Some people know they want a big wedding with all the bells and whistles – and for everyone else, eloping might sound like a great idea! We all know what comes with a traditional wedding: a venue, catering a dinner, decorating all these spaces, wrangling a large wedding party, and let’s not forget, plenty of opinions from your family and friends about how everything should be!
We don’t want a big wedding, but what does it mean to elope?
By the Oxford Dictionary’s standards it’s “running away to get married without parental consent”, but eloping is really used to describe a ceremony with just the couple, secret or not!
Over the last few years, elopements and micro-weddings have become more and more common for couples we work with who want to spend the money elsewhere or value a small, intimate experience over a big shebang. Covid has definitely played a part in that, but some other reasons why people elope could include less family drama, not wanting all the anxiety & obligation that comes with the traditional wedding, and just wanting it to be a stress-free day focused on their love. By removing the favors and cutting out a dinner for 100+, there are definitely big savings too!
The misconception here is that an elopement is “easy” to plan. That might be true if you just want to get a marriage license and go home, but if you plan to have any kind of celebration following the ceremony, or if you want to get married in a special location with a photographer, there’s just a bit more to consider! Assuming you have already decided to keep it small and sweet, what comes next?
1. Planning an Elopement & Choosing Vendors
As a wedding planner, I LOVE when couples come to me before picking their vendors. I can make recommendations based on what you want and use my experience to recommend vendors or just help with the design to make sure the vibe is right! The basic vendors you will want to still consider having are a planner, photographer, videographer, florist, officiant, stationery, and hair and make-up.
A planner can help with all aspects of the day from where you are getting married, transportation getting there, creating a timeline to allow for getting ready and the first look if wanted, etc. Even with an elopement, a planner still serves the same purpose to make sure the day goes smoothly and no detail is forgotten and can help suggest under-the-radar places to make it extra special.
A photographer and/or videographer will be there to capture the day and will also help make your family and friends feel included by being able to see your photos and videos post-wedding. (More on an elopement announcement later!)
A florist can provide the bridal bouquet(s), groom boutonniere(s), and any ceremony focal point pieces depending on where the ceremony will take place.
A stationary vendor can create cards to send to family and friends post-wedding and include photos and maybe a link to the photo gallery and/or video link for them to watch the day unfold.
An officiant has a pretty clear role and will be needed unless you choose to do a self-uniting ceremony.
Hair and make-up can also be added if the bride(s) and/or groom(s) want a glam team the day of or opt to DIY too.
2. Choosing a Ceremony Location
Whether you and your partner want to get married in another country or in your backyard, the location will influence several factors. Pick the place that means the most to you as a couple, that could include: your hometown, a city/town you hope to settle down in, where you first met, or just a dream destination that has been on your travel list for a while but you haven’t visited yet! If you are planning on doing a honeymoon right after, you can also try to plan to get married either in the same city or somewhere close by to start your honeymoon soon after if you’d like. Other things to think about: Travel: Do you have to book a plane or is it a walk or train ride away? Are your passports valid?
Local laws: What is the process for getting married there? Are you getting married on private or public land or a venue? This will affect the dates and availability, and your location may require a permit that your planner can apply for well in advance.
The location of your wedding will also help the planner create the timeline and logistics. If your ceremony is taking place on the top of a mountain, we’ll have to plan how to hike up there, consider the weather and prepare all the vendors for possible treacherous conditions while a rooftop in the city or an indoor location has fewer moving parts.
3. What’s the budget? And how do we figure it out?
Everyone hates talking about the “b” word but it's so important! Be sure to sit down with your partner to talk about costs.
Planning an elopement may sound like the budget-friendly way to go but you’ll soon find out that many vendors have a fixed rate that won’t change regardless of the wedding size (like the photographers, planner & DJs), but things like catering that typically charge per person, you’ll be able to cut back significantly. Considering you’re having a private ceremony, don’t be afraid to ask vendors if they have an “elopement package” or if they have discounted rates for these more private events.
On the upside, it can be a bit easier to spend less money than if you had a traditional wedding. From the outset, many of the big ticket items may not be needed such as a big venue, catering staff and bartenders, rentals, a band/DJ, transportation, etc.
On the other hand, depending on where you decide to elope, the additional costs that might add up can include domestic or international flights and accommodations, and meals for you, your partner, and vendors if you plan to use someone local and have them travel with you. In addition, any permits for the ceremony and/or photo locations will also need to be factored in. Overall, you can expect to spend significantly less than a traditional wedding, but eloping might not be as inexpensive as you think it is depending on the scale of elopement you and your partner want.
4. How to elope legally (& what is the actual difference between eloping and a standard marriage?)
Unless you are looking for a spiritual ceremony only, you’ll want to check on how to tie the knot officially, according to the locale. It does vary based on where you live and choose to get married, but many couples choose to just hold the ceremony and savor the intimate experience of that day and deal with the licenses and legalities another day! Once you know where you’re planning to elope, you’ll want to figure out what the legal process is for getting married there. Do you need to legally be married in your home state first and then use your wedding day ceremony as more ceremonial, but not the legal uniting? Consider any waiting periods or witnesses you might need, and book an officiant if you aren’t getting married at a courthouse.
Fun fact: Pennsylvania is one of eight states that allows a “self-uniting” marriage (aka a Quaker wedding) without a third-party officiant.
If you are going the self-uniting route in Philadelphia, all you need to do is request a self-uniting marriage license from the courthouse for $100, and a self-uniting certificate that you’ll sign on your elopement day, and mail back to the courthouse later. During your ceremony, you need two witnesses, and once the certificate is signed, voila – MARRIED!
5. Throw a post-elopement party & announcement etiquette (congrats!)
Marriage is exciting and by eloping, you may (or may not) have told your friends and family about it in advance. (Though we recommend telling your parents and besties beforehand to minimize hurt feelings!)
Either way, you’ll want to celebrate, but before you do, share the happy news! You can send out a card announcing before you arrive at your ceremony location or email everyone photos after it’s official. How you choose to share the news is personal to you.
Once the world knows, it’s time to party! You can keep the celebration as small as your ceremony or invite everyone you know. Lots of couples choose to rent a private room at a restaurant or you can postpone the party and hold a celebration on your one-year anniversary.
Eloping is exciting! It strays from traditional wedding fanfare and allows you and your partner to really make your wedding what you want it to be! While it isn’t for everyone, it is definitely an option to consider, and my team can help you make it happen!