How to Elope in 2023: The Ultimate Guide [Includes a Free PDF Checklist]
You want to plan an elopement, but you’re not sure how to elope or where to start.
To help, I’ve created this step-by-step guide going through everything you need to know about how to elope, including tips on how to choose the perfect location, book your vendors, and so much more.
Before we get into each step, be sure to download my FREE elopement checklist to help you throughout your planning process: Elopement Checklist.
Create a vision board
Determine your budget
Choose a location
Choose a date
Book your photographer
Book your other vendors
Book your travel, lodging, and activities
Purchase your details and attire
Do the legal work
Announce your elopement
Step #1: Create a Vision Board
One of the most fun aspects of planning an elopement is coming up with the overall inspiration. This is one of those super fun activities you and your partner can do together. Grab some wine and takeout and make this a fun date night where you can think as adventurously as you want. Think about the colors you love, the places you feel most alive in, and the attire you feel most confident with. Check out some questions below to help spark your imagination.
What place makes you feel the most alive?
What are some fun things you two have always wanted to do together?
Where have you always travel?
If you had an unlimited budget for your elopement, what would you do?
What season is your favorite?
Do you want to hike on your wedding day?
Should you invite friends and family?
Want to include your dogs on your elopement day?
Now, it’s important to note that this is simply a fun part of the process. There is no pressure to choose a date or location yet. It’s simply to help you two get excited and ready to move forward with the next step.
Pro tip: I always recommend creating an elopement inspiration board on Pinterest. If you want a neat little hack, download the “Pinterest Save Button Extension” on Google. That way, if you come across an image from Google or Facebook, you can pin it to your inspiration board.
Step #2: Determine Your Budget
How much are you willing to spend on your elopement?
On average, most elopements cost less than $15,000, and while that may sound like a lot, the average wedding in the United States costs upwards of around $28,000! I know, crazy. It’s important to set expectations before getting knee-deep into the planning. What do you want to spend the most on? What do you want to spend the least on? A good rule of thumb is to have a little bit of wiggle room in your budget, as most people tend to forget about small expenses like gas and parking.
The great thing about elopements is that they can be as extravagant or simple as you’d like. Whether you want to take an epic helicopter tour to a glacier in Alaska or rent a cozy Airbnb and make hot chocolate, the possibilities are endless. If you’re wondering what should be considered in your budget, take a peek at the most common expenses below.
Plane tickets (if you’ll be flying somewhere else for your elopement)
Rental car, gas, and parking
Marriage license and permit fees
Hair and makeup
Flowers and decorations
Attire and rings
Food and drink
Step #3: Choose a Location
I personally always recommend choosing a location before choosing a date, and here’s why…
Let’s say you fell in love with a beautiful location you saw online. It turns out the picture you saw was taken in North Cascades National Park in Washington State. Well, most locations in this area are only accessible from July – October due to snow. If you already had your heart set on a November elopement, then it would be pretty hard to let this location go.
That being said, it’s more efficient to find your dream location before solidifying the date, that way we can work around weather.
You’re probably thinking… How do I choose a location?
Such a great question! This ultimately comes back to step #1 where you created your vision board. Go back and look through the images you saved. What background to the images have in common?
If you didn’t create a vision board, sit down with your partner and discuss what is important to you when it comes to the location. I’ll leave some questions, along with some helpful location guides below to help you with this process.
What speaks to you more? Mountains, deserts, forests, or beaches?
Do you have any sentimental or meaningful places you two have been before?
Do you want to get married somewhere you’ve never been, or somewhere that feels familiar?
What do you want the weather to be like?
Do you picture a more secluded or popular area?
Best Places to Elope in California
Best Places to Elope in Washington
Best Places to Elope in Oregon
Best Places to Elope in Hawaii
Best Places to Elope in Alaska
Pro tip: If you don’t have a location picked out or need some help, skip this step and go to step #5 where you’ll book a photographer. If you book a photographer who specifically specializes in outdoor elopements, they may create a personalized location list, just for you. I personally send all my couples a questionnaire that helps me create personalized location lists filled with locations that are sure to blow the couple away.
Step #4: Choose a Date
This step is dependent on where you want to elope. For example, in October, snow has already hit the Washington mountains, but on the East Coast, fall has just begun.
When you think of your elopement experience, what do you think of? Do you think of the warm heat from the sun? Rainy and foggy days like the Pacific Northwest? Fresh snow on the ground covering pine trees? Newly blossomed wildflower meadows in front of a mountain?
Once you have chosen your location, ask your photographer what the best time to elope would be. More often than not, they have probably photographed at the location you’re looking at and will be able to tell you what time of year would be best.
You can also use Google for this step. Simply Google “best time to visit [location].” You’ll find multiple helpful articles detailing when the best time to visit is.
Pro tip: If privacy is important to you on your elopement day, consider eloping during the off-season on a weekday to avoid all the crowds.