Elopement Inspiration, Planning Resources, and Past Adventures

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Overland Elopements

How to Elope: Comprehensive Elopement Planning Guide

December 3, 2023

Hi! We're Anna and Trevor.

We're a fun (and maybe a little dorky) couple of elopement photographers, traveling all over the country to help people get married in the most beautiful places mother nature has to offer.

We thrive with cameras in hand, and nothing resonates with us more than the intimacy & freedom of an elopement. We get that big events and old school traditions aren't for everyone, and that's totally cool! We're all about embracing our uniqueness and throwing tradition out the window.

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Congrats! If you’re here, you’ve likely already realized that your happiness and experiences on your wedding day are paramount, and maybe that means an elopement is right for you.

Choosing to elope is one of the most badass decisions you can make, and I’m so glad you’re here. We’ve helped couples say their vows in stunning places all over the country, but not a single day has ever felt the same. And that’s the beauty of it. You get to plan a day that doesn’t look or feel like anyone else’s but your own.

So how do you plan a totally unique, entirely personal, unforgettable elopement day experience?

Let this elopement planning guide serve as your inspiration, and importantly, your organization tool. There may be a lot of information here, but don’t feel like you need to absorb all of this info at once.

I recommend that you bookmark this page to revisit whenever you feel like you need some guidance!

What Does It Mean to Elope?

Let’s start from the beginning. Its important to forget any old school definition of elopement you may have heard in the past. These days, every person defines the word elopement a little differently, so it may be easiest to address some of the biggest elopement misconceptions.

Here’s what an elopement is NOT:

  • An elopement is NOT an photoshoot. Just like with traditional weddings, your photographer will be there to document and beautifully tell your story, but this is your story to write. The more intent you put into your day, the more you will feel as you look back on your photos. An elopement day is a great opportunity to slow down and allow yourself to truly remember every single moment of your happiest adventure together.
  • An elopement is no LESS special than a traditional wedding. Eloping couples can prioritize their personal wedding day experience over material details or guest satisfaction, and make the day feel even more special and personal. You deserve the wedding day of your dreams, and choosing to elope grants you even more freedom to think big and treat yourself to the things you really care about. 
  • An elopement does NOT mean your loved ones need to be excluded. If you cannot imagine a day without your closest loved ones, there are so many ways to include them in the process or on the day itself. More than half of our eloping couples bring at least a few of their closest friends or family along for the adventure, or celebrate with them shortly after!

For the sake of our speciality, we at Overland Elopements define an elopement as any wedding day celebration with fewer than 15-20 guests. That being said, the lines between a “true” elopement vs. tiny wedding are blurred. So don’t feel like your vision for the perfect day needs to fit neatly in either category. 

Step by Step Adventure Elopement Planning Guide

Here we are: Phase one of your elopement planning journey! Use this step-by-step elopement planning list to guide you through the process and set you up for “best-day-ever” success!

1. Visualize Your Perfect Elopement Experience 

2. Decide Where and When to Elope

3. Marriage Laws, Permit Requirements & Leave No Trace

4. Hire Your Specialized Elopement Photographer or Planner

5. Book Your Travel, Lodging and other Vendors

6. Iron Out the Small Details

7. Get Married!

Phase One: Visualize Your Perfect Elopement Experience 

Before setting any plans in stone, sit down with your partner and daydream away. What does your heart want? Walk yourselves through your perfect day together, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. Don’t worry about the logistics just yet, and please don’t skip this step! The key to an intentional, memorable and one-of-a-kind wedding day is listening to your own heart before making any big decisions. 

Here’s are a few questions to ask yourselves to get the ideas rolling:

As you picture the day you get married…

  • What kind of scenery are you in? 
  • What is the weather like? 
  • What activities or adventures would you like to include? 
  • How far from home would you like to travel? Will you plan a longer trip than just the day you get married?
  • Is there a specific kind of food or drink that you would love to have at some point in the day?
  • Is there anyone else joining you, or will it be just the two of you? 
  • If you bring loved ones along, will you set aside alone time together without guests?
  • Would a big hike or adventurous excursion be the icing on the cake, or would you prefer something more leisurely and relaxing?
  • Are there any spiritual or religious ceremonies or traditions that are important to you to include?
  • Are there any traditional wedding day formalities that you would regret not incorporating? (First dance, hand-fasting ceremony, formal reception, cake cutting, first look, champagne toast)

You don’t necessarily need to have all the answers just yet, but its important to have a basic vision established before fully committing to a date and setting.

Phase Two: Big Decisions (Decide Where and When to Elope)

Now that you have a greater understanding of what your ideal experience feels like, it’s time to match your elopement dreams with the place & time that can offer you just what you’re looking for! Choosing where and when to elope can, at first, feel like a difficult decision. My best advice would be to start by narrowing your list down based on these factors: Weather, location accessibility, scenery type, and crowd levels.

Weather

Do you tend to prefer hot weather vs. cold weather? If you don’t mind a chance of moody vibes, the Pacific Northwest in the fall is excellent. But if you want guaranteed sunshine, you may prefer the southwest. In the summer those conditions swap! The southwest has its monsoon season and the PNW enjoys pristine outdoor conditions. If you have a specific month in mind, try looking up which regions have the best weather during that time.

Another example, late spring is great for rushing waterfalls when the snow is still melting, and fall is great for the vibrant leaves.

Elevation also plays a huge factor when it comes to mountain locations. As you climb, the temperature can drop dramatically. Which brings us to…

Location Accessibility

High elevation locations in Washington, California, and other popular mountain areas have a very, very short season. In some cases, the access roads don’t open until mid July, and close again during the first snow storm in the fall. But when you do visit during peak season, you can expect lush meadows of wildflowers, beautiful alpine lakes, and so much more!

Also consider how remote your location is from basic amenities. Some National Parks are way out there, and your options for lodging, vendors, reception venues etc may be more limited. You may need to hire outside vendors to travel in, and bring everything you need with you if there is no major town nearby. For example, Northern California and Southern Oregon are one of our favorite places to find solitude, but we know not to expect any fancy amenities while we’re there.

Also falling under the accessibility category, consider what it may take to reach those stunning locations. Are you willing to hike a few miles or rent a 4×4 to take you somewhere truly epic? Make sure to choose a location that accommodates your preferred level of adventure.

Crowd Levels

Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain National Park, Big Sur…They’re some of the most famous elopement locations out there, and for good reason. However, they’re also some of the most popular tourist destinations as well. If you crave a little more privacy on your elopement day, consider somewhere outside of the major National Parks. Most are surrounded by National Forest or BLM Land that has equally stunning scenery and far fewer crowds.

Visiting popular areas during the tourist “shoulder seasons” is a great way to avoid the busiest time of year. This can come with a slightly higher chance of unpredictable weather, but it’s almost always worth it for more solitude!

Scenery

And finally…where is your happy place? We live in an incredibly diverse world, and I could rave all day about the best places I’ve seen…ultimately though, you know your happy place in nature.

Lean on your elopement photographer for support!

These are all of the factors that elopement planners and photographers consider when offering location suggestions – You certainly don’t need to have this all figured out before asking for their help! If you can narrow down to a general state, region, park etc, your vendor team can help you from there.

Where else to find inspiration:

Pinterest and Instagram are helpful tools as you decide where to elope, but you can find inspiration anywhere. Watch some travel docs or pick up a guide book, and look for inspiration in “non-wedding” spaces. This will help you avoid being influenced to plan a day just to follow a trend or vibe, or recreate a cool image you saw, instead of the experience!

Phase Three: Check Marriage Laws, Permit Requirements & Leave No Trace

You’ll want to make sure that you know the requirements for having a legal ceremony in your chosen elopement country, state, or park. Depending on your location, you may need an officiant, witnesses, and a special use permit for holding a ceremony. To avoid worrying about the logistics of a legal ceremony while traveling, many couples opt to fill out the legal paperwork at home either before or after their elopement. But if you have your heart set on making it truly official during your elopement, these are some things to consider!

Marriage Laws:

Many states require an officiant and two witnesses for a legal ceremony, but there are a few that don’t!

Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wisconsin all allow self-solemnizing marriage ceremonies, but the exact rules surrounding them vary.

Some states require a waiting period, typically between 24-72 hours, between when you receive your license and when you can use it. This may mean having to travel a few days before your elopement, applying online, or checking if the waiting period can be waived in certain circumstances.

Be sure to research the local marriage requirements if you want to make sure your ceremony is legitimate.

Location Permits & Leave No Trace:

This section applies no matter if you are having a legal ceremony, a symbolic one, or even a vow renewal. Many national and state parks in the US require you to acquire a permit whether it is a legal ceremony or not. The parameters are typically defined by any “exchanging of vows”, so you’ll want to reach out to your chosen location and confirm whether or not a permit is required for what you have planned.

There is another super important reason that National Parks and other land management entities want to monitor the kinds of activities taking place at these stunning locations, and that is to make sure we aren’t leaving any negative impacts on the land. The principles of Leave No Trace are incredibly important to be aware of and respectful towards when planning any elopement or wedding on public lands – We always want to leave the world better than we found it, and help guarantee these stunning locations are still healthy and accesible for future adventurers to enjoy!

For these reasons, some locations have restrictions on how we use certain trails and what kinds of items we can bring with us. Common restrictions relate to live florals, pets, props, or a maximum number of guests for a particularly sensitive location.

Phase Four: Hire Your Specialized Elopement Photographer or Planner

Before setting too many logistics into stone, this is the best time to enlist your trusted planning professional. Especially if you are eloping to an unfamiliar area, I highly recommend hiring a specialized elopement photographer who offers planning assistance, location suggestions, and is familiar with any permitting or Leave No Trace requirements. Trust me, having someone on your team to assist and answer your logistical concerns is going to help this process stay stress-free and fun! 

I highly recommend choosing your elopement photographer BEFORE locking in travel plans, booking venues or hiring other vendors. They may have valuable insight about your chosen location such as permit requirements, guest count restrictions, seasonal closures etc. Your elopement photographer may also have amazing, hidden gem location suggestions you hadn’t even considered!

How to Choose the Right Elopement Photographer

While I may be biased, choosing the right photographer may be one of the most influential decisions that can impact your wedding day experience the most. And there’s so much more to it than just technical skill.

Your wedding day story will be told through the eyes of your photographer, who will likely be with you longer than any other vendor on your wedding day. It is SO important that they understand your vision for the day, and that you genuinely enjoy their company! After years in the wedding industry and witnessing my own friends tie the knot, I know many folks who received a beautiful gallery but couldn’t enjoy looking at them without remembering bad experiences with their vendors on the day of.

And that’s really what your wedding photos will be there for: Remembering all the things you saw and bringing back everything you felt on one of the most important days of your life.

Typically after the very first phone call or meeting, you’ll know if your personalities are a match!

Now for the technical side of things. Every photographer will have their own unique approach, composition, and editing style. Before scheduling any calls, you may want to identity what styles of photography you feel most drawn to. Scroll through some wedding blogs, Pinterest or Instagram and ask yourself these questions any time you find a photo that really catches your eye:

  • What about this editing style do I like? (Is it bright, colorful, moody, grainy, muted, soft, punchy etc.)
  • Are there a lot of candid, natural-feeling, or movement filled photos, or does the posing look more precise and intentional, or planned?
  • Do the photos look like they were naturally lit, or was flash used?

From here, you can begin the search for a photographer that checks all of the boxes you’re looking for when it comes to direction, composition, editing and lighting style.

Key Questions to Ask When Selecting a Photographer:

Do they have any full galleries to share that are similar to that kind of wedding I have planned?

Does their work show a diverse range of lighting scenarios? (i.e. can they adapt to different locations and conditions).

Does the photographer have experience or knowledge about the place I am eloping?

What is their wedding day approach? (Fly on the wall vs. hands on)

What other services do they offer? (Planning assistance, officiating, album design etc).

Phase Five: Book Your Travel, Lodging and other Vendors

With your date and location chosen, now is the time to start ironing out all of the logistics involved in planning your destination elopement. This stage of planning may be the most head-spinning, but once you have your dream team locked in it’s all smooth-sailing from there.

What are some popular elopement vendors?

Hair and Makeup Artist: HMUA teams that specialize in outdoor weddings and elopements know how to create a makeup look that can last through a full day of adventures. Some teams offer on-location services and will join you on location for touch ups, even if you’re hiking in!

Videographer: Always remember to hire a photo/video team that is familiar with Leave No Trace principles, drone restrictions and filming permit requirements for your chosen location.

Florist: If your chosen elopement location is on public lands, there may be restrictions on the type of flowers that are allowed. You can work with your florist to incorporate seedless stems, faux florals, or native plants.

Live Musician: Is there anything more romantic than being serenaded by live music? Whether for your ceremony or a private reception, bringing along a talented musician is a sure way to elevate the good vibes even more.

Caterer/Private Chef: Whether just the two of you, or with all your family in tow, having a private caterer or chef will remind you that your entire wedding day is a special celebration. There are private chefs and picnic companies who will travel right to your location and set up your first meal together with the most stunning views imaginable.

Officiant: There are officiants who specialize in adventure elopements and are happy to hike in to your ceremony location with you! We love when an officiant works close with our couples to create a completely personalized ceremony that feels true to their beliefs and values. You can also bring along someone you know to officiate for you (it’s very easy to be ordained online through the Universal Life Church). There are also some states (Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Colorado and a few others) that allow self-solemnizing, meaning you won’t need an officiant at all.

Wedding Planner: If you plan on inviting guests to your destination wedding, but know that DIY event planning does not spark joy, I would hire a dedicated event planner! Your elopement photographer may be able to offer some guidance, but a full planner will be able to focus entirely on executing your wedding day dreams. This is especially important if you would like to have any formal reception during your celebration, as they will help with the actual set up and coordination process.

How to Choose the Best Lodging for Your Elopement

What role does your lodging play in the grand scheme of your wedding day, and why does putting extra thought into this step matter?

Your elopement experience extends beyond just the place you say your vows, which means the celebration starts at your home base. Think of it this way – This is where you’ll be waking up with butterflies in your stomach as your elopement day begins. It’s the place you’ll be sitting at the table, making the final tweaks to your handwritten vows. It’s the place you’ll fall into bed at the end of the most amazing day ever, and where you’ll share your first good morning together as a married couple. We think that makes your lodging a pretty special place!

From an experience perspective, choose somewhere that feels cozy and comfortable and makes you extra happy to exist in. With AirBnbs and VRBOS popping up literally everywhere, you can find someplace entirely unique and in line with whatever vibe you feel drawn to.

Does your lodging offer a fun place to chill in between all of the exciting things you have planned? You can prioritize moments of zen into your day by finding a place with a private backyard, a hot tub, hammock, fire pit, or something equally cozy.

From a photography perspective, places with plenty of natural light are awesome! This is where we usually start the day together so we can document your finishing touches, vow writing, a first look, gift exchange, or other sweet moments before heading to other locations. Because your lodging will be the backdrop to these moments, we really think it’s worth putting extra consideration into.

Using Vacation Rentals for your Elopement Reception

One of the most common questions we receive in the early stages of the planning process is, “Can we host a reception at our AirBnB?”. The short answer is, it depends! Please, PLEASE do this research before booking anything. Post-2020, AirBnb no longer allows events or gatherings larger than the number of beds the home can sleep (meaning no guests). VRBO allows you to filter your search by homes that allow events, making it an easier platform to utilize. There are many vacation rentals that allow small gatherings, and the best way to find out is to simply message the host directly before booking. Even if you find them on AirBnb, the host may also have their home listed on other sites with different rules.

But the rule of thumb is, if you book your rental through a website that specifically bans events, there is a very high chance that your reservation could be canceled OR the owners could show up to shut down the event as its happening. That may sound like an extreme outcome, but it happens frequently enough that it’s truly crucial to follow the rules no matter how frustrating.

Our Top Tips for Booking Travel

There are so many resources online for when the find the best prices on flights, who the most reliable rental car companies are, which travel websites offer the best options etc.

Admittedly, the world of travel-hacking almost requires a full-time commitment to fully take advantage of. That being said, we do have a few bits of advice that may help you if you are new to travel and aren’t quite sure where to start!

Use Google Flights to compare prices routes through a variety of airlines. Before going directly to specific airline websites, Google Flights can show you all of the available flights in one place. You can check if there are alternate airports that tend to be cheaper to fly into or out of. Once you find the flight that you want, you can also set price alerts so you’re notified as rates change.

“Should we open a travel credit card?” Travel credit cards can be a great way to score free or cheap flights. Some cards are either directly paired with specific airlines, or offer amazing sign-up incentives that can be transferred to your current mileage programs. Most of the sign-up bonuses have specific requirements that need to be met first, such as spending a certain amount within a set period of time. Since we travel so often, we put all of our personal and business expenses on credit cards, which are paid off immediately, to earn points on everything we’re naturally spending money on regardless.

If you want to dive deep into the world of travel hacking, we highly recommend checking out FareDrop, a company launched by world travel experts Kara & Nate.

Phase Six: Take Your Time, Iron Out the Details

Now is the time to take a deep breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

The hardest part of the planning process is done. Now that you have your location, lodging, and vendors picked out, put down your planner for a little while and enjoyed that feeling of being engaged! This chapter in life is brief, so don’t let the wedding planning journey consume your time!

And whenever you’re ready to jump back in, this final stage is where you can truly build a day that’s entirely your own. From choosing your attire, writing your vows, and thinking about any other details that would spark joy to include on the day you get married, now is the time to make your wedding day plans look and feel more and more like you.

What are Typical Elopement Day Activities?

Instead of focusing on wedding day traditions or photo opps, think about how else you would like to spend your day. From bucket list excursions, to seemingly normal day-to-day moments that you love to share together, there’s no wrong way to spend time on your wedding day.

No two elopement days have ever looked the same, nor should they! That being said, use this list to spark some inspiration if you aren’t sure where to begin:

  • Ease into your day slowly with coffee, breakfast, and some downtime together
  • Exchange gifts
  • Write out your vows
  • Help each other get ready, or get into wedding attire separately
  • Have a First Look
  • Drive to, hike to or otherwise explore somewhere beautiful (in whichever way feels right!)
  • Book a helicopter, boating, off-roading or equally thrilling excursion
  • Rock climb, ski, snowshoe, kayak, paddle board, mountain bike etc
  • Plan an overnight backpacking trip
  • Go sightseeing around a city
  • Get tattoos
  • Have a marriage ceremony or vow exchange
  • Pop champagne
  • Enjoy a fancy picnic
  • Walk/ride bikes along the beach
  • Go tidepooling
  • Have loved ones write you letters/record video messages to view on the day
  • Hire a private chef/make reservations to a nice restaurant/cook a meal together
  • Have an intimate formal reception with guests
  • Lounge in a hammock
  • Have a campfire/make s’mores
  • Go stargazing

How to Create an Elopement Day Timeline

In the final stages of elopement planning, you’ll want to connect with all of your vendors to confirm your timelines. Your vendor team will be able to help you set aside the best amount of time for each portion of the day (hair and makeup, ceremony length, portrait time etc.)

There’s no need to craft a minute by minute schedule (After all, eloping gives you the freedom to plan a day with room for spontaneity)! That being said, your photographer and planner can help you draft up a guideline based on the best lighting for portraits, factor in travel time, and work around specific times that are set in stone (such as a ceremony time, hair and makeup start time, dinner reservations etc).

Once the day gets rolling, give yourself room in between each “formality” to simply enjoy that moment as it’s happening without worrying about where you need to be next.

Check out more tips on Timeline Planning here!

Phase Seven: Get Married!

It’s here! You’ve planned a totally unique elopement day full of good intention, personal details, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And now you’re getting MARRIED!

All that’s left to do is see the vision of your perfect elopement day come to life.

All of the hard work that went into planning your elopement means that you’re ready for any surprises the day may bring. You’ve given yourself time to feel spontaneous and carefree, made backup plans for the unexpected, and have a team of vendors who are SO excited to support you along the way.

And at the end of the day, the two of you will be have experienced an unforgettable day one of forever together.

My Final Suggestion: Please Print Your Wedding Photos

Too often these days we snap a million photos on our phones with the best intentions, only to never look at them again. Your wedding photos are there to remind you about one of the best days of your life, so they deserve space in your home! Tangible, physical prints really do feel different than scrolling through a gallery on a screen, and you will smile at them every single day as you walk past.

Prints and albums are also a really special way to share the story of your wedding day with folks who may not have been present.

Are you Ready to Start Planning Your Dream Elopement?

There’s no time like the present to get started on your elopement planning journey. We are here and ready to cheer you on and support you through the entire process. So let’s do this thing!

Contact Overland Elopements today to begin your very own elopement journey.

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