Is the idea of a big bridal bash just not your thing? Perhaps you and your fiancé are the super spontaneous types always looking for an unconventional adventure. Maybe you're trying to save money for a new life together and just realized your next beach vacation could easily double duty as your nuptials as well. Whatever your perfectly justified reason, figuring out how to elope can quickly make the process feel more like a scary unknown than a sexy escape.
What Is Elopement?
Elopement refers to a marriage conducted without the knowledge of the couple's family and friends, particularly their parents. Typically, those who elope only have a ceremony and do not host a reception or celebration.
If planning your elopement is giving you those stress sweats you were trying to avoid, we're here to help. We tapped elopement and wedding planner Lindsey Nickel, founder of Events, Etc., for her top dos and don'ts when it comes to getting hitched on the sly. Then, we put together a cute (non-threatening or overwhelming!) checklist of final considerations. Now all you have to do is read through and then, you know, elope.
Meet the Expert
Lindsey Nickel is an elopement and wedding planner, and founder of Events, Etc.
Do: Prepare Yourself for Family and Close Friends' Reactions
The most difficult part of eloping is the fear that your friends and family will be disappointed they were not a part of your big day. "Know that not everyone is going to support your decision, and be prepared for their reactions," says Nickel. "I recommend telling your parents before you elope to minimize hurt feelings and surprises after the fact. And try to find a way to involve your closest friends and family somehow — whether that's sharing photos with them first or maybe hosting a post-marriage reception. But, shocking your closest friends and family with a social media announcement is a huge no-no: Make sure to tell them in person and if anyone feels hurt or left out, a handwritten note can go a long way." You don't have to apologize for your decision, but most of these people helped shape you as a person and you as a couple, and that may be why they feel entitled to watch you wed.
Don't: Forget to Take Care of All the Legal Details
Thinking of running away to Europe to elope? Don't forget to swing by your local city hall first. "Make sure you check off everything on the legal to-do list," says Nickel. "Remember, you still need an officiant and a witness to be legally married in the U.S. And many countries have different residency requirements in order to be married there (officially), so don't forget to get your marriage certificate at home before you jet off." You can check out this website for a cross-country breakdown of legal requirements. If you're eloping abroad, there is a guide for those stipulations.
Do: Hire a Local Planner, Photographer, and Videographer
Just because you're having an intimate wedding doesn't mean you're completely on your own. "While many elopements, by nature, tend to be last-minute decisions, I highly advise couples not just to wing it. Hiring a local wedding planner can take a lot of stress off the couple," says Nickel. "Plus a planner can suggest really special or under-the-radar places that you might not already know. Also, make sure you hire both a photographer and a videographer to document your day. This is especially important for elopements because it allows you to share the moment with friends and family who could not be there." Plus, you and your spouse are making a massive commitment, and it deserves a little pomp and circumstance. Treat yourself.
Don't: Be Afraid to Ask Vendors for Special Pricing
Due to the smaller scale and shorter time commitments, most vendors will offer special rates or à la carte pricing for elopements, says Nickel. "Especially if you're getting married on an off-day — say a Tuesday at 11am — don't be afraid to negotiate." Oftentimes, you can also find bargain deals simply by failing to mention you're a bride or groom. Say the word "wedding," and many vendors reckon they can jack up the price for their services. Even in the simple request of a "special occasion" hairdo instead of a "wedding" look, you can save major money.
Don't: Shirk Budgeting Responsibly
Even if you manage to wrangle some discounted quotes from vendors, once you factor in the travel and accommodations, your elopement can run you that small-wedding cost you were attempting to run away from in the first place. Be sure to sit down with your fiancé and discuss your financial concerns. And since you've followed tip number one, and involved your parents from the start, they may offer some monetary support, especially if you allow them to attend the ceremony. "Inviting your parents to your elopement if you're not set on it just being the two of you, is another way to involve them and lessen bruised emotions," says Nickel.
Do: Send a Marriage Announcement
Send a marriage announcement after your elopement, advises Nickel. "Some people might be wondering what happened to your engagement or if they're getting a save-the-date soon. A marriage announcement lets people know that you've already gotten hitched and it's the perfect opportunity to showcase some of those gorgeous intimate photos you captured on your special day." And of course, there's always the chance your recipients will send back a reply in the form of presents.
Don't: Downplay Your Elopement
Just because you're eloping doesn't mean that the day isn't special — it's still your wedding and there is reason to be excited and celebrate. "Don't forget to indulge in the bridal aspects of your day," says Nickel. "Get a special dress and a bouquet and perhaps even set up a table, complete with your dream centerpiece, a bottle of champagne, and dinner for two."
That last one brings us to this quick little mini-checklist, which includes both legal logistics and optional bells and whistles, for your reference.
How to Go From Engaged to Eloped in 5 Steps
1. Check the Law
Do you need a license? How long will it take? How about a city hall appointment? Are witnesses required, and what are their necessary credentials?
2. Book Your Travel & Find Your Vendors
Do so as far in advance as possible to save money, and remember tips four and five.
3. Plan the Ceremony
What will you wear? Are rings your thing? How should the exchanging of vows go? Do you want a bouquet?
4. Party! Party! Party!
Maybe that means a private celebration just you two, an all-out reception with friends and family, or some combination of the two.
5. Send Those Announcements
And pray the wedding gifts come by storm!