guests, or something else? Does either of you have a specific vision for your big day? 

All of these answers will help you narrow in on a location, venue, and theme. 

We quickly agreed on a do-it-ourselves beach wedding. Once I priced out how much it would cost to stay local (Central California) and invite everyone we knew, Kevin soon agreed that leaving the state would help us keep the guest list small and the budget low. We had family that wouldn’t be able to do a long plane flight, so Hawaii was a natural choice. Since we’d both been before, it wasn’t too hard to pick an island and the beach we wanted to get married on. 

2. Nail down a budget and decide what you’re willing to spend on

No matter how simple the wedding, the budget can be a point of contention especially if your families chips in.

Check out our blog post on wedding budgets and then hop on over to A Practical Wedding for an extensive breakdown of how to create a wedding budget. 

It’s really easy to go overboard without a number in mind (and preferably written down). Once you’re clear on the amount you’re comfortable spending, it’s time to prioritize. Refer back to those questions from number one to figure out how you want to distribute your budget. 

We decided we wanted to spend no more than $10k and our top three priorities were: meaningful ceremony, quality time with our guests, and good food. 

So we asked a friend to officiate and spent time writing our own vows. We planned events before and after the actual ceremony so we could maximize the time with our friends. And while we wanted good food, we didn’t want to make ourselves crazy, so we Yelped it and ended up with delicious Hawaiian BBQ ordered the day before. Add in a Costco run for alcohol and snacks and we were set for the weekend! 

3. Keep it small 

There really needs to be a Wedding Calculus class to help you figure out how many people will actually attend.

Suggestions for estimating “yes” RSVPs range from 55% to 85% for a local wedding and 50% to 65% for a destination wedding. 

Even a destination wedding can get expensive if the guest list is long. So think about who you really want at your wedding — those friends and family you can’t imagine celebrating a big life event without. 

We knew that even with a small guest list not everyone we invited would come so we tried to get save the dates out as soon as possible. By telling our guests early many were able to add on extra days and turn our wedding into a vacation. We also sent individual follow-up emails to everyone, checking in and seeing if we could help with anything.

Even with a couple of last-minute dropoffs, this strategy worked for us as we ended up with 30 people, or about 60% of our original guest list, on the big day. 

4. Keep it simple

Let your destination be your decorations. Why splurge on lots of pricey details for the ceremony when you have the beach (forest/river/mountains) as your backdrop? Choose a venue that you love without any additions and you’ll not only save money but time and stress as well.

We opted to have our wedding on the beach with no flowers, no decorations, and no chairs. Our flower girls borrowed toy buckets from the rental house and our friends got to the beach early to pick up petals for the girls to throw. 

Photo by  Wes Hicks  on  Unsplash

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Our reception venue — the oceanview house we rented — was decorated with white twinkle lights, popup paper lanterns and photos of us with our guests throughout the years. My husband plugged the iPod into the portable suitcase speaker his cousin brought and the wedding playlist lasted all night. 

Another way we kept things simple was by sending email save the dates and invitations. While this was a non-traditional choice that’s not for everyone, printed invitations weren’t something that either of us cared about. So we clicked send and watched the RSVPs roll in via our Google Form. (On that note, read how I used Google Drive to stay organized and connected while planning.) 

Extra Tip: Stay for your honeymoon 

If you’ve opted for a destination wedding, odds are you’re already somewhere beautiful. Why not stay a little longer and enjoy the scenery? You’ll save money on plane tickets and get to really enjoy your chosen locale. 

We stayed for over a week, eating, drinking and lounging our way around the island. It was a great way to relax and unwind after an action-packed weekend of fun with our friends and family! 

If you’re dreaming of a destination wedding but worried about the cost, know that it is entirely possible to have a gorgeous wedding on a budget. It’s just a matter of prioritizing what’s important to you two and then letting go of as much as you can. 

Need a little help with your DIY wedding? Vow Muse is here for you.


Writer Tami loves collecting books, photos, stolen moments, recipes, quotes, and passport stamps. When she’s not writing, she’s probably organizing.

Cover photo by TREGG MATHIS on Unsplash