Do’s and Don’ts While Planning an Elopement

March 11, 2022

Elopement, Resources

So you’ve decided to elope instead of have a traditional wedding! Traditional weddings have their pros, but I, for one, am obsessed with elopements. (Why else would I spend all my days photographing them?!) Even though planning an elopement can be a lot less pressure and stress than planning a big wedding, there’s a whole different set of things to consider. Some things are easy to forget about completely until they slap you in the face! 

Let’s avoid that!! Here’s some tips for what to do when planning to elope, and what not to do.

Planning an Elopement: What to Do

Do: Have a reveal plan

Whether you plan on inviting a few guests to your elopement or picture yourself and your partner totally alone, figuring out how to tell everyone you love that you’re eloping (and maybe aren’t inviting them!) is probably one of the more stressful parts of elopement planning. 

First, if you haven’t already, decide if you want to invite anyone to be at your elopement with you. If so, do you want them to keep quiet about the whole thing? Or is it okay if they talk about being there with other people beforehand? 

Next, consider how you might involve your family and friends who aren’t physically present for the ceremony. This could be a FaceTime call the morning of, a relaxed barbecue after your honeymoon, or even a Zoom event where your whole crew can “attend” your elopement without actually being there! 

If you want your elopement to be totally secret, consider sending announcements to all your people afterward. Physical announcement cards are also a great option if you decide to announce the elopement beforehand! Figure out a way to share your elopement photos with everyone, too — this is a great way to make sure your loved ones still feel involved in your day, even if they aren’t actually there. 

consider having a reveal plan while planning an elopement: this couple facetimed their parents after the ceremony, and held up their phones for a "group" photo!

Do: prepare for the reactions of your loved ones

Even though the definition of what it means to elope has changed drastically over the last few years, your loved ones still might be fighting some feelings of disappointment or hurt if they aren’t involved in your day! After you’ve decided how to tell them, the next big stressor is what the reaction will be. Make sure that you make space for any feelings people might have, but be firm in your boundaries. Explain that planning an elopement has nothing to do with anyone else, but rather is the right decision for you and your partner. 

Having a “delayed reception” of sorts, or some kind of way that your family and friends can feel involved, is a great way to break the news if you’re worried about anyone reacting negatively or being disappointed. Letting them know that you still want to celebrate with them (even if it isn’t on the actual day you get married) reassures them that your choice to elope isn’t about them at all. A delayed reception can be the more “traditional wedding” party, where you invite everyone to celebrate without compromising your elopement vision. 

Couple FaceTimes family members after elopement and cheers with drinks.

Do: make it all about you

This is a double-edged sword; without the pressure to please your loved ones or fall in line with tradition, it’s easy to focus on the experience you and your partner have during your elopement. But the vast possibilities of planning an elopement can be equally paralyzing! 

As you’re planning, I recommend sitting down with your partner to think about what kinds of things are already special to you. How can you incorporate your hobbies, interests, and distinctive history into your elopement? 

close up on couple's bare feet on the beach in their wedding attire.
Planning an elopement should be all about you! This couple eloped on the beach at sunset, and brought lanterns along for some silhouette portraits.

Do: be prepared for the costs

Elopements are cheaper than weddings. This is a fact! But cheaper than a wedding doesn’t mean cheap. You’ll be saving a ton of money on things like your venue, food for your guests, etc. But there are some costs that you will still have to pay. The cost of travel and lodging wherever you elope, any permits for the location, plus any vendors you do choose to hire for your day. 

The average cost of a wedding is about $7,000-12,000 more expensive than an elopement, so you are definitely choosing the more budget-friendly option! But be prepared to still pay anywhere between $6,000-$15,000 (on average, based on 2021 data) for your whole elopement experience. 

Do: put thought into the details of planning your elopement

Even though planning an elopement might be “simpler” in the long run, don’t skip over the things that make it special and personal! The whole point of eloping is that you want a celebration that feels like you.

Even if you aren’t following the route of a traditional wedding, you can take some pages from the traditional wedding rulebook to help you with planning an elopement. Hiring vendors for flowers, photography, videography, and any hair/makeup needs can be catered to your elopement vision. Inviting a few guests, and picking the perfect location are all things that can make your elopement memorable. 

Planning an Elopement: What Not to Do

Don’t: downplay your elopement

Eloping is not less special than a traditional wedding! When you’re talking about eloping with your friends or family, don’t say things like “well, we’re just eloping,” or “it’s an elopement, so it doesn’t have to be a big deal.” 

You are marrying your lifelong partner. That’s a HUGE cause for celebration, no matter if you’re having a traditional wedding or planning an elopement. You deserve to make a big deal out of it, even if it’s a low-key celebration! 

Couple stands on rocky cliffside gazing at each other for an adventure bridal session.

Don’t: forget about the legal stuff while planning an elopement

So, planning an elopement is fewer steps (and hopefully less stress) than a normal wedding. But, don’t think you can skip over the legal stuff. 

Number one is your marriage license. Depending on your state and if you’re traveling for your elopement, there’s a few ways you can take care of this. Some people opt to fill out and sign the marriage license either before or after the elopement happens. This way, it’s taken care of and one less thing to remember while you’re at your elopement. The actual elopement ceremony will function like an informal vow of commitment. You can also research picking up your marriage license in the state you’ll be eloping in, making sure you have the right number of witnesses, and signing it the day of. 

The other important legal thing to keep in mind is location permits. This could be a special use permit that allows you to get married in a certain place (a national park, state park, protected land, etc.). It also applies to any permits for photography and videography so that you can have your day documented properly. Nothing is worse than rolling up to your elopement location and being told you won’t be allowed to have photos taken because you didn’t file the right paperwork! Factor in all the legal details when planning an elopement. 

Don’t: let anyone make you feel guilty for planning an elopement

A common fear for couples planning an elopement is that the disappointment of any family or friends who were expecting to be there will lead to hurt feelings, tense relationships, or even so far that anyone not invited is making you feel guilty for choosing yourselves over them. 

First of all, if this does happen to you, I’m sending you a big virtual hug! You deserve nothing but love and support from the people around you on this special day. 

Try to keep in mind that anyone trying to guilt you out of planning an elopement isn’t doing it because they have any kind of grudge against you. They’re projecting their own disappointment onto you, and that isn’t a reflection of you, your partner, or your relationship. 

Keep the focus on you and your partner — that’s why you want to elope in the first place!

Couple holds hands and laughs on their elopement day in washington.

Don’t: limit your imagination

Elopements are just the place to let your crazy ideas shine!! Always wanted to go into a hot air balloon, but feel like it’s just too wild or unnecessary? Not for your elopement! You get to dream up the wildest, most perfect, feels-like-you day. If that means the most minimal, low-key, relaxed celebration possible, do it. If that means a several-day-long backpacking adventure, do it! 

Even if you have to scale back later, I always recommend starting from a place of no limits. If you had nothing holding you back, what would you do for your elopement? Often, the craziest idea can still be adapted somehow to fit into your day. 

Wide shot of couple standing on cliffside on a smoky day in Yosemite for their elopement.

Don’t: elope just because it’s trendy

If you’ve been browsing around Pinterest or Instagram long enough, you know that elopements are all the rage right now. Especially since COVID changed the way we can celebrate weddings safely, elopement talk has exploded. There are some trends worth jumping all over, but eloping shouldn’t be one of them. If you can’t imagine getting married without a traditional party with all your friends, you should have that! Don’t get sucked in by trendy elopement talk! You deserve the big wedding of your dreams. 

Evaluate what feels right for both you and your partner. There is always a solution when it comes to getting married. You can elope now and have a big reception later, elope privately and still do a bigger wedding with your family, etc. The most important thing is that you’ll feel happy, excited, and at peace with the day you’ve created! 

Couple walks across the road at Mount Rainier on their rainy elopement day.

I hope that these tips for planning an elopement help you as you get started creating your wedding day! If you’re ready to dive in with your elopement or intimate wedding experience, reach out to me here! I can’t wait to hear all about your vision. 

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