How to Plan Your Elopement!
I wanted to provide you with a creative space to explore your elopement’s potential.
For me, there are just a few things that make a successful elopement:
IT REFLECTS WHO YOU ARE | IT REFLECTS WHAT YOU WANT | & IT MAKES FOR AN ADVENTUROUS STORY FOR YEARS TO COME.
I’m engaged too!
So I get what you’re going through! Plus, I’ve been helping couples since 2011. I’ve got your back!
What the heck is an elopement?
To be blunt, it’s whatever the heck you want it to be. Which makes them fantastic! But it also makes them…ambiguous. As stressful and intricate as normal weddings can be, it’s helpful to have a cultural structure to guide us. Since we’re venturing into the great unknown, this guide is here to help you define what an elopement means to you. Let’s start with some basics:
AVERAGE PLANNING TIME: Elopements can vary drastically. Some couples can put together plans in as little as 7 days, while other couples require over a year of planning. Most of my clients fall within the 2-8 months range. These questions should help determine how much preparation is required:
Is your elopement destination a popular place? Does it require booking nearby accommodations well in-advanced?
Do you live near your destination? Or are you flying halfway around the world?
Are you able to take off from work flexible?
Are you inviting a group of family + friends?
AVERAGE COST: The average wedding costs 30K+. While elopements can easily be 1/3 to 1/2 the cost. You can elope for cheap just the two of you in Costa Rica, or spend as much as a traditional wedding and fly halfway around the world. Elopements allow for flexibility in all things: including the price tag.
AVERAGE ATTENDANCE: The majority of our couples are eloping alone or with less than 8 total guests. There is always a way to plan your elopement to involve strenuous hikes, while also accounting for loved ones who are not as adventurous. Some questions to help decide who you invite:
Will they enjoy the hike + landscape + traveling?
Are they reasonably able to attend?
Would celebrating “back home” with them be easier or more fulfilling?
The 6 Stages of Elopement Planning
BRAINSTORM | RESEARCH | BOOK | ANNOUNCE | EXPLORE DETAILS | & THE BIG DAY
Stage 1 | Brainstorm
Ryan has traveled all over the world + is a bit obsessed with maps. I didn’t know half of the places I wanted to travel + visit until he introduced me to them. Which is why I recommend…
Ask your friends + family, “If you could go anywhere in the world—where would it be?”
You’ll often be surprised with the feedback you’ll get! Your loved ones are a great resource for figuring out where you want to visit. Especially if they’re a closed loved one who will be traveling with you.
Create an “elopement” folder and start bookmarking places + elopement photos that excite you. Look through instagram accounts and hashtags for inspiration! If you can’t discern where a photo was taken, you can always send it to me on Instagram to help you figure it out.
ASK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
I (and other photographers) are a great resource! You can always email + message me a description of your dream location, and I’ll be able to send over some helpful locations to research.
USE SCOTT’S CHEAP FLIGHTS
Scott’s Cheap Flights is a (helpful) email newsletter that sends you awesome flight deals based on where you live. Eloping will save a ton of money compared to a traditional wedding. Typically, this means a bigger part of the budget can be allocated towards travel. But it never hurts to find a cheap flight!
When you decide to elope can dramatically have an impact on the feel of your day. It affects more than just the landscape, though.
THE BUSY SEASON:
Eloping during the busy season makes a lot of sense. It’s busy during that time of the year for a reason. Usually this means better access to trails, better weather, and a myriad of other awesome reasons to choose the busy season. Tradeoff: Can be less intimate with crowds, permits will be more competitive, and prices will often be higher (usually not a dealbreaker of a price increase).
THE SHOULDER SEASON:
You can avoid the crowds, get lower priced accommodation + flights, and still have mild weather. Tradeoff: Often weather is less predictable during the shoulder season. But it can be worth it to take a chance!
Stage 2 | Research
RESEARCH is easily my favorite part. While it might seem like a technical, boring endeavor—it’s where a lot of creativity and flexibility come into play. If the idea of researching seems tedious and boring, go out to a coffee shop with your significant other or close friend to start looking into details. By inviting a close friend or researching with your SO, it gets you to talk out loud about your brainstorming and what you’re excited about. This helps with the creative process a ton. If you have a dog or cat, you can always just get excited and talk to them. No judgement.
CALL A RANGER: Rangers are pretty much the best. They’re knowledgable, defend our natural lands, and wear stylish hats. If you’ve narrowed it down to a few National Parks, a 5 minute call with a Park Ranger can go a long ways. They often have a lot of insight into the weather, lodging, and great hikes. Email is still feasible for international locations, and usually you’ll still get helpful feedback. Try not to overburden any ranger with a list of 20 questions. Have concise questions ahead of time and be prepared to write down their suggestions.
BE FLEXIBLE: It’s easy to get discouraged if your perfect brainstorming idea just isn’t going to happen. Look into nearby areas, consider an alternative season, try to remain flexible!
Is your elopement location remote? How easy is it for you and your friends + family to attend? Is the nearest major airport 8 hours away?
Does your ceremony location require a significant hike or drive? We can easily get caught up in the traveling logistics of getting to a National Park or natural area. It’s easy to forget that you have to drive from an Airbnb to a trailhead and then hike. How far is your Airbnb/accommodations outside of the Park? Once in the Park, how far is it to drive to the trailhead?
What will the weather be like? Will you have to prepare for stormy weather? Will it be incredibly hot and you’ll need to bring extra water?
What time of day will your ceremony be? Will you be hiking back in the dark with headlamps? Will you have a 2 hour drive before sunrise to the trailhead?
Will you need a permit for a ceremony? A permit for having photos taken? For a lot of locations the answer is yes. The approximate price is usually $150.
What vendors will be involved? Is your florist nearby? Will you have an officiant? Is it challenging to find people in the area to work with?
What are the local marriage laws? States like Colorado allow for self-solemnizing. What are the requirements for your location?
Stage 3 | Book
It’s time to make things official! 🎉 This is where all of your planning becomes reality! Congratulations on making it this far. It’s worth mentioning that my Stage 5 | Explore the Details section below can also be helpful during the booking process.
where to start
The main booking priorities for your elopement (that I’d recommend):
Choose your date: You’ll need a solid date to book your photographer, accommodations, and to apply for a permit.
Choose your general location: You’ll need to know what country, what national park or natural land area within that country, and have an idea of how available (permit wise) your ceremony location is on your date.
Book your transportation + accommodations: It’s difficult to move farther along without having these booked: Will the lodge have enough rooms for you and your guests? How will you and your guests be traveling (separate rental cars)? Are there ferry crossings or shuttles required? Plan and book your transportation all the way to and from your elopement site. Skyscanner is a really helpful site for finding flights. You can allow for variable dates + locations in your flight searches.
Book your photographer: Full-time adventure photographers book up fast. Especially with a busy travel schedule. Once you feel certain about your location and that accommodations/travel plans are reasonable—it’s time to book!
Stage 4 | Announce
Announcing your elopement can be incredibly exciting. It can also be nerve-wracking. How do you tell 80% of the people you know that they won’t be formally involved? There are two logical approaches:
I include the announcement stage after booking accommodations for good reason. If you tell close friends + family in the early stages, you might get some hurtful, not so positive feedback about your decision. This also depends on how supportive and flexible your family is, and you’re the best judge of how they will respond :)
Some of this feedback might come from appearing too spontaneous, not having a solid plan, or seeming inconsiderate. It’s a lot easier for loved ones to be on board when you have a better idea of your elopement plans. Things are booked, we’ve got a photographer, …this is a real thing—and it’s happening. Even Ryan’s Mom thought we were going to have a bridal shower and invite all of our family…when we literally shoot elopements as a profession! So my suggestions to make the announcement easier:
Choose A Confidant (or two): Find a few supportive close friends + family members, people you know will be excited and supportive. Tell them first and share in the joy! It’s much easier to have someone supportive you can talk to during the announcement process if needed. It’s also a great place to start.
Have A Plan to Celebrate with Those Who Won’t Attend: A lot of our clients have a post-elopement, celebratory reception dinner in their hometown. This allows all of your close loved ones to be a part of your elopement without holding you back from doing the adventurous, intimate elopement you have in mind. If you’re especially close to a few people you’re not inviting, consider having a separate, special occasion for just the 3 or 4 of you. Optionally, you can involve close loved ones in planning the details like picking a dress, or booking vendors. All of these approaches tell loved ones: “I care about you. I want you to be involved. Here’s how.”
Have an Announcement Party: Telling the majority of your friends + loved ones at the same time avoids repeating yourself, and allows for yet another part of the elopement process where people can be involved. Whether you’re announcing your engagement + elopement, or just the elopement itself—this also shows loved ones (who may not be as supportive) that your community as a whole supports the idea.
don’t tell them
To me, this is a far more spontaneous and exciting way of announcing your elopement—by being eloped! It’s up to you to decide what works best for you and your friends + family. The same tips above still apply, but in a slightly different way:
Choose A Confidant (or two): Find a few supportive close friends + family that you can share your big secret! It’s nearly impossible to not share with a best friend that your eloping halfway around the world. Plus, this is where a lot of excitement comes from in the planning process. Having a trusted confidant that you can be giddy with over details will help you be patient and keep the secret.
Have A Plan to Celebrate With Those Who Won’t Attend: I had a few clients from Australia who took a month long road-trip around the Western US. All of their friends thought it was a summer vacation. They posted photos of their trip, but didn’t let anyone know they were eloping in Yosemite with me! They put a surprise party together when they returned, played a slideshow of their travel photos that turned into my elopement photos! Then they walked in the room in their elopement attire! One of the best surprise announcements I’ve been a part of so far. You can be creative in how you announce your elopement, and keep people involved after the process. For instance, consider gifting postcards from the National Park where you eloped with handwritten thank you notes to pass out at your surprise party. Be creative!
Most couples I’ve worked with have a supportive community that is excited for their elopement! But I’ve had a few couples who were anxious or concerned about how to handle the “announcement.” So this section is to help empower those who want a more structured process for handling the process. Either way, the announcement is a really fun part of the process!
Stage 5 | Explore the Details
This section can be overwhelming. So I recommend breaking it up throughout the whole elopement planning process. There’s no wrong or right way to plan your elopement! Some couples work through the details within a week, while others spend a considerable amount of time putting together logistics. This is a general checklist, some options might not be relevant to you.
ELOPEMENT DAY TIMELINE: In addition to the details below, I will send you an online questionnaire 6-8 weeks in advance of your date to help plan your elopement itinerary and advise you on locations + time-frames for best lighting. You can always request the questionnaire be sent sooner if necessary.
wedding day attire
DRESS | SUIT | SHOES | JEWELRY | PROPER OUTDOOR GEAR
PHOTOGRAPHER | OFFICIANT | FLOWERS | HAIR & MAKE UP STYLIST
WELCOME SPEECH | PASSAGE READING | VOWS & RINGS | SERENADE (PLAY + SING MUSIC TO EACH OTHER) | THE KISS
FIRST LOOK | CEREMONY HIKE | CELEBRATORY DRINK | FIRST DANCE | PICNIC | BONFIRE | LIVE MUSIC
FAMILY + FRIENDS RECEPTION OR DINNER | DIP IN HOT SPRINGS | GO TO A BAR + LODGE RESTAURANT | ETC
Stage 6 | The Big Day
Now the big day is here! It’s finally time to make your epic day a reality. I’ve put together a few helpful tips from my experience to help you get the most out of your day.
Be Mindful & Slow Down: Our day to day lives can be fast-paced and full of multitasking. The easiest way to be mindful, is to start off the day in a mindful way. Whether the two of you cook breakfast alone in a cabin without distraction, or go on a brief morning walk by the river next to your AirBnb. Start off slow and present, and you’ll stay that way. Plus it allows for an intimate morning.
Put Your Phone Away: As a professional, designated photographer—I can promise you that your Instagram account is going to get all the love it needs. Avoid taking excess photos, checking social media, or anything that takes you away from the moment. You spent so much time putting this together and traveling with your significant other—give it your full attention. Tip: If you’re really wanting Instagram stories or pictures on your phone, try to assign a designated loved one ahead of time to get those shots for you.
Be Emotional: It isn’t every day that we cry and express deep, well thought out emotions. Sometimes we hesitate when we’re surrounded by others. Be aware of this hesitation and let it go. Your love is amazing and it deserves to be expressed to the fullest.
Be Flexible: Allow your dress to get dirty. Allow yourself to be 30 minutes late to the lodge’s bar to celebrate your elopement. Allow yourself to be however you are on your elopement day. Plans, weather, and timelines are rarely 100% accurate. And even if they were 100% accurate, it rarely makes the day better. Be genuine and allow the small things to pass.
Be Alone: If you’ve been to a regular wedding, you’d know that the bride and groom are rarely alone. Even a first look is usually planned and documented by your photographer. One thing that is super important to me, coming from a more traditional wedding photography background, is that I provide you space to be alone. If we’re watching a beautiful sunset at Taft Point, I’ll get great photos for you. But I’ll also step away and give you space to enjoy the moment alone. Even if you have a small elopement party, try to set aside time during the day to be completely alone with one another.
Be Aware of the Golden + Blue Hour: I promise you that those terms are not gibberish! The golden hour is the peak 20 minutes - 1 hour of perfect lighting (sunrise, sunset) for photography. After the sun has set, some landscapes will have a gorgeous blue/violet light, or a pink/orange glow in the sky. It’s a relatively short timeframe and can be shorter + longer based on surrounding mountains, canyons, or cliffs. While I want you to slow down and enjoy every moment, I try to emphasis the importance of being near summits or designated areas during this time for photos. Sometimes the clouds will obscure the sunset. Sometimes the roads leading to the trailhead may have heavy traffic. But if you allow for extra time during your elopement day, we’re more likely to stay on schedule without being in a rush.
I put this guide together to give my clients a space to explore and develop their elopement day plans. I’m always here to help and answer any questions you may have throughout this process. Often times, since this is a more intimate experience, I play a more significant role in your day (which I love). This guide and my blog posts will continuously change as I adapt to new questions, National Park Guidelines, and other information I find through my adventure elopement photography community. As your photographer, I’m here to help guide you with logistics and the creative process. I know you’ve probably read a handful of articles and blog posts by now, so I appreciate you taking the time to read through my online guide. It’s time to get started! 🎉