Photo: Nastia Vesna
Some couples dream of a traditional church wedding with hundreds of guests. Some choose to have a small destination wedding on their favorite beach with just a few close friends. Others prefer to keep it casual with a garden party or a backyard bash.
Your wedding can be anything you want it to be, and for some couples, that means not having a wedding at all.
Eloping doesn’t require as much planning as a traditional wedding, but a little bit of planning can make your elopement something truly special.
Thinking about skipping the traditional wedding and eloping?
Here’s our ultimate elopement checklist, including what to do before, during, and after.
What Does It Mean to Elope?
Photo: Bella Madison
In the most traditional sense, eloping means that the couple gets married, just the two of them, without anyone knowing. But, like all wedding trends, elopements have evolved over the years.
Today, you can elope with just the two of you, or you can have a semi-planned elopement with a small group of beloved family members and best friends.
How you choose to elope is entirely up to you.
If you want to create a select guest list and invite a few special people to be there, go for it! If you want to tell everyone you know beforehand that you plan to elope, you should. And if you want to keep it a complete secret, you can do that too!
Just look at Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, who went the Elvis-impersonator-in-Vegas route. And Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell kept things even more low-key with a last-minute courthouse wedding (that cost just $142!).
There’s no right or wrong way to elope — it’s all about what the two of you want for your big day.
Having a bridesmaid join you for your elopement? Find her the perfect dress in our bridesmaid dress collection!
What Do You Need to Elope?
Technically, you only need two things to get married:
A marriage license and an officiant to make it legal.
Get Your Marriage License
Before you elope, check the marriage laws in the state or country where you plan to wed.
Some states, such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Florida, have a three-day waiting period, so you can’t get your license and marry on the same day or even the next day. You’ll have to wait three days to marry after your license has been issued.
Thinking about getting married in a foreign country? The laws in certain countries are more complicated than in others, so be sure to do your research before you hop on a plane and jet overseas. In Spain, for example, you have to undergo an interview with the local registry office, and it can take up to six weeks just to schedule that interview.
When it’s time to apply for your marriage license, be sure to have your original birth certificates with you. Without those, you won’t be able to get your license.
Hire an Officiant
Aside from your marriage license, you’ll also need to hire an officiant to perform your legal ceremony.
Even if you’re planning to skip the formal ceremony, you’ll need an officiant to fill out their portion of the marriage license and submit your documents to the court to make it legal.
Where’s the Best Place to Have an Elopement Ceremony?
When most people think of eloping, they think of Las Vegas. And while Vegas may be fabulous and fun, it’s certainly not your only option.
For some couples, choosing an elopement destination comes down to logistics and how far they’re willing to travel. Some couples choose to wed at their local city hall, while others choose to get married on the beach or say their nuptials at a national park.
There is no one best elopement location — everyone is different!
So, create a shortlist of possible destinations, then narrow it down to the one that’s best for you!
Things to Do Before You Elope
Photo: Hannah Costello
If you were in the middle of a traditional wedding planning process but decided to elope instead, there are some other things to do before you get married.
Tell the Ones You Love
Let your family and friends know that you’ve changed your mind about having a traditional wedding. If you’ve already sent out save-the-dates, let your guests know too!
Unless you want to shock your parents, relatives, and closest friends, you may not want to come back from a vacation and say, “Hey, we got married!” It’s usually best to give them a head’s up if that’s what you’re planning to do.
If your parents were planning to pay for some or part of the wedding, it’s only courteous that you inform them ahead of time that you’ve canceled the big event. It’s also best to offer to pay them back for any deposits they may lose for your change of heart.
Make Concrete Plans
Just because you’re planning to elope doesn’t mean you can’t stick to some traditions. Get your rings and pick out your wedding dress and suit or tux ahead of time.
Book a photographer so that you have some wedding photos, regardless of how small or informal you want your wedding ceremony to be.
If you want a florist to make you a bouquet or a videographer to capture the moment, book those vendors ahead of time so that you don’t have to scramble when you arrive at your destination.
And, most importantly, book yourself a great hotel room or a cozy Airbnb and some travel arrangements if you’re heading out of town. You’ll want to stay somewhere fabulous on your wedding night!
What to Do During Your Elopement
Photo: Ash Baumgartner
With proper planning, you shouldn’t have too much to do on your elopement day.
Depending on how casual or glamorous you want to be when you say your wedding vows, consider booking a glam squad or a salon appointment to have a professional do your hair and makeup.
Before you head off to the wedding venue, be sure you have your rings and marriage license with you.
Show up at the ceremony on time, say your vows, exchange your rings, and enjoy the night! If you’ve planned the details thoroughly, the day-of should be an easy one that you can enjoy from morning till night!
What to Do After You Elope
Photo: Ash Baumgartner
Planning for an elopement is easy to do, but there are also some things you’ll need to do post-elopement as well.
After you say your vows and make it official, head out for a nice dinner to celebrate, especially if you’ve invited a few loved ones to be a part of the day.
Once you’ve officially eloped and returned home, send out elopement announcements to let people know. We recommend sending announcements to anyone that you would have invited to your wedding.
And be prepared for lots of phone calls, texts, and emails. Your friends and family are surely going to want to know the deets!
Because you chose to have a small wedding rather than a big wedding, it’s a great idea to throw a party after your elopement.
It can be right after your wedding or several months down the road. For many couples, a one-year anniversary party is the perfect way to have a celebration without making it feel like a wedding.
Related: Your Full Guide to Planning a Non-Traditional Wedding
How you get married and celebrate your special day is completely up to you. And if running off and secretly getting married in Vegas is how you want to do it, then go for it.
There’s only one rule of wedding planning that all couples should follow:
Have the wedding of your dreams, no matter how big or how small that may be!
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