How to Elope: A Step-by-Step Guide
When you imagine what an elopement wedding would be like, you may picture two lovers spontaneously heading down to the courthouse to tie the knot or a couple hand in hand on the beach at sunset, exchanging off the cuff vows to one another. It’s true – eloping requires far less planning, logistics, and money than a traditional wedding. But that doesn’t mean couples don’t put in their fair share of intention, preparation, and coordination for an elopement ceremony.
Whether you’re seriously considering eloping for your upcoming wedding or in the early stages of wedding daydreaming, we’ll walk you through the steps of planning an elopement.
Why Do Couples Elope?
Before learning how to elope, you must decide if an elopement is right for your special day. There are a variety of reasons why eloping couples decide to forego a traditional big wedding. One of the reasons is that you have complete control over your guest list, and you can have as intimate of a wedding as you want. You also are not bound to traditional wedding venues, allowing you to have an adventure elopement, a beach ceremony, get married at city hall, or anything in between. Eloping gives you the freedom to customize your big day exactly how you and your loved one want.
How to Elope
- Decide the Vibe
- Determine a Budget
- Decide Where You Need Vendors
- Choose Vendors with Intention
- Make It Official
- Think About Attire
- Share The Happy News with Family and Friends
Step 1: Decide the Vibe
The first thing to decide in figuring out how to elope with your loved one is deciding what you want the look and feel of your wedding day to be like. Your wedding venue is a huge consideration as it will set the tone for the ceremony. Ask yourself the following questions when selecting a location:
- Do you want to tie the knot in a location that is meaningful to you and your partner or would you rather find a place that is simply beautiful?
- Do you want to be indoors or outdoors?
- What time of day do you want to get married? What day of the week?
- Will you have decorations at the ceremony?
- Is there room for guests?
- Are you okay with other people that aren’t your guests being around you, like in a public park or city square?
- If you know you want to get married near water, do you picture your ceremony by calm water, like a lake, or moving like a river, waterfall, or the ocean?
- Will the trip to get to your ceremony location be part of the adventure, like hiking to the top of a canyon or a remote mountain peak?
Thinking through the emotion that you foresee for the event itself evoking (besides love, of course!) can be a huge help for making decisions about the rest of your intimate wedding. It will also help you determine how many guests, if any, will be realistic for your elopement day.
Step 2: Determine a Budget
Budget is probably the least exciting part of the elopement planning, but it’s definitely one of the most important. It’s also good practice for all the money conversations in your future, right? Sit down with your soon-to-be bride or groom and discuss how much you want to spend on your wedding in total.
We suggest starting with deciding what the absolute most money that you would want to spend is. Next, dive into researching how much things cost. Venue, ceremony, clothing, hair and makeup, rings, marriage license, officiant, photography, food and drink, and travel and lodging (especially if you are doing a destination wedding) are some typical expenses to think through that can help get you started.
Next, build a list of your estimated expenses in order of priority and see how it aligns with your budget. Are there areas where you need to cut back or alter in order to spend less? Do you have room to splurge on your most important expense? Making and sticking to a budget will save you loads of time, money, and sanity in the long run.
Step 3: Decide Where You Need Vendors
The next step of figuring out how to elope is determining what parts of your elopement day require you to hire some help. You’ll likely want someone to document your wedding, which means hiring an elopement photographer and/or a videographer. You’ll also need someone to officially marry you, so don’t forget to choose an officiant. Do you want a professional to do your hair and makeup? Are you going to have flowers? Does the wedding venue you have in mind need decor?
Don’t forget to think through your reception or after-party as well, if you are having one. Will the elopement party be in a rented venue that needs additional vendors or will it be in a restaurant or bar that already has some on-site services? Will you provide food and drink? Will you have live music or a DJ? Taking the time to list and prioritize all of your potential needs for vendors will really help you decide if your services are realistic for the location and your budget.
Step 4: Choose Vendors with Intention
You’ve figured out where you need help, now you have to figure out who to hire for those needs. This can be difficult as there are many talented vendors out there, but we have some tips to help you narrow down your choices. We recommend that couples write out some qualities or adjectives that you want your ceremony to exemplify, then look for vendors whose work shares similar qualities.
If you’re working with a company like Simply Eloped that provides elopement packages, you’ll be working with trusted and vetted vendors. But especially if you’re putting your elopement together on your own, make sure you interview potential vendors. Every photographer, videographer, hair and makeup artist, or florist has a flavor and specific style for their work. Think about the vibe, location, and budget you’ve decided on and how that vendor fits with your plan.
After you’ve selected vendors, connect with them to talk through the vision of your wedding. For photographers, come with some ideas about how you want your photos to look and any specifics for photos like shots with certain family members, the rest of your guest list, or in a specific location. The same goes for video. In meeting with your officiant, talk through how you envision the script, how you want your vows to sound, and how much time you want to spend exchanging vows. If you are going to have flowers, meet with your florist to talk through types of flowers and your vision for what your flowers will look like. We advise couples to meet with a florist sooner rather than later to arrange any flowers that the florist will need to order or source from another location.
Step 5: Make It Official
Important detail – make sure you can get your marriage license! Every state has different laws about legal marriages and granting marriage licenses. If you are getting married in a different state than where you live, be sure to research what you need to do in order to obtain a marriage certificate and license. There may be certain documents that you will need to send beforehand or bring with you.
It can be even more difficult and confusing to obtain your marriage license in a foreign country. For destination weddings in another country, it can be easier to get officially married and obtain your license at city hall in your own city and state, then hold a symbolic ceremony at your chosen wedding destination.
After you and your lover have said “I do” and signed your marriage certificate, you are required to send the certificate to the courthouse in the city you were married in. You can do this in person or mail it in. Sometimes, your officiant will send it for you. Other times it is the couple’s responsibility, so be sure to have that conversation. Once the courthouse receives your certificate, they will issue you an official marriage license sent to you in the mail. Be aware that it can take up to eight weeks to get your license, which can be too long in some situations where you need to provide legal documentation of marriage. If you need documentation sooner, go to the courthouse and ask to exchange your certificate for a marriage license in person.
Step 6: Think About Attire
Another step in planning an elopement is choosing attire. For this step, think about how your attire fits with the location as well as transporting attire to the location. If you are getting married in an outdoor location that requires hiking or walking, will you wear your elopement dress or pack it in? What time of year are you getting married? Will you need to have plans to be protected from the elements?
If you’re traveling to another state or country for your ceremony, will you be able to get your ceremony clothes there easily? A big, poofy dress is certainly beautiful, but also can be difficult to travel with on a plane. Consider choosing a dress or outfit that you can arrange to pick up in the same city or location as your ceremony. This can alleviate the hassle of trying to travel with and transport important clothing.
Step 7: Share The Happy News with Family and Friends
Marriage is one of the most exciting parts of life to celebrate. Eloping to get married isn’t any less exciting, but it may lead to some of your friends and family feeling hurt that they weren’t there to watch you tie the knot. There are a couple of ways to go about announcing your marriage and explaining why you chose to elope to help curb hurt feelings.
Don’t tell anyone until it’s official
This route will likely be the most shocking to your loved ones, but it eliminates any turmoil over who you did or did not invite to the ceremony. Some couples give their closest loved ones a call before announcing their marriage over a post on Facebook or sending out an announcement card. You can also have a more traditional reception or casual party to celebrate with your friends and family.
Announce, then bounce
You can send out an announcement card or email, then immediately leave for your wedding without answering any replies until you are home. This also allows you to have a private, intimate ceremony and still throw a little get together to celebrate when you get home.
Invite those closest to you
Whether you are having a destination wedding, getting hitched in a different city, or heading to the great outdoors, you can elope with a small group of your loved ones in tow. Then, once you return back to your home, you can get together with the all the other friends and family members that you want to celebrate your marriage with.
You may be put in the situation where you have to offer an explanation for why you and your significant other chose to elope over having a traditional wedding. Don’t be afraid to talk someone through how important it was for your wedding day to be a private moment between just you and your lover. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to keep such a special moment to yourselves.
If one of your friends or relatives is feeling left out of the celebration, give them another way to help you celebrate. Plan a dinner date where you can show them photos from your big day and toast your marriage. Or throw a full-on party where you can celebrate with everyone you love.
Eloping may seem like the simple route to a wedding, and in many ways it is, but that definitely doesn’t mean there are not important details to think through and plan. With Simply Eloped, we help you figure out what needs to be planned, decide on a location, connect you with awesome vendors, and make sure your wedding goes without a hitch. We strive to make your decision to work with us truly taking the simple route.
Contact us to get started planning your elopement!