Like many women, I started planning my wedding young. I pictured dozens of sunflowers, whimsy yellow bridesmaids’ dresses, buttercream icing and sunshine on a perfect day in May. But like many military spouses, those big bridal dreams just weren’t going to happen the way I had planned.
My husband and I were engaged approximately three weeks before we got hitched at a small courthouse in South Carolina. We said “I do” with no one there except the woman who married us; the ceremony lasted roughly 10 minutes.
I shocked my family with our quick and non traditional nuptials, so in an effort to make our loved ones happy and to make at least some of my bridal fantasies come true (say goodbye to sunshine– the military has given us a winter wedding), we’re now planning a family ceremony and reception for back home in Pennsylvania.
The crux: I live in the South, hundreds of miles away from where the celebration will actually take place.
Here’s the thing about weddings that I don’t remember anyone telling me: they’re super hard to plan. From choosing a venue to picking the right caterer to deciding what shoes won’t make you want to saw your feet off half way through the creation– weddings require a detailed, organized, list-loving kind of gal who doesn’t get stressed out over finding the perfect shade of ivory. Add in distance to that type of anxiety, and you end up wanting to let your dog rip apart your very, very expensive gown (Or is that just me?).
I can’t see, taste, or hear anything firsthand. The food? Let’s hope it’s as good as it looks in the pictures. My hotel? Well, I can only cross my fingers that there aren’t roaches. Sure, hiring a wedding planner would help, but that’s not quite in the budget, so I have to trust pictures online, reassurances made over the phone and testimonials on wedding websites.
Since I’m currently going through the agony of planning a family ceremony and reception from afar, I want to offer my fellow military spouses in the process of planning (or hoping to one day) advice on how to make a long-distance wedding work.
Don’t book anyone who doesn’t have reviews: I’m kind of obsessed with Yelp, and by kind of, I mean I refuse to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have at least 10 good reviews. With how frequently people use the Internet, there’s no reason a wedding vendor shouldn’t have at least a few people raving (or complaining) about it online. WeddingWire, The Knot, Yelp and Google Reviews are all your friends. When you’re researching DJs, florists, caterers and other vendors from afar, you don’t have the luxury of seeing the product or talent in person, so your best bet is to rely on what their previous clients have said.
Rely on your friends and family: This tip has been hard for me to follow, since I’m a total Type A personality who strongly believes if I need something done the right away, it’s best if I’m the one calling the shots, but for some things, it’s vital you rely on the people close to you to help pull off planning a wedding across state lines. If you’ve got awesome bridesmaids, parents or siblings, they’ll be happy to help take charge of some tasks, like checking out the venues you’re considering, trying to score any deals on flowers in the area or even working on the DIY projects you might have, which brings me to my next tip.
Don’t over-do the DIY sh*t: I know, I know. You are crafty and artsy and gosh darn it, your wedding can and will look just as good as the one you dreamt up on Pinterest, but I promise you going crazy with the do-it-yourself projects will only make your big day more complicated. If you’re like me, and you can’t afford to ship 500 things to your wedding destination, then bringing all your cute painted mason jars, yarn bouquets and sequined vases might not be realistic. I’m not saying you should ditch all your DIY ideas, but don’t forget that you’re either going to have to fit all of your decorations in your car or spend a pretty penny on getting it sent home.
Stop sweating the small stuff: Freaking out over whether your flowers will be as fresh as they looked online? Terrified your venue will flood the day before the ceremony? Just generally scared everything is going to fall apart? Take a deep breath and remind yourself of the secret to every wedding, whether it’s planned long distance or not: something inevitably is going to go wrong. It’s probably going to be a really small wrong, like your little cousin getting a lick of the icing before you cut the cake, but even if it is something big, it really, truly doesn’t matter. You’re getting married because you’re head-over-heels in love with your partner and would do anything for them, whether it’s letting their weird second cousin be a bridesmaid or moving across the country two, three, hell, even ten times to be with them. Enjoy the cake, soak up every second of that first dance, drink too much champagne, and relax. Nothing else will matter in the end.
Bonus Tips & Tricks From Someone Who is Learning the Hard Way
Use the vendors your venue recommends.
If you trusted your venue’s point person enough to have your wedding there, then trust that they know whom the best people are to work with.
Take advantage of talented family and friends.
Lucky for us, we have a cousin who is an awesome photographer. We already know what her work is like, so we didn’t have to do a ton of research.
Schedule one trip home and make a ton of appointments at once.
If you have the luxury of visiting your wedding location before the big day, do it, and meet with every single vendor you can.