A big wedding isn’t for everybody – and I think it’s time that throwing a party you don’t actually want stops being the norm! You have options, and you can have a wedding day that you enjoy – one that feels right for you, and that kicks off the beginning of your marriage in a way that actually reflects who the two of you are.
If you crave something different, something adventurous, something meaningful… elope! This guide will tell you all about how to elope and answer every question you’ve ever had, along with all the ones you haven’t thought of yet.
Make the Badass Decision to Elope
The first step when it comes to figuring out how to elope – make the decision! This step might just be the hardest because there’s often so much pressure from family, friends, and from the wedding industry to do what everyone else does and to have a big white wedding. But you deserve a wedding day that you actually love, and there’s no reason why you should make this day about anyone but you. If you haven’t already decided to elope, sit down with your partner and talk it over – and check out these 5 signs that eloping is right for you.
What does it mean to elope?
One of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to deciding to elope is that the old definition of eloping is a little, or a lot, outdated! A lot of people still think about elopements as something you do when you want something quick and easy, or when your marriage is scandalous and secretive. But that’s not the case anymore – and for couples who care about their wedding day but don’t want to do a big wedding, eloping gives you the opportunity to ensure your day is everything you want, and nothing that you don’t!
Is it selfish to elope?
This question comes up a lot for couples – they worry that they’re being selfish by eloping, or that they’re letting their families down.
But let me ask you this: isn’t it more selfish to demand that someone throw a wedding party they don’t want? Isn’t it more selfish to make someone else’s wedding day about you?
There’s nothing selfish about wanting to get married in a way that feels right to you, and there’s nothing selfish about eloping! The only people who should have a say in how you get married are you and your partner.
So, short answer: nope, nope, nope!
Create an Elopement Guest List
All right, it’s settled – you’re eloping! But this is where a lot of couples feel lost – what do we do now? How do we start planning an elopement?
The first thing I recommend doing is deciding who you want to be with you on your elopement day. This step could mean just deciding that you want to elope alone, just the two of you, so take some time to figure out if you want a guest list. There’s nothing wrong with a totally private elopement day, and there’s nothing wrong with having a few of your loved ones around on the big day – it’s all about doing what feels right to you!
If you decide that you do want a few guests, make a list of the people you’d like to invite. I recommend doing this early because the number of guests you have may affect your options for elopement locations, especially if some of your guests have travel or mobility limitations.
How many guests can I have?
There isn’t a set number of guests that turns your elopement into a small wedding, because it’s more about how the day feels, not how many people are there. If your guests are on board and support you, an elopement with 15 guests can feel just as intimate as an elopement with zero. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say anything under 25 people can be considered an elopement, but keep in mind that some parks have restrictions on how many people can be at your ceremony, so depending on where you elope, if you have over 10 people total you might be limited in your options.
How do I tell people we’re eloping?
Whether they’re invited or not, you’ll need to tell people about your elopement eventually! It’s totally up to you when you share the news – some couples like to keep things under wraps until the knot is tied, while others want to include their loved ones in the planning process and let them know right away. How you tell people will depend on what you think their reactions will be, so think about what you’re ready for and who you want to include. This post has more information and tips on breaking the news!
Create an Elopement Budget
A lot of people think that elopements are a way to get married without investing any money into the day, and while that may have been true in the days of last-minute Vegas elopements, that’s not what it’s about! Instead, think of your elopement as an investment in an experience – different from traditional weddings, where a lot of your money goes to things and items you’ll never use again.
I do recommend creating at least a rough budget before you dig into the details of how to elope, but a lot of couples aren’t sure where to start with this, as every elopement is so different. Start by thinking about what you want to do on your daydream big, you don’t have to commit yet!
You can stay close to home or travel abroad, and that’ll have a huge impact on your budget. And so will things like lodging and any activities that you want to do. The great thing about eloping is that it can be literally anything you want it to be, and you get to decide what matters to you, and what you want to spend your money on.
Some things to consider when you create an elopement budget:
- Ceremony attire
- Vow books
- Vendors (photographer, and potentially videographer, planner, officiant, baker, hair and makeup, florist)
- Marriage license (usually around $100)
- Ceremony permits (anywhere from $25 – $400)
- Adventure gear (hiking backpack, kayak rental, or whatever equipment you’ll need)
- Activity costs (park passes, tour tickets, etc.)
Choose an Elopement Date
Before you start contacting photographers, it’s good to decide on an elopement date – but if you’re flexible, I recommend just coming up with a range of dates, or a timeframe in which you want to elope! Keeping things flexible will help when it comes to choosing your vendors, as you can talk and find a date that works for everyone if there’s a vendor you just gotta work with.
How long does it take to plan an elopement?
If you have no idea or don’t have a preference for when you elope, I recommend thinking about how soon you want your elopement to happen! Some couples are excited and want to get things rolling immediately, and start planning their day as soon as two weeks out, while others want time to think, plan, and anticipate, in which case they can plan their elopement as long as a year out. There’s no right way to elope (this will be a theme throughout this whole planning process), so just think about what feels right to you, and how much time you need to plan! One thing to consider is that permit applications usually take time – at least two weeks, but busier parks can take up to a month, so if you’re planning something soon make sure you’ll be able to get your permit, or that your location doesn’t require one.
I think at least 6 months out is a good time to start planning an elopement so that you don’t feel rushed or stressed about last-minute happenings.
What’s the best time to elope?
The answer to this one depends entirely on the vibe you want, where you want to go, and what you want to do. The best time to elope for a couple who wants to hit the slopes or to experience a magical snowy wonderland will likely be winter, while the best time for a couple who wants to hike to the top of a mountain is usually summer. Once you talk to your elopement photographer (we’ll get to that in the next step), they’ll be able to give you some guidance on choosing a date!
Regardless of the season, you should always elope on a weekday! Everything is busier on the weekends, so planning your ceremony for Monday through Thursday will help reduce crowding.
Hire an Elopement Photographer
The earlier you do this, the better! No to toot my own horn (but, toot toot), but an elopement photographer is going to be one of the best things you can invest in!
First, they’ll be there to document the most meaningful day of your life – but they’ll also be the experts on all things elopement, and will be your guide when it comes to planning and figuring out how to elope. You likely haven’t done this before, but they have!
While a lot of wedding photographers will happily take on elopements too, I can’t stress enough how important it is to hire someone who is an elopement photographer. This is way different from a traditional wedding, and the person you hire should know how important eloping is – they should understand that it’s not just a low-effort wedding or just a quick ceremony.
Along with being an expert on elopements, your elopement photographer should also have outdoor experience. When you elope, there are some extra considerations – like weather, road or trail closures, and changed plans. Your photographer should be able to guide you through anything that comes up, and should know how to stay safe outdoors (and how to keep your photos safe!).
Isn’t this just an all-day photoshoot?
A lot of couples worry that a full-day elopement means they’ll be spending the whole day posing for the camera – but rest assured, that’s not what’s going down. The last thing I want is for you to feel awkward and posed, and I certainly don’t want your memories of your elopement to just be of you standing in front of the camera.
Eloping is about the experience – which means it’s more than just a ceremony, and it definitely should be more than just a couple of hours. Check out this post about what to do on your elopement day if you need some ideas! When you look at your photos, you should be able to see the whole story – the entire day, beginning to end. But in the photos, you should see yourselves having fun and enjoying yourselves on whatever adventure you’ve decided to take, which is why it’s so important to hire an elopement photographer who prioritizes the experience.
What do I look for in a photographer?
Pretty pictures are a good starting point – but your elopement photographer will be with you the entire day (especially if your elopement is just the two of you), so there are a few important things to look for. After you find a photographer or two whose work you vibe with, make sure they’re someone you would get along with!
Read through their website and social media, but definitely schedule a call after you inquire with them – it’s hard to read a personality through a screen, and a call will give you an opportunity to really get to know each other.
With my couples, I prioritize connection – that doesn’t mean we have to be BFFs (though if it happens, it happens, ya know?), but I want to feel more like an adventure buddy on the big day than a third wheel with a camera! So when you search for a photographer, make sure you like their personality as much as you like their photos.
Choose a Dreamy Elopement Location
The reason hiring an elopement photographer is early in this “how to elope” guide is because from here on out, they’ll be your ultimate resource for figuring it all out! To book with me (the process can vary from photographer to photographer, but this is pretty standard for most), I just require that couples choose a date and a general location, then once the contract is signed, I work to put together a customized list of places I think would work for their elopement – because no two elopement days are the same! So, by this point, you’ll have a general idea of where you want to elope (maybe a state, or a park), and now it’s time to narrow things down.
Where can I elope?
One of my favorite things about eloping is that you have so many options! You can choose from mountains, forests, beaches, deserts, and more – but it’s not as simple as lacing up your hiking boots and going somewhere to say your vows. Some places have restrictions on where you can have a ceremony, while others don’t allow weddings at all, so it’s important to do a little research before you fall in love with a view.
To find a place to elope, I recommend checking national parks, state parks, national forests, and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. National parks tend to be the strictest because they see so many visitors each day. State parks vary, while national forests and BLM land usually offer the most secluded places with the least restrictions.
Can we bring the dog?
Your pup is part of the family, so of course, you want him along when his parents tie the knot! If you want your dog involved in your elopement, keep this in mind before you start looking for an elopement location, as some places don’t allow dogs.
I recommend staying away from national parks – they’re notoriously unfriendly to our furry friends and only allow them on paved roads and campgrounds. State parks can be hit or miss, while national forests and BLM land are once again, usually the most flexible.
Check Permit Info
Some elopement locations require a permit – possibly even for the tiniest ceremony! This varies from place to place and park to park, so you’ll need to look this up pretty early. Make sure to apply with plenty of time before the big day to give the rangers time to process your application. Permits can range from $25 to about $400.
National parks typically have the most expensive permits, though some of them don’t require permits for small groups. The best resource for national park wedding permits is NPS.gov, and you may need to call rangers or do some internet sleuthing for other locations. When I work with a couple, I do the research to make sure they have the most up-to-date info on the location they choose – because I think your elopement should be stress-free!
Hire Elopement Vendors
After deciding on an elopement location, I always give my couples a list of vendors in the area that I recommend! The vendors you’ll need to hire depend on what you want – some couples just stick to a photographer, while others like to have a bigger team. Invest in people you trust, because your vendors will make a huge difference in ensuring the day goes smoothly!
Here are some vendors you might consider:
- Hair and makeup artist
- Elopement planner
Shop for Elopement Attire
To ensure you have time for alterations if needed, it’s good to shop for your elopement attire early! There are a few extra considerations when it comes to elopement dresses or suits since you’ll be moving around a lot more than you would at a traditional wedding.
Think about comfort, as you don’t want to be miserable all day in something too tight. This includes comfortable styles, as well as fabrics that make sense for the season you’re eloping in. Lighter fabrics are great for summer (and for long hikes, so you don’t have to carry too much extra weight), while heavier ones can help you stay warm in the winter.
Don’t be afraid to get creative – eloping is all about letting go of traditions that don’t suit you (pun intended), so feel free to shop for fun colors or unique styles.
Where do I get an elopement dress?
For elopement dresses, I recommend checking some less traditional avenues if you don’t want to spend too much or you want something more simple. Personally, I really love DISSH. Also check out bridesmaid’s dresses at dress shops like BHLDN offer lots of fun styles and colors that you can totally wear as a bride, and Lulus is a budget-friendly place to get dresses or even jumpsuits. You can even check out your favorite store for a sundress or something casual if you’re going for a more laid-back vibe! I think it’s important to always circle back to the mantra of “it’s your wedding you can do (and wear) what you want!” Wear black, gold, sequins, a mini skirt, hiking boots, hot pink, whatever’s clever. There are no rules.
Where do I get an elopement suit?
For a more casual elopement look, some nice pants and a button-up can be perfect! If you want to get a suit, Bindle & Keep offers gender-neutral suits that are fitted to you. ASOS also has a selection of budget-friendly suits.
Get a Marriage License
We’ve covered a lot of the fun stuff about elopement planning, but another aspect of figuring out how to elope is getting legally married! This depends on your elopement location, and you will need a marriage license in the state (or country if you’re going outside of the US) where your ceremony is taking place.
Marriage laws vary slightly in each state, so do your research on this one! You can get a marriage license at the county clerk’s office – but the application fees, the ID you’ll need to bring, and whether or not you have to go in person will depend. Some states have a waiting period, which means after you receive your marriage license you need to wait a certain number of days to use it. Most states have an expiration date on the marriage license, usually ranging from 60 days to a year after you get it.
Another thing to think about when it comes to getting legally married is officiants and witnesses. Most states require an officiant (Colorado and Washington DC do not, and some other states allow self-solemnization under some circumstances. You can hire an officiant or have a friend or family member get ordained – but as part of my elopement services, I’m ordained and can sign your papers to make this step easier!
Many states also require one or two witnesses (though some don’t require any at all), but don’t worry about this one if you aren’t planning on inviting guests! You can find anyone over the age of 18 to sign the papers, so ask your vendors or someone you see at your elopement location.
Check out this list for a summary of marriage laws in every state!
Craft an Elopement Timeline
Plan something amazing for your elopement day – whether it’s an activity you both love or something new you want to try! It can be as simple as a picnic or as adrenaline-rush-worthy as skydiving. No matter what, the point is to do whatever would make your wedding day the best day ever. A big part of figuring out how to elope is figuring out what you’ll do – other than the ceremony, of course!
As your elopement photographer, I’ll make a timeline for you and give you some ideas for things to do if you don’t have anything in mind! You can also check out this post for inspiration and tips for building your own timeline.
This is it – you’ve planned, packed, and anticipated, and when it gets here, your elopement is going to be nothing short of awe-inspiring. You’ll be celebrating this date on your anniversary each year, so let’s make it a good one.
If you’re ready to elope, contact me! Let’s celebrate the two of you, and plan something incredible.