It’s a feeling of ultimate freedom: ditching the confines of tradition and societal expectations and doing exactly what you want. Imagining your epic views at the top of a mountain, or being surrounded by nature in a woodland, the sounds of crashing waves and sand between your toes at a beach…it’s invigorating and definitely gets the elopement juices flowing.
But let me dispel one myth: an elopement may be a more stripped-down way to get married, focussing less on grandeur and more on romance, but it doesn’t require any less planning. And if we’re keeping it real, I can’t pretend that doing the planning will give you the same feeling.
But this is why I’m here to help! We’re going to look at the steps you need to take to plan your dream elopement, and we’ll point you to all the resources you’ll need to make your day absolutely perfect!
Choosing A Location
Apart from having you two together to share your love, the location you choose will be one of the most important decisions. Traditionally, eloping meant running away in secret to get married, so why not choose somewhere special?
So where do you envision yourself saying, “I do?” Maybe it will be on a mountaintop, overlooking the scenery for miles around? Or perhaps you’ll be on a pristine beach, with blue waves lapping at your feet as you stare into your partner’s eyes? What about a hike through a national park, surrounded by the sounds of nature and away from the hustle and bustle of city life?
It’s fair to say that the options are endless. Ok, maybe not endless – I can’t help you to get to Mars, but anything that planet Earth has to offer could be your destination. So how do you narrow it down?
I’d start by thinking about a broad idea of when you want to get married. You may not have an exact date, but you could think about the time of year. If you’re opting for a winter wedding, you might want to avoid a beach. Many national parks will close certain trails in the winter as they become inaccessible. Likewise, if you know you want a summer ceremony you may not be able to get snow, unless you go to certain mountains.
Alternatively, decide on some fun, adventurous or romantic activities that you’d like to include in your day. If you have your heart set on certain activities, this can dictate much of the rest of your planning.
Decide On Who To Invite
Firstly, know that you don’t have to invite anyone. There are options to get married with just the two of you and many couples love the fact that they’re not limited by location: a lot of couples don’t like asking their friends and family to pay for long distance travel.
For some locations, you may have to include some others. In some states, an officiant will be required and you may also require witnesses to the marriage. Here’s a guide on marriage requirements for all 50 states.
For couples who choose to elope alone, I am happy to help you plan the perfect day and still ensure the legalities are followed. I am an ordained member of the Universal Life Church, which means that I can act as your officiant: meaning you don’t need to find an extra person to perform this crucial role.
But if sharing your special day with your most important people still appeals to you, then you absolutely can include guests. It can make the day all the more romantic when it includes those nearest and dearest to you. We can work together to find a way to include your guests, whether that’s simply having them involved in the photographs to giving them a special role in your day.
Choose A Photographer
Once you’ve got an idea of a date and location, it will be much easier to look into hiring photographers. Choosing the right photographer will mean you create lifelong memories to look back on, have something to share with guests who couldn’t be there, and have items to decorate your family home.
For an elopement, a much more close and intimate experience than a traditional wedding, choosing a good personality fit is crucial. They’ll be with you for the entire day, working closely with you and your partner, so you’ll want to make sure it’s someone who aligns with the vision you have for your special occasion.
A great elopement photographer will have specialist knowledge and skills that are required to photograph in unusual locations. For example, knowing the best times of day for your location, planning for unexpected weather and capturing intimate photos with a smaller number of guests are all crucial aspects to elopement photography.
You’ll need to make your photographer one of your first vendor hires. Typically, a photographer will be booked up a year in advance so you’ll need to get lucky if you want to hire someone on short notice.
Create A Timeline
Once you have decided on where, when and who will be attending your ceremony, it’s possible to create a more in-depth plan for your day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, your photographer will be able to help you. I’ve been photographing elopements for over 10 years, and I’m always happy to use that experience to help others.
Creating a timeline will not only ensure that you know where to be and when, it will also help your other vendors to make your day everything it can be. Planning in advance will make sure that you have everything included that you want: making your day all about you.
When creating your timeline, you should also consider whether you want to include a reception after your elopement. Although they typically follow a traditional wedding ceremony, some couples who included guests choose to have a reception or some kind of gathering after their ceremony. Your photographer will need to know whether you want to include a reception as part of your package, and so will your guests!
Book Travel and Accommodation
You may have already done this as soon as you decide on your location, but not all couples book their travel and accommodation straight away. If you want to stay in the same location as your guests, you will need to wait until you have all their replies. Or perhaps you’re torn between a few places in a location.
If you haven’t booked travel and accommodation early, you should make this one of your priorities. Simply put, the longer you leave it, the less choice you will have as places take more bookings. If you choose a boutique location, they may have fewer spots open each day than a hotel, for example.
If you’re not choosing accommodation that doubles up as a venue, you will need to consider travel to and from the ceremony. Is public transport available, or will you need to hire transportation? How will your guests get to the ceremony? If you have elderly, or otherwise less mobile guests, will they be able to travel in the same way as everyone else?
Choose Your Elopement Attire
With your destination chosen, and the date finalized, you’ll start to get an idea of what is suitable to wear.
Like everything elopement, it’s entirely up to you. You can wear a traditional wedding dress at the top of a mountain if you wish, or you could wear hiking boots and comfortable jeans. It all depends on whether you want to prioritize comfort, or have the stunning wedding dress photos of your dreams.
Top tip: you can always do both. Many couples travel to their destination in more sensible clothing, change into their formal wedding attire for the ceremony, and then change again afterwards. If you incorporate a woodland hike, a mountain walk, or anything else where safety is important, you may have no choice.
If you’re really unsure of what to wear, you can apply a bit of logic and match your attire to the season and location. If you’re going to be eloping to California in the summer, choose something lightweight, breathable and not layered. If you’re wearing a suit, choose a natural fiber like wool or cotton, which tend to be better at regulating temperatures than synthetic material.
The reverse might be true for fall or winter weddings. Choose a dress that has layers to help keep you warm, has long sleeves or include a stylish bolero to keep you warm. For suits, consider a heavier material such as flannel, tweed or cashmere.
Footwear is also an essential consideration. If you’re going on a hike, you’ll want a pair of sturdy boots to protect your feet, keep you stable and your feet dry. The last thing you want is to roll your ankle or get cut on a sharp rock, so it’s well worth investing in some decent shoes even if it means bringing a ‘nicer’ pair with you for the ceremony.
If your ceremony will take place on a beach, you have more options including getting married barefoot!