Here is how to plan an elopement! let’s start with some frequently asked questions about planning:
What is an elopement?
An elopement is a day you and your partner tie the knot in any way that you want! Apart of what makes planning these intimate days hard is the amount of options you have available to you. One thing to keep in mind while reading this guide is that the planning won’t happen all in one sitting. It comes in stages as you bring your idea to life.
Can I invite friends or family?
Yes! You can invite anyone you want to your elopement. Couples who invite guests generally include less than 25 people. Most of the time when couples choose to elope, it’s to keep it intimate and make it about them more so than their guests. Although, a small number of your closest comrades and family is absolutely still manageable.
How much time should I spend planning?
Some couples plan in under two weeks, and some take two years. Once you’re engaged and have decided you want to plan something more intimate, start looking into the time of year you’d like to get married. Then think about a location you’re interested in. After some basic research on things such as weather, flights, and lodging you might have a place and date in mind that will determine how much time you have to plan.
Do I need to hire vendors for an elopement?
No, you do not. Although, vendors are a huge part of turning your idea into a reality. Most photographers (like myself) have worked many elopements and can help you fine-tune your timeline, help you with research and planning, and most importantly, help you celebrate your love in all the ways you want. If there is something you want for your elopement, then hire only the specific vendors your need for those things. This is all about what you want on your day!
Like I previously mentioned, this planning is going to come in stages. Here is a tangible list of stages for elopement planning that can help you start working out the big and little details of your day!
Brainstorming location and vision
This is the part where you and your partner sit down and start talking about locations that make you excited, and look getting inspiration from places like Pinterest, Instagram, travel guides, and elopement magazines.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but as you have ideas, take the time to research them and see what’s possible and what you need to do to make it all happen.
Once you have your location and date set and have done your research, it’s time to book plane tickets, lodging, and vendors! If you need some help with this, travel agents and wedding planners local to your elopement destination will be able to help a lot and give great recommendations.
At this point, you should have your date, location, transportation, and vendors. Now is the time to finish the small things such as obtaining your attire, florals, jewelry, and creating a timeline for the day.
Stage 1: Brainstorming
Here are the first few things I would start brainstorming with your partner to get the elopement planning juices flowing, along with some information about things you should consider while arranging. The first thing you want to think about when planning an elopement is you and your fiancé. During this brainstorming process, don’t worry about potentially bringing along friends and family. While that is totally an option, considering other people can start to make it feel more like you’re planning your day around them or worrying about what they might like. Try brainstorming considering just you and your partner.
BUDGETING FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT
To keep the brainstorming in perspective, it’s important to first set a realistic budget. Not having a big wedding is definitely going to save you some money. Although I would still expect to pay somewhere in the 5-digit realm. Your budget is going to cover everything you need to elope, such as the destination, (any travel to get there,) lodging, food, drinks, transportation, legal documents, attire, jewelry, vendors, and whatever extra things you might choose to include! Once you set a budget that you’re comfortable with, it will make the rest of the planning process a lot smoother.
ELOPEMENT LOCATION PLANNING
To begin, simply start talking about ideas with your significant other, and what a good location might be. Consider this, a lot of couples choose to elope in the place they want to spend their honeymoon at. Where would that be for you? Maybe you want to snowboard in Switzerland for your honeymoon and elope in the Italian Dolomites? Do you want to hike in Yosemite, say your vows at Taft Point, and then escape to a beautiful Airbnb? Are you into camping and wanting to elope in the desert and then glamp under the stars in a styled canvas tent?
Once you figure out where you want to elope, everything else starts to unfold. There are SO many fantastic vendors readily available to help you bring any vision to life anywhere you might want to go. Ask yourself what season you enjoy the most. Then, where you want to be. Mountains? Beaches? Mossy forests? Why not explore a national park? Hike to a cascade lake, say your “I do’s” and go skinny dipping in some freezing (but refreshing) glacial water. Maybe you and your partner have been dreaming of going somewhere new and you are confident it would be an epic place to elope! Hell, you can have your elopement in your backyard if you want! It’s all about what you two want the most on your wedding day.
Stage 2: Research
Once you’ve nailed down a location and have your inspiration board, it’s time to dive into the research and make all of your elopement plans tangible.
If at this stage you haven’t picked your date, now is the time. Picking your date early is so important as you will need to make sure you can secure all of your vendors, flights, transportation, and lodging. You will also need time to get the proper permits and look into the weather at your location during that time of the year. It’s important to check the weather early so you can be aware of road closures in your destination. If you aren’t sure how to go about picking your date, I would consider a few things like what season you want to get married in and what is most optimal for the activities you have planned. Also, how much privacy you want. If you decide to Elope in a National Park, weekdays and winters are going to be far less crowded.
Now it’s time to start stalking cheap flights like it’s your job. You can generally rent a car straight from the airport, but you can also always look into renting out adventure vehicles such as converted vans. And make sure to look on sites such as Airbnb to find a place to stay and potentially have a celebration at. If you’re struggling to find out how to get from one place to another, take a look at Rome 2 Rio. This site can help you look into flights, busses, ferries, car rentals, trains, and hotels. It pretty much shows you all of your options to get around your designated locations.
Things are different in every state, not to mention internationally. Before you make any big decisions, check into what you need to do to get your marriage license, how long it’s good for, and if you need any special permits for the location you’re choosing. Marriage licenses generally expire after 90 days. Make sure to get it within three months of your wedding date! If you’re eloping somewhere like a national park, you’re going to need a permit. You can normally call the ranger station in the national park and they can direct you further. This has always been super easy for my clients and we’ve never had any issues doing national park elopements.
Officiant and Witnesses
In most states, you’re going to need two witnesses. I often sign as a witness for my clients. Other times we just chase down a hiker and have them sign too (they honestly stop to watch if they see a ceremony.) If you’re bringing any friends or family along, they can sign too! You’re also going to need an officiant, and this can be anyone. You can even self solemnize! It is super easy to get ordained online, you could have a family member or best friend do it. I personally think this makes an elopement even more personal and unique.
A lot of places have a “peak” season. This means that is when they are the busiest. Take this into account when doing your research. Look into if your date is within your location’s busy season. If it is, it’s possible that things such as venues, food, lodging, and flights will be more expensive. If you’re planning on going somewhere like a National Park, this could also mean that there will be far more crowds than during an “off-season,” when a place is less busy.
Weather is not something you want to overlook. If you’re planning to elope outdoors, it’s extremely important. It’s best to know the weather patterns of your location so you can know how to pack. Let’s take my location for example! If you wanted to elope in Bend, Oregon, you would need to know that it is a high desert and can get very hot during the day, and very cold at night. If you’re planning to hike up into elevation, or even camp on one of the mountains, you would need to dress light during the day but pack a lot of layers for when the temperatures drop.
Have a backup plan if you’re going somewhere that receives a lot of rain or any other kind of inclement weather. This could be being flexible on your date, or picking a place to stay where you could have a ceremony inside.
ACTIVITIES TO INCLUDE IN YOUR ELOPEMENT
Eloping doesn’t mean that you can’t have a full day of activities planned, it’s quite the contrary. Want to visit hot springs? Go on a site-seeing tour? Paddle-board somewhere remote? Fill your day with things that you and your partner love to do! It’s also an awesome time to try something new together. I would recommend celebrating with some food, music, dancing, and popping some champagne. Private chefs can bring your favorite meal to wherever you’re staying. Or you can take a pre-made picnic somewhere beautiful! As always, the choice is yours..
EXTRA QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
How accessible is your elopement location? How will you get there?
What is the weather like? How should you pack for it?
How private is your location?
Do you need a permit to get married there?
Do you need a permit to take photos there?
How long is a marriage license valid for in this area?
STAGE 3: Booking For Your Elopement
Now that you have completed a hefty part of the research, it’s time to start solidifying your plans by locking down your location, buying those plane tickets, purchasing your attire, booking your place to stay, and securing your vendors.
You don’t need EVERY vendor for an elopement. For example, it doesn’t seem necessary to hire a DJ if you’re going backpacking to your ceremony location. Although personal touches are still important! Think of what is important to you. Hair and makeup? Florals? Food? Decorative rentals for you ceremony? The privacy of elopements makes the day so special, but you’re still going to want to re-live the day and share those moments with those who didn’t attend. A photographer is so important for your elopement. As an elopement photographer myself, I have helped so many couples plan their day and then document them!
This is another opportunity to break tradition and wear whatever you want! If you want to still wear an extravagant dress, that’s totally okay! However, it’s important to be comfortable if you’re going to be doing any hiking or moving around. This could simply mean wearing a pair of boots instead of heels. Or wearing a flowy dress as opposed to a tight-fitting one. The same goes for the men, maybe wear a suit made out of a stretchy material instead of a tight-fitting tux. You can still 100% look elegant and elope outdoors! Just take these steps to make sure your clothes are breathable.
LODGING FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT
Where you stay is a big part of your elopement. It’s where you’ll be getting ready, and possibly eating/celebrating after. You should wake up somewhere that gets you excited about the location you’re in, and maybe feels a little extra luxurious. You will definitely be saving money by eloping, so this is something I might recommend splurging on. There are so many Airbnb’s and unique stays, you can look into places with pools, hot tubs, saunas, pool tables, views, and more! Once you have your lodging taken care of, it makes it easier to research fun activities and dining in the area. You will also be able to see how far you are from your elopement and ceremony location. Once this is complete, you can fine-tune your timeline to arrange for everything in the area you want to do.
STAGE 4: Finishing Touches
This is the part where you start to figure out some of the last details. You know where you’re eloping, you have a place to stay, travel is arranged, and vendors are booked. Now it’s time to invite those you want to attend and figure out what kind of ceremony you want to have.
At this point, you should have your locations selected, and just need to focus on setting up for your ceremony. Who will be marrying you? Are you planning to self solemnize? Have you bought your wedding bands? Are you including any readings, cultural, or religious elements? You can break all tradition here, or bring an officiant that has a classic take on ceremony readings.
My favorite part about shooting weddings is listening to the vows, I absolutely love hearing what my couples come up with for one another. I know this is the part some couples dread, If I can offer any advice here, it would be just to tell your story, how you met, how you fell in love, the day you knew they were the one, your promises to them, and reminding them that they are your forever person. We aren’t all writers, I’m currently struggling with this blog post as it is. However, your love is unique, you’ve got this.
I have saved this section of the blog post for last because I wanted you to be mostly focused on yourself and your partner while planning your elopement. Personally, my friends are the most important part of my life, but they aren’t the most important part of me marrying my (future) husband. So I think it’s smart to figure out what it is you want, and then figure out your guest list. If you decide you’re not going to have a wedding with a lot of people, you can help your friends and family feel involved by asking their opinions on the planning! And of course by showing them all of the beautiful photos from the day. You can also choose to have your ceremony in private, and then have a reception with them.
If you’re ready to start booking your elopement date with vendors, I’d love for you to get in touch! Once you book with me, I’m here to help with planning flights and accommodations, local attractions, vendors, timeline, and anything else! There is no wrong way to plan an elopement, and I’m happy to help answer any and all questions, even if you don’t have your location or date nailed down! I’d be thrilled to be a part of your intimate day, get in touch below! If you need more help with organizing your elopement, check out my elopement checklist!