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  • Writer's pictureKrystal Shuhyta

Easy 13 Step Elopement Planning Guide

Every wedding is a unique expression of the bride and groom - an elopement is no different! Exchanging vows in an exotic destination, just the two of you, surrounded by nature's beauty offers an unforgettable and intimate wedding ceremony. If you have decided that planning a destination elopement is the perfect choice for you both to express yourselves and say I do then read on! I have rounded up the biggest things to consider while planning your elopement and packed it all into this guide for you.

couple kissing in the river

I know that the planning can feel overwhelming and fortunately for you, I specialize in destination and elopement weddings! I have loved elopements since before they were trendy and I have extensive experience being a part of them. Rest assured I know exactly how this feels and I have put together this list to help you as you begin or continue to plan your perfect day -  and I am here if you have questions, please reach out.

Unsure if you are planning a destination wedding or elopement? Generally, if your wedding has twelve guests or less you are planning an elopement, if you are over twelve for your guest list then you are looking at planning a wedding. Here’s the great news, I can help you with either one! Whether it is a destination wedding or elopement - I have what you need to get started on your planning journey.

Your Elopement Planning Guide

Step 1: Decide on a Rough or Real Budget 

Okay, okay, I know budget talks are not exactly the most exciting thing but you will save yourself a mountain of anxiety and frustration if you establish this from the get-go. Knowing a ballpark or exactly what you have to work with will help you eliminate the ideas that are outside of your budget and narrow in on the ones that are just right for you. Being realistic about what you can and are willing to spend on your elopement wedding makes planning the whole thing much more simple. Reaching out to vendors for quotes and working with real numbers is very helpful as it can become problematic to plan an entire wedding on estimated costs - at the very least, I recommend leaving a little wiggle room. The difference between a Costa Rican beach wedding and a beautiful Rocky Mountain ceremony on a mountain top in Alberta’s backyard can be vast - just as photography for ceremony and reception only or full-day photography can differ. With both of you on the same page for costs, you’ll be able to move forward with sound decision-making. Don’t forget, after you are all set with your budget you can get to the fun stuff!

Step 2: Choose the Perfect Location

Once you have established your budget you can get started on location. Whether you love a sandy beach, a lush forest, a breathtaking mountain peak, or a modern cityscape - choose a destination that speaks to your hearts and represents you both well. Maybe it’s the place you had your first date or a memorable sunrise hike. Consider the season, weather, and travel requirements when selecting the location for your special day. All of these will factor into the best time of year, travel arrangements, how you dress, and so on. As you can see, there is a real rhyme and reason to this! Above all, choose a location that represents you and the love you share - you are going to have your most memorable moments there.

Step 3: Decide on the Time of Year

Now that you know where you want to elope to it is worth putting some time and thought into the time of year that works best - both for you and for the location! Is it rainy season in June? Do they host a large-scale festival in September? Make sure you have done your research on the local weather as well as local goings-on - prices may vary substantially when booking during a warmer season or when there is a big attraction in town. Line it all up with your vacation and a time of year that works well for you as a couple. Look no further if you are hoping for a little help with this! After my fair share of destinations and elopements, I am always more than happy to help couples determine the best location and season for them. Without skipping ahead to Step 12, consider what you want to wear for your big day - this may help you choose the right season!

Step 4: Book your Elopement Photographer 

Hi, it's me. Just kidding - but I am always over the moon to be a part of planning and capturing on film the special moments at any elopement! Having experienced many elopements, I know the excitement and anticipation, as well as the planning that goes into this. I am your wedding bestie and I will be there for you through it all. From scouting new locations, to sharing knowledge of locations where I have already been, to planning the details, and supporting your decision - I’ve got you! Choosing a photographer that is right for you both makes a big difference. Take your time to find someone who shares your values and sees your vision. Also, considering a Canadian photographer is budget-friendly in this economy!

Step 5: Decide Who is Coming - or Isn’t!

This is your day - release the obligation to include everyone if that is just not for you. Having an elopement means narrowing the focus to the two of you and being united in this decision. It can be helpful to have a conversation with those closest to you ahead of time, to let them know your plans and to thank them for their love and support. Of course, we know there are advantages, and excitement, in not telling everyone ahead of time. Whenever you decide to tell your loved ones, be firm and on the same page about who is or isn’t coming, and stick to it - remember this is your special day.

Looking for a way to include everyone but not actually include everyone? 

You’re not alone! Here are some tried and true ideas for you to include everyone while still enjoying your intimate ceremony. Simple things like having your family and friends write you letters or notes to open and read after your ceremony or sharing a video call with loved ones from your location are great ways to include others without them being physically present. Consider an elopement videographer and bring the ceremony to your loved ones afterwards with a beautifully crafted keepsake of your big day.

Step 6: Research Marriage Laws and Requirements

Before jetting off to your dream destination, make sure to research the marriage laws and requirements of the country, state, or province where you plan to elope. Some locations have specific documentation and waiting periods, so it's important to understand the legalities to ensure your marriage is valid and that you are able to attain all required documents in time for your special day. Alternatively, some couples opt to take care of all of the legal stuff at home. This keeps things nice and simple while giving additional flexibility and reducing stress. Whichever you choose, a little internet research will lead you to your answers and you’ll check one more thing off your wedding planning list!

Step 7: Find the Right Vendors

While eloping means a more intimate affair, you'll still need a few essential vendors to make your day perfect. It is helpful to write down a list of the support and extras you need and want and go from there. Look for local vendors at your destination who specialize in elopements, including officiants, florists, and any other services you may need or want. Their expertise will help bring your vision to life and ensure your day goes as planned. Choosing professionals who have done this before can lend to a less stressful lead-up and day-of as you are working with seasoned vets. Above all, I recommend that you choose vendors who see and support your vision for the day - if you need any top-notch recommendations we have a list of tried and true vendors that we have worked with many times and trust completely.

Step 8: Plan Your Timeline

Planning an itinerary for the day is still essential - even if it is only the two of you. Consider the logistics of getting to your ceremony location, any special activities or excursions you'd like to incorporate, whether or not you’ll have a first look ahead of the ceremony, and any post-ceremony meals or receptions you plan to have. Fun fact, we have a guide with fifty different ideas to get your creative juices flowing - this one is exclusive for our clients only! A well-planned itinerary will ensure your day runs smoothly. Your experienced professionals (remember, Steps 4 & 7?) can help with planning your day-of timeline. I love helping you plan your day - remember, wedding bestie - I am here to ensure your day goes just the way you want it to.

Step 9: Book your Travel Arrangments - Trains, Planes, or Automobiles

Once you have firmed up the big details like location and date you can start to research and then book your travel arrangements! Choosing travel plans that are comfortable and familiar to you can help to reduce additional stress - on the flip side, if you are an adventure-lover, consider travel arrangements that add to the excitement - a train ride across Europe or a rickshaw ride through town would definitely add flare and memories to your nuptials. Ensure you leave yourself time both before and after your big day to reduce stress and give you time to complete the necessities - like legal paperwork or meetings - or pivot for unexpected delays. 

Step 10: Booking Lodging and Accommodations 

Now that you know where you are going and how you’ll get there, decide where it is you’ll rest your head. Your lodging and accommodations may be included with your location of choice or you may be hiking up to a mountain top and then enjoying a cozy, remote cabin for lodging - no matter your style you’ll want to choose something that feels entirely YOU. Explore options like extravagant, luxury hotels, quaint Bed & Breakfasts, or modern Air B’n’Bs - this is your day, follow your heart.

Step 11: Personalize Your Ceremony

One of the joys of eloping is the absolute freedom to personalize your ceremony to reflect your unique love story - that’s what this is all about. Write your vows and share them quietly, choose meaningful readings or play your favourite songs yourself on your instrument of choice, and incorporate any special rituals or traditions that are significant to you as a couple. If you want an idea partner or need suggestions - I’ve got you - I love helping clients sort out all of the big and little details for their wedding. This is your chance to create a truly personal and heartfelt ceremony - and we highly recommend it!

Step 12: Order Elopement Attire 

Elopements can maintain tradition or throw it to the wind! You may be picturing your big day in a white dress and tuxedo or you may envision something completely different - the best part about this is that you get to choose. Let your imagination wander with this one - you’ve already chosen the path less taken for your wedding - be free with your outfit as well. Maybe you’ll give a nod to your favourite activity together in matching tracksuits or wear your heritage with pride with an outfit that is distinctly you. Once you have both decided on what you’ll wear you will want to ensure that you have purchased, ordered, sewn, or found your outfit with time to spare. When ordering online or purchasing from a local vendor be sure to confirm the expected date of delivery to avoid any unwanted pre-wedding stress.

Costa Rica wedding and destination elopement photographer

Step 13: Celebrate Your Love

After you've said "I do" in your ideal destination, take some time to celebrate your love, dedication to each other, and all of the hard work you have put into planning this perfect day. Whether it's a private dinner under the stars, a champagne toast at sunset, or an adrenaline-pumping adventure - savour the moment, honour the commitment you have both made, and revel in the joy of your new life together. Cheers, it’s time for happily ever after!

Planning your wedding - destination, elopement, or local - can feel like a lot. It is definitely easier with some help! From planning to locations, trusted vendors, videography, photography, and day-of coordination - our team at Fly Free Photography is prepared, experienced, and ready to be all in for your wedding. Send us a message, we’d love to chat.

Till next time friend,

Xo Krystal

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