Wedding Planning for Long-Distance Families
If the idea of getting people from many locations leaves you wondering…
What if people don’t even show?
How am I supposed to guess how many people are coming?
I can just do like… super early RSVP’s, right?
If “X” is coming all the way from “Y”, we have to give them a great experience.
I am not even prepared for the drama and logistics.
Well… you’re in the right place. Getting everyone together at the same time is one magical feat of wedding planning. Let me tell you a secret though: it’s not magic, it’s a rock-solid plan, great communication, and a heart for hospitality
As your friendly Kansas City wedding planner, I am an expert at these things, and I’m here to help you out. I put together this guide to empower you to be the super host(ess) I know you can be. Here are all the tips and tricks I give all my couples to bring their people together. There will be less drama, less headache, and even a few opportunities to bond. Things will come together so beautifully... it should feel like straight up magic.
Step One: Rock Solid Plan
Remember your guests are looking to someone to tell them what’s going on and what to expect. That person, most likely, is you (unfair, I know). You get it if ten minutes after your engagement people were asking about dates and locations! It can be overwhelming to say the least. It only gets worse if you have to go back and change up your initial plans. It causes general confusion and/or mistrust. That’s why I recommend keeping your plans close to you in the beginning. Tell those excited loved ones you can't wait to share plans once you've gotten the basics in place. When you're ready to discuss, you want to speak with confidence and unified clarity.
Take some time to figure out these key points:
Where you are getting married (city, state, and venue)
When the wedding is taking place (exact date)
Who you will invite
It can be tempting to bring people in on your plans immediately. Who doesn’t want to gush about this cool little greenhouse you found? Or how your best friend is going to play guitar for the ceremony? This can lead to overwhelm and confusion on everyone’s part, though. What happens when that green house only holds 50 people, and your best friend was expecting a plus one? Your best bet is to secure your venue before sharing details. Your venue is what makes your wedding (and all those cool ideas you have) official.
Step Two: Communication
Now that you have the foundation of your event in place, you’re ready to start getting everyone on the same page.
While you no doubt have the lion's share of planning to do, your guests have quite a bit of their own logistics to manage. Between plane tickets, rental cars, time off work, (the list goes on), there’s a LOT of preparation involved. Communication is key. It will prevent last minute cancellations, expensive miscalculations, and frustration all around. Here’s how to nail it.
Save the Dates
Save the Dates are first. They allow your guests to start making arrangements in advance. That's why they’re essential if you’re planning on a lot of out-of-towners. As soon as you have your venue booked, you’ll want to send these out. They will go out 9-12 months in advance. They should include basic details like the date and city. Enough for someone to start making travel plans. While you don’t need fancy ones, I do recommend something in print. It sets the tone, won’t get lost in junk mail, and can go in a frequently trafficked area once it arrives.
Everyone who you invite to the wedding should get a save the date, so let them know a formal invitation will follow.
A Wedding Website is another key piece of communication. Pictures and back stories are lovely. You’re going to want to pack your informational pages full of helpful insight, too.
In the transportation section, you can give general info that makes traveling easier. State which airports and hotels are closest to the venue and if there is a hotel block. Mention which car rental companies you would recommend. Travel conveniences like salons, dry cleaners, and restaurants are a huge bonus.
Next, fill in the timeline for the weekend as it develops. Guests will want to know when they should plan on arriving. This is especially true if they want to make it to things like a rehearsal dinner or after wedding brunch. It will help them choose the right flights at the right time.
Finally, fill in that FAQ page with information about dress code, kids, and points of contact. If you keep getting asked the same question over and over, pop it in here.
The wedding website doesn’t have to be completely done by the time you send out save the dates. The basics are fine to start, and you can fill out more as you go. Once invites go out, finish the wedding website with latest details.
Bonus! Facebook Group
A Facebook Group is a little bonus that isn’t common, but crazy helpful! A private group gives you a more interactive space to communicate with your guests. You can keep in touch throughout, instead of only a couple of times with formal communication. You can make announcements, request addresses, and detail last minute changes of plans.
Another thing I love about Facebook groups is they allow you to build a bit of community before the wedding day. For example, guests can speak to each other. They can give one another travel tips (“flights out of Orlando are low today!”). Coordinating carpools and hotel shares is easier. The locals can provide helpful tips. You can get everyone excited by posting planning updates, ask for music requests, and sharing photos. After the wedding, guests can also upload their photos from the celebration. To get this task off your plate, consider asking someone close to you to moderate and contribute.
Invitations are the last piece of the puzzle. If you’ve done everything above, they should only be a formality. You should have a pretty good idea of who is coming and when. Your guests should also already have travel arrangements in place. Now they can just check the box yes or no on your website.
The Invite should include more details than the save the date. Include the time the ceremony and reception will take place, wedding website info, dress code, and RSVP instructions.
Step Three: Hospitality
Now these next steps are for those of you who want to love on your guest list a little more. It can be helpful for a single point of contact can coordinate major details. That way everyone doesn't have to figure it out individually. It will take a weight off their shoulders and make RSVP’ing “Yes!” a little bit easier.
These ideas are 100% optional (because planning a wedding is stressful enough! Still, they can make for a more smooth and happy gathering.
When guests arrive, coordinate shuttle or taxi services to and from the airport to the hotel. This is especially helpful if you are all staying in a more rural area.
Imagine reading on a wedding website... “Complimentary shuttles will be leaving from the KCI airport at noon, 3 PM, and 7 PM. Grab a bite at Smokebox BBQ or Wafflehouse while you wait!” One less thing everyone has to worry about.
You can do the same for getting everyone from the hotel to the venue. It will help guests avoid paying for rental cars, clogging up your parking lot, showing up late, or drinking and driving.
It’s common to arrange for a hotel block if you know a lot of your guests will need one. You keep everyone together and avoid competing for lodging on busy weekend.
If you’re having a smaller guest list (my speciality), you may even be able to house everyone together. Vacation rentals or boutique hotels can often accommodate groups up to 30 or 40. With everyone staying together, you get to load up on quality time. Your guests only have to worry about enjoying themselves.
Kids not on the guest list? Make plans ahead of time. It can be difficult for parents of little ones to arrange childcare in an unfamiliar area. Or their trusted sitters might be at the wedding!
Kids on the guest list? Many parents don’t want to stress about parenting while they are celebrating. Travel throws everyone off their routine, which is especially brutal for families. No one wants a cranky kid during the ceremony.
Pre-arranged local sitters solve both problems. Throw some coloring books, Disney movies, and pizza in a cozy room. Have parents sign up during their RSVP so you know what to expect. Consider having them sign their kids in and out for extra accountability. Contact info shared between sitters and parents is a must.
It works best when there’s another room on site at the same venue, or at the hotel block nearby. That way parents can pop in and out to check on their little ones if they need to. At the end of the night, they can grab their little ones when it's time to go (or know they’re waiting for them when they get back). You don’t have to worry about child-proofing your venue. The kids? Entertained. The parents truly get a night off. Win/win/win.
A welcome bag is one of those little things you can do to help your guests settle in. It's a kind gesture to say you appreciate them coming to spend time with you. Add little convenience items like toothpaste, shampoo, or headache medicine. You can include local goodies like snacks or candles to remember their trip by. A little directory of fun places to check out, grocery stores, and restaurants help them feel at home. Have fun with it and make it feel like you!
That's All, Folks
Those are my best tips! Take what you can to make gathering a little bit easier on every one involved. I hope they bring you one step closer to having an incredible celebration. One that connects your people in the best ways, one that feels a little like magic.
Want to work two on one with a planner to give both you and your guests the experience of a lifetime? A wedding planner can help you nail your communication plan with ease. Managing the details of your hospitality will keep you focused on being the caring person that you are. You'll get to celebrate and enjoy knowing you and yours are in great hands. Reach out today for a totally free (and totally fun) consultation to make these wedding ideas a cinch.