the ultimate planning guide 〰︎ how to plan an elopement or small wedding

Okay, so you want to ditch the traditional wedding and elope? That is beautiful and I’m so excited you chose to make your wedding day extra magical. So how the hell do you do this? Well we are getting there but here’s some of my best elopement advice first…

Get the damn dress dirty, stop thinking about napkin colors and the crazy guest list debate, start picking which hiking boots you want to wear, which trails you want to explore, which overlook you want to exchange vows and watch the sunset with your lover – find significance. If fighting with your parents about inviting your 4th cousin and staring at wedding magazines isn’t your thing, there are so many other options. Your wedding day should be about YOU and YOUR PARTNER. That means do what YOU want to do, all else aside. If that means inviting 20 of your closest pals to a little nook of the forest or listening to seals at sunset in Big Sur whilst marrying your best friend, do that. If it means just you two going on an all day hike in Glacier or Arches National Park, do that. Even if you want to say your vows right outside of your AirBnB overlooking a beautiful beach and then relax with your babe for the rest of the day. Find that human connection that sets your soul on fire and have the most perfect day YOU can imagine!

 

PLANNING YOUR ELOPEMENT

When starting to plan your dream day, don’t forget this is your wedding day. You deserve to have the entire day – not just a few hours to enjoy and celebrate. Make it unforgettable, celebrate your relationship, and have the most epic adventure.

Most people think couples elope to save money – but that’s not always the case. You’re allowed to be more intentional on how you spend your money while planning.

CREATE A MOODBOARD + MAKE YOUR VISION EASY TO SHARE

I’m a firm believer in making moodboards. Whether that’s on Pinterest or a collection of saved images on Instagram. Florals, dress/attire, a cake if you want, images you want of yourselves, an arch or walkway, anything you can imagine in your wildest dreams for your wedding day. Sit down with your partner and decide if you want to have a ceremony overlooking the ocean, or a small 10 minute hike to an amazing location in Moab – the possibilities are truly endless. If you need help I have several Pinterest boards full of dreamy inspiration.

CREATE A REALISTIC BUDGET

Creating a budget may help you choose an epic location to exchange vows – somewhere you’ve been dreaming of experiencing together. Morocco? Ireland? Peru? Sweet. There are plenty of ways to track flights for the best prices. By ditching wedding favors you can allocate that money into your dream dress – the one that hugs you in all the best ways and makes you feel like Beyonce on stage at Coachella. Like THAT damn good baby. Maybe even investing in that photographer you’ve always thought you could be best friends with. Vendors that really get your vibe. Budgets are allowed flexibility so having some wiggle room is totally fine.

Here are a few things to consider when planning your budget:

» Photography + Videography
» Attire
» Location permits and fees
» Rings + custom ring box
» Rentals (vintage rugs, an epic picnic setup)
» Florals
» Getting to your locations (helicopter, rental car, Jeep, yacht)
» Travel Costs
» Marriage License
» AirBnB and stay
» Food

Take some time to sit down and dream up your elopement day. Don’t think about budget or logistics until you’re ready to. Dream it up and let your mind wander when writing things down. Create a vision if what you want, set your priorities, then budget it in!

PICK YOUR CEREMONY LOCATION

This is the most fun part of eloping – picking a general location. This does not have to be exact coordinates of where you want to exchange vows, but a general location like a state, country, or National Park will be helpful. Think about the scenery you want, how long you want to explore until you get to your ceremony location. Do you want an open meadow? An alpine lake? A mountain overlook? A forest? Take into consideration of the time of year you want to elope and the type of weather you enjoy while choosing a location. And don’t worry, your photographer should be able to help you with all of this and give recommendations (well, I help with planning idk about other photographers).

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when picking a location:

» Are you an adventurous couple?
» Do you enjoy hiking?
» Do you get altitude sickness at certain elevations?
» What is your favorite type of scenery or landscape?
» Do you want to travel to a completely new location to elope?
» What are a few activities you want to do day of?
» What type of food do you want to eat while there?

If you plan on eloping in a National Park, most of the NPS websites will include a list of locations you are allowed to have a small ceremony at as well as the rules and regulations for each location. For example, here is the list of locations you can marry the love of your life in Yosemite! Some of the most amazing overlooks may be closed in the winter months with road closures because of harsh snow so keep that into consideration.

SET YOUR ELOPEMENT DATE

Okay with this one I want to add that most elopements I book are flexible with dates so you don’t necessarily have to have an exact date together. Some couples ask me what dates I have available in October for example, I’ll tell them a few dates I have available and they get to pick. Yes, it’s that easy. If you want a specific date then reach out to vendors asap so that date is not booked by another couple.

 

CHOOSE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER

Do you have a dream photographer already picked out? Are they popular? Amazing! Reach out and see if they are available and put a sitting fee down as soon as you’re comfortable. Generally the more popular they are the earlier you will need to get them booked so your date is officially on their calendar. If you are able to hop on a FaceTime call or even chat over tea/coffee/tequila shot with your future photographer then that is even better. This person is going to be with you during the most intimate and beautiful chapter of your life, like all day – you want to be comfortable and vibe with your photographer.

As an elopement photographer, my job is to help with location scouting, creating a timeline that fits your needs, recommending local vendors like hair and makeup as well as florist. I’m here to help every step the way which makes the entire process less stressful (also my job). I can give so many location recommendations, from National Parks to destinations like the Dolomites or Tulum. This is where Step One will come into play. Letting me know your vision and being as detailed as possible with help me make our day so damn dreamy – this covers the process of obtaining proper paperwork and applying for permits when needed.

Once you have a photographer who can help you plan your elopement you’ll start to have everything pulled together to make your day flow stress free. If you do not have a photographer that helps you along the way then I recommend hiring a local planner to help with logistics so you have one less thing to worry about.

ATTIRE AND THE LITTLE DETAILS

I always recommend having a flowy dress you can easily move around in. Elopements usually involve hoping over boulders or frolicking through fields, and maybe even some hiking. You want to look amazing and be comfortable. I have so many bridal boutiques and designers that are tried, true, and tested to be the perfect elopement dress.

You can get creative and add personal touches like rings, jewelry, hats, etc. Most of the couples I work with wear hiking boots to get to location. Depending on your location you’ll want to think about packing layers like leggings, puffy jacket, wool socks, thermals, ear muffs, extra water and snacks, and all those comfortable things.

CHOSE YOUR VENDORS AND PLAN DETAILS

The other fun part of your elopement are in the details and getting in touch with people who can understand exactly what your’e dreaming of will complete our elopement. After you hire your elopement photographer, they will most likely recommend additional vendors if you need recommendations.

You may want to consider hiring a florist, hair and makeup artist, videographer, and maybe an officiant depending on where you get married.

Every vendor involved will be present throughout your day and will change the vibe of your elopement day., Make sure you really enjoy the presence of these people so they add to your day and are easy to work with.

MAKE IT LEGAL

Don’t forget to get paperwork done at the county clerks office! If you are getting married in another county or state then I highly recommend you get married legally in your hometown then have your elopement day be symbolic.
If you live in the US and get married in another state then it could be easier to legally be married on your actual day. It depends if you want to have an officiant or not there with you.
If you decide to get married legally on your day don’t forget to send in your signed marriage certificate to the office you got it from. You can usually just mail this in. If you have an officiant then they will most likely send it for you so you can have the time after your ceremony to enjoy time together as a newly married couple. 
It can take 6-8 weeks to receive your official marriage license.

SEE IF YOU NEED A PERMIT

Are you wanting to have your ceremony in a National Park? Chances are you’ll need to file for a permit. For example, here is the special use permit for Joshua Tree National Park and here’s the process for Yosemite National Park which includes a downloadable application and the address to send it to and a point of contact. Almost all National Park permits will be $100-150. If you are thinking of exchanging vows in Sedona, Arizona – you won’t need a permit for under 75 guests but may be subject to a small fee for having an arch at your ceremony.

HAVING A DESTINATION WEDDING OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES?

I have so much advice for destination elopements. Since every country is different in some way or another on the legal aspect of marriage, I will keep this section short and sweet.

» Hire a Wedding Planner – this is where a planner is absolutely essential. Having a planner “on the ground” at your destination elopement location will be the best money spent. They will know the language and can recommend vendors that are not as easy to fly in like a florist and makeup artist. A wedding planner will also know exactly what paperwork you’ll need to complete to make your marriage legal in that particular country.

» Conversion Rates – Do your research around different countries and compare their money to USD. You might be surprised what all you can do in a foreign country that may be too expensive to do in the US.

» Always fly with your wedding attire in your carry on. I highly suggest not allowing any airline to check your wedding gown or suit – having your wedding day in your sight or above you on the plane will keep you more relaxed and worry free. Promise!

» Fly out your dream vendors. You would be surprised at how many photographers or videographers are willing to hop on a 15 hour flight to photograph your elopement day

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