How to Plan Your Perfect Elopement in 18 Steps

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Welcome to my guide to how to plan your perfect elopement in 18 steps! I hope these step-by-step instructions will help guide you in the right direction + get you started on planning your big day. Happy planning!

bride and groom in forest

Woohooooo you’re ENGAGED!! You can no longer strut onto the dance floor at weddings when Beyoncé’s Single Ladies comes on & try to catch that bouquet 😉 Because now, it’s YOUR TURN!

But once that freshly-engaged, brand-new-glittery-ring-on-your-finger feeling has worn off, the idea of planning a wedding or elopement can get overwhelming. Fast. So because I’ve photographed literally more elopements than I can even count, I wanted to use my experience + expertise to help you get started with the elopement planning process!

I tried to make this as simple, as easy-peasy as possible so that you feel confident diving into planning, and knowing how the hell to get started. I hope these 18 steps guide you through the elopement planning process and make it simple & easy for ya to plan the biggest, most exciting day of your lives!!

Just be aware that this list is not an all-encompassing list of every possible detail you’ll need to think through. It’s also not an end-all, be-all list that you have to follow exactly – you can swap some of the steps, mix ‘em around, re-order them, skip them, do whatever ya want. Whatever fits the day YOU’RE planning. 

Because your elopement is a day for you, not for you to copy what everybody else does, or even to follow what professionals tell you to a T! You’re free (and encouraged, actually) to not follow the “rules,” shed alllll expectations, and do your own damn thing as you please. Remember that as you plan your big day!

bride and groom holding lanterns

How to Plan Your Perfect Elopement in 18 Steps

1. CELEBRATE!!

Let’s start this process off with something EASY so you don’t get overwhelmed right away. The very first thing you should do once you’re engaged is freaking celebrate! You don’t need to start planning immediately – trust me. You’ll have plenty of time to do that down the road, and you deserve to take this time to enjoy your fresh engagement + celebrate with each other, and with your loved ones! 

If you start planning the day after you get engaged, you’re opening yourself up to the stresses of wedding planning immediately, rather than giving yourselves time to let it sink in + feel all the feels + celebrate like you deserve to. 

Plan a couple extra-special date nights, go on a weekend getaway, or figure out a fun way to announce your engagement to your fam & friends. Take it all in and be intentional with giving yourselves time to enjoy this season before diving straight into the season of planning!

bride and groom popping champagne

2. Spend some time just dreaming

Once you feel like you’re ready to start the planning process and have had ample time to celebrate, I want you to simply start DREAMING before anything else. Don’t think too much about the money yet or about the logistics. Just start it off by dreaming about what your ideal day would look like.

What would your elopement look like if you:

  • Didn’t try to follow tradition or what you think you “should” do?
  • Shed the expectations of those around you + society?
  • Could fill the day with your favorite things, people, food, activities, etc?
  • Only invited the people you truly want there by your side?

Allow yourselves to dream biiiig and really be intentional in thinking about what your perfect day would look like. Don’t even go onto Pinterest yet, because you’ll just see other couples’ wedding days and subconsciously try to copy them/think yours “should look like that.”

If you need a little encouragement about why eloping isn’t selfish or wrong, and why you deserve to have your freaking DREAM day no matter what society says, check out this article I wrote recently: Is Eloping Selfish? Hell No – Here’s Why Eloping Isn’t “Wrong!”

bride and groom walking along cliff

3. Talk about moneyyyy honey

Get down to the nitty-gritty: it’s time to talk about numbers! It’s super important that you are both on the same page when it comes to your elopement budget, and what your priorities are. Have an open, honest discussion right off the bat about what’s most important to each of you, what’s not so important, and how much money you each have & are willing to put toward your elopement.

It’s really helpful to narrow down your priorities as a couple and set aside more money in your budget for those things that are most important to you, such as getting your dream location, hiring your dream photographer, or incorporating your dream activity into your elopement (maybe that’s skydiving, horseback riding, a helicopter tour, whatever!).

Because budget is SUCH a big part of planning your elopement in a way that’s realistic for you, but also allows you to make your dreams come true, I put together a separate article for you to look at. It’s specifically dedicated to eloping in Washington, but is filled with really good budget tips + even some ways to save money on your elopement, no matter if you’re eloping in WA or not. Check it out here: How Much Does it Cost to Elope in Washington State? 

couple kissing

4. Imagine your perfect location

Alright now here comes one of the most fun parts of eloping planning: choosing your location! I want you to dreaaaam about all the possibilities when it comes to elopement locations.

Do you want to elope out in nature? If so, where do you feel most at peace/have the most memories/feel like your best self? 

Here are some types of outdoor adventure elopement location options to consider:

  • Waterfalls
  • Beaches
  • Forests
  • Deserts
  • Mountains
  • Lakes
  • Canyons
  • Glaciers

From there, think about the type of climate you want. Tropical? Dry? Hot? Snowy?

Then think about whether you want to elope in a national park/forest, a state park/forest, some other public land, in your own state, out of state, out of the country. . . seriously the options are ENDLESS.

Maybe you want to simply rent a rad Airbnb and have a super private ceremony there? There are sooo many cool Airbnb’s to choose from nowadays, from A-frame cabins in the middle of the woods to luxurious oceanfront homes to weird dome-shaped houses in the desert.

Or what if you want something super unique, like a haunted hotel or an insanely cool medieval castle?

You can even simply get married in your backyard if that’s what feels most right to you!

I could go on foreveerrrr with all the possibilities. That’s the beauty of elopements – you can literally do whatever the hell you want and wherever the hell you want (as long as it’s legal/you get the necessary permits, of course).

Here are a few recent elopement guides I put together for my fav locations that you can take a look at for more location help!

Ultimate Guide to the 7 Best Places to Elope in Washington State

Best Places in California to Elope

13 Best Places to Elope in Oregon: Waterfalls, Beaches, & More

mount rainier national park sign

5. Make a list of your ideal vendors

Next, start looking into potential vendors. Vendors are suuuuper important for your elopement and making sure everything comes together just as you’re envisioning it. You want to be able to put everything in the hands of the pros + trust them!

Here are some places you can search for vendors:

You can also ask your married friends who they hired for their own wedding!

Here’s a big list of vendors to consider hiring for your elopement (you def don’t need to hire all of them, just pick and choose what’s right for your day!):

  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Planner and/or coordinator
  • Officiant
  • Hair stylist
  • Makeup artist
  • Decorator
  • Caterer/food truck/charcuterie board-maker/private chef
  • Bartenders
  • Rentals
  • Musicians/band

I’d recommend reaching out to 2-3 of each vendor so you have plenty of room to adjust plans if some vendors aren’t available.

Remember to find somewhere either in-person or online to buy your elopement outfits, too! Do this early enough so that you have time to get your dress/suit/outfit fitted, tailored, and shipped to you. I have a full guide to How to Pick Your Perfect Elopement Outfits if ya need some help with that!

bride holding bouquet

6. Pick a season + narrow down dates

The reason I recommend reaching out to vendors before picking your specific date is so that you can be a little flexible with your vendors’ availability! For example, if your DREAM photographer isn’t available for the date you already chose, you’ll have to go with another photographer. Same for if your ideal elopement location isn’t available on your date. By having a few dates in mind and asking your vendors about their availability, you can pick your final date based on when they’re available and that way, you get to have your dream vendors!!

When it comes to picking out dates, I’d suggest first picking the season you want to elope in.

Here are some things to think through when considering what season you want to elope in:

  • Weather – how cold/warm do you like to be, do you hate being freezing cold, what will your guests like
  • Landscape/views – do you prefer fall tones in the trees, want lush green grass, want a heavy-flowing waterfall after it rains in the spring
  • Lighting – how long will the light last at your location, is the sun blocked by mountains, is there a lot of shade, do you want days with longer daylight
  • Potential extreme conditions at your elopement location – e.g. wildfires, hurricanes, snowstorms, flooding
  • Crowds – are you okay with large crowds if you’re eloping during the summer at a popular national park, etc.

Once you know what season you want to elope in, then it just comes down to scheduling and what’ll be best with your work/life schedules, and your guests! Consider how much time you’ll want to take off of work, if you’ll be going on a honeymoon, if your guests will be able to take time off work, etc.

foggy river at mount rainier

7. Sign the dotted lines: book your vendors

Now that you’ve looked into vendors, gotten their availability, picked your location, and narrowed down some dates, it’s time to book your vendors and finalize your date!! Sign the dotted line + pay the retainer for the vendors you’re ready to hire, and make sure you know exactly what you’re booking with them and what you’re responsible for. Read through your contract, find out when all of your payments are due, and find out if there’s anything else they need from you!

I highly recommend hiring your photographer, videographer, & planner FIRST, as those are the vendors that usually book out the farthest in advance. They’re also the vendors that can help you out a lot with location deets and finding other vendors if you want trusted recommendations!

bride and groom walking along road

8. Craft your perfect guest list + send out invites

The time has come to figure out your guest list!! This is a biggg part of crafting your perfect elopement day, and can be one of the hardest parts, too, because you want to make sure you only invite the people you truly want there with you. This can be sensitive because you may not end up inviting everybody in your family or group of friends, and people may be hurt by it. But I want to encourage you to remember that this is your day, and the focus should be on YOU two. You want to make it the most meaningful, intentional, stress-free day possible. If that means eloping in private with zero guests, do it! If that means having your three best friends there with ya to celebrate, do it. And if that means inviting your 30 closest family members to stand by your side, do it.

When you’re inviting guests, ask yourselves WHY you’re inviting that particular guest. Is it because you think you “should?” Do you feel like you “owe them” because they invited you to their wedding? Are they expecting to be invited, therefore you feel pressured to invite them?

Be intentional about inviting only people who will fully support you on your big day, and try to avoid inviting anybody that could cause you stress. If they’re really your loved ones, they’ll understand that you’re doing what’s best for you, and they may be sad about not being invited, but in the long run they should stick by your side anyway!

wedding guests cheering

9. Plan a date for your engagement photos

Once you’ve hired your photographer, plan a date with them for your engagement photos! Engagement sessions are a super fun way to spend some quality time together and have a little date night/day/weekend to celebrate your engagement. Plus you’ll get stunning photos out of it!!

couple sitting on beach in the dark

10. Apply for permits

Don’t forget to apply for any permits you’ll need for your location! If you’re eloping in a national or state park, you’ll likely need some sort of Special Use/Activity Permit, and you want to apply for those as EARLY as you can. This will allow yourselves + park offices plenty of time to apply and process your permit!

If you’re eloping in a Washington national park, check out my Washington National Park Guide for tons of permit info.

ring exchange

11. Plan + prepare to Leave No Trace

Leaving No Trace is one of the most important parts of your adventure elopement if you’re eloping in the outdoors. Please take the time to read my blog post on How to Have a Leave No Trace Elopement to learn about the 7 LNT principles, and how to respect + protect the beautiful land you use for your elopement!

wedding ceremony at mount rainier

12. Book your travel + accommodations

As the big day gets closer, don’t forget to book your travel and accommodations! 

Transportation you may need to book/plan for:

  • Flights 
  • Boat/ferry rides
  • Rental car
  • Shuttles
  • Public transportation (metro, bus, Uber/Lyft, etc.)

Then, find a place to stay for your elopement, whether you’re looking for a super cozy cabin in the woods or a luxe resort on a golf course. Here are the 5 Best Airbnb’s in Washington State for Airbnb Elopements!

a-frame cabin

13. Build your itinerary/timeline

Next up, start planning your day-of elopement timeline. Plan the activities you want to incorporate, such as hiking, swimming, wine tasting, horseback riding, kayaking, snuggling in bed, surfing, literally whatever you want to do. Try to think of your elopement as your birthday – an excuse to do all of your favorite things!!

Be sure to build in plenty of extra time in case things run late or there are unexpected last-minute changes (which there always are).

bride and groom eating picnic

14. Get your marriage license

A not-so-fun step in the planning process: getting your marriage license! Make sure to research the process of getting a marriage license in the state/country you’re getting married in, as well as your home state/country. Give yourselves plenty of time to apply and receive your license, and make sure you know exactly what to do with it on the big day & afterward.

If you’re getting married in WA, here’s a Simple Guide to Getting Your Washington State Marriage License!

rainforest elopement photos

15. Make backup plans!!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to make backup plans, especially if you’re having an outdoor adventure elopement!! You never know what might happen in nature, and you need to be prepared to pivot/be flexible in case of unexpected obstacles. It could be pouring rain, snow could come early, trails could be closed, roads could be blocked, wildfires could cause awful smoke, sooo much can happen. So please make at least 1 or 2 backup plans for your ceremony location & other locations throughout the day!

rainy wedding ceremony

16. Prepare for potential last-minute stuff

On that note, make sure you also prepare for any last-minute things you could forget/not think about.

Here are some items to consider packing that are easily forgotten in the stress of planning:

  • Tampons/pads
  • Extra hair ties/makeup
  • First-aid kit
  • Water/snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Pens to sign your marriage license
  • Steamer
  • Perfume/deodorant
  • Jewelry/accessories 
  • Stain remover
  • Gum/mints
  • Kleenex
  • Sewing kit
  • Extra socks/shoes/change of clothes if you’re hiking
couple standing on bridge

17. Take a breather

The day is ALMOST here: now take a breather! Give yourselves the chance to relax the week before your elopement and try your best to de-stress. Get massages, pedicures, facials, whatever ya need to calm down and enjoy this crazy, exciting time of your lives. Try planning one date for the week of your elopement where you don’t talk about anything elopement-related!

bride and groom on mattress

18. Back to the beginning: CELEBRATE!!

The big day has ARRIVED – so now let’s throw it all the way back to step 1, and CELEBRATE! You made it, and everything has come together. It’s happening. Remember to enjoy it, be present as much as possible, and cherish this incredibly special, meaningful occasion, whether it’s just the two of you or you and all your favorite people. This is your day – make it the best day of your lives!!

cliffside elopement photos

Resources to Help You Plan Your Elopement

Lookin’ for more resources to help plan your dream elopement? I’ve got plenty – here are some of my favs!

8 Unique Elopement Ceremony Ideas for Your Special Day

A Guide to Picking Your Perfect Elopement Outfits

“Is Eloping Selfish?” Hell No – Here’s Why Eloping Isn’t “Wrong!”

How to Have an Environmentally-Friendly Elopement

  1. Marta says:

    This is such a great list! It’s so helpful for eloping couples!

  2. WOW! This elopement planning is is so helpful and all the photos are beautiful. Perfect for couples who are currently planning their elopement!

  3. Raini Rowell says:

    Wooowww, this is such an incredible guide! So detailed and super informative. Plus your photos are LUSH!

  4. This is such an incredibly helpful resource for eloping and engaged couples! So thorough and informative–I feel like I know everything to get started on an elopement planning journey!

  5. Leo says:

    Talk about a full planning guide…everything is in here! Great advice to narrow down a date around the seasons and what to expect. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Okay, this is so much helpful information! This is dedication to education!

  7. Justyna says:

    Absolutely perfection hitting all the major point of planning your special day! I could not agree more with celebration!

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