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Hosting Garden Weddings for Nature Lovers

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The Best Elopement Checklist in 15 Simple Steps

While preparing for an elopement can feel like an easier task than a traditional wedding. It can still be helpful to work from a checklist! Here’s a comprehensive checklist to help you prepare for your elopement and ensure that every detail is taken care of.

Ultimate Elopement Checklist

For more detail on these steps, read the sections further below.

1. Set a date and location

2. Familiarize yourself with the legal requirements specific to that location

3. Determine a budget and what all will be planned for/done for the elopement day

4. Select an officiant and any witnesses you would like to be apart of the day

5. Select any attire and accessories for the day

6. Decide if you want to include any vendors (Photography/ Hair & Makeup, etc.) 

7. Book any travel and Accommodation needed

8. Create and gather any ceremony details (Scripts, own vows, and other readings)

9. Gather any Wedding Rings, bouquet, boutonnières desired

10. Obtain Marriage License – these often have to be requested days in advance

11. Decide on Music for the day – a playlist or live musician can help set the mood for the wedding day

12. Pack Essentials (vows, rings, marriage license)

13. Plan Food and Drinks for after the elopement ceremony

14. Relax, enjoy, and soak in all the beautiful moments

15. Plan for communication with loved ones about the elopement after the ceremony

1. Set a Date and Location:

Finding the perfect location for an elopement involves considering personal preferences, logistics, and practical factors. This is often the very first step of any elopement checklist! So much can be determined by the location. Start by discussing your vision with your partner – think about the scenery, ambiance, and emotional significance you want. Set a budget early on, as it will impact your choices.

  • Begin your research by exploring various locations. Look at elopement packages, a wedding venue, state parks, and destinations that match your vision. Online resources, travel blogs, and social media can provide inspiration.
  • Keep accessibility in mind for you, your partner, and potential guests. Ensure the location is feasible for everyone involved. Look into the legal requirements for getting married in your chosen place – marriage licenses, waiting periods, and documentation can vary.
  • Consider the weather and seasons, as they’ll affect your elopement experience. Prioritize locations that offer great photo opportunities – think about natural landscapes, historic sites, and unique architecture.
  • Choose a location that offers the level of privacy you desire. Elopements are intimate occasions, so consider secluded spots, private estates, or smaller venues.
  • Think about personal significance – a location where you first met, a favorite vacation spot, or somewhere with sentimental value.
  • Be aware of permits and restrictions, especially for public or natural locations. Some places require permits for ceremonies, photography, or gatherings.
  • Lastly, prioritize your comfort and well-being. Select a location for the wedding ceremony where you and your partner feel at ease and can fully enjoy the moment.

Ultimately, the best location reflects your relationship, creates lasting memories, and captures the essence of your elopement.

2. Legal Requirements:

Preparing for the legal requirements of an elopement involves thoroughly understanding and complying with the marriage laws of the location where you plan to get married. This should always be a part of your elopement checklist! Follow these steps to navigate the process:

Research Local Laws: Begin by researching the marriage laws and regulations of the specific location where you intend to elope. Every jurisdiction has its own set of rules concerning marriage licenses, waiting periods, age restrictions, and required documentation.

Obtain a Marriage License: Most places require you to obtain a marriage license from the local government or county clerk’s office. Familiarize yourself with the application process, required documents (such as identification, proof of residency, and birth certificates), and any waiting periods.

Residency Requirements: Check if the location has residency requirements. Some places may stipulate that you establish a certain period of residency before applying for a marriage license.

Witnesses and Officiants: Understand whether witnesses are required at the ceremony and if there are any restrictions on who can officiate the marriage. Some locations allow friends or family members to become ordained for the occasion, while others mandate a licensed officiant.

Legal Documents: Gather all necessary legal documents, including birth certificates, photo IDs, and, if applicable, divorce or death certificates. Ensure these documents are accurate and up to date.

Translations and Apostille: If you’re marrying in a country where documents are in a different language, you might need to have them translated. Additionally, if the country is part of the Hague Apostille Convention, an apostille may be required to authenticate the documents for international use.

Pre-Marital Counseling or Blood Tests: Be aware of any requirements such as pre-marital counseling, blood tests, or medical certificates, which some locations may mandate.

Fees and Costs: Understand the fees associated with obtaining a marriage license, officiant services, and other legal aspects of your elopement.

Timing and Scheduling: Plan your elopement date with consideration for any waiting periods between obtaining the marriage license and the actual ceremony. Allow ample time to fulfill all necessary legal steps.

Filing and Registration: After the ceremony, ensure you file the marriage license and all required documents with the appropriate government agency to officially register your marriage.

Legal Assistance: Seek legal advice or consult with a family law attorney if you have any uncertainties about the legal requirements.

Keep Copies: Make multiple copies of all documents and store them in a secure and easily accessible place. This will be useful for future reference, name changes, or administrative purposes.

Remember, each location has its own specific legal procedures, so thorough research and compliance are vital. Starting early and being well-prepared will contribute to a smooth and legally valid elopement experience.

3. Budget and Planning:

Budget and planning are always such personal decisions. One of the top reasons people report deciding to elope is due to wanting to maximize a smaller budget. But that isn’t always the case. Couples with a larger elopement budget may want to plan a destination elopement that requires travel arrangements, travel costs and other details that add to the cost.

We can’t set this budget for you, but make sure it’s what you are comfortable with. There is truly a solution for almost any price point – it can be as low as the cost of your local marriage licensing fee. If your budget allows for an elopement photographer and a makeup artist, we do highly recommend including those vendors! They can make sure your dream day is captured to have photographic memories to look back on. The makeup artist can also be key to the perfect elopement to give you some extra time for pampering and self-care. 

Hanna Sher Photography

As you define your budget, this will also give you clarity for a rough timeline of the elopement day. You will need to create time and space for the activities that are important to you to include. Don’t forget to add the travel time from location to location! That’s an easy one to forget!

Having a timeline written in advance can help make sure you have included all details that are important to your dream elopement included, but allows for some flexibility when changes are required – like bad weather. Many professional photographer that focus on elopements can also double as an elopement planner, taking some of this work off of your plate for the planning process. You can just inform them of your priorities and work from there! If you are wanting an adventure elopement – handing the reins over to your elopement photographer may be the best way to achieve this. 

4. Officiant and Witnesses:

Most locations will require that you have at least an officiant be apart of the elopement ceremony. Some jurisdictions will also require a witness. But there are some locations that allow more private, self-led ceremonies, or even allowing your dog to “sign” off on the marriage license. 

You’ll want to be prepared for this and work with either a friend, family member, or professional to ensure the wedding ceremony is in compliance with local laws. Hopefully this is an easy item to get checked off your elopement checklist!

5. Attire and Accessories:

You certainly don’t have to be traditional with your wedding attire and accessories for an elopement. Heck, the elopement isn’t traditional anyways. Might as well wear what you love!

Select your elopement attire, whether it’s a wedding dress, suit, or something more casual. And then you may want to add in accessories like shoes, jewelry, and any special items you want to wear.

6. Elopement Day Vendors:

The beauty of an elopement is that the vendors are largely optional. In a lot of ways that can make the wedding day easier just like in a big wedding. But they are are truly optional and more dependent on the budget, values, and goals for the wedding day.

Often times couples will at least hire an elopement photographer. Other popular options are videographers, hair & makeup artists, live musicians, private chef, and dedicated ceremony location. 

No matter the vendor category, you will want to research their past work and experience to see if its a good fit for your expectations. Take the time to read reviews, check out their social media pages, and recommendations from others to make sure the wedding vendors will enhance the elopement day. Once they are selected, you will want to discuss your vision and preferred style with them. Define any requirements like specific photos desired and provide it to the vendor in writing – often through email. These vendors can also help make sure many other details are checked off of your elopement checklist since they bring experience to the table.

7. Travel and Accommodation:

Travel and accommodations can be more essential in some far off, epic location. But they can also be essential to enhance a local elopement too. Staying at a local boutique hotel helps the day feel extra special. Where ever the elopement takes you, make sure you have a plan for transportation to and from your elopement location and whatever celebrations occur after. 

If you get to stay somewhere special, make sure to note in the reservation that it is for an elopement wedding. The hotel or accommodations may take extra steps to make your stay extra special. This might be something as simple as a bottle of wine or free room service breakfast in the morning!  

Hanna Sher Photography

8. Ceremony Details:

We have written more details on elopement ceremonies you may want to read here. Essentially, write your vows or choose readings that are meaningful to you. Don’t forget to include any special rituals or traditions you want to include in the ceremony. It’s worth investing in cute vow books or other memorabilia to preserve these words. You are putting your heart and soul into this ceremony, and you’ll want to be able to pull it back out and read it from time to time. 

9. Physical details – Wedding Rings, bouquet, boutonnières:

Weddings come with so many little details as a part of tradition. Things like wedding rings, bouquets, and boutonnières are common ones. These details aren’t required. If these are important to you, make sure you have taken the time to select them and obtain them in advance.  We are also big fans of physical vow books! We found these beautiful hardcover and customizable ones on Amazon that may be just what you’re looking for.

​In advance, make sure the rings are sized correctly. And for florals, you can often shop local you-pick flower farms the morning of the elopement for some beautiful and unique selections. 

10. Obtain Marriage License:

Don’t forget to take the time to know the local laws for your marriage license. Most have to be ordered in advance and have built in delays before it can be used for an official wedding ceremony. Make the time to obtain your marriage license and ensure all necessary documents are prepared.

11. Decide on Music for the day:

Taylor Jean Photography

Create a playlist of your favorite songs for the ceremony and any other moments you want to accompany with music. Maybe this is a playlist of all your favorite music while you get ready, and then a new playlist for the ceremony itself. If music is a big priority to you, the ceremony music may be an area to splurge for a live music to really set the moment. If you are needing inspiration for non-traditional wedding songs to add to your playlist, check out our recommendations here

12. Elopement Checklist – Packing Essentials (Vows, marriage license, etc):

Alyson Kay Photography

Try to pack the essentials in advance, so it’s not a scramble the morning of. Make your own elopement checklist for packing everything you’ll need on the day. Here are some of the things you may want to make sure you have:

  • Wedding day outfits (undergarments too)
  • Wedding rings
  • ​Vow books
  • Accessories
  • Marriage license and required documentation
  • Personal/sentimental momentos
  • Tissues/handkerchief 
  • Deodorant
  • Small first aid kit
  • Phone chargers
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Gift for your partner
  • Comfortable shoes and clothes to change into
  • Breath mints/gum
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks & water

13. Plan for food and drinks after the ceremony:

We work with too many couples that forget to eat or drink on a wedding day. It’s easy to get swept up in all the activities of the day and forget one of the most important things: the food. Pack a picnic, grab Costco bulk meals, order delivery, or plan a stop at a favorite eatery – but always plan in food for the day. 

It is worth planning for something extra special after the ceremony. That can be as simple as a candlelit picnic dinner or a bigger catered event where you invite more friends and family to join you in the celebration of the beautiful day. 

14. Relax, enjoy, and soak in all the beautiful moments:

This one may sound obvious but take some time to relax and soak in the moment before the big day arrives. Too many people say after the elopement or wedding day that they just don’t remember all of it. It was a blur. That is likely because they didn’t have enough quiet moments built in. Take time to be alone together as a couple, soak in the energy of the day, take time to take your own photographs – what ever helps you relax, enjoy, and soak in all the beautiful moments. 

15. Create a plan for when and how to tell loved ones:

Lastly, you’ll want to create a plan, together as a couple, for when and how friends and loved ones will be told about the elopement. This may involve planning a party as a “reception”, sending out announcements, or just a post on social media. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want! This is often left off of elopement checklists and treated as an afterthought. But make sure to include it and that it reflects your intentions.

We hope you enjoyed using our Elopement Checklist to plan!

Remember that elopements are all about personalization and intimacy, so feel free to adapt this checklist to suit your preferences and vision for your special day. We hope you use our elopement checklist to reduce some of the stress and get you to a beautiful happy ever after. Happy elopement planning!

August 29, 2023

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