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5 Tips for Your Small Destination Wedding

As a permitted Smoky Mountain photographer, I’ve discovered many couples want a small destination wedding. People from across the United States and the world choose the beauty of East Tennessee for their ceremony. But many couples hold off from planning their dream come true because of the amount of planning that goes into it. If there is one thing harder than planning a big wedding, it is trying to plan a small one that isn’t in your own city or state.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many couples that want to get married in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For me, it is one of the most beautiful settings around. I love taking photographs of the couples here because of the landscape and lighting.

Couples that don’t live locally, often ask friends, family, and coordinators for advice on how to plan a small destination wedding. For this reason, I’ve decided I’d fill in a few questions from a photographer’s perspective! There are several things you should keep in mind if you want a fantastic, small destination wedding. Here are 5 of the most important tips for your small destination wedding.

Destination Elopement in Cades Cove

1. Give Guests a Little Warning… About Everything

The number one thing we hope you will keep in mind is that your guests need notice. This is especially true for travel, itinerary, and budget!


When you plan a small destination, your guests will need as much notice as possible because of travel. We know that most families live apart, and family members will anticipate traveling to your wedding. Travel for some guests is usually in the logistics of planning a wedding. The problem comes in when guests assume that you are going to get married at a venue that is close to your home.

Think about it. Your family and friends know that you are engaged. But, they may not anticipate that your wedding will be at a new destination. When you send out the save-the-dates or wedding invitations make sure to give your guests a heads up on the location! In fact, make it BOLD on the save-the-date or invitation. Most guests focus on the date and time, but many don’t plan for a new destination!

Acknowledge and understand that people may book their flight to a location weeks or months in advance. They may try to buy tickets based on when they can find the most reasonable deal. Please don’t wait until the last month to send notice of your destination wedding. They may not be able to afford tickets, and therefore, won’t be able to travel to your wedding.


You need to give your guests a lot more information when you’re asking them to join you for a destination wedding. In addition to your actual invitation, you’ll want information cards outlining all of the events you’ve planned so guests know how long they need for your wedding. Inside the invitation, you should provide an itinerary of the date, time, and location of each event.

A wedding website is a great idea for small destination weddings. This will allow you to put everything in one place, as well as include details about transportation, wedding events, and local activities.

Guest’s Budget

Let’s face it. There are times in our lives when discretionary spending is, well, discretionary. Expect about 50% of your invited guests to attend due to their budget. Be understanding of those who can’t attend.

In order to accommodate your guests, make sure to include in your invitation details about what guests are or are not expected to pay. Include information about accessible flights and airports, transportation options, and lodging accommodations. Also, detail what meals guests are and are not expected to pay for. Providing these details well ahead of time may allow more guests to come and celebrate with you!

2. Be Thoughtful with Your Guest List

The guest list is always a delicate subject no matter if you are planning a local wedding or a small destination wedding. It goes without saying, that not everyone in your family and friends list should (or can) attend your wedding. A good rule of thumb: only invite the number of guests you think you can afford to travel. If you have any doubts, pick up the phone and have an honest conversation with your family member or friend. I am sure that they would understand the courtesy!

Your venue will also dictate the number of guests you can invite. If your venue is remote and intimate, you’ll have to be a bit stricter with your guest list.

Out of consideration for those guests that either cannot make it or were not invited, we also suggest that you keep talking about the wedding guest list and plans to a minimum. This way, you don’t end up making those people feel left out any more than necessary.

View this Boat Dock Tennessee River Wedding

3. Keep Your Budget in Mind

As with the guest list, your budget will always play a part in making wedding plans. This goes for a local wedding or a small destination wedding. A destination wedding has the same essential elements as a local wedding. You’ll want invitations, a wedding dress, wedding rings, catering, florals, music, a photographer, an officiant, and a venue. On top of those items, you will need to plan for a few more items that may cost you more. Such as travel, accommodations, and group activities.

For instance, The Magnolia offers wedding packages that can be affordable depending on what you want to experience on your wedding day, but it isn’t designed to give your guests a place to sleep. The Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro provide lodging that can hold multiple guests in a cabin if you want to cover that expense for your most important guests.

Destination Wedding at Spence Cabin

4. Plan for the Location

Whether you are planning a destination wedding in The Smoky Mountains or somewhere else, you have to think about the location in practical terms. If you don’t enjoy hot weather or your guests have health concerns with heat exposure, you wouldn’t want to get married in July in an outdoor location. The same is true for winter weddings.

The weather could influence your wedding day plans, your guest list, and more. We encourage you to take a trip to your ideal destination wedding spot to explore which venue will check off the majority of your “wants” and “needs” boxes. You can get a sense of what is available at each venue by looking online. But, you will know more about what you enjoy about that venue after you arrive there. Better to do it months ahead of time than to wait until your big day.

Planning for the location also involves understanding what you can bring along. If you have to fly, you have to be mindful of how many suitcases you can bring. You may want to avoid certain travel options if traveling with all of your items becomes a problem. Shoes, makeup, and several changes of clothes can take up a lot of space! Your wedding party may also want to avoid bringing bulky dresses along with all their other travel necessities.

Intimate Wedding at Spence Cabin

5. Ask for Help

You can learn a lot online, but there are some things that shouldn’t be handled alone when planning a destination wedding. You can choose a wedding venue that allows you to choose the caterer. But, how do you know without a doubt that they will provide what you want? Ask for help. You should video chat with people who are there and have connections. Then, you need to get their opinion to make choices. It does require a little faith, but it is better than tossing a coin and hoping you make a good choice.

Places like The Cardinal’s Nest are partnered with several vendors that offer fantastic services. Mountain Mist Farms has an on-site wedding and event coordinator to help you with the details no matter where you are in the world.

Also, securing a reputable and reliable wedding planner might be what is best. He or she will know the lay of the land, have experience with nearby vendors, and help you—and your guests—navigate the logistics of your trip.

Destination Wedding at The Barn at Chestnut Springs

Small Destination Wedding Photographer

You can also ask us to guide you if you plan to host your small destination wedding in Knoxville, The Smoky Mountains National Park, or other surrounding areas. We have been involved in weddings at all the major venues in this area. We know the ins and outs of each location, each catering service, and more. We can help you get in contact with the right people to handle your wedding day plans. Our goal is to be here for you! It is our pleasure to capture the most special day of your life in photographs. All you have to do is contact me.


Natural light + honest photographer for all humans.


Knoxville, Tennessee



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