First and foremost, what does an elopement mean?
Formerly, the definition of elopement was; an act or instance of running off secretly to be married.
Today, elopements have an entirely different meaning. An elopement is simply foregoing a traditional wedding aisle and getting married in a meaningful place with only the people that matter most to you.
Many people choose to elope today because it is less planning, less stress, and less pressure than a traditional wedding day, and depending on where you elope, it’s possible to elope cheaply.
Deciding between having an elopement vs a wedding is a big choice. To make it easier on you, here is an elopement checklist that will help you decide if eloping is the best option for you:
If you answered YES to some (or all!) of the above, then an elopement is a great option for you!
Once you’ve decided to elope, the next big hurdle is picking the spot. My biggest recommendation is to pick somewhere sentimental, as well as private and intimate, and be sure to consider the weather and the geographic implications.
First and foremost, pick a spot that is meaningful to you two. Please please please do not just pick the place that you see everyone eloping at on Pinterest or Instagram. I suggest you pick a spot that holds significance, for example, if you both love the ocean, pick a spot with oceanfront views where you can get your feet wet & sandy after the ceremony. Or if you two have a love for hiking and nature, pick a foresty spot or a mountainous peak.
When you’re saying “I do,” you don’t want flocks of strangers or tourists passing by, gathering around, or heaven forbid… taking pictures!! You want to be in the moment, zero distractions, and totally present with your partner. For this reason, I strongly recommend selecting a spot that has minimal foot traffic, or at least picking a day of the week that is less busy in this spot. For example, if you choose to get married on a beach, I would not recommend doing that on a Saturday or Sunday.
Make sure you keep in mind the climate of the destination you choose, as well as the time of year you’ll be getting married there. Do your research and make sure you don’t set yourself up for disaster by being in the wrong place at the wrong time (ie hurricane season, rainy season, etc.)
Finally, if you are choosing to invite family and friends, make sure the spot is not too complicated to access. If transportation is confusing and the spot is so remote that guests will have a stressful experience getting there, maybe reconsider your location OR reconsider inviting guests.
All you have to do is research the marriage laws in the state you wish to elope in. Some states require you to have an officiant and two witnesses (ie Michigan & California), while other states don’t require an officiant or witnesses at all (ie Colorado).
If you would rather have a family member or friend marry you, here’s some information on how to get ordained in each state.
If you are eloping in a country outside of the United States, or if you simply don’t want to deal with the paperwork away from home, you can always fill out the paperwork in your home state at a courthouse before or after you take your elopement trip.
Once you have decided where to elope, you can also go ahead and book an elopement photographer, and potentially an elopement planner (many photographers do both the photography and planning! Myself included!). Your photographer can be a wedding photographer from your hometown who you pay to travel with you to your elopement location, or a photographer who is local to the area you will be having your elopement. Whichever route you choose, check out their elopement packages and find someone who is experienced with elopements.
One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when planning your elopement is whether or not to invite guests. I get it. You most likely feel the pressure to avoid hurt feelings, as well as the desire to have an intimate experience with your soon to be spouse.
This decision really comes down to what matters most to you & your partner. Do you desire intimacy, adventuring the two of you, privacy out of the spotlight? Or do you desire to celebrate the union of two families and have your family/friends as your witnesses?
Sit down with your partner and decide what you both want to get out of your wedding day, and whether or not having guests will allow you to do that. Once you’ve decided on whether or not to have guests in attendance, here are a few tips:
If you’ve decided to have guests, make this a fun vacation for them! Provide them with things to see, places to visit in the area, restaurants to try, etc. Turn the celebrations from a one day affair, into a series of events. Have a family hike the day before the wedding, or a celebratory brunch the day after the wedding, or a pool party the morning of the wedding. Whatever it may be, take advantage of the fact that all your best people will be in the same incredible place at the same time, and make the most of it!
If you’ve decided not to have guests, but you would still like family to be involved…
Have family members write you letters to read on the morning of your elopement.
If you will be completing the wedding paperwork at the city hall prior to your elopement, consider inviting a few family members to be in attendance there.
Ask a family member if they would like to give you something old/new borrowed/blue that you can wear at your elopement.
Have a send-off dinner a few days before the elopement with family and friends, or have a celebratory reception when you return back home.
Whatever you end up deciding to do, just know that this day is about you & your partner committing to forever together. Your family and friends want to see you happy, and they will be excited for you no matter which route you choose. For more tips on how to elope without offending family, check out this blog on avoiding hurt feelings.
Every elopement is so different, and that’s the beauty of eloping. You don’t have to stick to anything conventional. When planning your timeline, focus on the experience. What do you & your partner want to experience on your wedding day? If you will be having guests, what do you want them to experience? Take advantage of the freedom to make this day look however you want it to, and make it an unforgettable experience for you & anyone else involved.
Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions! It’s your day, and you should set it up however suits you best! Anything can be made longer or shorter. Anything can be added or taken away. Keep coming back to what you want to get out of your day, and shape your timeline around that.
If you want more personalized elopement recommendations, let’s chat! Fill out my contact form and I’m happy to offer advice and help you plan the perfect elopement experience!
Here’s a few more articles that you’ll love:
Or check out my Planning Tips page for more wedding and elopement advice. Happy planning!!
I’m a destination wedding & elopement photographer with a passion for marriage.
As your photographer, I'll capture images that are natural, authentic, and honestly illustrate your love for one another so that you can always remember exactly why you fell in love.
Whether you're eloping just the two of you, or getting married in your favorite place with all your favorite people, I'd love to capture the photos that will help you to cherish your marriage for a lifetime.