Logistically, eloping is much easier than planning a full-blown wedding. You don't have to worry about securing huge venues with caterers or sending out invitations to hundreds of guests. The opinions of your family and friends don't matter; you and your partner get to call the shots fully.
Still, eloping requires some preparation especially if you are traveling for it or considering it your legal wedding. There are vendors to book such as a photographer and officiant. You also must think about paperwork and post-elopement tasks such as sending out wedding announcements (and a gift registry!)
To make the process as stress-free as possible, we reached out to Coby Dotterer, a veteran customer experience manager at Simply Eloped. She's planned over a thousand elopements, and she's helped us craft the ultimate checklist for your big day.
Meet the Expert
Coby Dotterer is a customer experience manager at Simply Eloped, a company that plans elopements and small weddings for couples.
Logistics and Paperwork
If this is your legal wedding you are going to need a marriage license, said Dotterer: "Every state and county requires different documents or procedures," she said. "Some allow you to self-solemnize, which means you can marry each other without an officiant, some require no witnesses, and others require an apostille and a waiting period. It truly varies depending on where you’re planning to elope, so I recommend checking with the local government of your elopement destination."
Sometimes the requirements for a legal marriage may go against your idea of a dream elopement. For example, if your state requires witnesses, and you only wanted to elope with you and your partner, you may want to consider this your symbolic, not legal marriage.
"It is also important to note that if obtaining the marriage license becomes difficult due to office hours or availability, you can always be legally married in your home state and have a symbolic ceremony in another destination," said Dotterer.
- Research the requirements in your state and county to get a marriage license
- If your state requires an officiant, secure one for your elopement
- If your state requires witnesses, ask a friend or family to be at your elopement and serve that purpose
- Fill out the necessary paperwork to get a marriage license
- If required, make an appointment to appear at the clerk's office before the elopement.
Travel and Accommodations
While some couples elope at City Hall others travel to a destination to say their vows. Maybe you've dreamt of getting married in front of an erupting volcano in Hawaii or you want to get married in the place where you took your first trip as a couple?
"The first thing a couple will want to think about is where they will want to elope," said Dotterer. "Maybe there is a dream location they have always envisioned or maybe they just want a beach or mountain destination! Either way, finalizing your location is definitely the best first step." For many couples arranging an elopement is just like planning a big trip. You have to make reservations for your accommodations and any restaurants or activities.
It is also important to make sure your desired elopement location allows weddings. "Permit fees can vary so that is important to note when you are picking a venue," she said. "Receiving the correct permitting is vital to ensure that you are following the correct requirements, especially on public lands in order to respect the beautiful lands we have."
- Discuss as a couple where you want to elope
- Research if that destination allows weddings and if so, how to get a permit. Remember, public parks usually require permits to have a legal ceremony.
- Buy your plane tickets
- Book your hotel or guesthouse
- Make any restaurant reservations you desire. If you want to have a special meal, book in advance so the restaurant doesn't fill up.
- If you are doing any activities for your elopement (Maybe you want to say your vows on a kayak?) make those reservations in advance to secure your spot. Also if you are turning your elopement into a trip, book any tours, hikes, or excursions you want to do.
Many couples have vendors at their elopements. Maybe you want a photographer to capture your big day or a chef to prepare a celebratory meal? "It is important to think about your vendors and which ones are vital for you to have," said Dotterer. "From an officiant, photographer, videographer, musician, on-site helper, hair and makeup artist, and florist there are so many options to choose from. Some couples might want an all-inclusive experience, and some might enjoy only one or two vendors."
Remember, the choice is up to you. "At the end of the day, it is all about what the two of you want and envision. There are so many things to consider when planning your elopement, but at the end of the day it should include anything that you think will be important and memorable to the two of you," said Dotterer.
- Secure an officiant. "One of the first vendors that is important to decide on is an officiant," said Dotterer. "Do you want a family member or close friend, a pastor or priest, or would you like to hire a vendor that has been in the industry for years? There is no wrong answer, but it is important to think about which parts of the ceremony and traditions are important to you when hiring your officiant."
- Hire someone to capture your wedding. "It is important to think about how you want your ceremony documented," she said. "There are so many different styles when it comes to photography, and it is important to choose the style you love most because these are photos you will share and cherish forever. Couples might also want to have a videographer capture their day to be able to feel like they can experience the day all over again whenever they would like."
- Find someone to live stream your wedding. "Another vendor to consider hiring would be someone to live stream your ceremony for loved ones to watch at home," said Dotterer. "This became popular in the peak of the pandemic, but this might also continue to be a great option for couples who plan to not invite any guests to their day, but still want people to be involved."
- If you want live music book a musician or a DJ. That means you can walk down the aisle to music or have a dance after your ceremony.
- Recruit someone to do hair and makeup. "These are photos that you will cherish forever, so treating yourself to feeling beautiful on your day is a great touch," said Dotterer.
- Book a florist. "It is also a great touch to have a bouquet and boutonniere for your day," she said.
If you've eloped in secret you'll want to tell your family and friends that you got married. "Some ways that you can tell your family or friends is by sending out a photo announcement with one of your wedding photos," said Dotterer. "Many couples also make websites where they can tell their story and why they are choosing the elope."
Also, just because you are getting married doesn't mean you don't get gifts. Make sure to create a gift registry before or after your elopement so your loved ones can shower you with presents to start off your married life.
It's also important to check if your state or country requires you to formally make any wedding announcement or to send in the documentation for the marriage license.
- Send a wedding announcement to family and friends. This can be print or digital.
- Create a gift registry and send the details to your family and friends
- Send in any paperwork to complete your marriage license
- Create a photo album so you can remember your big day.