guide to eloping in the us

There’s something really beautiful, meaningful, and intimate about saying vows and committing to be with someone else, without all the extra details and guests. What might have exploded in 2020 when large weddings were restricted, is officially here to stay: elopements are continuously a better, more authentic choice for couples in the US.

And although there is a lot less involved with elopements than traditional weddings, the whole process can still feel overwhelming at times.

We’re here to help you plan your dream elopement day (or multi-day!) experience with this guide below. Trust me: it’ll be easier than you think, and far better than you’ve imagined.

Most Common Reasons to Elope

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 vs. having a traditional wedding, here are some great reasons it might be a better fit for you.

how to elope in the us

1. Less Planning

Looking for ways to reduce stress and anxiety while wedding planning? Eloping could be the solution you’re looking for.

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! And at Skyewater, we offer unlimited planning assistance with all of our packages, so you can focus less on the research and more on the enjoyment of being engaged in the first place.

2. Spending Money on What Matters

The average wedding in the US has hovered around $30-40,000 over the last several years. By eloping or having a smaller event in an epic location (even internationally!), you can put your money where it matters most to you.

Maybe you care more about quality time with your guests or exploring an epic location just the two of you that’s been on your bucket list for years. Or maybe you envision your elopement experience including a handful of truly unique elopement activities. When you do away with a larger event, the money you spend becomes less about a party for everyone else, and more about what you actually care about.

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 a really exciting destination or all-inclusive resort.

reasons to elope

3. Intimacy

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!

benefits of eloping

4. Freedom

Freedom to be authentically yourselves, freedom to choose any location you want, freedom from any traditions you don’t care about. The best question you can ask yourselves: How would we want to spend our day if nothing was off limits, without worrying about what’s “possible”?

You’ll surely find there’s a world of possibility when you throw out the wedding rulebook. From eloping with your family on a boat in Lake Tahoe, to exploring Alaska by helicopter, and a whole lot more, don’t be afraid to dream outside the box!

5. Sustainability

While there are plenty of ways to have a more sustainable wedding day with 50-100+ guests, eloping can often be quite a bit more eco-friendly than a large event. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of waste that gets created with many traditional weddings, from food waste to party favors, decor, or other single-use items. When you elope just the two of you, or with only a handful of your favorite people, you can have a smaller footprint on the environment — and even spend more time outdoors in this one big beautiful world of ours.

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.

how to elope in the us

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 might make for the perfect elopement backdrop.

Maybe there’s a national park, a local beach, a forested trail, or other outdoor space you love going to already. Or maybe somewhere you’ve been hoping to visit together and now you have the perfect reason to go!

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.

4. In Your Backyard

Do you already have a home and outdoor space where you love spending quality time together? Or does your family have a property that means a lot to you? Whether it’s truly your backyard or someone else you know who has a place you love and can borrow for the day, don’t count out a place you already know and love.

5. At a Small Wedding Venue

If you don’t already know, there are a lot of micro-wedding venues and boutique style spaces designed with small weddings and elopements in mind. And even if most of their marketing is geared towards weddings with guests, plenty of small wedding venues already have elopement packages or would be willing to create a custom option for you.

Choose a 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.

But if you’re anything like us, and you can’t imagine not eloping to an epic outdoor location, here are some of our favorite places you should consider:

how to plan an elopement in the us

Pick a Date / Season

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, Washington and Colorado are very popular places 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! And California is a great location for winter elopements, since you can escape the colder weather and snow other more mountainous states offer.

But this is not to say harsh weather isn’t for you: we have plenty of suggestions for what to do if it rains or snows on your elopement day.

Hire Elopement Vendors

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!

Elopement Photographer

Call us biased all you want, but photography should be up at the top of your list for a few reasons. Not only is this what you’ll have left at the end of it all to remember the whole experience by, but many elopement photographers (like us!) also offer planning assistance as part of your elopement package.

It’s also a great way to share photos from the big day with friends and family who couldn’t be there to witness it all.

Elopement Videographer

There’s absolutely nothing (yes, not even photos!) that can help you relive your elopement day quite like a video can.

Having a videographer record the moment for you to watch over and over again gives you the ability to hear the sound of each other’s voices, the sound of the location you selected, the way the wind moved your hair. Talk to our photo + video team today to see if video is right for you!

Wedding 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!


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!

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 we also have some great ideas on how to involve family who couldn’t be there on the day of.

And if you’re not comfortable with eloping, consider a small wedding ceremony. You can still have a destination wedding with a smaller guest count if you choose! Or try a combination: plenty of our couples opt for a private “just us” elopement day or elopement with family only, and follow it up with a larger celebration weeks or months later. Nothing’s off limits!

Talk to an Elopement Photography + Videography Team

Skyewater Photo + Film is an adventure elopement and destination wedding photo and video team. 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!

Similar Posts