Week-long pre-wedding camping/festival practicalities
September 29, 2016 12:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm engaged to my wonderful partner, and we'll be getting married in her country (Sweden) with many of our friends and family travelling from my country (Australia). I'm sure they'll want to be there with us for more than a single night, and we want that too. I'd like to figure out if a collective 'summer camp' style thing is workable.

We've done a rough guest list and, being as harsh as we could, have it at around 150 people. Not all of those will be coming from overseas, or able to come at all, so we're anticipating 80-100 people who'll be there leading up to the actual ceremony.

What we'd like to imagine is all/most of those people staying in the same area (camping/accommodation), and enjoying a fun kind of camping festival atmosphere together. What's harder to imagine is the logistics around all that, and what people's expectations might be.

Have you been to/heard of anything similar? Was there anything that made it work especially well? What would you expect if you attended something like this?

In particular, we're trying to figure out the practicalities of food and lodging - it's likely that we'll be somewhere rural, and may have to be largely self-supported.

At this stage there aren't many specifics, hence the semi-vague question.
posted by twirlypen to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a reasonably popular thing to do in the US. Check wedding blogs for "summer camp wedding". That said, I think in the states it's all predicated on the ability to rent out summer camps in the off season and cheap state park cabins and the like. So no idea whether this is a thing that is as easy to do in Sweden as it is in the states.

Aside from the practicality of renting the space, the main concern I can come up with is whether the people you're inviting will want to camp. Camping is fine and everything, but I'm not sure I'd be well equipped to do it from another country unless I was a hardcore backpacker or something. Also, what about older people, people with little kids, etc? I think this could all be a lot easier if you booked cabins or something rather than tent camping.
posted by Sara C. at 12:52 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been to a couple of long weekend weddings, one I enjoyed, the other not so much. I honestly wouldn't be particularly interested in a week long event, as I am pretty introverted. Maybe if there was a large group of people I knew going, and I knew for sure I'd be able to get some privacy and downtime.

My suggestions:

- Have a range of things to do that are nearby. Be realistic about how much there is to do in the immediate area, and don't ask people to stay longer than that. Especially if people have come from Sweden, I don't think they'll want to hang out with strangers instead of roaming the countryside seeing a bit of Australia. For many of them, it might be their only trip to Australia.
- Have comfortable lodgings. Do not squeeze too many people into too small a space. Don't make strangers share rooms for more than one night. If possible, have the accomodation walking distance from the wedding location, so that drinkers can get home. I can't see camping working for the majority of your guests, as they won't have the gear. It's also very hard to get ready for a wedding in a tent.
- Don't do a big night time party before the wedding, as people will be hung over and tired and partied out for your reception.
- Don't have too many mixers and large gatherings before the wedding. Your introverts will be sick of the small talk.
- Do try to make time to catch up with your visitors in relatively small groups.
- If at all possible, have it reachable by public transport. Don't require people to stay for a minimum amount of nights.
posted by kjs4 at 1:38 AM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Experience of small festivals here! And I was site manager of the weekend version of your wedding.
Things to think about:
- whether you need an event license or similar
- security of your site, if it's near housing
- having a ready made site with toilets/showers/power/indoor space will save you a LOT of hassle; if there are cabins you can probably run power from there BUT if it's more than a couple of odd bits and bobs, you should get someone who knows about electrics to total up what you will be using and tell you whether this doable or whether you need a generator. A rural school or sports club is a good bet for a secure-ish field and toilets/showers/power.
- if you bring in toilets, overspecify them or make them accessible for pump-out.
- showers need water and power and drainage
- so do caterers
- building a kitchen area with a wind break, benches, water and drainage is safer than people trying to cook individually in their tents.
- traditional marquees (with king poles) are a better shape and much more evocative than frame marquees. You can seat your numbers very easily in say a 60' x 40' trad marquee with round tables and plenty of room for a dance floor. If you're doing this, ask the marquee people about flooring, LED lighting, chairs, tables, fire extinguishers and battery backed fire exit signs.
- have a space where people can easily socialise with relative strangers. maybe get everyone to bring board games. maybe organise informal outings to local interesting places.
- if there are going to be little children, get someone to organise a safe kid space where the parents-on-duty can all hang out and watch the kids together.
- when you are planning your site, start by putting any kitchen / caterer / showers near the drain, and then plan everything else to minimise foot traffic over grass (and power cable runs if you're using a generator). When it rains you will thank me.
- have a game plan for fires, for first aid incidents and for underage drinking incidents. Teenagers + camping = drinking.
- put someone in charge of your site who is practical, who stays reasonably sober, who is not getting married, and who has heard of health and safety before.
- have fun!

Feel free to hit me up with questions via memail.
posted by emilyw at 1:54 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

You should contact everyone on your rough guest list and sound them out about the idea.
posted by esto-again at 2:36 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would say be sure you have an alternative option available nearby for those who aren't into the camping idea (older relatives, for example). Your Australian guests will be spending a lot of money to join you, so you should ask them if they'd like to see "comfortable hotel" at the end of that flight or "summer camping festival." We just had a wedding where the vast majority of the guests flew from overseas, and particularly for the older set - comfort was extremely important in helping them recover and rebound from the exhaustion of the travel. If they then had to gear up for camping for a week I expect most of them would have chosen not to come, so be prepared for that if there are no other accommodation options nearby. You will know your crowd the best and how up for it they are, of course. But if you could make it a "some of us are doing this awesome camping festival thing, the rest of you should book rooms in these b&Bs" - that would probably work better. And guests want to look good at weddings - hair dryers and mirrors and good showers and all of that will be appreciated for the getting-ready time.

Finally, I would only do this if you can outsource the logistics almost entirely. Getting ready for just the wedding part of the wedding can be a full-time job, and planning a quasi-festival to go along with it will be an enormous amount of work in its own right. You cannot overestimate the number of needs and questions each overseas guest has ("where is the pharmacy here?" "do you have an extra plug adaptor?" "what shoes do i need to wear?" "do they know what gluten free is?" "do i need to tip?" "where can i buy extra diapers?" "what's the weather going to be like?"). It'll be amazing fun whatever you decide I'm sure, just don't overcomplicate your lives! By the way, for a benchmark, we had about a 45% acceptance rate on our invitation list - but both of our families live overseas and it was just our friends who were local.

Have fun!!
posted by oneaday at 2:55 AM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

My brother and his wife did this to an extent by renting a house in the mountains. It had a kitchen and a couple bathrooms, and several bedrooms. Some family/parents stayed in the house, and a bunch of their (young) close friends pitched tents and camped. It was only the night before, which I think was wise as weddings are intense(and a ton of work) Also, most people were local and their friends are pretty big into camping. The wedding was casual and outside, and the camping friends could get ready in the house.

I think something like this is probably your best bet. Maybe there's a small farm that does weddings and has some accommodation and would be ok with some camping? Or a glamping place (or a company that does glamping trips)? Maybe a site with several summer houses on it?

The shorter it is the simpler it will be: the night before -*possibly*- two, brunch the day after. A week is a really long time to keep a big group fed, clean, happily occupied etc and the longer it goes on the more "who's job is it to X?" Issues will pop up. Also just because all these people love you doesn't mean they'll love each other.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:11 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sounds like what you need is what, in the US, would be referred to as a "mom and pop family resort," where there are several cabins, people can organize themselves into whatever cabin-sharing arrangements they like, and it is the resort owner who's responsible for the site. The challenge would be finding one with enough vacancies all at the same time. No idea if this concept exists in Sweden but thought I'd bring up the line of research in case it's possible. Sounds like fun! Good luck!
posted by lakeroon at 4:22 AM on September 29, 2016

And I totally didn't read the post properly (I'm so glad everyone's going to Sweden, as rural SA in summer is, well, not my idea of a perfect wedding!).

In that case, I will give more details of the weekend wedding I went to in Cornwall. The bride and groom had lived in Australia for a couple of years not that long beforehand. Four of us went over from Australia (separately) for the wedding. However, everyone except the bride's parents had to travel from at least a few hours away, so everyone stayed at least overnight. The wedding was in a relatively small town in a fairly touristy area of Cornwall. The groom booked me a room in a bnb, which was really, really fabulous of him. He did a particularly good job, as I didn't have a car, so he got me one within walking distance of the wedding. I think they put a hold on pretty much every bnb in the area and divvied them out to people a few months in advance. It was late May, so not high tourism season yet I don't think. Other than that, I sorted out all my logistics myself (the wedding invite had a lot of details on it too). It wasn't too far from the nearest train station, but it was about a ten minute drive, which meant many, many people had logistical juggling to do (How did you get here, where are you staying, how are you getting home was a fairly common conversation topic).

All four of us who came from Australia combined the weekend with a multiweek stay in Europe. I would expect this to be the case for almost everyone who came to your wedding from Australia, as it's far and expensive, so why not see other places. Many people going to the wedding got to Cornwall one or two nights early, I'm not sure how early the bride and groom were there, but I got there early friday morning. I caught up with the bride and groom that morning for a little while, and everybody went to the local pub that night, but there wasn't anything too super organised. My friends and I went and saw the sights during the afternoon. We recovered Sunday morning, then drove back to London. Two of the Australians went to Paris the next morning, and I think I flew home the next day (I'd already been to Scotland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France).

Anyway, I went with very little expectations other than catching up with some good friends and having a fairly raucous time on the dance floor. It was a great weekend, but I'm not sure I would have wanted it to go much longer, as there's only so much small talk I can make (also, that lot are hard on my liver). The fact that it was in a beautiful spot and I had my own private room within walking distance of the reception, and the weather was perfect, meant that once I got there, it was really lovely and easy and I never once felt trapped or resented being there. There were also nice touristy things to do nearby, like the beach, small pretty towns and a local dairy that sold icecream.

I think you should have a good think about who is important to you, and who you really want to be able to accomodate, and then give them a call and see what they think. If you've got a frail grandparent for example, or a friend who is disabled, you may inadvertantly make them feel excluded by planning something that they can't go to, or won't enjoy if they do go. Also, a heads up early in the planning increases the likelihood that people will go, as they'll have time to save up as well as ask around and see who else is going. I honestly think that it may be difficult to combine people who don't know each other in one place for a week. Maybe just family and a few close friends who know your family already. Maybe a bunch of old friends, and your parents who already know them all. Being host/hostess to a large group of semi-strangers for a week sounds like an exhausting thing to do.
posted by kjs4 at 5:21 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all - just to clarify, the wedding would be on one day, and coming early would be purely optional for those who would want to be there longer. For those who do want to come early, I want to make sure it works as well as possible (thanks for the great tips so far!).
posted by twirlypen at 6:00 AM on September 29, 2016

There are a zillion hostels in beautiful areas. If you're talking about next summer you might well be able to reserve an entire hostel for the wedding and wedding party. What part of Sweden are you interested in?
posted by Bella Donna at 6:42 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like camping a lot but I'd be really hesitant about joining such an expedition unless it was held at a campground with cabins and a professional kitchen. Camping can be exhausting at the best of times and if the week doesn't go well, by the end tempers are going to be short and people could be very stressed. If you get unlucky and it rains a lot during the week, you might end up with a much of cranky, muddy, mildewy guests at the wedding that just desperately want to be someplace clean and dry, not celebrating your marriage.

Having access to real beds, showers, etc. goes a long way to making the event less stressful, especially for parents of young children, older guests, and some people with disabilities or medical issues. Such a site also means that you don't have to worry about the logistics of renting camping gear for people coming from Australia.

Also, having planned interesting things (and a variety of them) is a really good idea, as just sitting around outside with a group of relative strangers isn't necessarily going to keep most people entertained for a week. I don't know your guests obviously, but if I were traveling to Europe from Australia and taking a week off from work to do so, I'd want to actually see interesting and notable things.

I agree with oneaday that there's a lot of planning involved with that sized camping expeditions and usually a lot of planning involved with weddings and that trying to do both could be overwhelming, especially if you've never done camp planning.
posted by Candleman at 7:47 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

What worked for us with all of our overseas guests and what people seemed to enjoy was a big, more casual bbq the night before the wedding, and a follow-up brunch the morning after. The day of the bbq we had excursions planned for family and close overseas friends, and for the rest we gave them a long list of things they could do in the area to entertain themselves.

The combination was great: close family & friends felt taken care of, the rest were happy to explore by themselves, we all felt we got lots of face time with our nearest and dearest over the 3-day weekend, and when it was all done I felt that was just about the max amount of time I would have wanted to spend with the whole group. As others are saying, some of our overseas friends and family usually combined it with other sightseeing trips, and those who had less holiday time just went straight back. In order to let people explore and do their own thing a bit, and save yourself some trouble, maybe think about a 3-day affair rather than a week?
posted by oneaday at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

What would you expect if you attended something like this?

A hotel option, one which did not leave me excluded from events. This is a thing I would have had a blast at in my 20s. As a middle-aged-type person with joint problems and a child, it sounds potentially difficult at best, un-do-able at worst. Especially the part where I am recovering from a long flight by semi-roughing-it in a rural area.

If I had to be in a rural area, I would hope for all modern conveniences, and, given a full week, I would hope for an easy way in and out of there -- regular access to things like pharmacies and supermarkets and the like. I think it sounds like a lot of planning for you, and a lot of planning for the guests, especially the older and/or less physically well ones. Twenty years ago I could nap on a bus and call ramen noodles dinner; now I really need a cozy bed and a well-stocked kitchen. My first thought here was 'this is why I don't go to music festivals and why sometimes just being invited to too rustic a cottage can feel burdensome for the amount of planning and packing I have to do.'

All that moaned about, the flight would be long and pricy and I think a one-day thing where I'd be attending a wedding jet-lagged would also straight-out overwhelm and register as 'I can't manage this,' so I also agree people will generally want to spend more than one night. If the town has a large selection of full houses with multiple bedrooms on AirBNB, trying to lodge everybody that way, and doing it so people with kids were with other people with kids, old folks wanting early bedtime were with ditto, etc, would also be a difficult thing to plan but it sounds nicer than camping.
posted by kmennie at 11:01 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

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