Elopement Planning

How To Elope

So you’re thinking about planning an elopement, but you’re not sure how to elope. Let’s face it, traditional weddings aren’t for everyone, and more couples are wanting an intimate and adventurous way to celebrate their wedding day. Some people think eloping means when two people run off to the courthouse or Las Vegas without telling anyone to say their “I do’s”. While you can still elope in Vegas, the definition of eloping has drastically changed.

What is an elopement?


An elopement is an intimate wedding experience. A couple can decide to elope just the two of them, OR they can invite a small amount of family and friends to witness their union. An elopement is intentionally small, and a unique experience to reflect who you are as a couple without trying to meet the social constraints of the ‘traditional wedding’ standard. 

Wanting to plan an authentic wedding day experience is one of the many reasons why couples decide to elope. But how do you elope? Luckily for you, we came up with a step-by-step guide to help you with your planning process, along with some common questions couples, like you, always ask us!

How to Elope: Step-by-Step Guide to Plan Your Elopement This Year

8 steps to plan your elopement this year:

  1. Imagine Your Elopement Adventure
  2. Determine Your Elopement Budget
  3. Decide WHERE and WHEN to elope
  4. Pick Vendors to Help Make Your Day go Smoothly
  5. Think About Attire and Details
  6. Do all the Paper Work
  7. Create a Cash Gift Wedding Registry
  8. Make Your Elopement Announcement 

While elopement planning can be easier than a traditional wedding, there is still a fair share of details you should consider when planning your elopement. Luckily for you, our team knows how overwhelming wedding planning can be, so we compiled some awesome tips and tricks for couples who aspire to elope or have a small wedding

Many couples tying the knot tend to shy away from eloping because they either don’t understand what it is, or they don’t want to leave anyone out (ps. You can include a handful of family and friends during your special day).

We are here to tell you that many of our Wandering Weddings members and our team have felt the same way, and we have made it our goal to provide others with the best information, year-round. 

Here at Wandering Weddings, our members are the ideal vendors to help you with your planning journey. Depending on your needs, we are here to help. If you have a specific question, request, or interest, please reach out to our team.

Step 1: Imagine Your Elopement Adventure (Let’s Get Inspired)

The first step in planning an elopement is deciding what type of elopement you want to have. Elopements are perfect for adventurous couples because there are virtually no limitations on the type of wedding day you can plan. Have fun with this planning process because it’s the perfect time to think about what you both really love.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you imagine your dream elopement:

Who are you inviting to your elopement?

While you can 100% keep your elopement as a “just us” experience, you can ALSO invite a couple of family and friends. Remember, this is your wedding day, and you can do whatever you want. We have had couples plan a more traditional wedding ceremony with a handful of loved ones at a more accessible location, and later that day that same couple explored another area just the two of them. We have seen couples adventure with a handful of family and friends from start to finish, and we have seen couples have a live-stream wedding ceremony to include a bigger crowd while keeping their experience a “just us” experience.

Learn more about planning a micro wedding experience for your elopement. 

What type of adventure do you want to have?

Planning your elopement is exciting because you get to think about what type of adventure you’re going to plan together. Do you know what scenery you want to see? You don’t have to pick your elopement location during this step but think about the overall vibe you’re trying to go for. Would you like to hike in a national park to your elopement ceremony location? Do you both prefer the mountains or the beach? What type of season do you both enjoy the most? What time of day do you want to get married? 

Do you want to keep things simple, or do you want to be more extravagant? Depending on your answers, you can start creating an inspiration board for your elopement. We love Pinterest because you can create separate boards to help you organize your overall vision.

Follow us on Pinterest, so we can bounce ideas off of each other.

Do you want an all-day adventure or something short and sweet?

When it comes to elopement planning, think about how you want your day to look like. Do you want things to start sunrise to sunset, or would you prefer just a couple of hours to have a small wedding vow exchange and adventure nearby to then continue to your honeymoon?

Since it’s your wedding adventure, you don’t have to worry about any traditional wedding constraints. You can plan an epic adventure or even a multi-day adventure if you want to. The same is true if you want your photographer to only be with you for a small ceremony and a couple of portraits. Discuss how you want your day to look like before moving to the next step to have a clear vision of your dream day(s) together.

When creating your inspiration board for your elopement, consider getting some inspiration from our real elopement stories. You’ll be able to see how these different adventures look instead of just “imagining it”. Each of our features on Wandering Weddings is perfect to save to your elopement inspiration board.

Step 2: Determine Your Elopement Budget

If you choose to elope, then you need to determine your budget. Even though you have more flexibility in planning an elopement versus a traditional wedding, you still need to consider logistics. You can also plan a very lavish elopement with tons of decorations, or you can plan a more minimalist elopement. 

This may be the least exciting part of wedding planning, but it’s the most important part. We suggest starting with a base total of how much you both feel comfortable spending. Setting a budget helps you prepare and prioritize things on your wedding list. Once you set your budget, we then suggest making a list of things you will need to account for.

Here are some details that can make up your elopement budget:

  • Elopement Venue Permits/Fees
  • Ceremony Attire
  • Hair and Makeup
  • Rings
  • Marriage License
  • Officiant
  • Wedding Planner
  • Photography/Videography
  • Decor/Florals
  • Food/Drink
  • Travel and Accommodations

Check out our guide on how much it costs to elope.

After you have made your list, then it’s time to do your research and order your list in priority. Are there some things you can cut back on?

How much does an elopement cost?

Depending on what you’re looking for, elopements can typically average from $2,000 to $15,000. This is just an estimate, but it is definitely cheaper to elope than to have a traditional wedding. 

It is important to remember that you can go as simple or extravagant with your elopement planning. It is perfectly fine to DIY a lot of things, including your florals and your makeup. 

Sticking to your budget will help you determine the final cost of your elopement.  

Step 3: Decide Where & When To Elope

decide where you're going to elope, how to elope step

Photo by Wild Connections Photography featuring elopement in Austria

Now that you are inspired and have a budget in mind, you have to decide where you are going to elope and when. We crafted the best places to elope, so you can match your inspiration with one of our top locations. 

Do you want to elope somewhere meaningful to both of you or do you want to travel and explore somewhere new you both want to scratch off of your bucket list?

Where you decide to elope is the most important decision you’ll make during your elopement and will set the tone for your whole adventure together. Think about it, you can’t do the same activities in Alaska that we may do in Hawaii. Each location has a unique setting and activities that come along with it, especially if you’re planning your adventure at a national park!

Once you have decided what elopement location you’re loving, you should then see if it matches your original vision on your inspiration board.

Pro tip:

It’s completely OK to change your elopement vision as you go through the elopement planning process. Remember to elope somewhere you BOTH want to. In other words, don’t let social media dictate your final decision. 

When you decide to plan an elopement, you also can plan a destination wedding at cool locations outside of the States. Don’t worry, we have amazing vendors who specialize in abroad locations too! Teaming up with them allows you to tie the knot somewhere amazing where you can continue your honeymoon.

Teaming up with a local vendor also allows you to have way more guidance when it comes to WHEN you want to elope together.

When often encompasses what season and time. Suppose you ask any of the elopement photographers we feature on our website. In that case, they will tell you how incredibly important it is to avoid weekends at all costs unless you’re planning a very early sunrise ceremony. They will be able to tell you the pros and cons of eloping during certain months at your location, and they’ll provide alternative locations that not many tourists may know about to help you during your planning process.

Keep in mind, most photographers will often ask you to pick a different location/area for a planc B,C, or even D when it comes to incliment weather conditions and other unavoidable circumstances that may arise. This is why it’s so important to think about the overall scenary you want to see during your elopement to try and make that happen if your initial plan does not work in your favor.

Check out our location guides, where we give you the local inside scoop when planning your elopement. 

Step 4: Pick Vendors to Help Make Your Day go Smoothly

The next step in how to elope is figuring out what parts of your elopement you need to outsource help from vendors. Even if you’re planning a simple elopement, you still need someone to travel with you and document your wedding day. You’ll also need someone to officially marry you if you’re not planning a commitment ceremony or self-solemnizing

Our elopement packages are created with our couples in mind to be go-to resources. These packages are a great step-by-step guide to planning your small wedding at a specific location you’re interested in. Our elopement packages also contain reliable vendors who are experienced in planning and documenting elopements in that area. 

What type of vendors should I hire for my elopement?

This depends on your overall elopement vision when planning. Keep in mind, that this list looks different for every couple, but here are some vendors to consider:

  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Officiant
  • Planner
  • Hair and Makeup Team
  • Florist
  • Decor Rentals
  • Private Chef
  • Wedding Venue

The most popular vendors couples hire for their elopements are often photographers, videographers, and officiants. Another thing to keep in mind: many photographers also have services for both videography and officiant.

How much do elopement photographers cost?

Photographers are by far the most popular vendors hired through our directory. You can expect an elopement photographer to cost around $2,000 – $8,000. This cost is mainly determined by location, total services offered, and time spent with the couple documenting their elopement.

Some services elopement photographers include are:

  • Elopement planning (including timelines)
  • Secret location suggestions
  • Activity suggestions in the area
  • Ceremony ideas
  • Guidance for leaving no trace during your adventure
  • Permit registration guidance
  • Wedding license guidance
  • Hourly or full-day photography coverage with online galleries.
  • and so much more!

After you’ve picked your vendors, connect with them, and tell them your elopement vision.

Pro tip: Have your inspiration board handy to bounce ideas back and forward with visuals and specific details.

Remember, don’t freak out if you can’t meet your vendor face-to-face if you’re planning a destination wedding. A lot of our members Zoom/FaceTime all the time with their couples! 

If you’re working with a vendor from an elopement package, as Wandering Weddings does, then these are professionals who aspire to bring your vision to reality. Plus, most of them would love to FaceTime with you! If you’re planning on having minimal vendors, then remember to outline an elopement timeline to keep everyone mindful of the time they have during your elopement day. 

With that said, remember your elopement day is what you both want it to be!

Step 5: Think About Wedding Attire and Details

For this step, consider how your wedding outfit will fit with the location you both decided on. You should also consider what you’ll be doing in your attire before and after your elopement ceremony. Our elopement dress guide breaks down some awesome options for brides who are planning an adventurous elopement. We even included some of our favorite dresses you can shop through our guide! We like to think this step is the best out of all the steps to elope because you get to go shopping! 

You’ll also realize you shouldn’t limit yourself to wedding attire based on traditional wedding views. We encourage our couples to think outside of the box and wear something they feel comfortable in and love!

Check out our grooms’ wedding attire guide and our gender-neutral formal wear for your elopement!

Consider if your ceremony location requires hiking, or if you have to pack your wedding dress and change into it after your hike up to your location. Another great element to consider is the weather where you’re getting married.

Will you need to bring an umbrella, towels, or a jacket to shield you from the cold? Are you ok with trashing your wedding dress, or do you want to slip it on right before saying “I do”? 

Our team loves wedding accessories, so definitely consider what details you want to compliment your wedding attire with. We also love it when our brides rock their wedding dress with hiking boots and a hiking backpack!

Step 6: Do all the Paperwork (Marriage License + Special Use Permits)

It actually does not take very long to plan an elopement. Planning your elopement can take at least 3 months to organize your inspiration, budget, and vendors. We advise doing all of your paperwork 2 months away from your elopement day, especially in more popular locations like Yosemite and Olympic National Parks. 

Your main to-dos is to make sure to obtain your marriage license, book all accommodation and travel arrangements, and discuss fees and permits regarding your elopement venue or location. 

For this elopement step, it’s important to know that every state has a different law about marriage licenses. In some states, like California and Colorado, for example, you can self-solemnize your marriage.

If you’re planning on getting married in a different state or country than where you live, then make sure to do your research. Our Wandering Weddings members are experts in these requirements, so we highly recommend teaming up with one of them. 

Some couples become worried about how to elope in a different state, so we are here to say that it can be easier to officially get married and obtain your license at a city hall in your own city. After you obtain your marriage license, you can hold a symbolic ceremony at your wedding destination without stressing about the logistics of it all. 

Step 7: Create a Cash Gift Wedding Registry

If you’re thinking about what type of wedding registry to create to share with your family and friends, then consider a cash gift wedding registry! A cash registry is a great option for couples who don’t really want a ton of stuff. This is also great to get some extra help to save for a house together, your honeymoon, or even towards future family investments.

Create a Cash Gift Wedding Registry Today

Step 8: Make Your Elopement Announcement

Announcing your elopement can be fun and exciting. Now you probably realize couples elope for various reasons. When it’s time to share your intention of getting married or celebrating your union with others, think about creating fun signs and incorporating your favorite drink or furry pal. You can get as creative with this step as you both want!

Some couples, however, worry about this step the most. Remember to talk about this with your partner and see what you both feel comfortable with. As difficult as this step can be, remember to honor what you both find important.

When announcing your elopement, it’s important to think about how you’re going to tell everyone. You can keep it a secret from everyone until you’re actually married, or you can announce you’re eloping, and then immediately leave for your adventure wedding. 

Another suggestion is to only invite and tell your immediate family members or those closest to you. You can still have an adventure elopement and include your family. This way, your loved ones can still be present or participate on your wedding day without feeling left out.

You can also decide to announce your elopement at a family BBQ or get-together! The options are endless, but we do want to remind couples they shouldn’t feel guilty for eloping. A great way to ease your mind is by explaining why you both decided to elope over having a traditional wedding.

Are you ready for the next step? Connect with our awesome photographers to start building your ideal elopement team. 

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