You want to plan an elopement, but you’re not sure how to elope or where to start.
To help, I’ve created this step-by-step guide going through everything you need to know about how to elope, including tips on how to choose the perfect location, book your vendors, and so much more.
Before we get into each step, be sure to download my FREE elopement checklist to help you throughout your planning process: Elopement Checklist.
Step #1: Create a Vision Board
One of the most fun aspects of planning an elopement is coming up with the overall inspiration. This is one of those super fun activities you and your partner can do together. Grab some wine and takeout and make this a fun date night where you can think as adventurously as you want. Think about the colors you love, the places you feel most alive in, and the attire you feel most confident with. Check out some questions below to help spark your imagination.
- What place makes you feel the most alive?
- What are some fun things you two have always wanted to do together?
- Where have you always travel?
- If you had an unlimited budget for your elopement, what would you do?
- What season is your favorite?
- Do you want to hike on your wedding day?
- Should you invite friends and family?
- Want to include your dogs on your elopement day?
Now, it’s important to note that this is simply a fun part of the process. There is no pressure to choose a date or location yet. It’s simply to help you two get excited and ready to move forward with the next step.
Pro tip: I always recommend creating an elopement inspiration board on Pinterest. If you want a neat little hack, download the “Pinterest Save Button Extension” on Google. That way, if you come across an image from Google or Facebook, you can pin it to your inspiration board.
Step #2: Determine Your Budget
How much are you willing to spend on your elopement?
On average, most elopements cost less than $15,000, and while that may sound like a lot, the average wedding in the United States costs upwards of around $28,000! I know, crazy. It’s important to set expectations before getting knee-deep into the planning. What do you want to spend the most on? What do you want to spend the least on? A good rule of thumb is to have a little bit of wiggle room in your budget, as most people tend to forget about small expenses like gas and parking.
The great thing about elopements is that they can be as extravagant or simple as you’d like. Whether you want to take an epic helicopter tour to a glacier in Alaska or rent a cozy Airbnb and make hot chocolate, the possibilities are endless. If you’re wondering what should be considered in your budget, take a peek at the most common expenses below.
- Plane tickets (if you’ll be flying somewhere else for your elopement)
- Rental car, gas, and parking
- Marriage license and permit fees
- Hair and makeup
- Flowers and decorations
- Attire and rings
- Food and drink
Step #3: Choose a Location
I personally always recommend choosing a location before choosing a date, and here’s why…
Let’s say you fell in love with a beautiful location you saw online. It turns out the picture you saw was taken in North Cascades National Park in Washington State. Well, most locations in this area are only accessible from July – October due to snow. If you already had your heart set on a November elopement, then it would be pretty hard to let this location go.
That being said, it’s more efficient to find your dream location before solidifying the date, that way we can work around weather.
You’re probably thinking… How do I choose a location?
Such a great question! This ultimately comes back to step #1 where you created your vision board. Go back and look through the images you saved. What background to the images have in common?
If you didn’t create a vision board, sit down with your partner and discuss what is important to you when it comes to the location. I’ll leave some questions, along with some helpful location guides below to help you with this process.
- What speaks to you more? Mountains, deserts, forests, or beaches?
- Do you have any sentimental or meaningful places you two have been before?
- Do you want to get married somewhere you’ve never been, or somewhere that feels familiar?
- What do you want the weather to be like?
- Do you picture a more secluded or popular area?
- Best Places to Elope in California
- Best Places to Elope in Washington
- Best Places to Elope in Oregon
- Best Places to Elope in Hawaii
- Best Places to Elope in Alaska
Pro tip: If you don’t have a location picked out or need some help, skip this step and go to step #5 where you’ll book a photographer. If you book a photographer who specifically specializes in outdoor elopements, they may create a personalized location list, just for you. I personally send all my couples a questionnaire that helps me create personalized location lists filled with locations that are sure to blow the couple away.
Step #4: Choose a Date
This step is dependent on where you want to elope. For example, in October, snow has already hit the Washington mountains, but on the East Coast, fall has just begun.
When you think of your elopement experience, what do you think of? Do you think of the warm heat from the sun? Rainy and foggy days like the Pacific Northwest? Fresh snow on the ground covering pine trees? Newly blossomed wildflower meadows in front of a mountain?
Once you have chosen your location, ask your photographer what the best time to elope would be. More often than not, they have probably photographed at the location you’re looking at and will be able to tell you what time of year would be best.
You can also use Google for this step. Simply Google “best time to visit [location].” You’ll find multiple helpful articles detailing when the best time to visit is.
Pro tip: If privacy is important to you on your elopement day, consider eloping during the off-season on a weekday to avoid all the crowds.
Step #5: Book Your Photographer
Ideally, this should be done after step #1, though not many people know that. Let me tell you why!
If you’re looking to elope, you should consider hiring an elopement photographer, not just a photographer for your elopement.
Photographers who specialize in elopements have a wealth of knowledge they share with their couples. For example, they’re able to help you choose a location and date, build timelines, secure permits and licenses, know outdoor safety, create backup plans, and most importantly, they’re well-versed in leave no trace principles. On the contrary, while traditional wedding photographers will have the skills to photograph your day, they won’t be able to provide you with the planning help needed for your elopement.
Step #6: Book Your Other Vendors
After choosing your location and date, reach out to all vendors you would like for your elopement. This could include a florist, hair and makeup artist, officiant, caterer, planner, etc.
Hiring vendors local to the area will be your best bet. Once again, they’ll be familiar with the area, weather, and more. It’s important to reach out to vendors as earliest as possible, as they tend to book up to a year in advance.
Pro tip: When reaching out to vendors, send them a link to your inspiration board. This will help them get a better idea of what you’re looking for.
Step #7: Book Your Travel, Lodging, and Activities
This is another one of the most fun parts about planning an elopement, choosing where to stay and what to do.
After you book your plane tickets and rental car (if needed), don’t forget to book your lodging. Most of my couples choose to stay in Airbnbs or hotels. The choice is really up to you! Heck, you can even go camping for your elopement!
After your lodging is booked, it’s time to dream up your elopement day activities. Below are just a few ideas to help you visualize what your elopement day could look like.
- Go hot tubbing in the morning before getting ready
- Order room service or cook a large breakfast together
- Have a bonfire and roast s’mores and hot dogs for dinner
- Wait until the sun goes down to go stargazing
- Go on a helicopter tour
- Book a local food tour
- Be a tourist and check out all the touristy spots in a big city
- Hire a local to show you around the town
- Go swimming under a waterfall
- Go zip-lining through the forest
- Have a picnic at the top of a mountain
- Have your friends and family write letters you can read on your elopement day
Pro tip: If you book an upscale hotel, keep in mind that you may have to pay extra to have your photographer come photograph you getting ready, as many hotels must grant special permission. If you book an Airbnb, you generally don’t need to worry about this.
Step #8: Purchase Your Details and Attire
Now that you’re closer to eloping, it’s time to purchase your attire and gather up all your details. Consider the time and place you’ll be getting married when purchasing your attire. Will it be cold, hot, rainy, humid? Be sure to base your attire off the weather so you’re comfortable throughout the whole experience.
And no, you most certainly do not need to wear a dress, suit, romper, jumpsuit, etc. if you don’t want to. The best part about elopements is that they’re uniquely you.
This is also a good time to purchase all the details, such as shoes, hair accessories, rings, blankets, etc. These details can all be incorporated on your elopement day and can be photographed as well.
Pro tip: If you’re looking to rent instead of purchase a tux, I highly recommend The Black Tux! You simply order the tux online and it shows up right at your doorstep.
Step #9: Do the Legal Work
Okay this part isn’t as fun as the others, but it’s probably the most important.
This step includes getting all the necessary documents you need to make your elopement legit, such as a marriage license and a special use permit. A special what? Yes, a special use permit!
A special use permit is a permit you may need to get depending on where you’re getting married. For example, if you’re getting married in a national park or forest, you will need to obtain a special use permit. This permit basically grants you the right to have a ceremony on the land and lets the park know you will be following all the rules set in place. The permits usually run anywhere from $50 – $200.
To figure out whether or not you need a special use permit, ask your photographer or Google “[location] wedding permit.” Most websites should have information about how to get a permit. Failure to obtain a permit will result in very hefty fines, so please be sure to not skip this step. It usually takes 2-3 months to obtain a permit, but some locations are different than others.
Step #10: Announce Your Elopement
Woohoo! You did it! You eloped!
Now, it’s time to announce your elopement if that’s something you want to do. Not all couples announce their elopements, but if you do, there are some very creative ways to do so! Below are some of my most favorite ways.
- Send out “we eloped” cards
- Announce it on social media
- Throw a small get-together with friends and family
- Throw a large party for everyone you know
- Attach a sign to the back of your car
Congratulations, you’ve officially learned how to elope!
Pro tip: Don’t forget to download the FREE elopement checklist!
How to Elope FAQ
Absolutely! It’s a common misconception that elopements don’t include friends and family. You have the option of eloping just the two of you or eloping with close friends and family. I personally don’t take elopements with over 20 guests.
Eloping is very easy, most of the time. That being said, if you choose to elope in a different country, the process may be a bit more difficult and lengthy when it comes to sorting out the legal paperwork.
An elopement costs anywhere from $500 – $15,000. It depends on what type of elopement experience the couple is looking for.
Yes, you are legally married if you elope, as long as you have the correct paperwork and legal documents.
Yes. However, in some states like Colorado, you don’t need an officiant.
You need a marriage license and a permit to elope.
You can elope in any of the 50 states.
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I’m Brianna, a California elopement photographer who inspires, encourages, and empowers couples to push traditional boundaries and create experiences they’ll remember forever.