How to plan an elopement ceremony

How to Plan an Elopement Ceremony

This is part 3 in my series of elopement planning guides: how to plan your elopement ceremony! For many folks, planning an elopement is a totally unknown arena. Most couples who are planning an elopement have never been to one. And there’s so much media surrounding “weddings” that we are all familiar with. But, there’s so much less guidance when it comes to elopements. It can be hard to imagine what an elopement ceremony would be like. Basically, you can and should do whatever moves you! The more unique, the better! So, let’s dive in.

How to Plan your elopement series:
1. – How to plan an elopement
2. – What to do during your elopement
3. – How to plan an elopement ceremony – You are here!
4. – Here’s how to write elopement vows
5. – What to wear to your elopement
6. – How to personalize your elopement
7. – Including Family in your elopement
8. – How to include your cat in your elopement

Ready to start planning your ceremony and photography?

Why you should plan your elopement ceremony

Sure, an elopement could be a quick, two minute ceremony at a courthouse or a backyard. I’m a big proponent of couples marrying exactly the way they want to. But, as this is my soap box moment: Your ceremony is SO IMPORTANT. If eloping was a plate of nachos, the ceremony is the cheesy nucleus. This is the cheese that makes nachos worth eating. Also, without cheese, nachos would just be chips. I want you to feel your partner’s love for you through their hands as you hold them. I want you to hear it in their voice when they speak to you. I want you to remember what your ceremony felt like. And I want to have more than 2 minutes to photograph all of that! Because capturing the way you look at each other is the WHOLE POINT.

Required Elopement Ceremony Elements

What’s required for your elopement ceremony? The short answer here is that it depends and it varies by your state and country! It’s important to look up what’s needed when you plan your elopement ceremony. However, most marriages require 3 things to be legal. Your marriage license, an officiant, and consent. (Woohoo, we love consent!) Consent is basically the part where you say, “I do.” Do you take Bartholemew to be your spouse? Yes! This is generally the only thing you absolutely have to have, and it’s quite painless if I do say so myself. Some states require witnesses, but you don’t have to know them personally. Passing hikers, tour guides, and anyone else you meet during your day can sign as witnesses.
PLANNING TIP: Always look up the requirements at your elopement location, NOT your residential location.

Do I need to have an officiant?

7 states waive the requirement to have a human being officiate your ceremony and marry you. Instead, you marry yourselves! It’s called self-solemnization, and it’s the way I married my partner! Basically, the state acknowledges that within you, you have the power to declare yourself married. The self solemnization states are:
– Colorado
– California (Requires a separate application and 2 witnesses)
– Wisconsin (1 additional form to be signed)
– Nevada (If you apply as if you are a Quaker)
– Kansas (If you apply as a Quaker)
– Maine (If you apply as a Quaker)
– Illinois and Pennsylvania (It’s complicated)
In all the other states, there is a requirement to have an officiant when you marry. However, you can still have a self-solemnization style ceremony anywhere when your photographer is ordained! In this scenario, you would marry each other however you like. Afterwards, I would sign on the line of your officiant. Boom! You’re married!

If you want to have an officiant anyway, no sweat! Keep in mind that when you hire an officiant for your elopement, you need to have a firm plan in place. Telling them the When & Where is essential. If you go without an officiant, you have more flexibility. You could be hiking and at any point during the day you could decide to have your ceremony spontaneously. When it feels right.

More About Marriage Licenses

You can obtain a marriage license by making an appointment at a courthouse a day or more prior to your elopement. In most states, any courthouse of that state is fine, but in some states you also need to obtain the marriage license from the county that you will marry in. If you live in Texas, your Texas marriage license can travel with you to any other state. Most other states require you to apply for and get a marriage license in the state you’re marrying in – regardless of what your home state is. But, this is generalized advice and not applicable in all circumstances! Some countries, like Indonesia, have complicated and sometimes religious requirements that may not work for everyone. In these cases, I recommend filling out the legal paperwork before traveling for your elopement.

Elopement Ceremony Ideas

Every elopement ceremony should be as unique as the couple themselves. This is the fun part you guys! You can put almost anything in your ceremony, whether it’s been done before or not. You can have music – either live, or played on a mobile speaker for your entrance. You could share headphones like Pam & Jim did in The Office (Yes, DURING your ceremony!) recite or sing the lyrics to one another. Heck, grab each other for a romantic dance during your ceremony!
– Devise a secret handshake to do right before your first kiss. So make it as long and complicated as you like.
– Have a moment of silence or solemnity to remember others
– Close your eyes together for a full minute
– Feed each other your favorite foods
– Read letters from loved ones to each other
– Make a pinky promise
– Exchange rings
– Sign your marriage license together
– Your dog can even sign the back of the license!
– Exchange gifts or talismans
– ICE each other
– Read quotes to each other from your favorite shows
– Fling water over each other
– Dance around a campfire
– Make a blood promise or create a cast of your hands
– Share what you wrote in a journal or told a friend when you first met
– Jump into a lake or under a waterfall at the end!

The #1 thing you should do is..

The #1 thing you should do when planning your elopement ceremony is to write your own vows! I wrote a whole blog post on this subject alone. So don’t let writers block stop you – it’s packed with ideas and prompts to make vow writing easy. You can play rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first. If you do nothing else, do THIS.

How to write your elopement vows

How to Use Traditional Ceremony Elements

You may choose to incorporate any traditional ceremony elements that have significance for you! The Jewish faith has a ton of traditions to pull from, such as circling each other and signing a ketubah. You could choose to have a foot-washing ceremony. Circling a fire, giving and receiving of Jai Mala, and rice offerings are hallmarks of Hindu ceremonies and can be done while eloping. Share honey and dates to honor your Persian roots. A Handfasting is another common tradition coming from the Celtic / Pagan tradition. Exchanging Lei’s and blowing the conch shell are Hawaiian traditions that are oh-so-adorable.

Having a Unity Elopement Ceremony

A unity ceremony is when the two partners combine something together into one. This started with unity candles, in which each partner’s family would come forward and light a candle for each side. Then the marrying couple would combine the flame of those two candles onto one candle in the center. More recently, we’ve seen combined colored sand unity ceremonies, unity liquor such as bourbon or whiskey, and more! While this tradition may seem stuffy to some, there are ways to liven it up and make it your own. You could:
– Light a unity sparkler
– Combine colored flame packs into a campfire
– Plant an actual tree in the actual dirt together
– Make a unity snowman
– Eat Unity truffles
– Build a unity sandcastle
– Unity hot cocoa, smores, or ice cream sandwich cookies
– Unity shots

Not sure where to elope? Browse my guides:


I’m a nomadic and colorful elopement photographer with an obsession for mountains, hiking, and my cats. My photography style emphasizes the epic landscape of your dreams and the authentic moments that make you two.. well, you two! I love my job and my nature-loving clients. I’m ordained to marry you, so maybe I’ll see you out there!

I hope this guide on how to plan your elopement ceremony has been useful and inspiring! I’m stoked about any unique ideas you may have to make your elopement your own. If you’re planning something off the wall, I want to know about it! Don’t hesitate to reach out to inquire about your desired elopement date and get some epic elopement photography to boot!

More elopement planning guides

If you need more resources for elopement planning, I’ve got you. Check out these blogs for more how-tos and ideas.
– What IS the difference between an elopement and a wedding
– What to pack for a winter elopement
– Why you should hire a professional photographer

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