If you’re newly engaged and wondering what the heck to do now, you’re not alone. Wedding planning can be super overwhelming, especially at the beginning! If you’re planning an elopement, you might be wondering how to do that vs planning a traditional wedding. If that sounds like you, then you’re in luck! As an elopement photographer, I thrive off of supporting couples during this process. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to eloping, and why more and more couples are choosing to do it!
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the intention of elopements, which unfortunately discourages many couples from doing it. But as an elopement photographer, I’ve found that the couples who choose to elope their way, always end up the happiest with how their wedding day went!
The more modern definition of eloping can mean a few different things. You don’t necessarily have to run away and get married in secret (although if that’s what you want, go for it!) for it to be considered “eloping.” The most important part about eloping is that you’re doing whatever you and your partner want to do. You’re not adhering to traditions that don’t resonate with you, you’re not inviting people you don’t actually want present, and you’re not putting anyone else’s wants above your own.
You can elope with just you and your partner, or have a few loved ones present to celebrate with you! Typically, an elopement includes no more than 10 or so people. Anything more, and it would be considered an intimate wedding instead.
Eloping became more popular back in 2020, when there were heavy restrictions on large gatherings. Of course, couples wanted to prioritize the health and safety of their guests over anything else, This led to them having an intimate, private ceremony so that they could get married without all the strings that come attached to planning a traditional wedding.
In 2022, more and more couples are deciding to elope because of the simple fact that it’s so much easier and stress-free to plan an elopement. Not to mention, it’s more cost effective, and you have more room to plan the honeymoon of your dreams!
So if you have your heart set on planning an elopement, this article is for you. Keep reading to learn all about the steps I recommend taking to plan your elopement!
Explaining to your friends & family that you’re eloping to celebrate your love your way instead of following tradition may not be the easiest conversation to have. But there are definitely ways to make it easier, I promise. Assure your loved ones that it has nothing to do with them, and you still want them to celebrate your marriage with you. If it feels aligned, you can always have a reception or celebration at a later date with all your friends & family! Whether you decide to elope right after you’re engaged or do a 180 while planning a traditional wedding, it’s never too early to prep everyone.
Although elopements are more cost effective than traditional weddings, that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind in terms of budgeting. Plus, it’s still your wedding day, and you should still invest in the things that matter to you the most. Here are a few things you should consider:
Have an honest conversation with your partner early on to determine what’s a comfortable budget for the both of you. Decide if you want to be strict with that budget, or if you have some wiggle room!
Now for the fun part… creating your elopement day vision. Figure out a general area of where you want to go – the options are limitless and it’s all about YOU. Most of my couples already know that they want to elope in the PNW/California area, but some choose their own local destinations such as Yosemite, Oregon Coast, etc. Whatever you choose, I’m down for!
If you’re feeling a little lost at this step, don’t worry. Here how to choose the perfect elopement location for you: Think about the most amazing day ever, no strings attached. Where would you be? What would you see? Who would be with you? Make a list of the most important things to you and envision if you want mountains, desert, ocean, or any other landscape. Make a list of things you’d love to do with your partner on your elopement day!
I have elopement guides on California, Washington, and Oregon to help you out!
Now that you have an idea of what you want an elopement to look like, it’s time to start thinking about when you want your ceremony to take place. If you’re set on a specific photographer, having a flexible schedule is helpful. Luckily since you’re not planning a big wedding, you don’t have to be confined to a specific vendor available on a certain date.
Think back to your elopement vision, and base your general date off of that. Did you envision a sunny SoCal elopement? Or a snowy Yosemite elopement? That’ll help you choose a date range.
Do you want to elope with just you and your partner? Would you rather have a few close friends and family present? Or do you want just a handful there to ordain and serve as witnesses? Whatever you choose, remember that you can always have a later celebration with more people.
Find a photographer local or familiar with the area. An elopement planner/photographer (such as myself) will send you a detailed location guide with a ton of local spots you may not know of! Until you meet with your photographer, I would hold off on making any set in stone decisions. You never know what they’ll recommend based off of their experience!
Now that you have a clear elopement vision, set location, and photographer booked, it’s time to set your official date. Once you have that figured out, you can start booking your other vendors.
Did someone say moodboard?? Utilizing platforms like Pinterest to create your dream elopement moodboard will be super beneficial for both you and your vendors. This will help us to get a clear idea of what you want your elopement to look like, and will aid in us bringing it to life for you. If you want to use some of my work as inspiration, you can visit my Pinterest profile here!
Now is also the perfect time to start looking for your wedding attire. You can also browse Pinterest for some elopement/nontraditional outfit ideas for both you and your partner. There’s so many different options out there nowadays, it definitely doesn’t hurt to think outside the box! Use your moodboard to decide on the overall theme/colors of your wedding attire.
Specifically marriage license and witnesses. If you’re planning to elope just the two of you, It is helpful to have an ordained photographer (such as myself) and typically it’s very fun and easy to find witnesses! They get very excited to sign for you while you’re in wedding clothes. There are some states where you can legally wed yourself (AKA no witnesses) such as Colorado. Whatever state you plan to elope in, be sure to do your research well beforehand so we don’t run into any hiccups!
Pro Tip: Sometimes doing the legal stuff before or after your ceremony is also very helpful and can help make your day that much more stress free. Especially if you’re thinking of eloping abroad!
This will help nail down the specific location that you’re thinking of. Prior to booking, I send my couples a questionnaire that assists me with location suggestions. Depending on your location, you’ll most likely need ceremony & photography permits. This will also help to follow Leave No Trace, which I am very firm about. If you want to learn more about the Leave No Trace principles, you can do so here!
I’m a huge believer in having a backup plan for your backup plan, especially for a day as special as your elopement. Unfortunately disasters do happen (especially during fire season!), so making sure you know what to do in case something goes wrong is important. Make sure your vendors are also aware of your backup plans so they can plan accordingly.
Start looking at nearby hotels or Airbnb’s for you and your guests. Depending on how far out you’re planning and where you’re eloping, lodging might be limited, so make sure if you have options! Don’t forget about booking plane tickets if you need to, and making arrangements for a rental car as well.
I always help my couples create their elopement day timeline to ensure make the most out of your day. When we chat timelines, it’s all about creating the most memorable, love-filled experience for you and your partner. And when we plan activities, we try to plan them during the best time of day for lighting when it comes to specific shots! Think about if you want to have a sunrise elopement, or if you’d rather have a golden hour ceremony. Would you rather take portraits before or after your ceremony? Do you want to get ready together? Is a first look a non-negotiable? Talk all of this out with your photographer first, and then be sure to communicate it to the necessary vendors.
Remember, this should be tailored to you and your partner! Start by writing your vows, however you want that to look like. If you want to include anything like a sage smudge, poem readings, etc. then you can absolutely do so.
Even though you’re eloping, your marriage still deserves to be celebrated! Send out marriage or elopement announcements to everyone you would want to know about this special time in your life. Make them as personalized as you’d like 🙂
Pro Tip: If you and your partner are the crafty type, you can make it a date night to design them yourselves!
Going along with sending announcements, don’t forget to include a way for the recipients to send gifts or contribute to your honeymoon fund. There are so many different ways to do this, and lots of different wedding websites that take care of everything for you.
Before your elopement day, be sure to collect the little things that could be easily forgotten. This can be letters to read from friends & family, gifts you’re exchanging with your partner, or other sentimental things you want to include. Pack these things in a designated bag or box to ensure nothing gets lost.
Last but not least, make a checklist of everything you’ll need. Your elopement is the last day you want to forget something, trust me! Especially if you’re traveling for your elopement, it’s even more important to triple check everything beforehand.
Take a deep breath, relax, and get ready to be married! In the days leading up to your elopement, take some time to destress and maybe even book something like a couples massage to bond with your partner.
That is my ultimate guide to planning your elopement! If you’d like to get in touch with me for your elopement, I would love to chat with you. You can reach me via my contact form here on my website, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!