If you’ve made it here from Facebook or Instagram, welcome! We’re T & Corey, a hubby and wifey photography + videography team who loves to travel, hang with our 3 doggos, and capture couples in love around the world. We hope this guide to how to plan an elopement serves as a super helpful starting point for you if you’re in the beginning stages of planning your big day – enjoy, and feel free to contact us + check out our website to learn about us and to find more good shit like this!
Table of Contents:
- What is an Elopement? Elopement FAQ’s
- 10-Step Elopement Planning Guide
- 1. Celebrate your engagement
- 2. Book your photographer + videographer
- 3. Choose your dream location
- Forest elopement locations
- Beach elopement locations
- Mountain elopement locations
- Desert elopement locations
- 4. Pick a time of year + set your date
- How to choose a season
- 5. Hire the rest of your vendors
- 6. Invite your guests
- 7. Book your travel + accommodations
- Planes, trains, & automobiles
- How to find a place to stay
- 8. Nail down the legalities
- Getting your marriage license
- Elopement permits, passes, & fees
- 9. Create your elopement timeline
- 10. Do the damn thing
Woohoo, you’ve made it to one of our all-time FAVORITE pages on our website: our simple guide to how to plan an elopement! We know how damn hard & overwhelming it can be once you’ve celebrated your engagement and realize – “oh shit. . . now what?”
All of a sudden the excitement starts to wear off and you begin getting questions from friends & family members:
“When’s the big day?”
“Are we invited to the wedding?”
“Do you have a venue yet?”
**cue beads of sweat**
Getting started with elopement planning is truly THE hardest part of the process. There are so many steps to follow, vendors to hire, things to do that it’s super easy to let the stress outweigh the excitement of this season of your lives.
Which is exactly why we’ve created this simple elopement planning guide for you, where we walk you through the 10 most important steps to follow when planning your elopement! We really just want you to have a simple, clear place to start, to prevent you from getting to that “oh shit” stage of the process right away!
First we’ll answer some elopement FAQ’s, then we’ll dive right into our 10-step elopement planning guide, and finally, wrap it up with an easy elopement checklist to follow.
We believe in you, friends, you’ve got this – happy planning!
What is an Elopement? Elopement FAQ’s
What is an elopement?
An elopement is a celebration of you & your partner’s love for each other, where you get officially married – just like you do at a wedding! Gone are the days where eloping means you run off to Vegas spontaneously to get married and rebel against your family – but you can totally still do that if that’s your vibe.
What’s the difference between a wedding & an elopement?
Elopements typically have a smaller guest count and are more focused around the couple, and intentionally celebrating them rather than following traditions that bigger weddings put the focus on. There are NO rules here – elopements are all about what the two of you want and how you want to celebrate!
Where do we start with elopement planning?
That’s a great question and exactly the one we hope to answer with this blog post! Just keep on readin’, my friend, and you’ll be guided through the 10 most important steps to follow when planning your elopement.
Can we elope by ourselves?
Sure can! There are no rules saying that you can’t elope in private, without any guests. If that’s what would make your elopement most special to the two of you, do it!
Can we invite guests to our elopement?
Yes, you can totally invite guests to your elopement! Again, there are no rules. It’s all up to you. If your elopement would be the best + most meaningful with your closest family members and friends surrounding you, encourage you, celebrate with you, bring ‘em along!
Oh, and always bring your dogs along, because they’re family, too – if your location allows it 😉
Are elopements legal?
Hell yeah they are! Elopements are no less legal than typical weddings. All you’ve gotta do is hire an officiant and get your marriage license through your county auditor’s office, like you would for any wedding.
10-Step Elopement Planning Guide
1. Celebrate your engagement
Mkay we’re gonna start off the elopement planning process with something simple: enjoying your engagement!
I know – this technically isn’t a part of “planning,” but we think it’s one of the most important parts of starting your planning off on the right foot. Many couples skip right to wedding planning once they’re engaged, because come on, it’s exciting AF!
But doing this can often cause you to skip over a super unique, special time in your lives where you’re freshly engaged, basking in the idea of promising forever to your love. Diving right into the planning process can easily leave you burned out on everything wedding-related, so we really encourage you to take some time once you’re engaged to ENJOY it!
Go on extra date nights, spend time celebrating with your loved ones, and push wedding planning for just a few more weeks. It’ll still be there when you’re ready, and you’ll start the process feeling renewed in your love + ready to conquer the process with your boo, and really excited to plan the special day of your dreams!
Here are some fun date night ideas for newly engaged couples – some wedding-related, some not:
- Go back to the place where you had your first date, for the sake of nostalgia
- Go to dinner & brainstorm fun ways to announce your engagement to your loved ones
- Browse Pinterest + Google for wedding bands for each other
- Cook your favorite meal and buy a slightly-more-bougie-than-usual bottle of bubbly to celebrate
- Meet up with married friends/family members to hear their advice + personal experience
2. Book your photographer + videographer
Now that you’ve intentionally slowed down & enjoyed some time being engaged (yay!), it’s time to book your photographer and videographer before doing anything else. I know – you may be thinking, “But what about booking our venue?” “Shouldn’t we pick a date first?”
Fair questions, but here’s why we recommend booking your photo + video team right off the bat, even if you haven’t decided on your date or location yet!
Photographers and videographers typically book out pretty dang far in advance (we’re talking 6-18, even 24 months sometimes). So if you have specific people in mind that you’ve been dreaming of hiring for your big day, you gotta get on it fast to make sure they’re available!
In our professional opinions, your photographer should be the vendor who helps guide you toward choosing a location you’ll love, helps you figure out the basic logistics of your day, and walks you through how to make your day as intentional as possible.
Some photographers don’t offer this planning help in their services, which is why many couples hire a planner or coordinator (and we still recommend doing that, too!). But we do prioritize serving our couples and helping with the planning process, so our packages are based around not only photo + video coverage, but also the resources and guidance we’ll provide you with!
A couple of bonus tips when it comes to hiring your elopement photographer + videographer:
- Video is much more important than many couples realize when it comes to truly capturing the story of your day, so you should make room in your budget for it if you’re able to – you don’t know what you’re missing out on if you don’t!
- Consider hiring a photographer who shoots film (like us!). Film photography is a super cute & fun service that we love incorporating into our shoots and elopements, and really provides a unique look into your big day with all those nostalgic vibes that we love about film.
- Choose a photographer that fits your personality, not just your budget. Your photographer is usually the vendor that you will spend the most time with (both communicating beforehand + on your actual elopement day), so you want to make sure you vibe with them and love how they work + serve their couples!
3. Choose your dream location
Now that you’ve hired your dream photographer + videographer, it’s time to choose your location – if you haven’t yet. It can be overwhelming trying to nail down your location because there are SO many amazing options, so we like to suggest starting with choosing the type of location you’re looking for. By this, we mean choosing between eloping in the forest, on the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, out in the desert, etc.
Here are some questions to ask yourselves when picking your elopement location:
- What type of scenery/landscape/atmosphere makes us feel most at peace?
- Is there anywhere special to us that we could elope at? (e.g. where you went on your first date, where you’ve always wanted to go together, where you’re originally from, etc.)
- Where will our guests be able to travel to?
- What kind of activities do we want to incorporate into our elopement, and what types of locations will allow for those activities? (e.g. you’d love to go white water rafting the day after your elopement with your BFF’s, so you’ll need to elope near a river)
Below are some of our favorite elopement locations in the U.S. that can help you decide what type of landscape you’re going for for your elopement! We recommend narrowing your selection down to your top 2-3 favorites, and then you can look into the logistics of eloping at each one + consider all the variables, and choose your final location from there.
Forest Elopement Locations
Beach Elopement Locations + Tropical Elopement Locations
- Cabo San Lucas – Mexico
- San Francisco – CA
- Kauai – HI
- Oahu – HI
- Olympic Peninsula – WA
- Oregon Coast – OR
Mountain Elopement Locations
- Rocky Mountain National Park – CO
- Grand Teton National Park – WY
- Glacier National Park – MT
- Mount Rainier National Park – WA
- Yellowstone National Park – CA
- Denali National Park – AK
Desert Elopement Locations
- Joshua Tree National Park – CA
- Death Valley National Park – CA
- Moab – UT
- Zion National Park – UT
- Bonneville Salt Flats – UT
- Sedona – AZ
- Horseshoe Bend – AZ
4. Pick a time of year + set your date
Hell yeah – you’ve picked your elopement location! Now you can start bringing the rest of the day together + visualize it actually coming to life.
The next step is to pick the time of year that you want to elope, and set your final date. This will get you to the point in the planning process where you can hire the rest of your vendors, invite your guests, and figure out all the logistics of your elopement!
How to choose a season
First, pick what season you’d like to elope in! Do some research into what the weather is like at different times of year at your chosen elopement location, and consider what season will best fit your ideal day.
The first obvious thing to keep in mind is weather!
If you cannot STAND the cold, avoid tying the knot in the middle of snowy mountains in the wintertime. Maybe you despise the feeling of being hot – don’t elope in the desert!! Or if you’re fine being warm if it’s a dry heat, versus humid heat, go for somewhere like Death Valley instead of the beaches of Hawaii.
And don’t forget to consider your elopement outfits! If you’re dreaming of getting married in a rad dark suit, or a thick dress with tons of layers of tulle, you might want to avoid hot locations so that you won’t be sweating all day in your outfit. Or if you’ve picked an outfit that shows some skin, think through what accessories/jackets/warm clothes you’ll need to bring to keep warm if you’re eloping somewhere where the temperatures will get cooler at night.
First & foremost you want to be comfortable on your wedding day, and weather plays such a huge role in that, so don’t underestimate the importance of picking a location with weather you’re okay with!
Oh, and also make sure you’re aware of any potential extreme weather that your location might receive at different times of year – e.g. ya might not wanna elope on a beach in Hawaii during peak hurricane season if you don’t want the possibility of getting hit with a tropical storm. Or if you’re eloping in a dry desert of California, have backup locations in mind in case wildfires are awful around the time of your big day.
Another thing to keep in mind when picking your date is crowds. If you’re eloping somewhere beautiful, it’s likely you won’t be the only ones there, because other people want to enjoy that view, that scenery, that landscape, too! Especially if you’re eloping at a popular spot in a national park – you’ll def run into crowds of tourists with cameras galore, snapping photos left and right.
If you are super set on eloping at one of those popular spots where tourists swarm to, we’d recommend eloping at sunrise or sunset, and/or on a weekday, if possible. Sunrise & sunset are usually the quieter times as far as tourists go, and weekdays are especially bomb because most tourists visit on weekends!
If you’d rather not run into a bunch of tourists congratulating you and getting in the background of your photos (we’ll do our best to Photoshop distracting objects/people out, but we can’t always guarantee it!), then we’d recommend finding a more secluded spot for your ceremony. We can totally help you find a trail or area that’s lesser known, as long as you’re okay with a potentially longer trek to get there – it’ll be worth it for the peace and quiet you’ll get!
Finally, you want to be sure to research potential road/trail blockages & monitor conditions. This goes back to considering extreme weather – if your elopement location often gets hit with wildfires in July, and you’re eloping in July, be prepared with multiple backup locations just in case! It’s also great to monitor conditions in the weeks & days leading up to your elopement in case a road or trail is blocked off at the last minute – if you’re eloping in a national park, the NPS website will have a page dedicated to current trail & road conditions that you can look at. The last thing we want is to get to your elopement location, only to realize it’s been shut down due to unforeseen circumstances, and we’re left without a ceremony location!
5. Hire the rest of your vendors
This one’s simple: it’s time to hire the rest of your vendors!
Like we mentioned above, we always recommend hiring vendors that match your personality and not just your finances, when possible. This ensures that you have a team of professionals that you can fully trust & be open with, so that they can help bring your dream day to life!
Here’s a list of vendors you’ll want to consider hiring to help with your elopement:
- Photographer (obvi)
- Videographer (duh!)
- Planner and/or coordinator
- Hair stylist
- Makeup artist
- Rental coordinator
- Caterer/food truck/private chef
You can hire vendors who are either local to your elopement location, or local to your area + pay them to travel to your location.
6. Invite your guests
It’s time to put together your guest list and send those invites out – if you’re having any guests at your elopement. Remember, the amount of guests you invite is totally up to you. There’s no rules or hard numbers here!
We’re big believers in inviting only guests that you truly want to be at your elopement, and not inviting 200 people just because you feel like that’s what you should do. Elopements are best when they’re filled with intentional guests who will encourage you, support you, love you, and have a bomb-ass time celebrating with you no matter what obstacles you run into!
3 questions to ask yourselves when inviting a guest:
- Why are we inviting them? Is it because we truly want to, or because of an external pressure that we feel like we should?
- Will this guest fully, intentionally love us, support us, and celebrate with us?
- Is there any chance they’ll cause us stress on our elopement day?
Be sure to also keep in mind any party size restrictions that may be in place at your elopement location – e.g. some trails/locations in national parks may restrict you to 5, 10, 15 guests, including the two of you and your vendors.
If you’re leaving out some friends or family members because you’ve decided to keep your guest list small, we know it can be hard to let them know they’re not invited. In the long run, they’ll get over it, and will hopefully be ready to support you in curating the elopement day that the two of you want!
7. Book your travel + accommodations
Don’t forget to book your travel and a place to stay! This can easily fall through the cracks when you’re planning, but it’s one of the most important parts to do fairly far in advance if you can.
Planes, trains, & automobiles
Think through allll the transportation you’ll need, and get whatever you can booked ahead of time so you’ve got everything set in place. Some you might not be able to book until, say, a week before your elopement date, so be sure to just familiarize yourself with the logistics + be prepared for that.
Transportation for your elopement might include:
- Flights (one-way, multi-city, or round trip)
- Train rides
- Public transportation such as buses or rideshares (Uber, Lyft, taxis, etc.)
- Limos/party buses with your guests to your ceremony
How to find a place to stay
You’ll also need to find a place to stay. Accommodations can be a super fun part of making your elopement unique, because there are sooo many amazing options out there nowadays that are creative and one-of-a-kind!
If you want to elope in the Joshua Tree desert, you can find a bougie Airbnb nearby filled with the bohemian desert decor (and pampas grass, of course) of your dreams.
Or maybe you’d rather get some R&R at a spa at a luxury resort by the beach your ceremony will be held at.
Oh, you want to sleep under the stars in the forest? Find a tent campsite or a glamping Airbnb and freakin’ do it – let’s take some epic nighttime elopement photos under the stars while we’re at it!
If you want more time to celebrate with your loved ones, rent out a giant Airbnb/cabin in the mountains and make a party out of it. Find a place with a cozy hot tub and/or a firepit to enjoy at night, once you’ve officially tied the knot.
The options are seriously endless!
8. Nail down the legalities
I’d say this is the least glamorous part of elopement planning – making sure all the legalities are taken care of. It’s not as fun as the other stuff, but it’s crucial to making sure your elopement goes off without a hitch (except the two of you getting hitched – see what we did there?).
Getting your marriage license
First, you’ll need to get your marriage license and follow the rules according to your home state/country, and the state/country you’re eloping in. Simply do a Google search to find out what you need to do to get your license and what the process entails!
Elopement permits, passes, & fees
You’ll also need to get the proper permits for your elopement if you’re holding your ceremony on any public land.
National Parks typically require you to obtain a Special Use Permit, as do many state parks throughout the country. You can do a Google Search for “[your location] wedding permit” (e.g. Joshua Tree National Park wedding permit) and you should find the details you need to know! Getting your permits is super important in making sure you hold your elopement safely and follow all the rules of the land to keep it beautiful for future visitors.
Don’t forget to look into park-specific entrance fees or parking permits, as well.
9. Create your elopement timeline
Your big day is getting close – eek!! That means it’s time to craft your elopement itinerary/timeline and figure out the logistics of the day. You can ask your planner/coordinator for help with this, and as your photographer + videographer, we’ll be there to guide you as well! We know all the in’s and out’s of elopements better than you do, simply because of how many we’ve captured, so we’ll be able to help you think through all the nitty-gritty details and create backup plans to ensure we’re as prepared as possible.
Many couples think that elopements are “smaller” and “shorter” than big weddings, but that’s not true at all – why is your elopement less-deserving of a full-day experience than traditional weddings?!
We recommend creating a timeline that’s longer than 2-4 hours in order to create a stress-free experience that you’ll enjoy remembering for years to come. Our usual photo + film packages are either 4 hours (no travel included), 8 hour (travel included), or 12 hours (travel included), and we highly recommend booking as long of a package as you’re financially able to so that we can capture the entire story of your day, not just little parts of it.
A few elopement timeline tips
- Build in plenty of flex time in case things go wrong/run late (which they inevitably will – it’s just how weddings go)
- Build in intentional time to be present & alone with each other, away from your guests and vendors for a little while
- Have backup plans in place
- Incorporate your favorite activities into your day to make it extra special, such as:
- Or invest in a totally unique adventure to include in your big day and make memories together, such as:
- A helicopter ride over a national park
- A seaplane ride over the ocean
- Horseback riding through the jungle
- Ziplining through the forest canopy
- Bungee jumping over vast desert canyons
10. Do the damn thing
You’ve made it to the big day: now ENJOY IT!! Don’t take this special day for granted, and do your best to stay off your phones so you can be totally, fully present for this rad celebration of your love, whether you’re by yourselves or with your favorite people. This day is for YOU!
Congrats on making it to the end of our 10-step elopement planning guide! We’d love to chat with you when you find yourselves looking for a photographer + videographer for your big day, and we’re a pretty killer team if we do say so ourselves. Check out the rest of our website for all the nitty-gritty details, and then reach out to us to start dreaming up your elopement. Let’s do this!