When thinking about where to get married, for many people, this immediately calls to mind venues: gardens, hotel ballrooms, beaches, and so on. This, however, skips a crucial step – where, geographically, will you have your wedding?
You and your fiancé could get married absolutely anywhere in the world – and the sheer volume of choice can be overwhelming for couples. We’re here to help! Today’s post focuses on the set of options from which to choose, and the considerations you’ll want to make when selecting a wedding location.
To keep things simple, think about four possible categories of locations:
- Where you grew up
- Where your fiancé grew up
- Where you live now (if that’s neither of the above places)
- None of the above / a destination wedding location
We’re using “destination” wedding to describe any location that is neither the couple’s current hometown, nor a place where they grew up. That’s a massive set of options, of course, so we’d suggest working through the first three categories before diving into the fourth. If none of those seem right to you, then start thinking about destination options.
To help you navigate the myriad options, there are four sets of things to evaluate: costs for you, logistics (including cost) for your guests, the time of year, and traditions you want to keep.
Costs & your wedding budget
While it’s useful to think about location when setting your budget, we’d recommend letting your budget dictate location, rather than the reverse. One of the main factors driving the cost of your wedding is the general location you choose. Philadelphia came in 12th on The Knot’s 2015 list, at $42,429 average per wedding, just behind South Jersey at $43,223. Both were ahead of places we think of as expensive wedding locations, like DC, San Francisco, and Orange County (although still almost half the price of the #1 location, Manhattan, where weddings are said to average $82,299).
If neither you nor your fiancé live in your desired wedding location, you have three main options for planning: entrust family or friends to do the work on the ground, hire a wedding planner to manage most of the details, or plan to travel to your location to do the planning yourselves. Both the second and third option mean additional costs for which you may not have budgeted.
It’s not too soon to get pretty specific about your location: For example, a “Philadelphia” wedding might take place in the suburbs, at the shore, or in Center City. While all of these places are in the same general area, your costs may vary quite a bit.
Vendors are often willing to travel – and sometimes travel a great distance – but this may come at a cost to you. The Bucks County-based photographer you love may travel to Philadelphia at no charge, but you’ll have to reimburse her for the costs of driving to the shore or to the mountains, possibly staying overnight, and so on.
Destination weddings as a cost saver?
Don’t be fooled by advice that destination weddings will solve your budget concerns, by allowing you to invite more guests than you can afford. The idea behind this is that you’ll have fewer people attending when travel is involved, and thus, can invite 100 when you can actually only afford to pay for 40.
“Destination” weddings will not, necessarily, result in a lower yield from your guest list, despite what you might hear. Your yield is hugely contingent on the specific destination, the size of your guest list, and the people on your guest list. Your chosen destination may be expensive but highly desirable, and your guests might jump at the chance to take a short vacation there.
Yield is often correlated with the size of your guest list – as the guest list gets larger, the average relationship distance between the couple and their guests often grows, and so the percentage of people declining the invitation also increases.
Your guest list
Are your VIP guests – the people you’d be most upset about not having at your wedding – able to travel? If not, you’ll need to think about whether their likelihood of attending (as a result of age and/or health concerns) outweighs your desire for a particular location. We both know couples who have compromised on their ideal wedding locations so that grandparents and other relatives would be able to attend.
Another consideration is whether your VIP guests will be able to afford the travel to your location, which may include airfare, hotels, ground transportation, passports, and so on.
The specific choice of location (e.g. suburbs, shore, city) could change costs for your guests, as well. If the majority of your out-of-town guests are within a fairly short driving distance of your target location, it’s not unreasonable to think they could drive directly to the suburbs or the shore. If most of your out-of-town invitees are, instead, flying in, the time and cost for them to navigate public transit or rent a car for the drive from PHL to either of those areas goes up quickly. If your budget permits, you might arrange transportation for guests flying into town to get them farther from the airport.
Time of year
Location is one of many factors that you should think about when choosing the time of year for your wedding. For many couples, location is more likely to dictate the time of year than the reverse, but if you’re set on prioritizing a particular month or date, you’ll likely need to cross some locations off your list.
The combination of wedding dates and locations matters in two main ways: cost and weather. Think about events that will drive up costs in a particular location, whether local (e.g. weekends with festivals, homecomings, graduations) or otherwise (e.g. asking guests to travel around New Year’s Eve). We have a list of recurring Philadelphia events that you may want to avoid [here]; when there’s a sizable influx of visitors on a given date, transportation may take longer and hotels may be far more limited. This is particularly true if you’re thinking about having your wedding in a smaller town, where one local event could have hotels completely filled.
Even if you can find places to have your wedding and for your guests to stay, the costs maybe be prohibitive during a high season (like mid-June through Labor Day at the shore).
Weather matters too – there’s a middle ground between trying to avoid July 4th weekend prices at the shore and having a beach ceremony in the middle of rainy season. Don’t forget to think about where you’ll be coming from for your wedding, if you’ll need to travel, and where your guests will be, too. If half of your guests live, say, in Denver, they may have trouble getting to your winter wedding, even if it’s sunny where you are.
We strongly recommend that all couples purchase wedding insurance – don’t miss our ultimate guide to wedding insurance! – but feel it’s essential if you’re concerned about snow, hurricanes, or other problematic weather conditions.
Traditionally, couples were married in the bride’s hometown. If this particular tradition is important to you – or to your family – you may want to weigh this consideration more heavily when making a decision about location.
If you want to have a religious ceremony, and to do so in a particular house of worship, your location should be driven by that consideration. If you’re planning a religious ceremony but haven’t decided where it’ll take place, you’ll want to find out whether you’d need special approval to be married in a house of worship other than the one you typically attend.
For example, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in Philadelphia, you can be married there if you’re not a parishioner, but will need a letter from your parish to do so.
How S and I narrowed down our options
S and I set our wedding date in late 2014 to fall on one of two weekends in December 2016, but knew that between then and the wedding, we’d both be graduating and (hopefully) finding jobs. The low probability that we’d still be living in Northern California come wedding day, combined with the likelihood that nearly all of our guests would need to fly in, too, meant the “where we live now” was quickly off the table (as much as I loved the idea of a vineyard wedding in Napa!)
We then debated the “where Kim grew up” vs. “anywhere in the world” options (S is originally from Mississippi, but wasn’t very interested in having a wedding there). Destination options were all over the map, literally – what about renting a huge suite in Vegas for the reception? What about flying with our parents and siblings to get married at a church in Vienna? – but we kept circling back to my hometown, Philadelphia.
The appeal of an urban wedding in the middle of the holiday season (my most favorite time of year) was strong, and it soon became the clear choice for us. While many guests would have to travel, a large majority would be within a few hours of Philadelphia, to help save on costs for them. I had Steph and my parents to help with logistics, plus S and I could do most of our planning on our summer / holiday trips to visit my family. It felt like the right decision for us as a couple.
Where have you decided to get married (or where did you decide), and how did you make your decision? Leave a comment and let us know!