One of the biggest wedding trends of the last few years is originality — have a unique invitation, learn a quirky dance — but the same has not been true for honeymoons, which I am perpetually confused about. The standard luxury beach honeymoon is fine, but so one-size-fits-all. A honeymoon shouldn’t just be some generic vacation. This is the vacation to end all vacations!
My husband and I knew that the stereotypical honeymoon destination wasn’t for us, and we wound up traveling to Portugal for our honeymoon. When I started researching honeymoon itineraries and honeymoon planning tips for Portugal, I found hardly anything written about honeymoons in Portugal. I couldn’t believe it—Portugal is a popular destination for general travel. Why not for honeymoons? Were we one of the few couples who wanted to do a honeymoon there? Or was I the only one who felt compelled to write about it?
Either way, the planning and research process for bringing our unorthodox honeymoon destination from idea to reality was far more time-consuming than I had expected going in. In the process, my husband and I learned a lot about how to plan a honeymoon to an unconventional destination.
For any other couples considering a honeymoon to Portugal or other unorthodox locations, here are our 6 tips for planning a honeymoon to an unconventional destination.
Brainstorm Your Itinerary Together
Similar to a marriage, planning a honeymoon should be something that you and your future spouse do together. After all, this will be one of the most memorable trips of your life! There may not be prearranged itineraries available for unconventional destinations so it is important that you both provide input about how you picture your honeymoon. Talk about what types of things you hope to do while traveling together, what expectations you have, what feeling you want to feel on your honeymoon. All of these questions will help shape how you arrange your itinerary.
Take for example our honeymoon to Portugal. We decided that culinary adventures and interesting locations were the two most important things for us. We built our entire itinerary around these two themes, which is why we visited Porto and the Douro Valley rather than the beach in the south. While I was the one who actually booked all of the hotels and Airbnb’s, I never decided on any locations without talking it through with my husband first to make sure it was a place that he was excited about too!
Prepare Yourself to Plan Most of the Details
Unlike more popular honeymoon destinations such as Thailand or Mexico, planning a honeymoon to a destination that is less common will involve more work for you. When you go to more established destinations, hotels, restaurants and tour providers are familiar with honeymooners and may have packages or specials already established. This is particularly true in the Caribbean, where there are copious options for romantic getaways and all-inclusive resorts.
Pre-arranged packages were NOT the case for us in Portugal. Very few places had honeymoon itineraries or specials, so we spent more time researching spots appropriate for us as honeymooners. Don’t get me wrong—I loved that process! We built our honeymoon itinerary to fit us perfectly and it included exactly what we wanted. But it is important to understand that you will do more planning if you choose an unconventional destination and you should expect that going in.
Share the Research Role
In many cases, one person may take the lead in planning but one of the things that worked really well with my husband and I is that we shared the research role of our honeymoon planning. We kept a Google Doc and spreadsheet of the various things we found in our research, and then every few weeks, we would sit down and chat about what we discovered.
Through this process, I learned that we take totally different approaches to travel research. I love looking on travel websites, like Afar or Travel + Leisure, and digging through hyper-local and international travel blogs. My husband however dove into Reddit subreddits for resources and suggestions and posted questions on travel forums to find suggestions from locals.
This leads to totally different findings in travel planning. Sharing our research with each other was a super fun process! In some cases our research overlapped, while in others, we were educating the other about the merits of adding this place to our itinerary. It is a collaborative process that both of you can get excited about!
Give Yourself Enough Lead Time
Because there are a lot of details to plan yourselves when you go on unconventional honeymoon destination, you want to leave enough time to plan. There is nothing worse than discovering amazing things to do only to find out they are no longer available because you waited too long to book.
I know it can be a drag when you are also planning your wedding, but I recommend starting to reserve the major parts of your honeymoon itinerary, such as your hotel or flights, approximately 4-6 months ahead of time to ensure you get the locations you hoped for. Depending on your destination, there may be high season bookings that fill up your top choice hotels or locations which you need to take into account.
More last-minute details such as restaurants or activities can usually be booked 4-6 weeks ahead of time, unless you plan on visiting a famous Michelin star restaurants or low-capacity activities like a helicopter ride or specialty tour. In those cases, book about 2-3 months out. I failed to follow my own advice here—we missed our opportunity to eat at Belcanto in Lisbon because we waited too long to reserve our table. Huge disappointment!
Set Reasonable Expectations
When honeymooning in an under-the-radar location, it is important to adjust your expectations. You probably shouldn’t expect all the standard honeymoon bells and whistles like towels folded into swans or a pre-prepared rose petal bath upon arrival. Those packages may not be an option at your hotel if they aren’t typically a honeymoon location, and it would be a shame to disappoint yourself by expecting them.
Ask yourself questions like “What is my vision for my honeymoon?” or “What things are most important to me about this honeymoon?” and then build your expectations around the answers to those questions. By setting more reasonable expectations, you are less likely to be disappointed if things don’t go quite as planned or turn out less “romantic” than you might have thought. That’s not to say that romance isn’t available in unconventional destination. You will just be defining what “romantic” means to you!
Build Downtime Into Your Itinerary
I can’t overstate this part enough—don’t pack your schedule too full of activities! Going through the wedding process is exhausting. The first few days after my wedding, I felt like I had an emotional hangover because I was so filled with excitement and energy from having such a big event. If I had been traveling on the days directly after my wedding, I would not have been fully present or able to enjoy what we were doing because I was distracted with the excitement of being a newlywed.
Your honeymoon, at least partially, should be about recovering and recuperating especially if you go right after your wedding. Leave time in your honeymoon schedule to just relax, rest and enjoy time with your spouse! We left 3 full days entirely open in our itinerary. This gave us the flexibility to simply choose what we felt like doing on that day. In some cases, we chose to read books in bed with a glass of wine. Relaxation!
I am so grateful that my husband and I opted for a less-conventional honeymoon destination. Portugal turned out to be the best destination for us! We chose a place that was the perfect fit for our goals, interests and personalities, and then built our ideal honeymoon itinerary around that place. While it takes a little bit of extra work and thought, these 6 tips for planning a honeymoon to an unconventional destination will ensure that you plan the perfect trip for you and your spouse to begin your marriage!
This post was originally published in February 2017, and updated in January 2020.