As I've said before, I'm getting married -- almost exactly a year from today, in fact -- when I myself have never been to a wedding before. So the planning process is especially intimidating; until now, I've had absolutely no idea where to begin. Should we make a guest list first? When do we need to decide on our venue? Are artisanal cupcakes always this expensive?
I'm sure the overwhelming prospect of planning such a huge event isn't exclusive to me, and even seasoned wedding crashers start to stress out the first day post-engagement. Whether you're inviting 500 guests or limiting attendance to immediate family only, the pressure is on. Tradition holds that this is supposed to be the most special day of your life, or whatever, second only to childbirth and maybe your Disney World honeymoon. If you and your guests don't have the absolute time of your lives, you failed! Obviously that's not true, but it can feel that way sometimes. Especially if you can't afford a wedding planner -- guess what? You're a wedding planner now.
I'm lucky enough to live in a beach town where couples come from all over the East Coast to marry. There's lots of wedding services in this region, which is certainly a positive thing, but it also adds another element of doubt: how do I know I'm getting the best services for my vision and for my budget?
That's where the expos, conventions and bridal shows come in. In January, when I was freshly engaged, I started doing a little research and found that there was an annual bridal show in Ocean City. I immediately ordered my tickets, which totally wasn't necessary because they were for sale at the door day-of, but I was just so excited that my prayers had been kind of answered; some of the peninsula's top wedding services and vendors would be gathered in one place, and I'd get to interact with them face-to-face instead of staring at a screen or leafing through a brochure.
That brings me to what I've discovered to be the ideal first step in the wedding planning process:
Take advantage of the expos!
Because unless you work in the business yourself, you probably won't immediately know exactly which florist, caterer and hairdresser is going to suit your specific needs. Besides getting advice from trusted and experienced friends and family, the bridal show/wedding expo/'bout-to-be-married convention/whatever you want to call it is the best way to start making local contacts and getting ideas.
I attended the Ocean City Bridal Expo, hosted by Rox Weddings at Seacrets Jamaica USA, on April 8. My fiancé and I met up with my family there, and we spent hours at the different tables where we talked to vendors, sampled finger foods and collected business cards. There was a fashion show that featured suits for the grooms and groomsmen and dresses for the brides, bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride. The vendors raffled off prizes, and I won a five-piece luggage set courtesy of Bethany Travel (although I promise I would have written this raving review of the bridal show even if I hadn't won anything).
Even if you're not sold on any of the particular services offered at whichever bridal show you attend, you'll certainly leave with a clearer vision of how you want your wedding to be. So before you pick a date, check when the next wedding expo is coming to Ocean City, or wherever it is you're getting married (although I, of course, highly recommend OC).
After that, download The Knot. It's an app, and it's not related to expos or conventions per se, but it has been extremely helpful to me in organizing a checklist/timeline of all the things I need to do, by when. Then after that, ask any recently-married friends and family members which vendors they'd recommend, in addition to how they stayed sane through it all. Then finally, when the day comes, hit the bridal show, sip a cocktail or two and collect oodles of information that'll help you further down the line.