How to Elope: Our Complete Guide

How to Elope from Start to Finish

A lot of couples who find us are not just looking for photographers but also for resources on how to elope. They’ve decided a big wedding isn’t for them, they didn’t want to put on a show, or just didn’t want the stress of feeding and entertaining 100 people on a day that’s supposed to be about them. But as you know, there’s a big difference between wanting to elope and knowing how to elope.

Our goal through our online resources and working with couples is to make them feel like rockstars when it comes to eloping. We put so much time into our website because we know some couples have no idea where to even start. This blog post and others on our Resources page will give you a much better idea of how to elope and helpful tips along the way.

Forget the Rules

Eloping can be…somewhat vague at first. I mean, you climb a mountain and get outdoors but what else do you do, right? Weddings have the benefit of cultural traditions that act as a nice (but super restricting) framework. But once you realize just how much freedom comes with eloping, it starts to get pretty exciting.

Let’s try something real quick. Put all of your wedding ideas and plans out of your head for a moment. I want you to imagine that you and your partner are taking off on vacation in a couple of months. And your partner has said to dream big because this vacation is going to rock your socks off.

  • Where would you go?
  • Would you want to go hiking to see any epic views?
  • Do you want to explore cities before hopping into the mountains?
  • The sky is the limit here–what would you do?

The answer to those simple questions should be the foundation for your elopement. For some reason, we get in our own way when we think about weddings. We think we have to do things a certain way. But with elopements, this is all about you and whatever you and your partner would do to have the best day ever.

Eloping and the start of your marriage should be an incredible, unforgettable, mesmerizing, earth-shattering experience. We’re talking bucket list items and visiting nostalgic places! So you can see what all the hype is about, right?

Find Your Elopement Photographer

Your photographers are normally the start of the elopement process. Largely because elopement photographers are incredibly involved. Traditional wedding photographers hash out a timeline, show up at your venue, and document the day. An elopement photographer, however, does a ton of work outside of documenting your day. We might help you determine a location, help file for permits, find other vendors if needed, educate any guests that are coming, help you find an Airbnb, share our favorite elopement hikes, and keep the elopement process stress free.

It’s definitely important that you connect with your elopement photographers. We always hop on phone calls for super casual chats to help us all connect better. You’ll be spending all day with us, so it’s important we get along and that you can tolerate Ryan’s puns (kidding!). Although, he’s quite the camp dad.

Most elopement photographers have planning resources, some form of an elopement guide, and a travel schedule to get inspiration on where to elope. So the details will start coming together when you’re searching for your photographers.

How to Announce Your Elopement

Announcing your elopement, and how you go about it, can be a real difference-maker in making your friends and family feel loved and involved–without them actually attending. Taking the extra time and attention upfront to be intentional about your announcement will be really helpful!

We should note that some of our couples keep their elopement a surprise. They truly run off and get married without telling anyone. So if that sounds like you–well that’s a splendid way to do it too!

In the case that you want family and friends to know about your plans, here are our tips on how to announce your elopement:

  • Sit down one on one (or call) with those closest to you (like parents/parent-figures) to tell them. Getting an announcement in the mail isn’t as intimate.
  • Show them blog posts of elopements, elopement films like we offer, or show them Wandering Weddings (which really shows how eloping is done by thousands of couples).
  • Get loved ones involved in other aspects of your elopement (buying the dress, picking out vow books, planning your travels after your elopement, etc.). This helps people feel more included.
  • Host a reception at home where everyone can be comfortable (completely optional). Receptions can be expensive and go against most couples’ reasoning for eloping. But some couples really want to celebrate with friends and family, but on a totally separate date where it can be less stressful and keep their vows/celebration more intimate.

Figure Out Where to Elope

Figuring out where to elope can be overwhelming. You could literally travel anywhere to elope. No need to fret though! We have an article on how to find the perfect elopement location. We share helpful tips and insights from our own elopement planning. A few of our couples have told us our elopement location article helped them stop stressing about picking a location. So give it a read!

bride and groom celebrate on cliff edge for sunset with jeep

Start Planning

Elopements require some planning, but it’s the good kind of planning. The kind of planning that gets you excited! So let’s go over a few things you should probably do:

  • File for Your Special-Use Permit: National Parks and a lot of outdoor recreation sites require some form of a permit for you to hold a ceremony. Most permits are between $50 – $200. Not all sites require one, but your photographer will point you in the right direction. It’s a good idea to file for your permit as soon as you can. We usually help couples fill out the details, although we can’t file on your behalf.
  • Look for Airbnbs: Find the cute A-Frame cabin in the woods, or a huge cabin to share with a few loved ones who are celebrating with you. This can be a cute location for a first look or just a casual place to drink beer around the fire after your elopement!
  • Get Your Wedding Day Attire: Time to get your dresses/suits for your big day! Having family who might not attend help pick out your dress/suit is a great way to include them in the planning process too. Check out our Ultimate Dress Guide and Ultimate Suit Guide!
  • Book Additional Vendors: If you’re wanting/needing an officiant, flowers, or hair and makeup, you’ll want to book those soon. Your photographer(s) probably have suggestions to help.
  • Book Your Travel: Whether you’re flying or road tripping, you’ll need to plan out travel logistics too. This could be a great time to make a honeymoon part of your elopement travel plans! We always recommend staying in the area where you’re eloping for a few days. It can be tempting to road trip all over the West Coast, but try to slow down and enjoy the place where you’re getting married!

How to Plan Your Elopement Day

Don’t let this sound daunting! This is a lot of fun. For our couples, it usually means looking over a location guide with our hiking recommendations and planning out all of the fun stuff. I know what you’re thinking, though. What do we actually do on our elopement day besides hiking to beautiful places!?Well, here’s an article for ya on ideas for your elopement day.

Final Thoughts on How to Elope

We see your elopement day as something much bigger. We see this day as an opportunity to shake things up, to dream big, and to make bold decisions.

When Ryan was in college, he took 13 one way flights around the world because he was passionate about travel. And I hopped in a car with him and went on a 7,000-mile road trip when we met. We both made bold decisions that not everyone supported. Yet those experiences shaped us for the better and showed us what it meant to feel alive. Those decisions led us to one more bold decision after another. Because we learned through just one experience, that we were capable of big things together.

To us, your elopement day can be just like that. Your wedding day can be an experience that you look back on when you need courage, when you need that sense of spontaneity, and when you need to reflect on where this all started. This is a pivotal moment in your life. By eloping, you’re choosing to do something huge. Whether or not we work with you, we stand beside you in your decision to do something for yourself and to ask for a richer experience in life. We hope that you see that eloping is only the start of the adventure to come.