Complete Elopement Planning Guide

December 30, 2020

Let’s start by busting the biggest elopement myth: That planning an elopement means running off to get married because of duress or disapproval. It’s 2021 folks, and an elopement in this day and age is an intentionally planned wedding day that is an intimate and authentic celebration of the love you and your partner share. Elopements shuck the traditions, large guest list, and decorative fluff of conventional weddings leaving behind the coveted pearl; a day that celebrates the two of you, shared only with those that matter to you most (which can be just the two of you!) and an experience that thrills you and brings you joy.

Now that we’ve established that you don’t have to have a conventional wedding that doesn’t resonate with you, how the heck to you plan an elopement that is full of infinite possibilities?! That’s where this guide come in handy. This is a 5 step guide that will get your imagination firing and point you in the direction of an actionable plan for your dream elopement day.

Step one: The ‘What’

The first step to planning your elopement is an exercise in visualization. Grab your partner and get cozy, this is a couple’s activity! Close both your eyes and envision your fairytale wedding day.

  • Think of any movie or music video that made your heart skip a beat.
  • What Instagram or Pinterest post made you stop mid scroll?
  • What adventures have you had that made your jaw drop?
  • Is there a place you’ve always wanted to visit, a favourite location that makes your heart full, or a place you have never had so much fun together?
  • Can you visualize how you feel?
  • What it smells like?
  • What do you hear when you think of your perfect wedding ceremony? The ocean, a crowd cheering, nothing but the wind in the trees?
  • Who is there with you? Is there anyone helping you get ready, or celebrating with you, or is it just you and your partner?
  • What does you perfect meal consist of?
  • Where are you eating it, and how do you get it there?
  • Where do you see yourselves spending your wedding night? In a cozy cabin, in a tent under the stars, in a 5 star hotel, or somewhere offbeat like a treehouse or stargazing dome?
  • What do you do on your wedding day?
  • Do you include your favourite activities or do you try something new?
  • Are you indoors or outside?
  • Are you immersing yourself in local culture or traditions, or doing your own thing?

Really dare to dream big here, and write down your ideas.

Jot down descriptive words like moody, romantic, haunting, or festive… whatever springs to mind when you think of your dreamiest elopement. Once you have the broad strokes, compare notes and see where your ideas intersect and which parts of your partners dream wedding day you would be thrilled to incorporate.

Step two: The ‘Where’ & ‘When’

Once you have the broad strokes of what you’d like your elopement day to be, it’s time to find out how to practically make them a reality. First and foremost, make your largest decisions first. Typically, that includes the where and the when. Look into your top locations and the best time for you to get married. That may be based on season, cost, or availability. Once you know your general location and have an idea of when, the next step is to narrow down a venue. If you require a venue to host any part of your wedding day, you’ll want to check into their availability and make sure they are all available the same day. (Would you like a chapel or ceremony venue, or will you be married outdoors? Do you need a reception space, a meal provided, or a place to eat? Where are you spending the night?)

There is no right or wrong answer here.

You could choose to marry in a national park and camp there that night, needing only an event permit and campsite booking, packing in all your own food. The choice is entirely yours, but it’s the basis for the rest of your elopement planning, so it’s important to research the location and date of your wedding to book the rest of your vendors.

Step three: The ‘Who’

When planning your elopement, this is is the bulk of the decision making process and usually the toughest. You have a location, and a date, and you know that your top venues and accommodations are available that day. Now when you think back on your brainstorm session, you need to piece together all the details that make up your dream elopement, because you will need to research and book these vendors so that you know you will have everything you need in time for your wedding day. Details and vendors to think of may include, but are not limited to:

  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Caterer or Chef
  • Wedding attire for each partner
  • Travel
  • Invitations/Stationary
  • Rings or other symbols of commitment
  • Hair and/or Makeup
  • Florist
  • Officiant
  • Music
  • Items specific to your Activities or Travel plans
  • Day of logistics (charters, transportation, permits, rentals, private event bookings etc)

Things you may consider are:

  • How much of a priority is this for us?
  • Can we do some or all of this ourselves?
  • Do our plans or activities require out of the box expenses like helicopter rides, 4×4 rentals, or admission?
  • What is our budget, and how much are we allocating for each vendor?

If it seems daunting, you’re not alone! This is where a lot of couple get bogged down, in the details.

(If you feel like you could use some help planning your elopement, all my couples get a 75+ page Elopement guide that goes in depth, including personalized vendor recommendations from the best in the biz for your location… based on real life recommendations from my colleagues across the globe.)

Make sure you keep everything organized and delegate the process of communicating and booking vendors between the two of you and I promise it will be a much smoother experience. Alternatively, you can always hire a wedding planner to do most of this part for you and spend more time with your partner daydreaming about how epic your wedding day will be!

But we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…

The other ‘Who’. Who are you inviting to your wedding? Different vendors may define an elopement differently, but usually it is an intimate celebration with 25 guests or less. Who you choose to invite, if you invite anyone at all, is a personal choice that only you and your partner can make. No one has the ‘right’ to be at your wedding, but your wedding might not feel ‘right’ without your nearest and dearest there. It can be tough cutting the guest list, as oftentimes there is a lot of expectation and societal pressures at play. I always advocate for my couples have the wedding they want because their wedding is about them, no one else. If you need help navigating those potentially choppy waters, I can help you with that as well. Sometimes all it takes is letting your loved ones know how personal and authentic your wedding day will be, and how important it is to be able to share an intimate and sacred experience with you partner.

Step four: Preperations

This is always such a fun part of the process! You’ve checked all your vendors off your list, contracts are signed, deposits are paid, and you’ve finally had a chance to relax. In the interim between getting all your ducks in a row and actually getting married, it’s sometimes a rather long stretch of time where it feels like there is nothing to do. No, you aren’t doing anything wrong! Elopement planning typically starts off in a joyful frenzy of planning and booking, and then there is the long pause while your wedding date inches closer and closer. But the frenzy begins again about 6 weeks to a month out from your wedding day. It’s time to pull all the pieces together and get ready for your elopement!

Take a page out of Santa’s book and make yourself a list. Then check it twice. And a third time for good measure.

You’re going to want to make sure that anything that you’re taking with you is accounted for, has arrived on time, is finished being made, and can fit in whatever mode of transportation you are taking to get there. Do a dry run in your head of everything you envision doing from moment you wake up on your wedding day, right through til the end of the night. Make a list of all the important things. 4-6 weeks out would also be a great time to check in with any vendors to make sure everything is going well, and that everyone is on the same page.

I would gather everything you’re planning to bring to your elopement yourselves a week before you leave and doing a dry run packing. This way you know whether you need to edit what you bring the day of in your backpack, how many suitcases you need, if you can get your wedding dress down to carry on size for the plane, or whether or not it’s imperative that you bring that extra set of chairs that don’t quite fit in the car.

When the day before rolls around, make sure you have everything listed, checked off, packed and ready for transport. Have both you and your partner make a list, then switch and check each other’s list in case either of you is missing something.

If you do end up forgetting something, it’s ok. Forgive yourself.

You can always pick up an alternative, or just do without it! My wedding jewelry was stolen the day of my wedding from the salon I got my hair done at. I could have been upset, but instead chose to roll with the punches and when the rumor got around at my wedding about what happened, my mother came to me and gave me her jewelry to wear instead, and it is honestly one of the most beautiful, cherished memories I have. Our photographer captured the moment she put her earrings in for me and it’s one of my top 10 all time favourite photos ever. And it wouldn’t have been possible without things taking a left turn that morning.

That is why I embrace the perfectly imperfect moments.

Step five: Be present

That leads us to the very last step. This step is less about planning, and more about getting the absolute most out of your elopement day and focusing on the one and only real important thing: the commitment between the two of you.

It’s worth it to consider that the entire reason you two crazy kids have even gotten this far is because you are head over heels, wildly, passionately, fiercely in love with your ride or die best friend. Promising your lives to each other and professing your commitment to forever loving and lifting each other up is the only important part of your wedding day. None of this would be happening if you didn’t feel a magnetic pull in your heart and your gut to the person you’re about to stand in front of and vow to love forever. The dress might get dirty, you might forget the rings, it might rain, your dinner might get burned.

In the end, the only thing that really matters will be standing by your side, hand in hand, weathering the storms and fair weather with you.

So don’t take anything too seriously. Things might turn upside down. Choose to have fun anyway. Don’t let the small stuff take you away from this monumentous occasion. Your wedding day will be amazing no matter what, even if Grandpa sits on the cake, because you get to marry the greatest person in the world!

So make sure to let out the emotions, be present with you partner, and don’t stress about how you look or how it’s going. Enjoy the moment, and spend quality time with your partner have an amazing experience. Don’t stress about the photos, if you’re present and enjoying the immense beauty of getting to marry your person, the photos will be beautiful!

Want even more guidance? Get the How to Elope Guide + Workbook and get help planning your elopement day from start to finish!

xx Hailey


Hey! Glad you're here!

I'm Hailey, the nature lovin', semi-nomadic capturer of your uniquely perfect moments! If you're here, you must be one half of a BAD ASS couple looking for some inspiration planning your own nuptials. Check out the resources below to get more tips, planning resources, and real wedding inspo for your own wedding or elopement!

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