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One of the main reasons why so many more couples are choosing to forgo the big, traditional wedding and opt for an intimate elopement instead is how much less stress an elopement brings. Elopements are the best way to make sure that you spend the best day of your life having fun and enjoying yourselves, instead of stressin’ about centerpieces and color schemes. But, before you tie the know, there are still a lot of things that need to get done! Lucky for you, I’m a photographer who specializes in elopements and intimate weddings – which means I’ve got all the tools and resources you need to plan an incredible, perfectly you day! Keep reading for the 15 things you need to do before your elopement, and my ultimate elopement checklist to keep you on track!
While I’ve helped plan elopements as little as a few weeks out, it’s easiest to start planning and dreaming up your day six months to a year in advance – this gives you time to get all the necessary permits, and to enjoy the planning process without feeling too rushed.
Six+ Months Out
1. Choose an Elopement Location
This one might just be the hardest thing on this elopement checklist – which is why it’s at number 1! Knock this one off your to do list, and everything else will be a piece of (wedding) cake! When you elope and have a small, intimate ceremony you have so many more options for locations, as you aren’t restricted to a venue. But with so many options, it can definitely be hard to narrow down where you want to elope!
My advice is to take an evening (one where you aren’t doing anything else), and crack open a Dr Pepper or uncork a bottle of wine or twist off the cap of your beverage of choice. Relax, unwind with your partner, and think about what you would do if you could have the best day ever. What does that day look like for you? Do you picture yourself in the mountains? On the beach? Having a peaceful picnic? An adrenaline-rush worthy helicopter ride? Dream big! No idea is too crazy when you’re eloping.
After you have a picture in your mind of what your perfect day looks like, start brainstorming where you can go to make it happen.
2. Settle on an Elopement Date
Your elopement date will depend on a few factors – think about when you’ll be able to get time off from work, whether you’re inviting guests whose availability will need to be considered, what kind of weather you’re hoping for, and how best to avoid crowds.
Weather will be a big consideration when it comes to choosing your elopement date! After you settle on a location, do some research and see what the weather is like! Many high elevation mountain locations are snow covered until mid summer, while desert locations are scorching hot in the summer months. While there are no guarantees when it comes to weather in the wild, choose a date that’s more likely to give you favorable weather!
Avoiding crowds is also a big concern for couples on their elopement day, and it’s totally reasonable to want to say your vows in private without having the eyes of tourists and park visitors on you. The best days of the week to elope are Monday through Thursday, because weekends get pretty busy! Most people are off work, and the weekend brings flocks of people to explore outdoors. I also always recommend that my couples plan their ceremony for either sunrise or sunset. Not only will the lighting be bomb.com, but you’re also much less likely to run into crowds. Sunrise is especially peaceful!
3. Apply for Elopement Permits
Next up on the elopement checklist is to apply for your wedding permit! Many parks and outdoor spaces require that you have a permit for your elopement ceremony. Each location will have different requirements, so make sure that you do your research! Check online, or call the ranger station to ask. Permits usually require an application, along with an application fee, which can range from $25 – $400. This money funds our public lands, which is just another reason why elopements are so much more eco-friendly than traditional weddings!
4. Book Your Elopement Vendors
Many vendors in the wedding and elopement industry fill up their schedules as far as a year in advance, so the sooner you’re able to get them booked, the better! A great team of elopement vendors will make all the difference in keeping your day relaxed and stress free.
5. Book Your Flights and Lodging
Getting your flights and your lodging sorted early will save you money, and it will also ensure that you’re able to stay somewhere close to your elopement location! Pro tip: check out Pomelo Travel or Scott’s Cheap Flights for discounts on plane tickets, and Airbnb for everything from cute, tiny A frame cabins to huge chalets that can accommodate all of your guests!
6. Get Your Elopement Attire
In order to leave time for alterations, I recommend dress shopping at least six months out from your elopement date. Because most dresses are made to order, it’s important to leave enough time to make sure you get the perfect dress. Suit wearers can wait a little bit longer, as suits usually don’t require alterations!
Three Months Out
7. Research Marriage Laws
A huge part of your elopement checklist is going to be looking into the legalities of your marriage ceremony. Every country, and every state in the United States has different requirements when it comes to getting legally hitched. Paperwork may not be the most exciting part of your elopement day, but it’s important to make sure that you’re aware of all the requirements so that your marriage is valid and legal!
Most states require an officiant and two witnesses, while a few (like Colorado) will allow you to self solemnize. Check out this resource to see marriage laws for every state! Apply for your marriage license, and make sure you do so at least a few weeks out from your elopement.
8. Finalize Your Guest List
Yes, you absolutely can have guests if you’re eloping! Check in with anyone who you want to invite to be a part of your day, and get a headcount for your elopement. Make sure everyone knows what they’re in for if your elopement requires traveling or hiking!
Get your wedding bands if needed, and make sure they’re polished and ready to go!
One Month Out
10. Elopement Timeline
While elopement timelines are much more flexible and less strict than wedding timelines, it’s still a good idea to have a layout of what your day will look like, to make sure you know where you’re supposed to be! As an elopement photographer, I create these timelines and elopement checklists for my couples all the time – the most important thing to remember is that this day is about you and what you want. Need time for a midday nap? A snack break? Write it into the timeline so that you feel your best on your elopement day!
11. Check in With Your Vendors
Once you have your timeline set and ready, pass it along to your vendors! Make sure that you make any final payments, and that everybody knows the game plan.
One Week Out
12. Get Pampered
Get those nails done, a fresh haircut, and anything else you need to feel your best on your elopement day! Get some rest, and take some time to yourself so that you’re recharged and ready to get married!
13. Write Your Vows
Writing your own vows is such an amazing way to add a personal touch to your ceremony. Take some time to sit down with a pen and paper (there’s something more romantic about doing it the old fashioned way), and write down everything you want to promise to your partner on your big day.
14. Pack Your Bags
Make a list of everything you’ll need to elope, and start packing! Don’t forget things like makeup and hair products, deodorant, socks, shoes, and a sewing kit for emergencies!
The Day Of
15. Relax, Breathe, and Enjoy the Day!
It can be so easy to get caught up in everything you have to get done, but remember that eloping is all about getting married and celebrating in a way that feels right to you! You’re here with the love of your life, and that’s all that matters – everything else is just details! Remember to eat breakfast, drink water, and relax.
If you need help planning your elopement day and coming up with your own personalized elopement checklist, don’t hesitate to contact me! As a photographer who specializes in elopements and intimate weddings, a big part of my job is guiding couples like you and helping you plan the perfect day. With everything from location recommendations to the timeline, I’ve got you covered!