The words “Let’s elope!” evoke visions of throwing caution to the wind, grabbing your fiancé’s hand, and riding off into the sunset together.
But let’s be real: Although an elopement has fewer moving parts than a large wedding, there’s still some advance planning you’ll want to do. Why? Because despite the simpler process, there are plenty of important things you won’t want to forget!
To help get you straight to your happily-ever-after with as little stress as possible, we’ve put together this Elopement Checklist.
First you need to nail down the basics…and we assume you know the answers to these questions:
- What’s your budget?
- What date would you like to be married?
- Where do you want to elope to?
- Will you be inviting any guests? (Yes, you can have a few family and friends and still call it an elopement!)
- Will you need to hire any wedding vendors, such as an officiant or photographer? (More on this later.)
Tying the knot at the local courthouse, Las Vegas, or some exotic locale? That is the question.
- If you’re eloping to a destination, take care of your travel arrangements early—get those earlybird airfare and hotel deals!
- If you’d like to get married at the local courthouse, do your research. Go to the website for your city/county’s Clerk’s Office for the specifics on how your day will go. Here are some issues to be aware of:
- Popular city hall locations (like San Francisco City Hall) can book up months in advance, so you’ll need to make your appointment early.
- Some courthouse locations don’t even take appointments for marriages—meaning it’s first-come, first-served, with DMV-style waiting.
- Some states require two separate appointments—one for your marriage license and (within 90 days of that) another for your ceremony.
- Oftentimes couples getting married at a city hall aren’t allowed to read their own vows during the ceremony.
- One more thing: Some city hall locations put a limit on the number of guests you’re allowed to bring (including witnesses).
- If you want a totally turnkey elopement, consider hiring an all-inclusive elopement service with professionals that take care of everything for you, or find a wedding venue that offers a special elopement package.
Legal requirements for a marriage differ depending on the city, state, and country. They can include everything from a premarital blood test to a waiting period, so it’s important to do your research to make sure your knot is legally tied! If you’re getting married stateside, researching U.S. marriage laws is a good place to start.
Be sure to double-check the following:
- Do you need an appointment in order to pick up your marriage license?
- What’s the waiting period? Some states require up to a week between when you file for a marriage license and when you can legally get married!
- Do you need witnesses? Most states require that two witnesses be physically present to sign the marriage license, but some states/countries have different requirements. Some states even allow you to self-solemnize, which means you don’t even need witnesses! (Again, be sure to check!)
- What are the officiant requirements? Unless you’re getting married at a courthouse, you may need to book your own—or ask a trusted friend to get ordained!
- Are there any other legal issues you might run into? Maybe, so keep birth certificates, divorce papers from previous marriages, and other important docs on hand. Even if you elope abroad, you’ll need to get your license beforehand.
Travel + Accommodations
If you’re traveling out of state—or out of the country—how are you getting where you’re going?
- Make travel arrangements/bookings whether you’re going by car, bus, plane, or pack mule. (Grand Canyon elopement, anyone?)
- Book any overnight accommodations.
The exchanging of wedding rings during the ceremony is optional, yet very symbolic. But you don’t need to spend beaucoup bucks to incorporate this age-old tradition into your elopement.
If you’re short on funds but would still like to put a ring on it, may we suggest:
- Silicone wedding bands. Companies like Qalo and Enso offer chic, silicone wedding bands starting at around just $10.
- Search for cheap wedding bands on Etsy. You’ll be amazed at the gorgeous selection of budget-friendly options.
- Ring Pops. Seriously! If your elopement is a truly spontaneous fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision but you’d still like to exchange rings, run into the local gas station and grab yourself a couple.
Photography + Vendors
One thing we don’t recommend skimping on? Your wedding photos. You may also want to think about additional wedding services.
- Book a photographer in advance. No, it’s not mandatory, but you’ll no doubt want photographic evidence of this momentous occasion. So why not take advantage of all the money you’re saving with this elopement by splurging on a professional photographer? Ask if they offer hourly rates or special city hall packages.
- If you simply can’t swing it, charge up that iPhone. If time or budgetary constraints prevent you from hiring a photographer, at the very least bring along your own camera or smartphone. Ask your witness to capture a few sweet shots of the two of you crazy lovebirds as you say “I do”.
- Would you like a bouquet and/or boutonnière? If you do want wedding flowers you can either swing by the local flower shop or have a professional provide them. If it’s the latter, be sure to book them in advance!
- Other vendors to consider include:
- Wedding planner
- Caterer, cake maker, and/or DJ if you’re planning an after-party
Attire + Hair/Makeup
Elopement style runs the gamut from fancy to free-spirited, and what you choose is totally and completely up to you! But if you’re getting photos taken (see above), you’ll want to look and feel your best.
- Coordinate your outfits. Whatever you decide to wear, just make sure you and your partner are on the same wavelength. It might look a little weird if you’re decked out in an extravagant gown and your better half is dressed in ripped jeans, ya know?
- Factor any travel into your outfit choices. If you’re flying, choose fabrics that won’t easily wrinkle when packed—or at least make sure your hotel has an iron you can use.
- Figure out the makeup and hair sitch. Many salons offer hair and makeup services on a walk-in basis—as long as your wants are minimal. But if you’re going for a more glam look, it’s best to call ahead and make an appointment. Or, you can always do it yourself—nothing wrong with that!
You may say “I do” and be done, but we definitely recommend some sort of post-elopement celebration!
- How are you going to celebrate your new legal status? Let us remind you that although your elopement may have lacked much of the pomp and circumstance of a large wedding, it’s still a huge deal! Celebrate accordingly. This could mean a quick trip to the wine bar, an intimate dinner with your closest family and friends, or even a just-the-two-of-you tropical getaway courtesy of all that cash you saved.
- Consider sending out elopement announcements. Try and avoid hurt feelings by telling your nearest and dearest first, either in person or by phone, then send out fun elopement announcements to shout out your new relationship status!