There’s a slew of options to consider when planning an elopement these days, and our elopement planning checklist keeps things streamlined and simple (which is the whole point, right?).
For many couples, planning an elopement begins with four factors: where, when, budget, and guests. Then, things get a teensy bit more complicated—but not wedding-planning complicated. We’ve created the only elopement planning checklist you’ll need while planning your killer day, whether you’re eloping to coastal Ireland or a cozy cabin in the Adirondacks.
1. Select the Destination City
The destination city determines nearly every ensuing decision you’ll make when eloping, as well as dictate how and when you get a marriage license. Many couples select a place that holds special meaning to them. Some choose where they got engaged, since it’s likely a place that’s more elopement-friendly, such as a café or neighborhood park. Or, if your theme is “shotgun,” perhaps it’s the nearest courthouse. You’ll know when you know.
2. Set the Date
The flexibility of all things eloping makes it easier to go for the big dates: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, or, you know, Halloween if that’s your thing. One thing to give some thought is which date will be your anniversary—the date you say “I do,” or the date you sign your marriage license.
3. Determine Your Budget—Together
This is high on the elopement planning checklist for good reason. Even though you’re saving major cash by eloping, you still have to spend some coin. Get on the same page here, and quickly.
4. Guest or No Guests?
Because today’s elopements come in many forms, not just the book-it-to-Mexico variety, some tiny affairs include a handful of guests. How many guests is up to you to decide, but keep in mind that it might actually be harder to pare down an elopement guest list than one for a blow-out wedding, so don’t put it off. A good rule of thumb for an elopement is no more than 15-20 guests, those who not only have been in your life for a long time, but those who will be in the future, too. A good idea is to think about who you text when you get big news. These are the people to invite.
5. Pick a Venue / Location
The venue is largely dictated by your destination, and these days, (almost) anything goes. While pulling it off in the field of wildflowers where you had your first picnic is pretty straightforward, for many public spaces, you’re going to want to think through all the details (read: permits). And if you’re going for a high-profile venue during wedding season, definitely book it as soon as you decide it’s the one.
6. Travel Arrangements & Accommodations
This is pretty straightforward, except keep in mind you might be covering the cost of any vendors as well. Decide early about what any guests will pay for—while they’ll likely want to be included, not everyone can take PTO with short notice or afford a weekend jaunt to Belize. Regardless of who you’re paying for, get travel insurance or book with a credit card that has it to avoid losing money on any last-minute change of plans.
7. Lock in a Photographer
If nothing else, splurge on a great photographer. He or she is likely going to spend less time with you than during a traditional wedding, but these hours will be intensely intimate, without the wall of protection provided by a wedding party or guests. Find a photographer with experience and set an interview ASAP—most also do weddings and tend to book a year out for both.
8. What to Wear
Boho chic. Nature chic. Pajama chic. Whatever your vibe, embrace it. Keep things eco-friendly and choose something vintage, save money and wear a pre-owned dress from online store Still White, or invest in a dress or pantsuit you’ll wear again. Also, shoes are important to think about if you’re heading outdoors. Hiking in heels is, shall we say, difficult, so pack boots or sneakers.
Where you get your flowers depends on your destination (florists are very much an American thing, but not so much in coastal Portugal), so definitely decide on your flora aesthetic in advance, whether it’s peonies, succulents, or air plants, and have a plan for making it happen. You’re going to want something for your hands to hold.
The most common thing couples forget to do when eloping is write their vows. Don’t wait until you’re mid-flight, or the morning-of—vows are far more meaningful (and far less stressful) if they spill out over time, even if they start as snippets of a “Why I Like You” note in your phone that came to you on the elliptical at the gym.
11. Marriage Laws
States and countries have very specific marriage laws regarding requirements for acquiring a marriage license—witness requirements, proof of residency, and waiting periods can vary even by city or county. And if you’re going international (e.g., to Ireland or France), there are strict (long-term) residency laws, so consider this factor as well.
An often-overlooked vendor, the officiant is really the most important part of this whole thing, if required by law or if you just want your best friend from birth to run the show. Officiants can book up as quickly as other vendors, and if you’re traveling, hire one early in the process.
13. The Announcement
Breaking the news that you eloped will inevitably happen before the vows, or after. Whether you decide to FaceTime from the Airbnb or post a photo of yourselves with a “We Eloped!” sign on social media, think through all family members’ angles. Some grandparents are happy to see this news on the ‘book, but some might really prefer a phone call. Good manners are always in style.