The Ultimate Guide to Planning an Elopement in the US

So, you’re thinking of eloping — which is what I sometimes wish my husband and I would have done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings in nearly all shapes and sizes! And we had a beautiful wedding near our hometown so that many of our friends and family members could attend.

But there’s also something really beautiful, meaningful and intimate about saying vows and committing to be with someone else, without all the extra details and guests. Especially if you can drive or fly to a destination that gives you all the same butterflies as the person you want to spend the rest of your life with does.

The Ultimate Guide to Planning an Elopement in the US

I photographed my first two elopements near Lake Tahoe in 2013. Since I was the only other person there besides the officiant and the couple, I was asked to sign as the witness for both ceremonies. I was honored . . . and hooked.

Why? Because elopement ceremonies focus more on your love for one another than on a dramatic and extravagant event.

If you’re looking for all the most important information on what planning an elopement involves, read our guide below to help you!

Benefits of Eloping Reasons to Elope

Top Benefits of Eloping

You may have already seen second-hand how stressful or chaotic traditional weddings can be for friends and family. And if you’re now in the process of planning your own wedding, you may feel obligated to take the same steps others you know have taken.

While it’s totally understandable to want a big wedding, it doesn’t mean you have to. After all, it is your day and you should celebrate it the way you would like. If you still want a traditional wedding, by all means: have one!

But if you’re interested in the idea of eloping, here are some great reasons you may take a more non-traditional approach to your ceremony.

Less Planning Involved

Looking for ways to keep your stress levels low? Eloping can help you achieve it!

The great thing about elopements (and even intimate destination weddings with no more than 20 people) is that you can put as much or as little planning into the process as you’d like!

A Smaller Wedding Budget

Eloping — even to a drop-dead gorgeous location out of state or in another country — almost always will save you money in comparison to the average wedding.

It doesn’t mean you can’t have a budget-savvy traditional wedding successfully, but even small weddings can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $35,000 dollars these days.

When you elope, you cut out the cost of rentals, invitations, centerpieces, food, drinks and a whole lot more. Plus, you can put what you would have spent on a wedding into a kick-ass elopement to somewhere really exciting.

More Intimate

One of the downsides to a formal wedding ceremony and reception is that some of the intimacy can get lost with dozens (or hundreds) of other people there. And not just for the ceremony either.

A typical wedding day often can feel rushed and overwhelming. You’ll be surrounded by many people, who you may love with all your heart, but this also can mean a lot less time with the one you’re saying your vows to that day.

Eloping can give you the opportunity to focus solely on each other and the commitment you’re about to make, which makes it really romantic!

ways to elope how to elope in the US

Ways to Elope

1. At the courthouse.

Ever since Carrie and Big said their vows at the NYC courthouse in Sex and the City, there has been a spike in courthouse weddings all over the U.S.

Although many people have taken this route in the past, courthouse weddings have become more popular since the show aired the ceremony. Saying your vows at a local courthouse can be just as sentimental as a formal wedding.

2. On a small day trip to a scenic location.

Are you within a day’s drive of sweeping mountain views or sandy beaches with stunning sunsets? Consider planning to take a day trip to a location nearby that you both love already!

3. A destination elopement.

More couples are starting to make the most out of the opportunity by turning their elopement into a vacation somewhere far away, combining both a destination ceremony and their honeymoon into one!

This elopement style is like an excursion to a place you’ve been dreaming of visiting for years, or a place you know you already love but aren’t close to and can’t visit on a regular basis. If you’re feeling really adventurous, check out our article on wedding ideas for daring and adventurous couples!

destination elopement photographer

Finding and Choosing the Location for Your Elopement

If you are ready to say your vows soon and adore the idea of a courthouse elopement, you’ll likely have to make an appointment at a location near you. Marriage licenses, fees and other requirements vary by state, and even by county or city. Be sure to check with your local courthouse for the most up-to-date information.

And for those of you interested in eloping to a unique place outdoors, here are a handful of other articles we’ve put together for a variety of location ideas:

6 Best Waterfalls in the U.S. for an Adventurous Elopement

Eloping in a National Park

13 Best Places for an Outdoor Elopement in California

7 Best Places for an Adventurous Elopement in Utah

Best Places to Elope in Colorado

best seasons for elopements

Selecting the Right Time of Year to Elope

Once you’ve found a few great places for your elopement ceremony, you’ll need to consider the times of year, seasons or the weather.

If you’re willing to plan in advance, you can have your number one location in the season of your choice! Some parks, venues and other places may require permits and reservations weeks or months ahead of time, especially for peak seasons, such as summertime.

Do some research to learn what the temperatures and humidity will be like in your favorite options throughout the year, as well as what the costs may be to fly or stay overnight during those times.

For example, Colorado is a very popular place for summertime elopements because the weather is warm and fairly dry. Compared to my “home” state of Florida (although we no longer live there), where it can be extremely humid and unbearably hot especially during July and August!

But this is not to say harsh weather isn’t for you: if you love winter and dream of a snowy backdrop for your wedding, check out the top destinations in the world for a winter wedding ceremony!

which vendors to contact for an elopement

Vendors to Contact for an Elopement

As I mentioned before, elopements can be as involved and detailed as you want them to be. This means you can choose to cut back on a lot of expenses, especially when it comes to wedding vendor services.

However, there are a few key wedding vendors you should highly consider speaking with to make your elopement all the more special!

A Wedding Photographer

I may be a bit biased, but no matter how large or small your ceremony is, I believe it’s a meaningful moment that ought to be captured on camera. It’s the perfect way to easily look back on the day for years to come!

And if you’re going somewhere truly scenic, why not take some stunning, artistic photographs you’ll hang on your walls and share with friends and family in an announcement?

A Wedding Videographer

See your elopement in action by having a videographer record the moment for you to watch over and over again. Wedding videos these days are also more cinematic and can document the ceremony in a more emotional, creative style than your parents’ or grandparents’ wedding videos.

An Officiant

In nearly all states, you’ll need an officiant for the elopement ceremony. If you elope to a place like Colorado, however, you can choose to self-solemnize if you’d like!

A florist

Complete your wedding-day look with an out-of-this-world bouquet! Although you’re doing away with many traditions by having an elopement, this is one I still love seeing involved for adventure weddings and non-traditional ceremonies.

You might also consider adding a little extra flair to your ceremony with a floral backdrop or ceremony installation to make the photos and video all the more dreamy!

Makeup and Hair Artist

Even if you’re looking for a boho or soft and natural appearance, adding the right amount of makeup and hairstyling can ensure you love the way your photos turn out.

Suit and Dress Shops

Lastly, you’ll want to find a place or two that can help you decide what you’ll wear for the elopement! For this wedding vendor, I’d suggest waiting to confirm the location and date before purchasing a suit, tux, dress or other outfit for the day. You’ll want to dress appropriately for the season and setting!

elopement tips and advice

Final Tips and Advice

Remember that this is your special day.

If you have a big family, you may find it challenging to elope. However, if it’s really what you want, keep in mind that no matter the style of the wedding ceremony, at the end of the day it is your wedding, not someone else’s.

However, be sure to prepare yourself for their reactions if you elope or have no more than 20 or so people there. You’ll likely have people who are happy for you no matter what, but several may have hurt feelings about not being present.

And if you’re not comfortable with eloping, consider a small intimate wedding ceremony. You can still have a destination wedding with a smaller guest count if you choose!

Elopement Photographer in Colorado

Skyewater Photo + Film is an adventure elopement and destination wedding photo and video team based in Colorado. We help couples plan elopements all over the US, and offer insight for more than just photography: from planning assistance, finding and booking locations, vendor references and more! Reach out to our elopement photography and videography team today to get more info!

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