PACIFIC NORTHWEST, seattle based

How to Elope: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your Elopement

bride and groom in lake

Planning your elopement & don’t really know where to start? Consider this your handy “how to elope” guide to planning your bulletproof elopement. Pour yourself and your partner a glass of wine (or your fav thing to sip on) and let’s dive in!

In this current COVID, post-2020 days, we have seen the world turn a bit different. And although I could list out all the pros and cons, I will say that more couples are looking to elopements instead of having larger weddings. 

couple hugging in lake

In most areas in the United States throughout 2020, weddings were being shut down. Or, at the very least, very limited. And this all happened pretty dang last minute, which can make planning anything for anything feel difficult. Especially a whole ass WEDDING.

That’s why I created a whole guide on how to elope: so that if you’ve decided on an elopement after 2020 but just don’t know how to go about it, you’re given some direction + help from a professional (aka me).

Let’s dive right in!

couple sitting by the water


First thing’s first: let’s jump in and brainstorm all sorts of elopement ideas. I tell my clients to try to forget all of their preconceived notions of what a wedding “has” to look like. Juuust for a few minutes while we really get into the possibilities. Sound good to you?

  • What if you thought of this day as a double birthday party for you and your partner?
  • What are the most FUN things/places that you both enjoy?
  • If you close your eyes and imagine saying your vows to your significant other, where are you? What do you see? How does it feel?

how to elope

One of the most beautiful parts about eloping is that you can truly just have fun with it! With fewer (if any) guests attending, the stress level goes wayyy down.

Maybe you love hiking – let’s go on an epic hike with unbeatable views for your private ceremony!

Or maybe you both just crave Dick’s Burgers all the time (because same). Why not stop there after you say your “I do’s” for a juicy burger and fries? (Hello awesome photo op!)

What location is special to you two? Where did you meet? What have you always wanted to do?

These are just places to start – the world is your oyster!!

bride and groom hugging in front of food truck

Some fun elopement ideas

Let’s continue thinking outside of the box – you got this! Here are some fun ideas that I wanted to give you to get your brain goin’:

  • Get a traveling bar cart to serve custom drinks wherever you’re at
  • Play yard games at your Airbnb with close friends and family
  • Take a tour or excursion in your wedding attire
    • Can you picture (pun intended) the photos you could get from a snorkeling trip, a gondola ride to the top of a mountain, or a 4×4 of the destination you’re eloping at?! HOW FUN!
  • Hire a private chef to cook for you & your guests at the place you’re staying
  • Have a picnic at a local viewpoint
    • Take a charcuterie board, a blanket, a bottle of bubbly, & maybe even some supplies for a small fire & some s’mores!
  • Find a local brewery or winery and do a tour – cheers!

Couple embracing each other in forrest

And an idea for if you’re sad about missing out on the typical “big party:” consider having your intimate elopement, THEN have a celebratory reception once COVID life is outta here!

At your reception, you get to wear a killer outfit (or your wedding attire again, SCORE!) and play your wedding film. You can even display photos from your elopement day to show to all your loved ones!

Couple embracing each other

Step 2: Figure out your guest list (or not!)

Now, this is a part of the planning that may change with COVID regulations (because who knows when those will be gone for good). So let’s just start by listing out the people (if any) that you really can’t live without being there on your special day.

List out people by priority and keep in mind the guidelines and restrictions in your area currently. As well as the guidelines for your dream location – e.g. if you want to elope in a national park, there will be guest capacities you can’t exceed!

wedding by the lake

Next, think about how you’re going to invite people. Online? Invitations by snail mail? Basic or fancy?

Since you’ll be sending out fewer invitations than a traditional wedding, you can get away with something a little more extravagant if you want to without breaking the budget!

invitation cards

Step 3: Set your date!

Once you’ve thought about what season you’d like to elope during, you can pick a date!

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Sometimes, you can get discounts with vendors or venues if you elope on a weekday!
  • If you plan on eloping in nature, a weekday date gives you the freedom to explore the area when it may be less populated than it would be on a weekend!
  • Venues & photographers are typically the first you should be checking with about dates, especially if you already have your dream ones in mind already. They book up quickly and far in advance!

Couple embracing each other

Step 4: Let’s talk money, honey

Budgeting is important, so let’s think in advance about where your finances + priorities are! Here are some expenses to consider & that may come up:

  • Location expenses: vehicle transportation, airfare, hotels/Airbnbs, permits & fees for state/national parks
  • Venue expenses: the venue rental fee, rentals such as chairs/linens/tables, decor, food, drinks
  • Wedding attire: your dress, tuxedo, jumpsuit, whatever, rings, shoes, florals, hair, & makeup
  • Other vendors: photographer, videographer, planner/coordinator, officiant, musicians
  • Food-related: catering, cake, drinks

couple laughing inside of a treehouse

Again, I recommend reaching out to your photographer, videographer, & venue first since they are the most likely to book out way in advance! If you’re going the venue route for your day, then make sure your venue is available on your day before booking anything else.

If you don’t want to go the venue route, you can get married in nature. Which will usually be cheaper too!

how to elope

Tie the knot at a local park, a National Park, a state park, or even in the backyard of your Airbnb! As long as it’s okay with the host, so many Airbnb’s have epic views + pretty amenities and will bring way lower costs to your expenses than your average wedding venue.

And with everything that’s been going on since COVID started, make sure to see what your Airbnb & vendor rescheduling policies are like. That way, you’re not surprised by anything should you need to reschedule!

Couple embracing each other

Step 5: Get legit

Your marriage license is kinda important, right? But it can definitely be something that falls through the cracks amidst the craziness of planning & hiring your vendors.

You’ll need to look into the specifics about marriage licenses, permits for ceremonies at your location, and all the legal mumbo jumbo.

holding hands

Laws obviously differ by state as far as what you’ll need to make your marriage legitimate, and you’ll want to know these details sooner rather than later. Especially if you’re traveling for your elopement!

If you’re getting married in a National Park, you will want to make sure that you have the paperwork and permits necessary to have a ceremony, as well as take professional photos there. Every National Park is different so make sure to double-check and get it in writing!

bride and groom walking down forrest

Step 6: Choosing your ceremony location

If you’re planning on eloping outside (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), then you should definitely download Google Earth Pro on a desktop. That way, you can scout locations at a particular time of day and see exactly how your location will look at your ceremony time! 

This is so so important, and if you choose me to be your photographer/videographer, I will make sure we get you the most perfect location possible! 

Do you envision yourself getting married along the beach? Along the mountainside? In the forest? 

elopement checklist

Think about the sights, the smells, the sounds. Go there and get a feel for the area if you can! Think about where the sun will be during your ceremony time. Usually, setting a time closer to sunset (around two hours before) is best for those warm glowy photos that look dreamy AF! 

If you’re ambitious, you can also aim for two hours before sunrise to get a jump on the beautiful day! Please remember if you choose to get married in nature to follow Leave No Trace guidelines to preserve and respect the beautiful nature that you get to enjoy!

couple kissing in sunset

Step 7: Make a backup plan

The two most likely things to not go as planned: weather. . .and now global pandemics *insert eye roll at 2020*. 

When it comes to weather, I’ll tell you this! I loooveeee bad weather for photos. Rain gives me total The Notebook vibes, the wind just crushes it when it comes to romantic hair blowing in the wind shots, and snow is so dreamy! 

bride and groom walking

This being said, it is your day, and if you don’t love the rain then you need to have a plan B (and maybe C & D just in case). Possibly a covered area nearby, a cool area of the Airbnb, or clear umbrellas like I show in the photo below!

bride and groom kissing under umbrella

Step 8: Create your timeline

After booking with me, I will send you a sample timeline of a typical elopement day. Then, we will use our knowledge of the weather, the sunrise/sunset times, and travel time/routes to and from locations to customize your timeline perfectly! 

couple by the lake

A few things to account for in your timeline:

  • Hair & makeup
  • First look
  • Family formals or photos with friends
  • Ceremony
  • Couples portraits
  • Any celebration time or reception

Couple embracing each other

Step 9: Prepare & customize!

Congratulations – your elopement day is upon us! 

Make sure to bring all of your small details like sentimental items, rings, and boxes – things you want your photographer to capture. This could also include your invites, your “something old, borrowed, and blue,” and anything else you can think of! 

wedding rings

From here, you have planned and dreamed and done all the work. Now you need to enjoy it all! Soak in your day, and most importantly, remember that the person with you on this journey is worth this lifelong commitment. Breathe them in. Love them hard. Today is about both of you, that is all.

Phew, that’s it! I hope you found this guide helpful. I truly believe that elopements are a special and intentional decision to focus on the things (and more importantly the person) that matter to you! If you need anything, especially a creative eye, you know where to reach me 😉

couple in sunset