how to plan an elopement

Step By Step Elopement Planning Guide

Are you considering eloping? For many couples, a traditional wedding just doesn’t feel like “them” and the idea of saying their vows in front of 100+ people sounds unideal. Elopements give you the ability to create a day custom-tailored to you and give you the freedom to share your vows in a space free to be who you are. Planning an elopement can be a little confusing when you don’t know where to start. As an elopement photographer, I have gone through this process quite a few times and am here to walk you through the steps to plan your elopement from start to finish. Below is my ultimate elopement planning guide!

If you’re looking for an elopement photographer who can help you with all of this planning, check us out here!

Elopement Planning Guide: How to Plan An Elopement

1. Dream Up and Brainstorm Your Perfect Elopement Day

Brainstorming your elopement day is the first step to creating a truly memorable experience. Sit down with your partner and let your imaginations run wild. Dream about what your elopement day would look like with no limits. If you could go anywhere, see anything, and experience whatever, what would it look like? 

Imagine yourself about to say your vows: Who would be there? Where would you be? What is the temperature? How did you get to your ceremony location? What scenery are you surrounded by? Imagine a full-day adventure full of what you love to do together or new experiences you want to try. 

This is your chance to dream big and create a day that is uniquely yours!

Bride walks towards groom on mountain top at sunrise how to plan an elopement

2. Set Your Budget for Your Elopement

Now that you have a beautiful vision of what you want your elopement day to look like, the next step is to set your budget. Your budget will guide your decisions and help you prioritize what’s most important to you. Consider what elements of your elopement are non-negotiable and where you’re willing to be more flexible on. 

Factor in all potential costs, including travel, accommodations, attire, vendors, and any additional activities or experiences you want to include. Be realistic about what you can afford and be prepared to make trade-offs to stay within your budget. Setting a clear budget from the start will ensure that you can plan your dream elopement without financial stress!

3. Choose A Date or Season

The next step is choosing when you want to get married! Using the vision you created for your dream elopement day, when does your wedding take place? Do you imagine yourself surrounded by fall foliage? Skiing down from your ceremony location? Walking through wildflowers in the spring? Exploring on a nice summer day? Think about what would make you two happiest!

Once you have your season in mind, you can either narrow it down from there yourself or start talking to your dream vendors and choose your date around their availability! If you have a specific elopement photographer you would like to work with, having a season in mind instead of a specific date will give you a much better chance of being able to work with them and their schedule.

Some helpful tips to keep in mind when choosing your date

  • Weekday elopements can offer more privacy, as popular outdoor locations are often less crowded, allowing you to fully immerse yourselves in the moment.
  • Check a calendar to see what holidays are near your date. For example, if you’re getting married on Labor Day or a nearby day, it may be a lot more crowded at outdoor locations than the next week.

4. Choose a General Elopement Destination or Scenery

The next step is deciding where you want to get married! As elopement photographers, we help our couples choose their exact spot by giving them location suggestions based on the kind of scenery they are looking to explore on their wedding day. Before you start reaching out to photographers, go back to your vision of your dream wedding and decide on what scenery you want to immerse yourself in!

Are you on a mountaintop? Do you want to explore rocky cliffs? Go on a boat tour? Explore glaciers? Go skiing? Be at an alpine lake? Explore a new country? Walk along sandy dunes? The possibilities are endless! So take some time and think about what would be your perfect day!

Once you have a general idea of what scenery you want to explore or general location (i.e. Iceland, Colorado, Maine, etc), you can start reaching out to vendors who can help you with the specifics!

5. Hire Your Elopement Photographer

Hiring your elopement photographer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your elopement. They will be with you on your entire wedding day, so you’ll want it to be someone you feel comfortable around and can connect with. The photos from your day will be the only thing you have to look back on, so choosing a trusted photographer will ensure you can look back on those memories and relive each moment. Your photographer will also help you a lot in the planning process, which is why we recommend hiring them right at the start.

As elopement photographers, we not only capture our couples’ wedding days, but we also help them throughout the entire planning process. We take the vision they have for their wedding day and help them find everything they need to make it a reality. We provide specific location recommendations that match their vision, connect them to vendors, and help them build a stress-free elopement day timeline!

For more information about us and our services, click here!

6. Choose Your Specific Elopement Destination

Now that you’ve hired your photographer and explained to them your elopement vision, they should come back to you with an amazing list of possible elopement locations. Now that you have a condensed list of spots that match your dream vision, it’s time to choose your spot! There are endless beautiful places in the world—so don’t feel any pressure to travel too far, hike too far, or do anything that isn’t you, just to get to a certain backdrop. The most important thing is that you two enjoy your day—so make sure the spot you pick and what’s required to get there, is aligned with that!

Tips for Choosing the Right Location

  • Prioritize your experience over everything. Do exactly what you want on your wedding day and listen to your “gut feel” for what elopement location will make you the happiest all day long.
  • Be true to yourselves. Pick a location that represents who you two are as a couple and remember, there are no expectations or rules. 
  • You can visit more than one location! Don’t rule out a multi-location elopement. Many couples have a hard time narrowing down to one spot—so just remember that you can always go to more than one on the same day.
  • Start thinking about backup locations. Remember that unforeseen weather and other circumstances could make your top-pick location inaccessible, so keep a few backup spots in mind that you love and would be happy to pivot to if needed.

7. Book Travel and Accommodation

Now that you know exactly where you are going on your elopement day(s), it’s time to book your travel! If you’re local to your elopement destination, this step is pretty easy. You can decide if you’d like to rent a place to stay before or after your elopement or do everything from home. For those planning a destination elopement, there is a lot more that goes into it.

When choosing your elopement accommodation, we recommend looking for a place that is within 30-45 minutes from your ceremony location to minimize travel and stress on the day. For some locations that’s not possible, so just find the closest accommodation that you can. Consider what amenities would elevate your elopement experience, and try to find accommodation that includes them. For example, a hot tub, fireplace, outdoor space, large kitchen, great natural lighting (a good thing to keep in mind for getting ready photos!), room for guests to stay with you, etc.

When booking travel for your elopement, we recommend planning to arrive at least a few days before your elopement to acclimate to the area and finalize any last-minute details. Some last-minute details to consider are picking up your marriage license, steaming your wedding attire, grabbing any last-minute supplies, and taking a second to breathe!

8. Book Additional Elopement Vendors & Excursions

Congratulations you have all of the big things booked! Now it’s time to add some additional vendors and excursions to your day that will help elevate it and make it a seamless experience! Consider what additional services you may need, and start researching and contacting vendors early to secure your preferred choices. When choosing vendors, read reviews, view portfolios, and schedule consultations to ensure they align with your style and budget. Communication is key, so be clear about your expectations and vision for your elopement day.

Booking excursions for your elopement day can add an extra layer of adventure to your celebration. Research local activities and attractions that align with your vision for your elopement day and reach out to tour companies or guides to inquire about availability and pricing. Booking excursions can turn your elopement day into an incredible adventure that you and your partner will cherish for a lifetime!

Some vendors to consider hiring for your elopement are

  • Officiant
  • Florist
  • Hair & Make-Up Artist
  • Videographer
  • Restaurant or Reception Space
  • Musician
  • Picnic Planner
  • Baker 
  • Pet Services
  • Private Chef
  • Guide
  • Experiences (boat tour, helicopter tour, gear rentals, etc)

9. Choose Your Elopement Attire, Accessories, & Gear

Choosing your attire for your elopement is an exciting opportunity to express your personal style! Whether you opt for traditional wedding attire, something more casual, or something extremely unique, the key is to choose something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Consider the location and season of your elopement when selecting your attire – lightweight attire may be perfect for a beach ceremony, while something with a lot of layers may be more suitable for a winter elopement in the mountains. Don’t forget to accessorize with items that hold sentimental value or add a personal touch to your ensemble. Above all, choose attire that allows you to move freely and enjoy every moment of your elopement day.

At this point also think about any necessary gear you will need to purchase for your elopement activities! Now is a great time to get it all together so you can check it off your to-do list!

If you’re looking for inspiration for an elopement dress, check out our blog post here!

how to plan an elopement bride walks down trail in wedding dress

10. Apply For Necessary Elopement Permits

Obtaining the necessary permits is the most important step when planning an elopement. Your elopement photographer should help you a lot with this (we do all the research for our couples), so it is nothing to be intimidated by! If you are getting married on public land, there is a pretty good chance you or your photographer will need a permit of some kind.

Start by researching the specific requirements for your chosen location, including any permits needed for photography, ceremonies, or use of the area. Contact the local authorities or land management agencies to inquire about the permit process, fees, and application deadlines. Be sure to apply for permits well in advance to allow for processing time and to avoid any last-minute issues. Find more information on national park wedding permits here.

11. Create Your Timeline

Yay it’s time to see it all come together! Timeline building can be one of the more difficult planning aspects. We build the timelines for all of our couples because after doing it so many times, we’ve learned generally how long this take. Building a cohesive and accurate timeline for your elopement day is essential for ensuring that everything runs smoothly and that you have enough time to capture all the moments you want to remember.

Start by determining the key events of your day, such as the ceremony, portrait locations, and any other activities or excursions you have planned. Work backward from your ceremony time to allocate enough time for hair and makeup, getting dressed, travel to the ceremony location, and any pre-ceremony photos. Your elopement photographer should be a key partner in building your timeline, as they can provide valuable insight into how long each location will take and when the best lighting will be. They can also help you prioritize which moments to capture and suggest any additional time needed for certain shots.

12. Finalize Elopement Planning Details

It’s almost time!!! A few months out from your wedding day, start finalizing all the last-minute details.

Two Months Out from your elopement

  • Hair and Make-Up Trial (if local)
  • Finishing writing your vows or ceremony script
  • Finalize timeline with all vendors
  • Share timeline with your guests
  • Finish planning the rest of your elopement trip (if you will be in the area days before or after your wedding day)
  • Finalize wedding attire alterations (if needed)

One Month Out from your elopement

  • Finalize vendor payments
  • Apply for your marriage license

Days Before Your Elopement

  • Pick up your marriage license 
  • Steam your wedding attire
  • Organize all the details you would like to be photographed
  • Pick-up cake, flowers, and any other details from vendors
  • Relax!

13. Have the best day ever!!

You did it! You just planned your entire elopement and now it’s time to go enjoy it! Having the best day ever on your elopement day is all about embracing the moment and cherishing every second with your partner. Let go of any worries or stresses and focus on the love and joy that surrounds you. Take time to soak in the beauty of your surroundings, whether you’re exchanging vows on a mountaintop or strolling along a sandy beach. Trust in the planning and preparation you’ve done and allow yourself to be fully present in each moment. Dance, laugh, and savor every moment with your partner. Your elopement day is a celebration of your love, so make it a day to remember and cherish forever!

Brides kiss after their wedding ceremony how to plan an elopement

Planning your elopement should be an exciting and happy experience! From brainstorming your dream day to booking vendors and creating a timeline, each step is an opportunity to create a celebration that is uniquely yours. On your elopement day, relax, be present, and celebrate your love in a way that is meaningful to you. Your elopement is a reflection of your love story, so make it a truly unforgettable day!

If you are looking for your elopement photographer or want to work with us, reach out here!

Meet your photographer team

We’re Bridget & Ryan!

Adventurers turned adventure elopement photographers specializing in national park and hiking elopements! We help couples craft a wedding day that feels authentic to them in a meaningful and epic location. Life’s an adventure, let’s make your wedding one too!