How to plan an elopement
This is part 1 in my elopement planning guide series: How to plan an elopement! This is the big picture guide with a breakdown of what steps to take to plan your elopement. Planning an elopement is different from planning a wedding in a few big ways. Read on as I walk you through the basics, the order, and the specifics. And check out the rest of my free elopement planning guides to go deeper into crafting your unique day!
How to Plan your elopement series:
1. – How to plan an elopement – You are here!
2. – What to do during your elopement
3. – How to plan an elopement ceremony
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
9. – How to save money on your elopement
Step 1: Elopements are not weddings
Chances are you know what a wedding is.. You’ve probably even been to one! But most people who are planning an elopement have never attended an elopement before. So it can be hard to imagine what an elopement is like when you’re going in blind. STEP ONE OF HOW TO PLAN AN ELOPEMENT: Try to throw out everything in your mind that constitutes what a wedding should be! Decolonize your mind from what’s expected of you. Completely wipe the slate clean. You want to throw everything in the nearest dumpster until you’re staring at a blank page. Read more about the difference between an elopement and a wedding here.
You don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations
The BEST part about eloping is the freedom from other people’s expectations. Your elopement is FOR YOU. The day you marry each other should be free from judgement- but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. It’s HARD to leave expectations behind. I totally get it. Chances are there is a reason you’re eloping, and judgement from family and friends about your wedding plans is usually a factor. But the payoff of doing things your way is huge. Because you can never please everyone, I plead with you to prioritize pleasing yourselves!
So, random internet stranger, I give you my permission. Here are some things you don’t need to do.
– You don’t need to have bridesmaids, groomsmen, a best man, a maid of honor, or any other guests of honor.
– You might not have someone walk you down the aisle.
– Don’t want to wear white? You don’t have to! You don’t even have to wear a dress. Or a suit. You should wear something, though. I mean, unless you’re into that.
– Veils are difficult to manage. Wearing one is totally optional.
– You don’t have to invite everyone.. or anyone!
You can do whatever you want.
Phew. That’s better, isn’t it?
Step 2 of how to plan your elopement: Who gets to come?
Most eloping couples choose to be totally alone for their elopement. There is more freedom in a Just Us Two elopement. But some people who choose to elope would also like to invite guests, and that’s ok! You can totally have guests at your elopement. (And it’s still an elopement). So take some time to think together about who you’d like to be there to witness your vows. I recommend a few caveats:
– Only include those humans that FULLY support you and will be there with a smile on their face.
– Don’t let others influence your list. “You have to invite aunt B if you invite aunt A!” No, no you don’t. Stick to your guns!
– You can include them for just part of your elopement – inviting them doesn’t mean you have to include them in everything. Some folks like to share their ceremony with their parents and siblings. While other couples keep their vows private and instead join a few loved ones for a celebratory dinner.
– The more people you invite, the less flexible your plan becomes. Location options will shrink, especially in the National Parks and forests if you have more than 10 guests. You’ll have to think about more logistics as you account for transportation, accommodation, and meals.
Elopement Planning Step 3: Brainstorm a Location
Here’s the thing. Your elopement is NOT AN EVENT. It’s the best dang day of your life, yes. But it isn’t like a birthday party or a wedding or a baby shower. There is no need for poofy traditions, and there is no element of performance. An elopement is far more like the honeymoon you dream up together during pillow talk before you turn out the lights. So, what would you do together if there were no limits? How would you plan the perfect day? What kind of scenery would make you grin the widest? That’s why step 3 of how to plan your elopement is to pick a location that speaks to both of you. A national park, a certain state, a mountain range or desert – keep it pretty loose in this phase. Check out my 30+ location guides to start dreaming!
How to plan an elopement Step 4: Book your Photographer
Yup- this is truly the next step and I’ll tell you why. Photographers who specialize in elopements are the key to crafting an amazing elopement for you. We are the glue, the guide and oftentimes the co-planner of your elopement. I know the locations and I know what time of day will be best. (For maximum prettyness and avoiding the crowds!) Once you find an experienced photographer in your desired location, get them on your team by booking them early on in your process. They can help you with so much! From specific location finding, activity suggestions, connecting you with vendors, permit help and timeline planning – we are the ones who have been there with couples through the whole process.
Picking the right elopement photographer
It’s important to pick a photographer whose style matches what you’re looking for. You should interview them to check that your personalities mesh and that they make you feel empowered to elope your way. Ask to see a full gallery of their elopements to see how they photograph indoors while you’re getting ready. Not just the dreamy sunset portraits – because eloping is so much more than a photoshoot. Do their photos capture the emotion and personality of the couple? Is the landscape captured in a way that shows it, while still emphasizing the subject? Are their colors consistent and are they able to photograph in low light situations? I’m committed to being a cheerleader for whatever weird, wild and wonderful plans you can think of.
More about me
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. Maybe I’ll see you out there in the wild!
How long should your elopement be?
Sure, your elopement ceremony might be short. And you may not value getting ready photos or anything else that reminds you of a big poofy wedding or a production. But I’m here to tell you that your elopement day is just that – an entire day. This is a day to grab life by the horns. To fill your day with all the things that make you feel alive and excited and connected to your partner. There are SO MANY things to do in a day, you absolutely should consider having an all day elopement experience. This is the day you will remember on every anniversary for the next 70 years. So I beg you – don’t cheapen your own experience by cutting your best day ever into a short blip or an ordinary day.
Step 5: Apply for Permits & Marriage License
Many outdoor locations require a reservation or Special Use Permit to use even if you aren’t having any guests. The one thing that all permits have in common is that no two are the same 😉 Seriously – every national and state or county park, forest, or conservation area has a different system for applying and being granted permits. And some locations don’t allow elopements at all. So check in with your photographer and make sure you are doing so legally. You’ll also need to obtain a Marriage license in the state that you’re eloping in up to 30 days before your elopement day. Most courthouses are by-appointment only.
Step 6: Travel Planning for your elopement
The rest of your planning should be just like planning a vacation! Book your flights and choose your accommodation – maybe some transportation too. Remember that your accommodation could be the background to many parts of your elopement day, so prioritize a place you love over something ordinary. This is a place to splurge! Vacation excursions make great additions to your elopement day too. You can take a hot air balloon, a horseback ride, heli tour, or a sunset sail around an island. For more ideas of what to do during your elopement, check out my elopement guide part 2!
Don’t sweat the small stuff
The rest of planning your elopement can be as detailed or as hands-off as you’d like. Do you want an officiant? Do you want florals? Pick out your attire with something so fabulous that you cannot wait to wear, and that you never want to take off. Some people have an elopement timeline planned out with intention and an eye for design. Other people like to embrace the spontaneity that elopements allow and make it up as they go! Pack as you would for a vacation, be prepared if you are adventuring outdoors, and HAVE FUN!
A note about All Inclusive Elopement Packages
Elopement packages are offered by many companies as a one-stop-shop. They offer a boxed experience that allows you an entirely hands-off planning journey. I see a lot of folks opting for an elopement package. So let’s break down the difference and pros and cons of all inclusive elopement packages. An all inclusive elopement may involve signing just one contract with a planner, photographer or venue that provides all the other services as well. You may be allowed to choose from their list of ceremony locations and time slots or the colors of the flowers. But your elopement will be a cookie cutter shape.
– It may be cheaper than hiring several a la carte vendors. (But not always!)
– You don’t have to research every vendor
– The vendors you get will not provide a high quality service. (or else they would be in business for themselves!)
– You won’t get a tailored experience. There isn’t much you can customize and personalize. It will be ordinary.
– You won’t get to talk to many of the vendors
– Companies are often run unethically. Elopement package companies have stolen copyrighted work to promote themselves and don’t conduct elopements legally by doing the right paperwork and permits. Worse, they may not be paying a fair rate to the photographer, florist or officiant. And therefore they may not show up.
– Feeling rushed is common, or that the plan is rigid and unable to flex around weather or last minute changes.
– Your officiant might be too corny or too serious for your tastes. Cringe.
– Worse yet, your photos could be so bad that you don’t want to look back at them. I see this ALL the time. Reader, my heart is already breaking. So take these cons into account when you consider the package deal.
Now you know how to plan an elopement!
In short, you should throw out the wedding and all the expectations that come with it. And DO WHAT YOU WANT! Of course, if it doesn’t sound fun, don’t do it! You don’t need to impress anyone with your elopement. And there is no 1 best way to elope. Your day should be incredibly personal and meaningful to the two of you. Pick a general location that excites you, hire your photographer, and work out the details last.
I’m ready to be your elopement plan cheerleader
I’m a genuine hype woman and I’d love to hear about the thing you dream up together! If you tell me you want to ride llamas into the sunset at the end of your day, I will be on the phone with every llama dealership I know. (It’s 1. I only know 1 llama dealership.) I want to tell the story of your elopement day from start to finish, which is why I offer entire-story photography. You can find my package pricing here – and don’t be a stranger! I’d love to see you in my inbox with any planning questions you may have.