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Coming Home



Published: Sun, February 13, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Melanie Wanzek

CTW Features

Destination: Home. While some brides decide between a traditional hometown wedding and a destination wedding, for others those options are one and the same.

"You go through the same processes in terms of creating a vision and hiring vendors who can really execute that vision," says Alyssa Brown, production manager for Alison Events in San Francisco, which specializes in destination weddings.

Many brides still choose to marry in their hometowns because of tradition, sentimentality or if the bride's parents are footing the bill. Returning home, even if real life now exists miles away, offers a unique way to unite the past and present.

"Hometown weddings are in a place special and meaningful to the couple," Brown says. "They allow your current home and past home to come together and for you to share that with all of your family and friends."

Planning a hometown wedding from afar is similar to planning a destination wedding with one potential perk: friends and family in the area who can act as point people in the planning process. Realize these helpful people have limits, but respectfully employ their help if they're willing. If possible, also hire a professional wedding planner to complete major research, juggle vendors, relieve the stress of long-distance coordination, and ensure everything goes according to plan.

Perfect Your Plan

One of the biggest challenges for an out-of-town bride is finding the right local vendors for her style, preferences and budget, says Peter Merry, wedding specialist and author of "The Best Wedding Reception Ever!" (Sellers Publishing Inc, 2010). For this, a little help from parents may come in handy to research options and hear opinions first-hand from others in the area. Check "Best of" lists from the newspaper and other local sources, talk to old friends in the area, or request local references from vendors to see what people in the area think.

Even for brides with certain locations in mind, research must be done to make sure those sites that were special 10 years ago still exist, look like they used to, and won't be undergoing any major construction projects, closings, or competing with other nearby events in the neighborhood around the time of the wedding - details out-of-towners wouldn't be aware of.

Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Boston-area Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, recommends narrowing down potential options and being realistic about what one can accomplish before trekking home to go on visits. She advises brides to build time into the trip's schedule for transportation and breaks between meetings so they are fresh and attentive with each vendor.

"Don't overschedule the planning trip," she says. "The entire planning process is exhausting even when you live in your hometown, but if you're living in Chicago and getting married in Indiana, and you're leaving a job, getting on plane and trying to schedule seeing four photographers in less than two hours, you're not going to remember anything."

Then it's time for a visit. Almost all brides should plan to visit their hometown at least once initially to secure major vendors, such as the ceremony and reception locations, caterer, entertainment and photographer. This face time is important in developing strong relationships with long-distance vendors rather than just becoming another name on the list of brides they work with, says Brown.

"You really need to massage those relationships and make sure you're a priority," she adds. "That's something we do quite a bit as wedding planners."

Keep It Simple

Overwhelmed yet? To make it easier, Smith suggests choosing options with packages. For instance, a hotel for the ceremony and reception that offers in-house catering and a block of rooms for guests, which eliminates transportation between events. Simplicity can minimize the number of people and details to juggle from afar.

"I'm a big believer in less is more," Smith says. "Anytime you use a package, it will save you a tremendous amount of time and energy."

Though Merry recommends brides try to return home two or three times throughout the process, he says it depends on the style of the bride and how much control over every detail she desires. Either way, making each trip efficient can reduce the number needed. Take time to set up a to-do list beforehand with specific tasks to accomplish. Also make appointments with vendors far in advance to ensure they all fit into the trip's limited timeframe. Finally, know that you might need to make a lot of decisions in a short span of time and prepare yourself to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Once each initial meeting is complete and the deposits are made (don't forget to pack the checkbook!), set up the next meeting right away so it fits into your schedule. This is essential if you're making another trip back and again need to balance time with vendors. Merry recommends a second meeting around three months from the day to establish how all the pieces of the day fit together and make final decisions on agenda, décor, menus and music lists.

Consider setting up a few Skype meetings if returning home isn't a possibility. Merry says video conferencing works well for details like flowers and décor. It's also thoughtful to establish expectations with vendors regarding how often you need to communicate to avoid nagging them. Collect your questions between calls or e-mails in order to have a few thorough and productive conversations, rather than daily calls about every tiny detail.

Get Everyone Involved

As those details are decided, don't forget one perhaps most important to guests: travel. Merry says travel plans often fall through the cracks for hometown weddings; well-communicated travel plans for guests from the airport to the hotel, between venues, and back to the airport are a must. Make it as easy as possible for guests by writing written directions, providing maps and sending information early.

Finally, since a wedding in a far-away home might mean many friends can't afford to attend, Merry says it's important to think of other ways to involve people and allow them to contribute.

"If you get married in one town, you could have a smaller reception where you currently live and even watch the wedding video together," he suggests. "Or I have let guests call in and leave special messages, then taken the highlights and put them in a song to play for the bride and groom during the reception. You could even set up a laptop with Skype at the ceremony for a very special person who can't be there. Brainstorm ways to feel like it's a special moment for them as well."

(c) CTW Features


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