So you’ve decided to ditch tradition and create the wedding you really want by eloping. That’s such a unique and exciting point in your relationship, but it can feel overwhelming to know what your next steps are. Even creating a small wedding involves planning and I’ve created this guide to help direct you down a fun wedding planning experience! If you aren’t sure if eloping is right for you, go check out this helpful post.
You deserve the options of eloping however you want and know that you don’t have to just settle for a courthouse wedding only. Eloping can seriously be for every couple that values intimacy and authenticity in their relationship. I can’t wait to show you how!
Keep reading on to find out the most important steps you need to take through your elopement planning process. Trust me, if you follow these steps you’ll have a lot of fun with your partner without having to worry if you are “doing it right”. Here’s your 13 steps on how to elope!
Step 1 – Dream Up Your Favorite Day/Create Inspo Board
Once you’ve decided to elope, there’s no better way to dream up your day than creating an inspiration board. Sit down with your partner, or even better – make it a date night! Order some yummy food and start to collaborate all of your ideas. Make a list of all your favorite locations and why, find photos through Pinterest or Instagram, and take notes of your favorite foods, hobbies, and activities you love to do together. This will be super helpful down the road of your elopement planning process.
Step 2 – Decide on a Budget
Your next step is deciding on a budget. Although eloping is much more cost effective than planning a traditional wedding, it shouldn’t be the main reason you are eloping. This is still your wedding day – a day you will cherish and reflect on for a lifetime and you shouldn’t compromise on what is important to you. These 3 factors will help you determine what your budget should look like.
How Much Does it Cost to Elope?
Because elopements are unique weddings, they are going to vary widely on what it actually costs to elope, but most elopements cost anywhere from$5,000 to $15,000. It really depends on what activities you want to do, where you elope, and how much you value quality vendors for your important day.
Wedding Vendors and Experiences
Many people think that eloping means cheap, but as mentioned above – you can really have the freedom to set your budget without outside pressures. Because you are choosing to elope and will most likely be ditching expensive costs like an open bar, reception venue, gift favors, wedding decorations, and feeding your wedding guests, you can put that money towards other things.
You can now put that money towards experiences like taking an Alaskan helicopter over glaciers, receiving those stunning images, buying that superior floral bouquet, hiring a private chef, or taking a month-long honeymoon.
Your elopement experiences and high-quality vendors can make a world of difference on how you feel on your elopement day and each time you look back on your wedding day. So many couples choose to elope because they value experience over things and that’s exactly what you can put your money towards.
How Much Time Do I Need?
Although there is a lot less planning involved in an elopement, there is still plenty to do. You may wonder why this is an important factor in your budget but if you’re planning an elopement that is half-way around the World in less than a month – your travel fees and wedding vendors tend to be much more expensive.
It’s recommended to plan an elopement between 3 to 6 months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to book the cheapest flights, lodging, and acquire all your attire, gear, and vendors without feeling rushed.
Not only is determining how much time you need to plan is helpful, but this can also give you a sense of how long you need to save up for your dream elopement. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a savings funds for your elopement!
Step 3 – Decide on Who to Invite
This may be the hardest part of your elopement planning. Picking and choosing people that will fully support your decision to elope can be a challenge and bring up hard feelings with relationships. I know it’s easier said than done, but really reflect on those who will bring you joy on your most special day. Remember that this is your day and you deserve to have every ounce of happiness on your wedding day.
If you don’t have a great relationship with your family, that’s totally ok. You do NOT need an ounce of drama on your big day.
Even if your family or friends bring you joy and fully support you, don’t feel obligated to invite them to your elopement. If you feel that you will get a much better elopement experience with the two of you, do it! You’ll have a lifetime to create other memories with your family and friends.
Overall Pros vs. Cons of Having Wedding Guests at Your Elopement
- Pro – You’ll have a wedding party to carry on traditions with
- Con – More planning
- Pro – You will have someone else there to physically celebrate with you
- Con – There will be less time for intimacy with your partner
- Pro – You run the risk of drama on your wedding day
- Con – You won’t be on a stricter schedule to meet up with your wedding party
Overall Pros vs. Cons of Having an Elopement With Just You Two
- Pro – There will be zero performance for others
- Con – It might cause drama between your relationships
- Pro – You can get married almost anywhere (no accessibility issues)
- Con – It won’t feel as of a “big deal”
- Pro – Your budget can go directly to you two
- Con – Not everyone you love can attend
How to Not Hurt Friends or Family
Whether you invite wedding guests or have a “just us” experience – your family and friends can absolutely be a part of your elopement. But if you are looking to have an elopement day with only the two of you, you can still make your friends and family feel included too. Check out this blog post on how to include your family and friends in your elopement to help you not hurt loved ones as much as you can while prioritizing your relationship.
Step 4 – Envision Elopement Location Areas
It’s time to dream about your elopement location! Take time to sit down with your partner and make a date night out of this. This is one of the funnest parts of the process! You’ll want to consider these 7 factors, but write down a list as you go through dreaming up drool-worthy locations.
You don’t need to worry about a specific location yet as your elopement photographer should absolutely include that in their services to ensure you get the most epic spots designed around your wants and needs. Lastly, if you can be flexible on a date, it’s helpful to pick a location first and then pick a date thereafter.
If you want to see the full blog post on narrowing down your elopement location, click here.
The first thing I recommend to think about is weather. Are you someone who hates the cold or extreme heat? Then, you’re going to want to find a location that is comfortable and exciting to you based on that. You should pick a location that brings you the most guaranteed weather for a desired weather condition. Then, it’s helpful to consider the next factor.
Once you’ve nailed down what type of weather you’d want for your elopement, you should consider the season. If you are looking at a location and feel drawn to bold leaf colors and crisp morning frost, then autumn may be right for you! On the other hand, if you love seeing luscious green trees and feeling warmth on your skin – summer might be best for you.
Remember, there might be ideal times to elope at a particular location vs. many locations that may not be accessible during fall and winter. Your elopement photographer should be able to help with this.
Having crowds of tourists on your wedding day can seriously put a damper on your elopement experience. There’s a reason why you wanted to escape the performance of a big wedding! Weekdays and non-peak seasons are best for an intimate experience.
If you do choose a location that is popular during a peak season or weekend, realize you may encounter other couples, photographers, and tourists at popular locations. Some of these examples may look like wildflower season in Mt. Rainer or Zions National Park in the summer. Regardless, your elopement photographer should help guide you in the best direction depending on what’s more important to you!
I bet one of your first reasons you were drawn to eloping was the amazing scenery you can get for your wedding day. It’s super important that you find scenic locations that really “WOW’ you.
Is it standing on top of a mountain looking at the alpine lakes below you? How about the cascading waterfalls and mossy forests? There is no wrong answer to what you envision for your day and having multiple scenery wants is totally doable!
I know you may think this is a “Debbie Downer”, but it’s a real factor to consider when you are exploring elopement location options. You should check local laws to ensure you can legally get married there or take photos at that location.
For example, crossing international borders or having your ceremony at a particular spot in a National Park can be prohibited. Many may think about lying or not ensuring they have the proper paperwork, but you can be fined thousands of dollars and even your wedding vendor licenses can be taken away. There’s absolutely no reason to do this when you literally have hundreds of thousands of areas to elope at.
The best thing is, your elopement photographer should be there to help guide you with all the legalities. If you are wanting to avoid permits at all costs due to the hassle or fees, make sure to bring this up with your wedding vendors and it can totally be possible!
COVID Restrictions and Requirements
Because the pandemic has set up the World very differently now, this is ultimately a factor to consider. Doing a quick search on your desired elopement locations can save you a very big headache you don’t want to encounter.
State and International Laws are all very different with regulations right now. It’s best to be prepared with what rules you need to follow for your desired location and it may steer you in a different direction.
Think About Wedding Guests
Are you wanting to elope with just the two of you or 15 of your closest family and friends? This will ultimately restrict you on the locations you can have your ceremony at or even your lodging.
It’s also important to consider that even though you may want that rocky beach view for your ceremony, most likely your grandma won’t want to hike 2 miles out to get there. You’ll need to remember that particular locations are best accessible for the two of you or saved for your wedding portrait location instead.
Having guests at your wedding will restrict where you can elope, but there are always options to make this day perfect for you!
Step 5 – Hire Your Vendors
Although you may book some of these vendors later in your elopement planning process, it’s a good time to start considering vendors. Photographers, videographers, and hair/makeup artists tend to book up fast and you should start looking as soon as possible. Your photographer also plays an important role in helping you create your day and the earlier you hire them, the less stress on you!
Remember that this is one of your most meaningful days together and you shouldn’t compromise on who you really want to hire! They will help you tremendously with the fine details of eloping and making your day come to life. To make sure that happens, reach out to your vendors at least 3 to 6 months before your date.
If you want to learn more on how to choose the right elopement vendor for you, check out this post here.
Vendors to Consider to Hire:
- Photographer +/- Videographer
- Hair and Makeup Artist
- Private Chefs/Caterers
- Elopement Planner
- Wedding cake designer (or think about donuts, brownies, cupcakes, etc.)
- Professional Drivers (jeeping, helicopter ride, bush plane, etc.)
Step 6 – Research and Book Travel Accommodations
Now is a great time to start comparing prices on travel accommodations. You’ll want to make sure you start booking because reservations can fill up fast and you don’t want to be stressed on travel and lodging accommodations. Using these recommended research websites can help you cut costs and start planning your travel to your elopement location!
Flights or Rental Cars
Your elopement location may require you to fly and/or drive to your location. Even if you are driving, renting a car may be a fun way to get a vehicle that fits your elopement style and help if you are going on 4WD roads. Use these websites to help you predict the lowest tickets to fly or book a rental car for less.
Best Flight Websites to Cut Costs:
Best Rental Car Websites to Cut Costs:
One of the funnest parts of eloping is going somewhere new or memorable. Finding lodging accommodation that is beautiful and unique can be a great part of your elopement experience. Not only can they be a great place to have photos or host a BBQ with family after your ceremony, but you can also pair it with your honeymoon location. Think outside the box with your lodging!
Best Websites to Help You Book Hotels
Best Websites to Help You Book Unique Lodging
Step 7 – Plan Elopement Activities
One of the best parts of eloping is being able to create an adventure on your wedding day. Many couples think that hiking is the only way to have an adventure elopement, but that’s just not the case. There are elopement activities for every type of person and relationship!
If you aren’t sure what is right for you, think of the hobbies you love to do together or try something new on your wedding day. Your elopement activities are absolutely endless.
5 Elopement Ideas That Require Physical Activity
- Hiking and backpacking
- Kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, or row boating
- Climbing and bouldering
5 Elopement Ideas That Don’t Require Physical Activity
- Cooking, have a picnic
- Riding in a helicopter, plane, or skydiving
- Bonfire and stargazing
- Hot tub or hot spring soak (hot springs are my absolute favorite – check out why here!)
Remember that some of these adventure activities may require booking in advance. Don’t forget to reach out to them in your elopement planning process to ensure it’s all squared away for your special day.
Step 9 – Check Legal Requirements
Although we’ll discuss all the different options you have for your elopement day, let’s start with the basics of how you make your marriage legal.
Marriage laws vary from state to state, but overall are pretty similar. If you are wanting to make it “official” on your elopement day, you’ll need to check in with the County of the state you are getting married in – not the state you are living in. Usually the cost of the marriage license is about $30-$45.
Most states require you to apply for a marriage license at least 3 days in advance as there is a waiting period. You’ll need to either set up an appointment online or be present in person. Most offices have changed to online appointments due to COVID, but it’s best to call the office and speak with someone directly to ensure you are following all the proper steps.
Make sure to bring:
- Current driver’s license +/- passport
- Birth certificate
- Social Security Number
- Extra: Military License +/- Alien Registration Card
Then, bring your received marriage license paperwork to your ceremony so your witnesses, officiants, and you can all sign it together and make it official!
Witnesses and Officiants
About half of the country requires 1-2 witnesses for your marriage license, but again varies widely. This also goes for officiants. Check out each state’s requirements here: https://www.usmarriagelaws.com/marriage-license/marriage-witnesses-requirements/
No Witnesses or Officiant
If you’re ditching having an officiant and witnesses by self-solemnizing, you’ll want to see out the States of California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine (religious affiliation only), Nevada, Pennsylvania) and in the District of Columbia. I always recommend to still call in advance and make sure your license is permitted with this type of Unity as laws are changing constantly. We’ll talk more about self-solemnizing in the next section if you’re curious as to what that actually means!
Who Can Officiate?
Hiring an officiant for your elopement ceremony can be very special. These are trained professionals that are great at catering to your special relationship and I even know a bunch that love to hike to your ceremony spot with you.
Not only do you have the option of hiring an officiant who will work with you like any other wedding vendor, but many couples choose to have a family or friend member do so. Getting ordained is quick and simple through Universal Life Church. Universal Life Church can also help your officiant write a ceremony script or use one that is included on their website resources.
Most elopement photographers, like myself, are ordained ministers and can legally marry you too. This is a great option for backup plans in case your minister falls through, or you want to keep things more intimate. Keep reading on to find out how that could work for you!
What If I Don’t Have Witnesses Or an Officiant?
You might ask yourself, but what if I want to get married in a state that doesn’t allow self-solemnization? Well, that’s where your elopement photographer can come in handy.
Being able to legally marry you allows you to have whatever type of ceremony you want in any state. There are no legally binding words, so you can exchange your vows in private or have your photographer write you a ceremony script.
Then, if you still need witnesses, you’ll just need to find 1-2 fellow hikers/bystanders to sign. This has never been a problem for my couples and actually many people are thrilled to do so for you!
Types of Elopement Ceremonies
You might think there is only one way to have an elopement ceremony, but you actually have many more options! Also, be sure to check out this fun post on ceremony activities you can include!
Get Married That Day
As we talked about before, this is the traditional way of eloping that most people think of. You’ll go through the above steps to acquire your license, have a ceremony, and then sign the paperwork as required by the state.
Have a Commitment Ceremony
Many couples choose to ditch the paperwork for later and simply have an exchange of vows, or a commitment ceremony. This sometimes is the best way for couples to feel completely relaxed on their elopement and go back home to fill out the paperwork and/or visit the courthouse to make it officially legal.
Like mentioned before, self-solemnization can be one of the most special and easiest ways to get hitched. You’ll just need to make sure you are eloping in the correct state to make this legal. Colorado and Washington D.C. are the only states you can solemnize without any paperwork.
Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maine, Kansas, Nevada, Illinois, and California all have extra requirements but is still easy to do.
Renew Your Vows
Many think that this can only be done on anniversaries, but you can absolutely do this at any point in your marriage! So many couples didn’t get the wedding they dreamed of, so why not have a re-do? This could be 6 months, 5 years, or even 30 years after you tied the knot and it’s just as special as that first wedding day.
Mentioned previously, permits may help you determine where you get hitched at – but don’t forget to get them! Some National Parks require months to process and book your permit. You will most likely need a special use permit for any type of ceremony in a public park, especially if you have wedding guests.
Your elopement photographer will also need to acquire the proper permit to shoot your wedding. Make sure to hire a photographer who is willing to help you through this legal process and does their duty to make sure you follow the rules and requirements. There’s nothing more awkward than getting caught without one – you could even be kicked out of the park. Talk about a damper on your special day!
Step 10 – Set up a Wedding Gift Registry (if desired)
A lot of couples that choose to elope don’t necessarily worry about getting gifts, but it can still be a great tradition to carry on. Just do what feels right to you! You may even have family and friends that insist on getting you a gift.
Having a gift registry or cash registry is an easy way to have your loved ones feel involved in your elopement and start you off on a great foot financially. Don’t be afraid to get customized with your gift registry either. If you prefer to get camping gear vs. pots and pans – then list it!
5 Best Online Wedding Registries:
5 Best Online Cash and Experience Registries:
Step 11 – Decide If You Want Pre Celebratory Parties and/or Reception
Can you have a traditional wedding or reception after eloping? Can I have a bridal shower or a pre-party? Yes, absolutely! Just because you are choosing to have an elopement doesn’t mean you have to ditch any tradition you want. This is your wedding and you deserve to have every aspect of it that you truly want.
One of the best ways to have an elopement and traditional wedding for your family is to elope how you want to and then hold a reception after. This could be the day after, 6 months later, or even a year! There’s absolutely no right way to celebrate your elopement.
Step 12 – Make an Elopement Announcement
Announcing your elopement can be a fun and freeing experience! If you are more of an intimate person, this may not feel necessary for you and that’s totally okay, but here’s some ideas on how to break the news to them:
- Tell them in person
- Make an announcement card (virtual or mail) – could use your engagement or elopement photos!
- Talk about and involve them in your planning
- Call them from your ceremony/elopement day
- Hold a reception
- Share your elopement photos
If you are wanting to tell your elopement to family and friends, go check out this full post on how to announce your elopement.
Step 13 – Enjoy Your Elopement Day!
The most important part of your elopement planning process is to actually enjoy your day! I find these following tips really help you to be in the right mindset to soak in all your elopement day memories.
I know a lot of people are most likely to just throw their things in a bag on the morning of their elopement, but if you could only prepare one night in your life – this is the time to do it. Seriously consider getting to your elopement location at least 1 day before. This will help you fully unwind, get settled into your lodging accommodation and not feel rushed. Getting there ahead of time can also raise excitement and help you plan for unexpected travel delays!
You should also lay out all your items and separate the ones you will absolutely need on your wedding day. Pack the items you can in your backpack or day bag and leave the rest tucked in your drawers. Packing and organizing your items the night before will help you feel un-rushed in the morning and set that relaxed mood for your special day.
Finally, look over your timeline together that your photographer helped you create and start getting excited for your wedding day!
Don’t Stress About Your Timeline
Seriously, don’t worry about it. This is the exact opposite thing I just mentioned, but as an elopement photographer, that is my job! I’ll keep you on track but never push you into the minutes. I’ve completely thrown out elopement timelines due to various reasons and it always works out. One of the best reasons to elope is that you aren’t tied down to a full day timeline that allows no time for wiggle room and I don’t want you to feel that pressure!
Although your day will be full of amazing images from your photographers, it can be so fun to take selfies along the way. These photos allow you to have something a little extra special and helps you look back on “behind the scenes” of your elopement day. I also love suggesting to bring a disposable or polaroid camera to have another way of documenting your elopement. Having those extra keepsakes to cherish your wedding day is really quite special.
Slow Down and Go With the Flow
As mentioned before, sometimes bad weather or location changes happen. Don’t freak out! Your elopement photographer should be experienced enough to have back up plans ready and will help you alter your day.
If your less-than-ideal weather happens, try to embrace it! Don’t be afraid to get soaked in the rain, run with the wind, or get sweaty. Your images will look amazing if you can simply let go of what “perfect” looks like and you will feel it too. Remember that no matter what Mother Nature throws at you, to make this day about committing yourself to your most favorite person in the World. That’s why you choose to elope after all!
Bringing It All Together
Woot woot – you’ve made it through the steps of eloping! I know that can feel like a lot of planning, but it’s actually a very fun and easy way to make your wedding day happen. Remember, this is your day to create and following these steps are just a structure to start.
As an adventure elopement photographer, I set out to not only document your elopement love story – but to help you create your day from start to finish. That’s why I’ve created a totally customizable guide on “How to Elope” that goes into this topic much more in depth for you!
This is an exclusive guide of all of the above steps for booking clients only. Not only will you have help through each stage of the elopement planning process, but I’ll be there to empower you along the way. If you have any more questions about planning your elopement day, please reach out to me and I’d be happy to help!
Get Your Free Elopement Checklist Here
I’ve made this simple, but helpful checklist of all the steps you need to elope. Just click the link here and save to your phone or print it out – enjoy!