Elopement planning is nothing compared to wedding planning; we believe that goes without saying. Many people make the choice to elope for that simple reason. But planning the perfect elopement takes work too. It’s still a BIG day. There’s still so much to consider, and no matter what, it may seem daunting in the beginning. Breaking down elopement planning into a few steps just may make things easier.
Step one: Decide WHY you want to elope
This step may seem kind of silly: of course you know why you want to elope… right? It could be about money, adventure, family, etc. Determine together why you want to elope in a simple reason and the rest of the steps will get easier. It will also give you something to tell people when you tell them you’re eloping.
Step One: Choose what type of elopement you would like
This seems kind of self explanatory, and may also sound easy. However, when the world is your oyster, the options can become, in a word, overwhelming. Break this step down into a couple mini steps. Start with the landscape: what do you want surrounding you? The ocean? Forest? A gorgeous skyline or urban setting? Mountains? Red cliffs? This can be the absolute hardest step of all of them because once you start trying to decide, everything may seem doable. Maybe you can’t decide between mountains or forest? Flip a coin! This may weird but if you flip a coin, how you feel about what the coin lands on will determine what you want for you.
Step Three: Who’s coming with you?
So there are a few people that will debate that this is actually the hardest step. The list grows very quickly. Keep in mind while you are deciding that an elopement is an intimate thing. It stops being about “leaving people out” and turns into “who can I not do this without?”. Remember that an elopement is usually 10-15 people. If your list grows beyond that, I’d consider it an intimate wedding. An intimate wedding isn’t necessarily something to shy away from if you have created a list of people you absolutely cannot do without; and the steps can be very similar. However when you get over 20 people, it gets dangerously close to wedding territory. Have something to say to people you won’t be inviting. Don’t be afraid of what you want and why you want it. People, in the end, will always understand.
Step Four: Set a budget
This is SO important. You two need to be on the same page about this. Decide if you’re paying for it on your own or if you will be getting help. It’s important to do this after deciding who’s coming because who knows what kind of awkward confusion can happen between you and anyone who’s promising money.
Step Five: Where are we going?
Here’s where the real fun begins! You’ve decided what landscape you want, you’ve decided who’s coming. Now it’s time to decide where we’re going! First thing’s first, decide if you’re staying in the U.S. or if you’re going abroad. Don’t straddle between the two when doing your research. After you’ve done that, let the vision boards begin! Get some inspiration! Find photos of weddings or travel photos of beautiful places. Decide if you want to go somewhere you’ve been before, or if you want to find a new place. It’s not impossible to plan an elopement in a place you’ve never been. Try to get it narrowed down to at least a state/territory or Country and don’t forget to make sure it’s going to be within your budget. Look at it the way you would look at your venue.
Step Six: Vendors
Remember what I said before? That elopement planning is not impossible if you haven’t been to the place you’re eloping? This is where your vendors (and a huge part of your budget) come into play. Prioritize your vendor list: Your photographer, your florist, you dress, you hair/makeup, your officiant. All these vendors can be helpful in planning and picking spots. If you don’t have time, find yourself overwhelmed, or if you’re doing it internationally at all, invest in an elopement planner. An elopement planner (especially in another country) can help you with paperwork and the rest of your vendors. If you want something really specialty, that’s another reason to get a planner. Otherwise, your photographer can usually help. Show them your Pinterest board and let them do their magic.
Step Seven: Where are we going? (part two)
It may seem strange to have this step in two parts, and in different places, but I have a reason. You’ve determined your state/territory/country and you’ve gotten your list of ideal (and available) vendors. Now we’re going to narrow down EXACTLY where we’re going. Use your vendors as a resource here, and determine exactly where the wedding will take place. Trust me you don’t want to put off this step because a lot of factors come into play. Decide if you’re willing or able to hike to the spot, or if you need something more accessible. Decide what kind of adventure element (if any) you want to add: ATV to the wedding spot, helicopter ride, etc. Or if you want to keep it simple. Then look into tour companies that have packages for that. This is where you can get creative and really add those elements of your relationship that you want present on your wedding day.
Step Eight: Where are you staying?
This is a step that I often feel gets put off or swept under the rug. Remember that your stay is part of your budget, and the longer you wait, the less availability you may find. Decide if you’re getting a place with all your guests, or just you two. Are you paying for everyone’s stay? Decide if you want a hotel, or a big house, or a yurt, etc. Also keep in mind that the place you’re staying is going to be in your getting ready photos. Get a place that reflects your elopement style, and your personality. Try to find a place with a lot of natural light. MOST IMPORTANTLY, get a place that’s comfortable and that’s going to bring you the most peace on your wedding day. Don’t stay in a tent if you don’t like to camp. If you want room service, or the comfort of a full staff by your side, stay in a hotel, instead of an airbnb. Make sure you don’t go crazy out of your comfort zone if you feel like it will add stress to your big day.
Step Nine: Post Wedding festivities
It’s time to decide what you and your guests (or just you) are doing after the ceremony. Are you going to a fancy dinner? Are you ordering pizza to your Airbnb or BBQing over a campfire? This is something that your planner can definitely help with. Make sure you’re realistic with your budget and don’t leave this step out. Your day-of schedule is important so at least have an idea of what you want to do. If it’s a fancy restaurant and you have 15 guests, you will need a reservation. If you want a little custom cake, you’ll need to reach out to a local bakery. Just don’t leave this step out because you’ll definitely want to CELEBRATE!
Step Ten: Book Book Book
Start booking EVERYONE. Sign your contracts, buy your dress, pay your deposits, make your reservations and get all your arrangements sorted. Find out if your ceremony spot requires a permit through the national park service or state park service, and fill that out. Then don’t look at anything else! There are so many options that pop up every day, there’s no need to expose yourself to inevitable FOMO. Once the big vendors are officially booked, it’s time for the little details. Find your shoes, your jewelry, your ring boxes,: the little details that just add more personality to your elopement.
Step eleven: Vows and Marriage license
You may think it’s strange that this is so far down the list, but a lot of times this doesn’t need to be done until closer to the wedding. In other countries, you have to apply, which is where a planner really comes in handy. Most states can’t give it out until a few days before the wedding because you have to sign the documents in person. Everywhere is different and make sure you do the research and know the correct policies, and the identification you’ll need. The vows is a different story. I tell everyone to write their vows on the plane; or a few days beforehand. I find that the closer you get the wedding, to everything coming together and the excitement boiling under you, the more likely you are to write meaningful vows. I spent the whole way to Colorado thinking about my life with Alex, my most special moments, and basking in the future. If I had written them too far ahead of time, I would have been overthinking them and second guessing myself and I definitely would have left stuff out.
Step Twelve: Party on!
Don’t spend the whole week of your wedding sweating the small stuff. Some things are going to go wrong, and some things aren’t going to be the exact picture in your head. But that’s why we elope! To have an adventure, and to have an experience that’s unpredictable and a complete whirlwind. Because that’s what marriage is, and life itself, really.
For our favorite places to elope click here!
Life in Motion Photo and Film is a husband and wife team, Washington wedding photographer, with an emphasis on adventure and candid moments.