Vanessa and Chad’s Intimate DIY Destination South African Wedding

by Aleisha
Couple kissing overlooking a beach

Bridechilla, Vanessa and Chad were married at the Chelaya Country Lodge in Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa. They took on the rather daunting task of DIYing their wedding and in this Bridechilla Graduate post, Vanessa shares her best DIY Wedding tips and is very candid about the highs and lows of wedding planning andthe journey they undertook to ditch traditions and all of the extra ‘things’ that they thought they needed to plan a wedding and instead plan two week wedding celebration with 25 of their family and friends. 

Describe your event in 10 words or less.

DIY-tastic, imperfect-perfection, FUN, heartfelt, OURS.

What was the theme/vibe/feels of your wedding?

Though Pinterest still tried to sneak its way in and lead me astray, we planned two weeks of adventures in South Africa (just because) for 25 friends and family.A week drinking wine and getting married near Cape Town and a week on safari in Kruger. We explored Cape Town together, we went wine-tasting, we went on safari and one sunny afternoon we got married in the garden of the cute old farmhouse we were all staying in! We had a 2pm ceremony, an afternoon picnic and an evening sit-down dinner.I have lived overseas my entire adult life, moving often, so missed the whole ‘wedding phase’ which actually turned out to be a blessing. I came into this with no preconceived ideas of what a wedding ‘should’ be. I soon realised, that aside from a couple of key legal sentences it would be whatever we wanted which was incredibly liberating!

What was your wedding budget?

We spent max $18,000 for international flights, one week in the Cape Winelands (not incl. the second week of safari), accommodation for all our guests and absolutely everything for the wedding. My point here is that you CAN do something amazing with a small(er) amount of money if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Our priorities were, not blowing a fuck ton of money, doing as much as we could ourselves so we felt like we created our own day rather than just rock up to someone else’s design, lots of good food and wine, a relaxed vibe and a real feeling of intimacy and love!

What did you learn from DIYing most of the day?

Only get stuck into DIY if it’s something you enjoy and you’re doing it for personal satisfaction. I am very creative (not skilled, just enjoy!) and we did EVERYTHING ourselves and with the help of family and friends: my Mum made my dress, my FIL made our ring box, I made the cake, me and my girls did all the flowers, I made the boutonnieres (sea glass, a little nod to our lives as a scuba instructors), my husband made an entire tabletop for our picnic, we did our own picnic food, wrote our own playlists, made all our own stationary/signage, built a tepee etc. etc. etc. I had the luxury of time during this planning process: if you don’t, limit yourself to fewer projects or there’s every chance you’ll lose your mind

We learned that it was the ‘little things’ that our guests loved and appreciated the most: handmade cards with personalized ‘love letters’ to be read during the ceremony, love quote cards at each person’s place at dinner, hand painted welcome tote bags, home-made (elephant-shaped!) cookies. All the things that cost next to nothing! You don’t need to spend mega bucks to warm someone’s heart.

If DIY is not your thing, I still suggest finding just a couple of little things to tackle yourself/with your families to make the event your own. Nothing about our day was picture perfect/Pinterest-worthy but I am so proud of what we created together and it means the world to me that others got involved and did so much for us. My Mum put in literally a thousand hours researching and making my dress: that’s worth more than anything I could ever buy in the fanciest store!

 I surprised Chad with a love song I wrote for him and we wrote individual love letters for our guests on handmade cards which they opened during the ceremony.

Favorite part of your wedding day

Hands down, the ceremony. We both felt people forget about this part and, really, it’s the most important part of the whole event. We had every guest in tears. We wrote the entire thing ourselves. I surprised Chad with a love song I wrote for him and we wrote individual love letters for our guests on handmade cards which they opened during the ceremony.

And your second favorite part of your wedding day…

The Silent disco! SO. MUCH. FUN. If you have a small group and are not sure how the evening will progress – will they dance, will it be a party – SILENT DISCO is your friend! This was one of the best choices we made and it turned a very pleasant evening into an absolute BLAST! And a 4am blinder for many of our guests. It was a gamble, we had no idea what the vibe would be, come evening but as soon as one guest discovered it, that was it, everyone went crazy!

What was totally worth it?

I put in so much time and energy but it was totally worth it to me as I am creative and found huge satisfaction in it. It’s actually leading me down a new career path as an elopement planner hopefully! Some of the simplest details like the love letters for guests were very much worth the effort, they were so appreciated. The multiple cake trials: worth it!

Photography: this was our relative ‘splurge’ and we’re so glad. We asked for lots of candids and they are our absolute favourites, not the posed ‘perfect’ ones. We also paid for a one hour shoot the day after at sunset. This was a fabulous time to get the amazing landscape shots we dreamed of: no hair, no makeup, just the wild ocean. We also took the opportunity to share our vows with each other a second time to really absorb them peacefully. And, my biggest advice for photography, wait for your photos and get them at a time when you and your spouse can sit and enjoy them together. We asked our photographer to wait ten weeks and to send them to us on a specific day when we knew we would be free together. By this stage, the madness had passed, we were back to ‘normal’ and looking through them and reliving everything was just beautiful. Fight the urge for instant gratification: it’s worth the wait!

What was not worth it?

My regrets! Making choices too soon and succumbing to Pinterest: I spent $200 on fucking robes very early on simply because ‘that’s what one does’. My girls aren’t the robe wearing sorts AT ALL.Fortunately, this was a one-off mistake and all future choices were made without the ‘help’ of Pinterest. My one real regret is not thinking to film the ceremony, at least on a GoPro. I didn’t want a videographer and am happy with that choice but some truly beautiful words were spoken at our ceremony – by our siblings and our parents – and I would love to hear them again and really absorb them.

Stay away from Pinterest, fancy wedding blogs etc. Nothing about your day ‘should’ be anything.

What did you throw in the Fuck-It Bucket?

Everything. The best advice I heard on Bridechilla was to throw the whole damn wedding in, then pull out the parts you and your future spouse actually want. For us, a lot stayed in: speeches, formal dances, cutting of the cake (just eat the damn thing!), being ‘given away’ (we walked in together), matchy matchy expensive bridal party outfits (girls: short white dress, guys: grey pants, white shirt).

Do not do anything just so you can get a nice photo and show it off on Facebook! 

What advice do you have for other couples planning their weddings?

Comparison is the thief of joy“. Stay away from Pinterest, fancy wedding blogs etc. Nothing about your day ‘should’ be anything.This is tough but I tried to have stern words with myself during the planning process and stay honest with myself: do not do anything just so you can get a nice photo and show it off on Facebook! That is your ego at work. If there wasn’t ever going to a photo of it, would you still do it? If the answer is no, STOP doing it and focus your energies elsewhere.

How did Bridechilla help you plan your wedding?

Saved my sanity, truly. I love remotely and was planning a destination wedding so I had a very limited support network. The Chillas were my virtual bridesmaids! And a phenomenal sounding board to figure out details and keep the Pinterest monsters at bay.

Which Bridechilla resources did you use when planning your wedding?

The Bridechilla Podcast, The Bridechilla Blog, Bridechilla Community on Facebook

Biggest lessons learned from wedding planning

If at all possible, extend the event to more than a few hours: a weekend or more if you can! For us, the day itself was magical but everything either side was just as special and allowed us to spend so much time with loved ones. It made the months and months of effort all seem worthwhile.

  • Small weddings are just as much work as bigger weddings! You still need to go through all the same stages of planning, you still need to find all the same vendors etc. However, the true beauty of a small wedding is on the day itself: you have time! Time to relax, time to chat to everyone, time to make memories, time to have fun. At no stage did my husband and I feel rushed or like time was passing by too quickly.
  • Put time and energy into your ceremony. It was our favourite part of the day, hands down. I smiled so much my face hurt and I have never felt so enveloped in love in my life! Don’t be scared to make it your own. We wrote it ourselves and had our siblings officiate. We walked down the ‘aisle’/garden path together as my BIL played guitar. We sat for the majority of the ceremony, standing just for our vows. We all had drinks before, during, and after! We had our parents share their marriage advice. And, my favourite part, I surprised my husband with a song I had written for him. We live on a small boat and work together 24/7 so I was so happy I could keep this one little thing a secret!
  • Fight the pressure for perfection! Easier said than done, I know. We all succumb to it. I worried about my skin, about my squint teeth, about my bazillion smile lines. It turns out I only wore one earring for about half the day, my hair was hanging messily around my face from dancing too hard! All those imperfections are staring back at me in the photos but, truly, all I see now is HAPPINESS! I’m NOT perfect, you’re not perfect and THAT’S OK coz we ARE all awesome!

Planning a destination Wedding- How did you connect with vendors?

If, like us, you are finding all your own vendors – especially from afar – absolutely trust your gut. For me, communication is key and if I didn’t immediately get the right vibe via e-mail it was a firm NO. I did a ton or research, reached out to so many people and ended up with the most incredible team. People we’d never met till the week before made our day more than we ever dreamed of.

I loved planning, absolutely thrived on it, and planned every last detail of our entire two-week event. I can’t lie: it was so much work. If it brings you pleasure like it did me, great! If it doesn’t, and it’s in your budget, hire a planner. The whole process of the wedding should be HAPPY, not just the day itself. It really saddens me how many Chillas are bogged down by problems, stress and drama. If you’re unhappy, it’s in your power to change it. I know it may not be easy, but you can do it.

For me, wedding planning was life-changing. It brought me huge pleasure, taught me new skills, revealed new passions. I have plans slowly formulating to start my own elopement company.

For those still planning, the very best advice I heard here… Throw the whole wedding in the Fuck It Bucket. The whole damn thing! Now, start pulling out the things you and your partner actually WANT!


Vanessa and Chad’s Rockstar Vendors

Photographer: Goeters: Chef: Flying Pan: Disco: White Noise:

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