What to plan if you haven't got a venue yet

Booking a venue is the most exciting moment of your wedding planning, without a doubt. Finding the ideal place to live out your wedding fantasy is a moment stuffed with more emotion than an episode of Queer Eye. You look around some venues. They're pretty nice, and they've given you some décor inspiration, but they're not making you hot under the collar. What you want is a place that knocks you out when you step through the door - a venue that says, yeah, this is where you want to start the rest of your life.

Well, I presume so. I wouldn't know, because I've not found mine yet. For about four years, I've secretly harboured a dream to get married at a specific campsite in the Lake District. We know the owners, we love the area and it's a perfect place. We visited back in January and pencilled our date in. Despite getting exactly what I wanted, I felt a bit flat. The campsite is a brilliant place run by excellent people but... it's a farm, at the end of the day. I'm not a fancy-ass person by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a part of me that had started to wonder if I could do better.

I'm ruined by Pinterest. Since working for myself, I've started to develop a knack for contacting people out of the blue. I've started being able to bargain with folks and cheekily ask for freebies. I'm wondering if I can't put these skills to better use and find somewhere a little more spectacular.

The thing is, I'm on a very strict budget - BrideZILCHO remember - so most places are out of reach even with a 10% discount or free catering thrown in. I would love to host my wedding somewhere lavish, and in Cumbria there are plenty of locations to choose from that fit that criteria, but the prices are a crime. I just can't justify it. So. We're at a standstill.

There is one place we've got our eye on though. On the banks of Windermere, near Wray Castle, is a campsite that suits every requirement we have. We'd love to host our wedding there, vows by the water, cake in a tent, dancing under a tarp while the rain tips down around us - hey, I'm a romantic but I'm not delusional. I'm getting married in the Lake District. It's going to rain.

To bag this special place, I've got to wait for a friend of a friend to tell us whether it's available. When you're trying to do things on the cheap, you can't be pushy and I'm super appreciative that they've even agreed to even entertain the idea. But. I can't book anything because I technically don't have a venue. I don't want to get too excited about decorating the space in case I don't get it. Can you imagine ending up feeling like all the work you put in was for your second choice? I don't want to do that, and besides, the farm campsite was my ideal choice for so many years. I need to be realistic. So, instead of fretting over not being able to book a photographer, furniture, catering or anything bloody else, I'm trying to be practical.

Here is the list of things I can get cracking with while I don't have a venue in place. Hopefully it'll help out any brides out there with a similar problem! I'm guessing it's just as hard to book weddings abroad with just as many challenges, so maybe this will help you too.

1. Deciding on stationary

I might not know what to write on them yet, but I can decide on the stationary I'm going to use and how I'm going to accept RSVPs.

There are so many talented designers out there creating truly stunning wedding stationary, and I'm going to ask one thing - try to aim your sights nearby and support your local designers where you can. They'll really appreciate the work, and if you're spending money on something like this, I'd always say it's better to try and give that money to an independent artist.

Olive Branch by Amy Bailey Design

2. Choosing a cake

I didn't know I wanted a cake until Tom's auntie offered to give us ours as our wedding present and now I am OBSESSED WITH WEDDING CAKES.

Thankfully, choosing a cake doesn't need to wait until I have an address to send it to and I've been really busy looking at designs and choosing fillings on Pinterest and Instagram. Again, there are some really talented bakers out there and where possible, if you're spending that dough, please consider supporting local independent artisans. You're helping them sustain their dreams!

Photography by Jenny Freckle

3. Sorting the dress

No, I'm not actually wearing a dress - unless I see one that absolutely takes my breath away - but the thought process is the same. I might not know exactly where I'm going to be getting married, but I'm definitely going to be outside for most of it and I definitely have thoughts on the style of outfit I want.

Based on this, I've got a really good idea of what I can get, and I've already picked up my skirt for £20 from a charity shop (find out how to do the same here!) and got the most amazing pair of shoes as a present from my mum. I just need to find a top and a veil now, and I think I'm going to go with a Crown and Glory so that's almost sorted too!

My shoes!

3. Informing the Bridesmaids

I haven't officially invited all of my bridesmaids yet because I haven't got a date to give them, but I've told them they'll be expected to drop everything for me in the not-so-distant future. I can't wait to send out all their little presents!

4. Sorting out a gift registry

If this is something you're planning to do, good on you. People who want to buy you something always appreciate being given the opportunity to give you something you'll actually want, need or appreciate. If not, maybe think about what you'd prefer. No matter how many times you say "just your attendance is enough!" people will still ask you about it. Preempt that and save yourself a lot of email writing!

Don't register with Amazon - here are some better alternatives!

5. Choosing flowers

I don't know how important this is to most brides, but flowers and especially greenery is WAY at the top of my list of wedding priorities. I'm using Pinterest to log all of my favourite looks for bouquets and general floral arrangements and I'm still trying to find the ideal florist, but Instagram is really helping. Get searching for hashtags like #weddingflorals and #weddingbouquet and you'll find a wealth of ideas.

I've also got to say, Rock N Roll Bride always share great florists on their Instagram, so that's well worth a look if you're into alternative arrangements.

These are all paper. PAPER!

6. Food and booze

What will your guests eat and drink on the day? Don't leave this til the last minute thinking your venue will sort it all out - the day is long and you might need to add in snacks or a glass of champagne for a toast. These things are easy to forget but on your big day, you don't want to be thinking about how much you wish you'd handed out ice creams right after the service.

Best plan: write all of your favourite foods down and then see which you can shoe-horn into your day. Seriously, my day is going to be more about cheese and pork pies than it will be about love. Sorry 'bout it.

I hope these tips helped! Please feel free to add your own tips below - if you're married I'd love to know how you coped with planning in the early stages.


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