Congratulations on choosing to have a destination elopement! The world is your oyster! The great thing about choosing to do a destination elopement is you have many wonderful options. Here are a few simple steps to direct you in the right direction when beginning to plan your destination elopement.
1. Choose Your Destination
The first step in planning a destination elopement is choosing your location. When selecting your destination, consider a place that holds special meaning for you and your partner or a location that has always been on your bucket list. Some popular destinations for elopements include tropical beaches, national parks, and charming European cities. Once you have a location in mind, research the area to learn about the best times to visit, local accommodations, and the necessary permits and regulations for getting married in the area. If you are open to a few different locations, step 2 can come before step 1. A destination elopement videographer or photographer can usually help you with picking a location!
2. Hire a Videographer and Photographer
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, and having beautiful memories of it is crucial. Hire a professional videographer and photographer who specializes in destination elopements. They will have experience with the unique challenges of shooting in new locations and can help guide you through the process. Research and choose someone whose style aligns with your vision, and don’t be afraid to ask for references and samples of their work. As someone who has travelled all over the states and to several countries for weddings and elopements, I recommend hiring someone who is skilled in the ways of destination work. It may look like a vacation for the professional – but I personally have never worked harder in my life than I have at a destination wedding.
3. Book Accommodations
Once you have your destination and vendors locked down, it’s time to book your accommodations. Consider staying in a hotel or resort that offers elopement packages or booking a vacation rental for a more intimate experience. I also recommend searching through Airbnb and VRBO. In some locations they tend to be the best option for the best price. Keep in mind that if you’re getting married in a foreign country, you’ll need to research the necessary travel documents and requirements.
4. Hire Other Vendors
Depending on your vision for your elopement, you may want to hire additional vendors such as a florist for a bouquet, a small cake or food items, or a hair and makeup artist. Do your research and choose vendors that specialize in destination elopements and can provide the services you need in your chosen location. I have a recommended vendor list I share with my couples. If you want someone local, I can also point out ways to find good local vendors.
5. Research Permits and Regulations
Before you finalize your plans, research any necessary permits and regulations for getting married in your chosen location. Some locations require permits or have restrictions on where you can get married, so it’s important to know the requirements before you arrive. Check with local authorities and consult with your vendors to ensure that you’re following all necessary guidelines. For example if you are getting married in a National Park, you have to get approved permission and a permit to elope there. Search your national park location and get in contact with someone who can help you.
6. Plan your ceremony – Do you want an officiant?
When planning your ceremony there are a few things to consider. Do you want a formal ceremony with an officiant? Do you want to bring a close loved one and have them conduct the ceremony (they will have to get ordained on the internet to do so)? Often times certain wedding vendors like an elopement photographer will be ordained and can sign a marriage license if they are local to the area. While they won’t conduct a ceremony, they usually can help you with the marriage license. Then you two will just have a vow exchange instead of a formal ceremony. This keeps is intimate, special and quite simple.
7. Consider guests
Are you wanting to elope with just the two of you? Maybe you have children you want to bring along? A parent, best friend, dog, or a few close relatives? Most elopements who have guests are more intimate and have less than 15-20 people attend. Many couples choose to keep it just them two. This is completely up to you to decide. I highly recommend sticking to what you ultimately want. If you want it small, keep it small. Don’t give in and invite those who you don’t want to attend. Remember this is your day! A good way to keep those involved who aren’t attending is to send them the video and pictures after, have a wedding website where they can still get you a gift from a registry + learn about why/where you are eloping, and possibly have a small celebration when you get home. Some couples choose to have a ‘viewing party’ where they watch the wedding film and have a small dinner or reception after an elopement. Of course, this is just an idea and nothing is required. Stay true to yourself.
8. Obtain Your Marriage License
Before your elopement, you’ll need to obtain a marriage license to make your marriage legal. The process of obtaining a marriage license can vary depending on your location, so it’s important to research the requirements ahead of time. Some locations may require a waiting period, or additional documentation, so make sure you give yourself enough time to complete the process before your wedding day. In addition to obtaining your marriage license, it’s also important to understand the legal requirements for getting married in your chosen location. Some locations may require witnesses, while others may have specific ceremony requirements. Work with your vendors and do your research to ensure that you’re following all necessary legal procedures to make your marriage official. (In many locations, your photographer or videographer can be your witnesses if you are wanting to elope with just you two.)
9. Write your vows
Your wedding vows are a special way to express your love and commitment to your partner. Writing your own vows can be a meaningful and personal way to exchange promises on your wedding day. When writing your vows, think about what you want to say to your partner and what promises you want to make.
Consider the following questions to help guide your writing process:
- What do you love most about your partner?
- How has your partner changed your life?
- What promises do you want to make to your partner?
- What do those promises mean to you?
It’s important to have a conversation with your partner about vow lengths and expectations. You don’t want one person to have long, beautiful vows while the other person only says a few sentences. Discussing your expectations ahead of time can help ensure that your vows are similar in length and tone.
If you’re struggling with the writing process, don’t be afraid to seek inspiration from other sources – indlusing other wedding videos. You can find sample vows online or even borrow from your favorite poems or songs. Remember, your vows should be personal and heartfelt, so don’t worry too much about following a specific format or structure.
10. Bonus – Are there any special activities you want to do on your day?
The day is truly yours. You can make it as epic or simple as you desire. The great thing about an elopement is there are no rules! Other than a ceremony or vow exchange and some bridal portraits with your photographer and videographer – what else do you want to do? Some couples want to keep it simple while others want to make the day more of an experience. Here are a few ideas:
- Hot air balloon ride
- Go on a hike
- Plan a picnic
- Hire a musician
- Helicopter tour
- ATV tour
- Make a special dinner together
- Have a campfire + make s’mores
- Read letters or cards from loved ones back home
- Give each other gifts
- Have a video made about your relationship and watch it together
- Get tattoos
- Make cocktails
- Cut a cake
- Seal a bottle of wine in a special box to open on your 1st anniversary
- Explore an additional unique area near your ceremony location
- Eat at a fancy restaurant
- Share a first dance to your favorite song
- Have a table scape made up and eat dinner together
- Hire someone do to a fancy spread or charcuterie board
- Play a game
- If you are having a few guests, ask them to give a small toast
- Do something unique to that location (I had a couple once do a Mayan ceremony before their actual wedding; they got married in Tulum, Mexico!)
Planning a destination elopement can be an exciting and memorable experience. With careful planning and the right vendors, you can have a beautiful and intimate wedding day that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Happy planning!