5 Steps to Planning an Elopement Day | Details to Consider When Eloping
How do you elope? The main questions to ask and consider as you plan your elopement.
Just like any wedding or event, an elopement is something you plan. Even though most people think of an elopement as being spontaneous and spur of the moment (it can be!), it does, in fact, require some planning. Don’t worry, though, because like everything else about this unique day, you are in control of the process. You decide how far in advance you want to plan your elopement, you control the steps of the process, and if you aren’t comfortable following the conventional checklists of planning a wedding, you don’t have to. I can’t tell you how to elope, but I can give you some guidance in planning your elopement.
The first and most important thing to remember: your elopement, your rules. That means that you decide what is important to you. This day is about you and your partner. It literally is the first day of the rest of your lives. You have complete freedom here. Instead of spending over $35,000 for a big wedding, celebrate with only the people you want to be there. Have 25 people—or just you, your partner, and a photographer.
Even though there is no strict process for planning your elopement, it can be divided up into several stages: ideas and visualizing; learning and logistics; making it concrete; final preparations; and—the most important—basking in the sheer joy of this most special day. Let’s break it down.
1. Ideas and Visualization
Now that you and your partner have decided to elope, start with the basics. Look at the big picture and try to envision what you want your day to be like. Elopements can run the gamut from a spontaneous picnic in your backyard to a helicopter trip to the top of a mountain on the other side of the world. There are no constraints, no set rules to follow.
Will you elope somewhere that means a lot to the two of you, or will you choose to go somewhere new you’ve always wanted to visit? Will you hike up a mountain or will you get married under water in scuba gear? What will you do on this day? Where in the world will you do it? Sunrise, sunset, or sometime in between? What time of year? Will there be other people there? Who? Don’t reject any ideas at this point. Do you want to get married in a personal submarine near the Great Barrier Reef? Put it on the list. These ideas will the basis for all the other steps in your elopement planning process.
In some ways, this can be the most romantic part of the process. Make it an event in itself. When you are planning your elopement, relax. Sit down with your partner and open a bottle of something yummy, go somewhere that you love, cook your favorite meal, or just enjoy this unfettered time to dream together. Definitely remember that, since planning an elopement is not a linear process, you’ve always got an excuse to do this again…and again…and again if you need to!
A few other things you might want to consider during this part of your elopement planning include formulating answers to questions like whether you will combine your elopement with your honeymoon or make it a separate occasion. Will you have a celebratory meal? What might that meal consist of? Will you need elopement clothes that might be different from conventional wedding attire? Do you have a strict budget? (read my cost of eloping guide) What matters most to you about the day? How much time can you take off work? What vendors do you want to hire? Is there anything you want to DIY? Any and all questions (and answers, if you have them!) are appropriate here.
WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE
If you’re still unsure of even where to start, just begin by considering the 5 W’s: Who do you want to be there with you? What do you want your day to look like? When do you want to get married? Where do you want to get married? Why do you want to elope and how can you explain that to others? Remember, you don’t need all the answers right away.
2. Learning and Logistics
Once you have even an inkling of what you’d like your day to look like it’s time to start thinking about who can help you turn your dreams of the perfect elopement day into reality. This is what I call the “learning and logistics” stage. While you are figuring out logistics and possibilities don’t lose sight of the fun part—that this experience is all about you and your partner. Your elopement is a celebration of the unique love you share, so what the two of you want this day to be like is the most crucial thing. Research intimidates a lot of people, but you can throw all your bad memories of researching school projects out the window; this is fun research. There is no rush. You and your partner can use this time to embrace all the possibilities along the way.
This is the part of the elopement planning process when many couples decide it’s time to look for a photographer and/or someone to help them plan. As an experienced elopement photographer and guide, I can make sure you know the questions to ask as you plan—for example, have you thought about potential weather problems at your preferred location for the season of the year? Do you have a backup location? Will your dream location be easily accessible? What does transportation look like?
Don’t forget to look into paperwork and legalities at your chosen location. Some places, like Colorado, make it easy to get married! In a state like this, you don’t need an officiant or even witnesses. You can self-solemnize and done, you’re married. In other places, however, it’s not so easy. And because of that, a lot of couples end up doing the paperwork to get married in their home state before their actual elopement day, especially if they’re getting married abroad. Many couples don’t want to have to worry about bureaucracy in another country.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that a lot of public lands require a permit to hold a wedding ceremony. Such a permit is many times cheaper than booking a traditional venue, but, still, you can usually expect to spend about $150. Also, you should definitely try to give yourself a few months’ time to secure the permit as it often takes many weeks to get approved.
I know, this stage can seem overwhelming, but don’t lose sight of the bright side—this extra experience you’re having planning with your partner! You might find out that some of the things on your original list are impossible. Try not to worry, though; that’s why you made your extensive list in the early stages of planning your elopement. And you can always go back to the beginning and add to your list of ideas. Since this day is all about you and your partner, you’re not on a time schedule. You can take all the time you need and really enjoy creating this experience together.
Sometimes the logistics of planning an elopement can be difficult, which is where an experienced elopement photographer can help. I can help you plan all aspects of your most special day, from finding locations to recommending local guides and vendors, and I would be thrilled to help you!
3. Making it Concrete
After you’ve done your research, it gets even more exciting. It’s time to make some choices and to make things concrete! Now is when it’s all starting to come together in your minds. You’ve found your ideal location and thought about vendors and details and what your budget will be, so now you can go ahead and lock in that perfect place and date. Figure out where you will stay and how you will get to and from the location. Pick up the phone or get online and make those reservations.
Although you are making decisions right now, everything doesn’t have to be written in stone. You can still take your time, but what you are doing right now is deciding on the really big things like date, place, etc. Once you’ve decided on those, you can embrace the process of deciding the rest of the details.
Like everything else, the date and place are about you and your partner, so when you are deciding, ask yourselves whether there is a date which is particularly meaningful to the two of you. Then think about the date and your ideal location: will this date work in this place weather-wise? Will it work for your guests if you’re having them? Obviously, you can’t know all the details of everyone’s schedules, but you can have a general idea. If your brother and his wife are expecting a baby the same week that you want to elope, it’s possible that this might be a conflict, for example.
If you want to get married at the top of a mountain in Colorado, it might be harder in the winter (but not impossible!). Is there lodging at your location or will you need to stay somewhere else? Will there be conflicts with local holidays or events? Is it peak tourist season; should you search for a more off-the-beaten-path location? These are some of the questions that an experienced elopement photographer can help you answer while you are planning.
Now that you know WHEN, think about WHERE. For example, “We want to get married on the beach just as the sun is going down.” You don’t have to know the exact location (you can leave some room for spontaneity on the day), but you do want to have a general idea so you can arrange appropriate lodging, transportation, etc.
Booking your lodging is another exciting part of your elopement planning. By now, you’re probably starting to get really excited. You should be starting to really envision how this phenomenal day is going to look. When you are considering your accommodation options, think about location: is there lodging near your site or will you need to arrange transportation? The closer to your elopement site that you stay, the less time you will need to factor in for transportation, but some remote locations might not have any lodging closer than 1-2 hours away. It goes without saying that the earlier you can book, the more confident you will feel.
Another important thing to consider in your elopement planning is transportation. If your elopement site is different from your lodging, how will you get there and how difficult will it be? Say your elopement site is remote, will people need to drive on unpaved roads? If you aren’t confident doing this or don’t want to ask your guests (if applicable) to do it, you might consider hiring drivers for this part of the day. This is another area in which booking as early as possible will make your elopement planning experience much easier.
4. Final Preparations
Fantastic! You’ve got the major decisions under your belt. Now it’s time to start deciding the finishing touches, filling in the details that will make your elopement day absolutely perfect. You can start the fun part (okay, it’s all fun, but this is the more conventionally fun part). This is where you start thinking about clothes, food, and how you want to celebrate after the ceremony. Will you have a reception with your guests right afterwards or will you wait and have a party with family and friends later on? Where will you go on your honeymoon (if you are planning a separate trip)?
Shopping for elopement clothing and shoes: many bridal shops recommend shopping 6-12 months ahead of time, which is great if you have that kind of time. If you don’t or you don’t want to deal with traditional bridal shops, there are lots of places where you can buy either locally or online. And you don’t have to wear traditional wedding clothes if you don’t want to or if it’s not appropriate for your venue. Since it’s all about you and your partner, you can wear whatever you want to. If your location is remote, think especially hard about shoes (a good idea anyway). You’ll want to find comfortable ones with good support and good soles; this is especially important if you’ll be hiking or walking a lot. The last thing you want to be thinking about on this most perfect day is painful feet.
If it’s likely to be cold or hot or if the temperatures will change during the day, make sure to bring fun layers that you won’t mind being photographed in. And don’t forget to think about hair, makeup, and jewelry: rings if you are going to exchange them and any other jewelry and/or accessories that are important to you. Will you do your own hair and makeup or will someone else do it?
Don’t forget about photographs if you haven’t already booked your photographer. Hopefully you have and they’ve been helping you along but, if not, you need to do this now. This person’s work will be a crucial part of the day, so be sure it’s someone you trust and whom you have a good connection with. An experienced elopement photographer can help you make sure that your day goes as seamlessly as possible and that you are relaxed and excited on your big day.
Who will your officiant be if you are using one? Or will you solemnize your vows yourselves (available in few states like Colorado, for example!)? Will you need witnesses? Who will they be? I can legally sign your marriage license in most states (and I can always be a witness), so I can do double duty!
What about flowers? If they are important to you, make sure to check locations and availability of florists near your elopement location. Also, check Leave No Trace Principles for your specific area to make sure live florals with seeds are allowed at your location.
What about food? Will you have a full sit-down meal, a picnic, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, or something else? Where will it come from? Who will be responsible for cooking it? If necessary, look into chefs and catering at your chosen location.
Will you have music? If so, do you need a sound system? A DJ? Will you make Spotify playlists or hire musicians? Do you know your first dance song, already?
Now take a breath. If you’ve read this far you might be feeling like this is a lot. Remind yourselves one more time that this day is all about you, your partner, and the love you share. There are no rules that you need to follow in planning your elopement. There is no rush to make decisions. Pick and choose what is important to you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. All these lists are only guides to help you in your planning.
One other thing you’ll want to do during this stage of your elopement planning is to finalize your ceremony. Will you write your own vows? (you can read my tips on writing your vows here). Remember to decide on the order of the elements of the ceremony, such as any religious or cultural traditions which are important to you. You might decide to read letters to each other, have special readings, play significant music; the possibilities are endless. The ceremony should celebrate the two of you. Don’t forget to purchase the rings!
Are there specific activities that you want to do as part of your day? Make sure that you have appropriate clothing, etc. for them. For example, if you are planning on swimming, don’t forget towels. If you are hiking, be sure to have a good backpack and good hiking boots. Food, water, and bug spray are crucial too. Don’t forget layers and headlamps if it’s going to be windy or cold, or if you’ll be hiking in the very early morning or after dark. If you need to look into vendors for something like scuba-diving or four-wheeling, now is the time to do this. This is your day. Fill it with activities and details which celebrate you and the life you share.
Finally, create your timeline for the day. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but you want to have some idea of what will happen when. Make sure to leave yourselves enough time for things so that you don’t have to rush. Most photographers will create a timeline with/for you that takes into account the best time and light for photographs. Plus, elopement photographers are especially good at crafting timelines that leave breathing room to include everything you want out of your day. (check out my example elopement timelines).
There are lots of details to finalize, but you can take your time doing it. Remember that the most important part comes afterwards: you will be married to the one you want to spend the rest of your life with and you will have so many wonderful memories of this amazing day to look back on.
5. Elopement Day and Beyond
Most important of all: Relax and enjoy the day. Celebrate the connection that you share with your partner, the love which will underpin the rest of your lives together. This is your elopement day. It really is the first day of the rest of your lives. The start of the wonderful adventure of your life together.
One final thing you may want to consider is if you want to send out an elopement announcement after you’re married. Maybe you want to throw a post-elopement party back home sometime down the road? Some couples chose to do this on their 1 year anniversary. Just remember, that like with everything else, there are no set of rules telling you need to do this or how. It’s up to you.
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