In the maelstrom of wedding planning the honeymoon can get overlooked – but it's the best part! Here's how to get started
It's happened. One of you has gone down on bended knee and uttered those spine-tingling words: "Will you marry me?"
Hopefully the answer was a breathless YES! In which case, a million decisions start to whir in your heads. Dress, venue, cake, rings; shall we invite Auntie Ethel? The list is endless.
But there's one part of wedding planning that's always pleasurable - and that's dreaming about where to go on honeymoon. This is the bit where you get to escape the madness and indulge in one another's company as Mr & Mrs. Getting it spot on is the hard part.
By its very one-off nature, your honeymoon is meant to be the most memorable holiday of your lives. And as there are two of you in this marriage, it's best to start as you mean to go on, and take into account both of your travel desires.
Unless you're very sure of one another, don't go down the old-fashioned route of leaving it up to the groom to surprise his bride. If you're chalk and cheese when it comes to travel, a two-centre honeymoon is often a great solution: perhaps a city and beach combination (eg New York and the Caribbean) or a mix of cultural and island life (try Sri Lanka and the Maldives).
If a pampering five-star hotel in the Indian Ocean will leave you bored to tears, don't be lured into this sometimes clichéd honeymoon choice. And if you do head in that direction, it needn't be all spas and sunloungers.
For instance, many hotels in the Maldives have come on apace, offering marine conservation centres, cultural excursions and escapes to private isles for intimate picnics; some even have underwater nightclubs if that's your thing. Mauritius has some of the most romantic hotels in the world and there's lots to do, from rainforest walks to deep-sea fishing. The Seychelles - which welcomed Kate and William to its exclusive North Island Resort for their royal honeymoon - is a fabulous archipelago for an island-hopping escape, and an indulgent private isle experience if you have the cash.
However remember that romance comes in many forms. It could be that setting up tent in the starry Omani desert or camper-vaning around Scotland suits you far better.
Whatever your honeymoon personalities, insider knowledge is key. Get well informed about the options from people in the know, be that tourist boards, specialist tour operators, websites or hotels themselves.
If you're seasoned travellers, you may have a strong idea of where you want to go; this might be the opportunity to book that trip across South America and the Galápagos. In fact there's a growing trend for 'maxi-moons' - couples using their honeymoon as their last chance to take that gap year or round-the-world adventure before settling down.
Alternatively couples may find that it fits their busy lives better to take a short, indulgent honeymoon straight after the wedding - a 'mini-moon' - and save the big trip for a later date. This has the advantage of staving off that wedding comedown as you still have something to look forward to.
If you are going for something adventurous, it's worth building in some relaxation time as well, so that you can recover from the stress of the wedding itself. A tried-and-tested formula is the safari/beach combination, with destinations such as Africa and India coming up trumps.
But remember, just because you're looking for adventure, doesn't mean you have to scrimp on romantic lodgings. Some of the most seductive hotels in the world are found on the plains of Africa (think alfresco candlelit roll-top baths with savannah views); beside the iconic sights of Peru (try the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge); and in the mighty Himalaya (like India's gorgeous Ananda).
The question of when to go is an all-important one. It's no good heading off to the Caribbean in August when it's hurricane season or to India in July when monsoon rains are falling. Check out the weather for when you want to travel. And remember, if your wedding does clash with your dream destination's climate, you can always take a mini-moon, and plan your proper honeymoon for a later date.
Getting savvy about when to go often has price advantages too. Shoulder seasons can offer amazing value for money, such as spring or autumn in the Mediterranean or spring and early summer in the Caribbean, before hurricane season. For more on when to go, see the Calendar.
Set your budget before you start looking. If you have a tight budget, but you still want a taste of memorable luxury, consider booking just one night in a five-star hotel either at the beginning or the end of the honeymoon. However, don't be lured by price alone. Sometimes cheaper places turn out to be real romantic gems, with more character and charm than glitzy hotels.
If 'all-inclusive' has been a turn-off in the past, it might be time to re-think - this genre of hotel has become more sophisticated in recent years. Hunt out boutique all-inclusives, such as Rendezvous St Lucia, and you don't have to worry about the final bill, as everything is taken care of, including all watersports and a daily scuba dive.
When you're booking your honeymoon, flaunt your newly-wed status and tell your airline, hotel or tour operator that this is your honeymoon: there are often extras to be had, such as a bottle of champagne on arrival, room upgrades or a complimentary dinner for two.
Travel mid-week for lower fares. With the money saved, you could book a romantic night away in the UK, perhaps en route to your airport. Don't dismiss the idea of UK or short-haul honeymoons as they can be super romantic.
A bit of DIY pampering won't go amiss. You might not be flying Business or First but you can buy a lounge pass relatively cheaply via companies such as Holiday Extras (www.holidayextras.co.uk). Buy duty free champagne at the airport and pack a beautiful scented candle for your room.
If you simply don't have the cash for a swish honeymoon, find a tour operator that offers honeymoon vouchers for your wedding guests to buy for you. They can be put towards, for example, a flight or room upgrade, an excursion or a sunset cruise.
If you have left booking your honeymoon to the last minute, it seems churlish not to take advantage of late deals. Ideally, though, don't leave your honeymoon arrangements until the eleventh hour, especially if you're getting married during popular times such as July, August, Christmas and New Year. Book as early as you can (at least three months in advance, or even a year) and you might even benefit from some early booking deals. After all, once it's all booked, that's one less thing to stress about when you have a whole wedding to organise.
Check you have a valid ten-year passport. Don't leave it till the last minute to get one as you'll have too many other things to think about in the run up to the wedding. Visit the passports section of www.direct.gov.uk.
And ladies, if you're going to take on your hubby's last name, make sure that all documents and booking details are in the same name - failure to do so could result in refused entry to a destination. If you do change your passport, allow plenty of time to send off all the documents and for them to be returned.
The huge advantage of going to a tour operator for a tailormade honeymoon is that you get a wealth of information and hopefully first-hand experience. They will have good relationships with hotels and ground handlers in terms of rates and extras, and make suggestions that you might not otherwise have thought of. They also offer financial protection; some have 24-hour helplines should anything go wrong.
They may also have a wedding gift list service, so if your honeymoon budget is low but your expectations are high, you can ask wedding guests to contribute to the cost of the honeymoon.
A group trip with an adventure tour operator shouldn't be ruled out as a honeymoon option. The advantage is that you are able to get off-the-beaten track without having to contend with detailed planning during the busy run-up to your wedding - everything is organised for you.
While on tour, your tour leader will ensure that everything runs smoothly - ideal if you are a bit dazed after the emotional whirl of the big day. It's also a good option for sociable couples who may have been together for many years and don't regard a honeymoon as chance to be completely in one another's sole company.
Specialist companies such as Explore (www.explore.co.uk) can mix and match one of its group tours with something tailormade, or you could do something active as part of a small-group trip, before enjoying some chill-out time on your own at the end. As an example, Tanzania is a great honeymoon destination, with a group safari followed by a few nights by the beach in Zanzibar. Alternatively, couples who are keen to kick-start their married life together with a personal challenge could choose to trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro before relaxing in Zanzibar.
If you're experienced travellers, with a good feel for where you want to go and the kind of places you want to stay in, booking independently gives you a lot of freedom. You must be confident using the web as there is so much valuable information out there, and lots of specialist sites can lead you to amazing experiences. Consumer review forums such as TripAdvisor can help you make informed decisions about the places you stay; flight comparison sites such as www.skyscanner.net can help you find the best deals; travellers' forums like www.wanderlust.co.uk/mywanderlust can clue you up on others' experiences.
Planning is key, as is compromise. Each of you should devise your top five dream honeymoon destinations and/or experiences, and then use them to find a middle ground to suit you both.
Also, you don't need to book a trip with a tour operator to get your guests to pay for the honeymoon: register with a site such as www.senduspacking.com so guests can buy you experiences, upgrades and treats for your honeymoon rather than traditional wedding gifts.
Looking for your perfect honeymoon? Try our honeymoon finder and search some of the best tour operators available.
Unique Honeymoons readers can save 5% on travel insurance with Insure & Go
Save 10% on travel gear at Rohan in 2012
Unique Honeymoon Ideas sends out regular email newsletters – be the first to know about web exclusives, competitions, hot offers and travel jobs. Register today!