Table of Contents:
- Elopement Timeline FAQ’s
- Important Things to Include In Your Elopement Timeline
- 5 Pro Tips for a Stress-Free Elopement Timeline
- Example Adventure Elopement Timelines
I am literally ALWAYS getting asked questions like “How long should our elopement timeline be?” “How many hours of coverage do we need?” “What do we need to include in our elopement timeline?” “What time of day should we have our elopement ceremony?”
If you’re in the middle of planning your elopement, first of all CONGRATS!! Second of all, I’m here to help you plan your perfect elopement timeline so that you can have the most stress-free, seamless day possible. Because you deserve it! Your timeline will play a huuuge role in the layout and flow of your day, and will help make sure that everybody knows when things are happening. And that you know everything will be okay even if things fall behind!! 🙂
So without further ado, here’s a whole-ass guide dedicated to how to create a stress-free elopement day including answers to timeline FAQ’s, important things you should include, pro tips from yours truly, aaand even some example timelines to help ya out!
Elopement Timeline FAQ’s
FAQ’s are always a good place to start, right? Let’s make sure you know the basics about elopement timelines before I get into the nitty gritty deetz!
What is an elopement timeline?
Oh this is an easy one! An elopement timeline is simply a schedule for your elopement day, where you write out everything that’ll be happening, and what times they’re taking place. It can be as loose or as strict as you want it to be; if you’re a little more type A and like to have a super detailed plan, go for it! And if you don’t really need everything planned down to the minute & are fine with a looser structure to flow with, that works too. It’s really up to you and what will help bring your stress levels down the MOST, and make your day as seamless as possible.
Do we need an elopement timeline?
I always recommend creating at least some sort of loose schedule to follow, because without one, it’s easy for everyone to get confused day-of. Especially if you have a variety of vendors who will be setting things up, showing up for certain parts of the day, etc., they need to know when to be there and you need to know when to expect them. It’s TOTALLY fine if you don’t want to plan it down to the freakin’ second (and I actually don’t recommend doing that anyway!) – just have a general timeline to ensure everyone knows what’s going on & that everything is coordinated properly.
How do you plan an elopement timeline?
Wellll there are a lot of ways to start planning your elopement timeline; again, it really depends on how much control you want to have over it.
If you want to be as hands-off as possible and just approve a timeline that’s given to you, then hiring a planner/coordinator to create one for you would be best!! They’ll coordinate with all your vendors, look at your activities, etc. to plan the best & most realistic schedule for you. You’ll still have as much say in it as you want, of course, but you can trust that somebody else is doing the heavy-lifting for you.
If you want to be more hands-on, either hire a planner/coordinator that will collab with you on your timeline, have your photographer help you create it, or do it on your own. I’ve got example timelines at the end of this guide that can help getcha started, or you can look at the tons of sample timelines & templates available online to give you a base!
Honestly though, the only resource you’ll need is this guide 😉 So keep on readin’, and then decide whether you want to DIY your timeline or get help from your photographer and/or planner!
What is the best time for an elopement ceremony?
This is a question that deserves to be answered in its own separate guide, because there are sooo many factors that go into choosing the “best” time of day for an elopement ceremony. So I went ahead and did just that 😉 Check out my guide to the Best Time of Day for an Adventure Elopement where I talk about why lighting is so important for your elopement, what the best time of day is for your ceremony, and whether you should elope at sunrise or sunset!
How long should you hire your elopement photographer for?
Full transparency – this is another question that’s hard to answer without knowing the ‘tails of your unique elopement! It totally depends on what your timeline looks like and what’s most important to you to have documented. Some couples care a lot about having their time getting ready captured, while others couldn’t care less! Some want their photographer to stay late for stargazing photos, and others are good with their photographer leaving earlier.
I see a lot of couples assuming that just because they’re having an “elopement” it means that they need less photo coverage than a traditional wedding, but that is SO NOT THE CASE!! Your elopement deserves JUST as much coverage as a traditional wedding, because it’s just as important & special. Most regular wedding packages include anywhere from 8-12 hours of coverage, and elopements should have just as much coverage instead of only 4-6 hours.
If you only have 4-6 hours of coverage, there are likely going to be a lot of pieces of your elopement that aren’t professionally documented, which will def be sad when you look back on your memories of the day! You’ll probs have to choose between having your photographer be there for getting ready/first looks, or staying later for your after party/evening celebration, which sucks. 10 hours is a solid amount of time for a photog to capture the majority of your elopement day, 12 hours is even better!
And hey, why not think outside the box a little? You can even hire your photographer to capture MULTIPLE DAYS of your elopement!! Maybe you’re having a private adventure one day in the mountains with just the two of you, and the next day you’re having your ceremony with your fam & friends, plus an afterparty. Both of those special days deserve coverage, do they not?!
Important Things to Include In Your Elopement Timeline
Now that we’ve gone through the basics, I want to talk about all the important things you should include in your elopement timeline! Some of these might not apply to your day (e.g. you might not have a first look) so feel free to ignore them, but I wanted to list out as many potential things as I could to make sure you don’t forget anything important. I’ve also included a few extra things that aren’t major parts of the day, but that should DEF be considered when you create your timeline!
If you want your photographer to come early to document you two cuties having breakfast, making coffee, snuggling, or whatever you want to do in the morning, make sure to add it to the beginning of your timeline! Include as much time as you want to have to just chill and take in the excitement of the day! You could make pancakes together, cook omelets, make your fave lattes, or just cozy up on the patio of your Airbnb, enjoying the fresh air. Make it like a normal day at home 🙂
Getting ready (1-2 hours)
You might get ready for longer than this (or shorter, especially if you’re doing a sunrise elopement!) but having your photog show up for the last hour or two usually works just fine! That gives them plenty of time to take photos of both of you getting ready either together or separately, and to get photos of details & decor.
This is one that a lot of couples forget but is super important to include in your timeline! Add in when your different vendors will be arriving and departing, as well as setting up if they’re bringing decor or rentals. This will make sure you know when to expect everybody and that all your vendors arrive at the right times & aren’t in each other’s way! The main ones you’ll want to include are your photographer, videographer, planner/coordinator, officiant, florist, hair stylist, and makeup artist, as well as anybody who’s helping you set up your ceremony or evening party.
Need help figuring out which vendors you should hire for your big day? Check out my guide to Adventure Elopement Vendors!!
First look(s)/private vows (1 hour)
If you’re not going to have a first look then you can skip this one! If you are, then make sure to plan time for your first look – or multiple first looks if you want to have one with your parents, grandparents, etc. Include time for private vows as well, if you want to exchange your vows alone, and exchanging gifts if you want to do that. This is a great time to get some portraits of the two of you as well!!
Ceremony (15-45 minutes)
Obvi!! More on how to pick your ceremony time over in this guide 🙂
Signing marriage license (15 minutes)
Don’t forget to include time after your ceremony to sign your marriage license! The actual signing really only takes a couple of minutes, but it might take longer to gather your witnesses, get a pen, have your officiant show you where you need to sign, etc.
For all the deets on how to get a marriage license in Washington state, here’s a simple guide to Washington marriage laws & the process you need to follow!
Post-ceremony mingling (30 minutes-1 hour)
I love it when couples set some time aside after their ceremony to mingle & just hang with their guests!! This is a perf time to have a cute mountain top picnic, eat finger foods from a delish charcuterie board, or simply pop some bottles of champagne & do a few toasts and give out hugs. Or you can save all that for dinner/your afterparty if you prefer!
Portraits with guests (20 minutes)
You probably won’t have a lot of guests since you’re eloping, so this part shouldn’t take long (in theory). Wayyy easier than family & wedding party photos at big weddings where there are like 50 family members and 20 people in the wedding party 😅
Dinner (1-2 hours)
How long you set aside dinner COMPLETELY depends on you and how you’re setting up your dinner. You have sooo many options, you could have a picnic in the backyard of your Airbnb, you could rent out a private room at a restaurant or winery nearby, you could hire a food truck to bring you dinner, you could hire a private chef. . . the options are endless (and endlessly delicious)!! I’ve seen some couples who just want a quick & easy hour-long dinner so they bring in catering from a fast food joint, and I’ve also seen couples who enjoy a little more elegance and a multi-course dinner that lasts 3 hours. It’s all up to you and what you want the vibe to be 🙂
Sunset portraits (1 hour)
Whether we’re gonna hike a couple of miles to get to an epic location for sunset, or we take evening portraits on the patio of your Airbnb in the woods, it’s important to include time for portraits of the two of you! This is a chance to be present together on this huge, exciting AF day and have it captured to remember foreverrrr.
How long your afterparty is completely depends on what you want to do! Maybe you just want to have dinner and dessert, then send your guests off and spend the rest of the night in private, or maybe your guests are all staying with you and you spend the whole night together. You could have toasts, a first dance, a campfire, games, stargazing, dessert, late-night snacks, drinks. . . the evening part of your timeline might be 2 hours or it might be 6.
Travel time between locations
One of THE most important things to include in your timeline besides all the main events & activities is the travel time between locations! You might be getting ready at your Airbnb, then driving to a location for your first look, a separate location for your ceremony, and then somewhere totally different for dinner. Unfortunately you can’t just magically appear at each location, you have to get there somehow – so make sure your timeline accounts for how long it’ll take to get from point A to point B. Consider whether all your guests are driving separately, or whether you’re carpooling, which might save you some time.
How long it takes to get to your ceremony location
If you’re walking or hiking to get to your ceremony location, add time into your timeline for that journey! Be realistic about how long it’ll take you and all of your guests to walk/hike, how much elevation gain there is, whether you’ll need to take breaks for food/water, what the weather will be like, if you’ll need to get a parking pass on-site, etc. Add in plenty of time for this (more than you think you’ll need) just to be prepared!
On that same note, make sure you think about parking at each location! If you’re having your ceremony at a national park and it’s crowded, will it take a while to find parking? Would it be better to carpool? You should also have a meeting point for you & your guests if you’re driving separate cars.
Finally, def be sure to add in PLENTY OF TIME for breaks/for “just-in-case” scenarios. You literally can’t avoid things running late, so just be prepared to run late and for things to go wrong! This is why loosely-structured timelines are great – if one thing goes wrong, it’s not like the rest of your day will be ruined.
5 Pro Tips for a Stress-Free Elopement Timeline
Before I give ya some sample timelines to look at, I wanted to give you 5 more tips from my firsthand experience shooting elopements, to help make your elopement timeline as STRESS-FREE and SMOOTH as possible!
1. Set meetup points & download maps
If you’re having an adventure elopement outdoors, it is sooo important to be smart and safe ahead of time! You should have meetup points with your guests at every location, whether it’s in a parking lot or at a trailhead or a certain street by the restaurant you’re driving to. This will make sure you can all find each other even if you don’t have good cell service and can’t contact each other, and on that same note you should download offline maps in advance! Downloading both road & trail maps beforehand will also make it so you know where to go if you’re out of reception, and you don’t have to waste time figuring it out OR have the potential to get lost.
2. Think about your guests
If you’re having guests at your elopement, they will play a role in your timeline just as much as the two of you! When you’re creating your timeline, consider how far they’ll be traveling/how long they’ll need to get there in the morning, how long it’ll take them to do any hikes/activities you’re planning, etc. E.g. if you want to do a 6-mile hike but not everybody is at your same physical level, it might take your group longer to do the hike than it would if it were just the two of you, so plan accordingly.
3. Prepare for weather
Next, it is CRUCIAL that you prepare for bad weather! Things like rain, snow, ice, wildfires, etc. have the potential to really slow you down on your elopement day if you’re not prepared for them, and can also be dangerous. So bring your Rain-X for your car, wear proper shoes for your hike, make sure your car tires will be okay if it snows, etc. And bonus points if you have backup locations just in case your original location is closed off for some reason!
4. Prepare for possible traffic & road closures
Another reason it’s good to have a backup location or two in mind! You never know what roads could close down at the last minute for a multitude of reasons, so it’s good to know your options and have different maps ready to follow just in case. Also add in extra driving time in case of traffic!
5. Get in the right mindset beforehand
And last but not least, you should get in the right mindset before the day comes!! If you’re expecting everything to go PERFECTLY then you will def be disappointed, because it just won’t be flawless no matter how much prep you do ahead of time. Things will run behind, roads will be closed, the weather will be bad, a guest will get lost. . . who knows what could happen. Be ready to just go with the flow and be flexible!
Example Adventure Elopement Timelines
Wrapping this up with a few example timelines to put all these tips into practice! It can be hard to visualize what your timeline could look like without an example in front of you, so I’ve put together a few different timelines with different amounts of coverage and at different locations. Hopefully this gives you a headstart when it comes time to create your own! For the sake of keeping it simple, I’m not including the extras I’d recommend adding in such as when every vendor is arriving.
Example 4-Hour Adventure Elopement Timeline
2:30pm – Photographer arrives
2:30pm – Getting ready & detail photos
3:00pm – Drive to trailhead
3:30pm – First look at trailhead
4:00pm – Walk to ceremony location
4:30pm – Ceremony
5:00pm – Champagne & sign marriage license
5:30pm – Sunset portraits
6:00pm – Walk back to trailhead
6:30 – Photographer leaves
Example 8-Hour Adventure Elopement Timeline
2:00am – Photographer arrives at Airbnb
2:00am – Getting ready & detail photos
3:10am – Drive to trailhead
3:30am – Meet guests at trailhead
3:45am – Start hiking
5:00am – Sunrise ceremony
5:30am – Sign marriage license
5:45am – Golden hour portraits
6:30am – Portraits w/ guests
6:50am – Hike back down
8:15am – Head back to Airbnb for breakfast
8:45am – Caterer serves food
10:00am – Photographer leaves
Example 12-Hour Adventure Elopement Timeline
12:30pm – Photographer arrives
12:30pm – Getting ready & detail photos
2:30pm – First look & private vows
3:15pm – Couples portraits
4:00pm – Drive to the forest
4:30pm – Meet guests, walk to ceremony spot
5:00pm – Ceremony in the forest
5:45pm – Sign marriage license
6:00pm – Portraits w/ guests
6:30pm – Couples portraits
7:30pm – Drive back to Airbnb
8:00pm – Meet guests at Airbnb
8:30pm – Eat dinner (food truck)
10:00pm – Set up campfire for s’mores
11:30pm – Late-night snacks
12:30am – Stargazing portraits
Example 2-Day Adventure Elopement Timeline
2:00pm – Photographer arrives
2:00pm – Final getting ready & detail photos
3:00pm – First look
3:15pm – Drive to trailhead
3:30pm – Hike up the mountain
5:45pm – Golden hour portraits
7:00pm – Private sunset ceremony
7:30pm – Sign marriage license & champagne
8:00pm – Hike back down the mountain
10:00pm – Head back to Airbnb
9:00am – Guests & photographer arrive at Airbnb
9:30am – Brunch buffet at Airbnb
12:00pm – Drive to the lake
12:15pm – Rent kayaks & paddleboards and go out on the water
3:00pm – Wrap up lake activities
3:15pm – Head to local restaurant for early dinner
4:00pm – Dinner in private room at restaurant
6:30pm – Drive into the city
6:45pm – Group reservation at a rooftop bar
10:00pm – Head home
Okkkk I see you, you timeline pro!! You might even be more of an expert than me now 😉 I hope you’re feeling confident af now in creating a stress-free elopement timeline, and you should know that I’ll be there to help you every step of the way if we work together!! Feel free to check out more of my fave resources below, or reach out to me here so we can get to plannin’ already 🔥