YESSS! You’ve decided to elope, and you’re ready to make your dream day a reality! In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know and more about how to plan an elopement.
Use this ultimate elopement checklist to help you with all stages of your planning process – from start to finish! I’ll answer all your questions and share every detail, from announcing your elopement and picking your location to booking your travels and writing your vows.
As a destination elopement photographer, I’ve worked with dozens of couples to plan and execute the most perfect day ever, while capturing every special moment!
Let’s be honest – planning an elopement can be a lot of work. The good news? With this detailed checklist and help from an experienced traveler and elopement photographer who can also help you with planning, the process doesn’t have to be so daunting!
Here’s a quick rundown of your elopement checklist. Below, I’ll share more details to help you feel confident and ready to start planning the day of your dreams!
*Bonus: General Travel Tips
Want your very own *free* elopement planning and packing checklists? Download them here!
First things first – what do you want your elopement day to look and feel like? Although you’ve probably spent some time daydreaming about your wedding day, maybe you’ve even created a Pinterest board, it’s time to really think about what you and your love want this day to be like.
Make a date out of this! Plan a dinner, go to happy hour, or take a walk together. Spend this time visualizing and discussing what you want your special day to be. This can be difficult, but try to steer clear of what a traditional wedding entails or what your loved ones might expect from you (unless you want that too).
Close your eyes and envision the perfect elopement day. Who’s there? What do you see? How do you feel? What’s the weather like? Doing this will help you prioritize what you want and really create an authentic experience.
Discuss these visions with your partner. Talk about what goals you share and what you may want that’s different. Identify visions you have that are the same or similar and use those to help you plan your elopement.
Now that you know what your perfect day looks like, it’s time to decide how much you can and want to spend on your elopement. While elopements can be much more affordable than a traditional wedding, it’s still important to determine your budget and where you want to spend your money.
When you’re thinking about your budget, you’ll want to consider these things:
Fortunately, some of these expenses can be very low. For example, if you work with a photographer who also helps with planning and can officiate for you, you can save costs. You can also eliminate things like elopement announcements, especially in the world of social media!
When you plan an elopement, most couples who elope can agree that hiring an elopement photographer is an investment worth making. After all, you want to be able to capture moments from your big day and share them with your loved ones who aren’t there.
Why hire an elopement photographer as soon as possible? Many elopement photographers like myself (Wild Aisle Photography) will help you with the entire planning process. Experienced elopement photographers even have some inside scoop that could help you save on costs, find your perfect destination, and have the absolute best day of your life!
Traditionally, guests aren’t invited to elopement ceremonies. But if you want to invite a few people, you can! After all, your day is all about you, your partner, and what you want!
Are you planning to have a few family members and friends join you for your elopement? If so, you’ll want to make a guest list. This will help you decide on a location that’ll accommodate everyone and give you time to send out invites.
There are several things to consider when it comes to the best time frame for your elopement. Not only do you want to think about the weather, but your budget and the kind of activities you want to do will play a role.
For example, if you want to have a winter elopement in the mountains, check on possible road closures and consider unpredictable weather. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to have a relaxing beach elopement, you’ll want to plan for a time of year that offers warm weather and water temperatures.
If you’re looking to save money and avoid crowds for your elopement, find out when the off-season is for your destination. However, you’ll also want to make sure shops, restaurants, and transportation are available during the off-season.
Tip: To help you get started, make a list of what your dream day looks like. What are your surroundings? What’s the weather like? How much are you spending? Use these questions and your visions to help you pick your time frame.
Now for the fun part! It’s time to pick your location. If you’re still up in the air on your time frame, this step can help nail down the time of year you want to elope.
If you’re having a destination wedding, you’ll need to decide where you want to go. Then, you’ll have to choose your venue location. Remember, your elopement photographer and planner can also help with this!
Similar to figuring out your time frame, think about activities, budget, and weather when deciding on your location.
You’ll also want to consider accessibility, especially if you’re having guests. For example, is it realistic to expect people to take 3 flights and an hour car ride to your destination? Maybe, maybe not! It’ll depend on your guests.
One of the most important things to remember when you plan an elopement is that all locations have different regulations. You’ll need to research local marriage laws and requirements.
Some locations require a witness at your ceremony, while others (Colorado, for example) don’t. Some elopement destinations, like some national and state parks, also require permits for your ceremony.
Make sure you do your research early on for regulations on legally getting married and what permits you may need for your ceremony venue.
Tip: Skip the hassle of legally getting married in a new-to-you place. You can do the legal stuff at your local city hall and have a stress-free elopement ceremony.
Another essential task to do as soon as possible when planning your elopement is to gather your documents. As you’re doing research and planning, make a list of everything you’ll need for travel, marriage licenses, and permits.
You may need documents like your passport, visa (if required for international travel), birth certificate, and driver’s license. If you’re legally getting married away from home and you’ve been married before, you may also need a decree of absolution (divorce documents or death certificate for widows).
Remember, if you choose to do the legal stuff in your hometown, you may only need a few of these documents for your elopement.
The sooner you can book your flights and accommodations, the better. Usually, you can find better deals if you book flights and accommodations well in advance. Looking in advance also lets you track flights for lower prices – just make sure to do this in incognito mode on your web browser!
I always recommend that couples who are eloping use a travel credit card. This way they can get points, travel/rental car insurance, lounge access, and more. My favorite travel credit card is the Capital One Venture X (affiliate link). I also have the Chase Sapphire, but the Venture X rewards are so much easier to redeem so that’s my #1 recommendation.
Travel tip: Plan to arrive at your destination at least a few days early. This gives you some leeway if there are any delays and allows you time to both relax and finalize things before your big day.
For booking your accommodation, try to stay close to your elopement location if possible. This makes things as stress-free as possible and reduces travel time, giving you more time to enjoy yourself.
You could even use your accommodation as your elopement venue. Airbnb has so many unique options (like these in Washington!) if you want to go this route.
Once your location and dates are finalized, it’s time to book your vendors. Vendors help you have the day of your dreams. You may choose to keep things very simple with minimal vendors or go all out on all the things. Both are okay because this day is all about you and your love!
Vendors to consider for your elopement day include:
Remember that some elopement photographers (like myself!) can play photographer, officiant, and planner and can also help you book other vendors if you’d like.
Note: Wedding vendors may be limited if you’re thinking about a remote location.
Being able to show personalized vows for your elopement is incredibly special. While writing your vows may feel overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be.
Dedicating special time to writing your vows and following these steps can actually help you enjoy the experience!
Check out this article to learn how to write your elopement vows!
In our first step of how to plan an elopement, we talked about visualizing your dream day. This activity will make this step easy!
What do you want your actual ceremony to look like? Is it a stop on an adventure? What are you wearing? Are there flowers there? What about guests?
When planning your elopement day and ceremony, consider these things:
Tip: Have a plan B in mind in case there’s unexpected weather or other issues. It’s very important to be okay with being flexible on your elopement day! With that said, it always helps to have a plan A and B.
How you announce your elopement is entirely up to you and varies from couple to couple. Some couples choose to announce their elopement before their ceremony, while others prefer to wait until afterward. As with all other parts of your big day, this will depend on what works best for you!
Here are some of my top tips for announcing your elopement and making sure it goes over well with your loved ones – because, let’s be honest, having people upset about your special day will definitely take away from the experience!
In this article, I share more details on how you can tell people you’re eloping!
Carefully packing for your elopement is key to making sure your day goes as planned! Can you imagine forgetting your dress or vows?!
Use this list to help you pack for your elopement adventure:
Other things you might want to pack for your elopement:
When it comes to packing for your elopement, be prepared for any situation. I always say that it’s better to overpack than under-pack!
Here are a few more elopement planning and traveling tips that are always good to know–
Now that you know exactly how to plan an elopement, it’s time for your big day! My biggest piece of advice is to be present to fully enjoy your day. There’s a chance there will be some setbacks during your planning process and elopement. But that doesn’t mean everything has to fall apart!
Of course, every couple wants one of the biggest days of their lives to be flawless. But some of the best moments come from unexpected events.
Here are some things to remember for your elopement day to help you be in each moment and make the most of your experience. I recommend even writing these down or making a note on your phone to refer back to! You can also add things that are important to you.
After your elopement, you might want to celebrate with your loved ones. A post-elopement celebration is a great way to do this! You can do something big or small and invite those most important to you. Remember, it’s still all about you and your partner.
Fun ideas for your post-elopement celebration:
I hope this guide for how to plan an elopement has inspired you and brought on all the excited feels! Eloping is meant to be low-stress, everything you want it to be, and an authentic experience for you and your partner.
If you’d like help planning and executing the day of your dreams, I’d love to help! Wild Aisle Photography (that’s me!) is a destination elopement photographer. I help couples every step of the way – cheering you on, helping you plan, and making sure your special day is absolutely perfect!
Ready to get started? Contact me!
February 22, 2023