Your Guide to Eloping - How to Plan an Elopement or Intimate Wedding

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Over the last few years elopements and intimate weddings have increased in popularity as couples are saying goodbye to the stress of putting on a big “production” for their wedding day. I think it is absolutely amazing that couples are finally realizing that less is often more when it comes to saying “I Do.”

I’ve been to my fair share of large weddings, both as a photographer and as a guest, and if I’m being honest, nine times out of ten, couples are so busy worrying about the hundreds of guests they invited that they forget their day is actually about THEMSELVES.

Here’s the secret. Your wedding day doesn’t have to be stressful. You don’t have to get married in a church. You don’t have to wear a white dress. You don’t even have to invite a single guest. Elopements are wonderful because they really emphasize the whole reason you are celebrating in the first place, and allow you to focus on that wonderful person that you’re committing your life to.

So maybe you’ve decided that having an elopement or intimate wedding is for you, but now you don’t know where to start planning. Don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through every step.


Phase 1: Brainstorming Your Elopement Vision

The first thing you should do when planning your elopement is to write down your vision for the day. Sit down with your partner and really dive into what your dream wedding looks like. You don’t have to nail down any specifics at this point, but it’s great to get a sense of what you really want the day to be like. This can be as simple as deciding you want a mountain elopement at an overlook with gorgeous views and an easy hike. Or maybe you have a more specific vision. Maybe you and your partner are in love with Utah and you really want to have a desert elopement in Moab followed by an intimate reception with 15 of your closest family and friends.

There are sooo many options and fun things you can add to your big day to make it super unique and personal. Maybe you want to take a helicopter tour before the ceremony, or drive some ATVs through the mountains, or do trash the dress photos after the ceremony .

Also, eloping close to home is always an option! I live in Indianapolis and sometimes it’s easy to forget there are some amazing elopement destinations right here in the midwest.

Phase 2: Booking Your Photographer & Setting Your Date

I’m putting these two items together because the order in which you do these things really depends on your specific situation. If you don’t already have a specific date in mind, it’s often best to book your photographer first to ensure that they are available. Photographers can sometimes book up a year in advance, so I always recommend reaching out as soon as possible.

Phase 3: Choosing Your Location

As an elopement photographer, my job description is way more than taking photos at your wedding. I’m also your location scouter, your timeline coordinator, and your guide. I’m here to help every step of the way and that includes finding your perfect ceremony (and possibly reception) location. Now is the time we will talk through your elopement vision that I mentioned in Phase 1. If you don’t already have a location in mind we will find one based on your wants and needs. There are sooo many options out there from National Parks to all-inclusive resorts to vineyards, literally whatever your heart desires. If you do have a location where you know you want to get married, I will help you through the process of reserving that spot and obtaining proper paperwork, which leads us to Phase 4…

Phase 4: Obtaining Permits & Booking Your Venue/Location

This is a really important step that should definitely not be overlooked. Depending on where you plan to have your wedding, you will need to obtain the proper permits as well as pay any necessary fees. If you are planning to elope in a National Park, many have specific ceremony locations, and fees can range anywhere from $50-200. Zion National Park, for example, requires that you get a special use permit which costs $100. Zion also has six pre-approved ceremony sites, and restricts couples from holding ceremonies anywhere else in the park. I’m always happy to help my couples with this part of the planning.

Phase 5: Booking Other Vendors & an Officiant

Now is the time you should start thinking about booking any other vendors you might need. Often times my couples keep it super simple and just worry about an officiant and someone to make the bouquet. The vendors you need really depends on your vision for the day and whether or not you will be inviting any guests. Florists, bakers, caterers, hairstylists, makeup artists, and wedding planners are all vendors you should think about depending on your needs. You will also need to find an officiant to marry you unless you are eloping in a state that allows you to self-solemnize such as Colorado.

I provide all of my couples with a personalized vendor recommendation list once we have nailed down a location.

Phase 6: Sending Out Invites (IF You are Inviting Anyone)

Nows the time to send out invites if you have decided to invite any friends or family. Sometimes it’s just nice to have your parents and a close friend or two by your side, and an intimate wedding is the perfect compromise between an elopement and a traditional wedding.


Phase 7: Picking Out Your Rings & Attire

This is the one of the more fun parts of planning an elopement (at least in my opinion.) Everything starts to feel more real once you have rings and a dress/tux in hand!

Phase 8: Booking Your Travel & Accommodations

Once most of the wedding details are taken care of, next comes booking your travel and accommodations. You definitely don’t want to wait until the last minute for booking flights, as prices tent to rise when you get super close to your departure date. Airbnbs are a great way to find a unique place to stay, while also being budget conscious. They are also great if you are inviting a few guests and want everyone to stay together!

Phase 9: Obtaining Your Marriage License

In the U.S. you usually need to obtain a marriage license from the county in which you will be getting married. The time it takes to get the marriage licenses varies from county to county, so just make sure to do your research before the big day.

Phase 10: Packing & Getting Ready for Your Big Adventure

You’ve officially planned your elopement and now it’s time to get excited. Write your vows, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life. ;)

Phase 11: Practicing “Leave No Trace” Principles

It’s likely you’ve seen the phrase “Leave No Trace” while scrolling your Facebook Instagram feed, but what exactly does it mean? Leave No Trace basically means to leave your location, and nature in general, exactly how you found it (or better). We as humans are literally destroying our planet and we all need to be more cognizant of how our actions have an effect on our environment. This means no tossing bouquets off of mountains, no confetti or glitter exits, and cleaning up any trash that you create or see.

We all have a responsibility to our planet to protect and take care of it, even on our wedding day. <3