Let’s face it: A big wedding just isn’t for everyone. Whatever your perfectly justified reason—whether you’re reluctant to be the center of attention or have had to postpone your wedding indefinitely—figuring out how to elope can quickly make the process feel more like a scary unknown than a sexy escape.
What Is Eloping?
Eloping is a marriage conducted without the knowledge of the couple's family and friends, particularly their parents. Typically, those who elope only have a ceremony and do not host a reception or celebration.
If planning your elopement is giving you those stress sweats you were trying to avoid, we're here to help. Ahead, you'll find a step-by-step guide to eloping, plus etiquette tips for getting hitched on the sly. We tapped elopement and wedding planner Lindsey Nickel (founder of Lovely Day Events) and Britt Cole and Francie Dorman (founders of Mavinhouse Events) for their insight regarding the dos and don'ts of eloping.
Meet the Expert
- Lindsey Nickel is the owner and founder ofLovely Day Events, a boutique wedding planning company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
- Mavinhouse Eventsis a modern event planning and design firm serving clients throughout the New England and New York regions.
Why Couples Elope
Is the idea of a big bridal bash just not your thing? Perhaps you and your partner are the super spontaneous types always looking for an unconventional adventure. Maybe you're trying to save money for a new life together and just realized your next beach vacation could easily pull double duty as your nuptials as well. For these reasons, among others, many couples are opting to eschew tradition in favor of a quick and swift elopement.
How to Elope
Once you've decided to elope, you'll want to follow these steps.
1. Check the Law
Do you need a license? How long will it take? How about a city hall appointment? Are witnesses required, and what are their necessary credentials? These are the questions you should be asking yourself if you want your elopement to go off without a hitch. The planners at Mavinhouse Events also recommend "possibly booking an officiant unless a friend is ordained and can marry you (doesn't apply at the courthouse), check to see if you need a witness, and consider any waiting periods to obtain your marriage license."
2. Book Your Travel and Find Your Vendors
Do so as far in advance as possible to save money and relieve stress. While the destination of your elopement doesn't have to be an exotic faraway locale, it is something to keep in mind. "When thinking about elopement, consider a place that will have significance for you both," said the team at Mavinhouse Events. "Consider Venetsanos Winery in Santorini Island, Greece; the Sanará in Tulum, Mexico; or the Round Hill in Jamaica."
3. Plan the Ceremony
What will you wear? Are rings your thing? How should the exchanging of vows go? Do you want a bouquet? While you may not be walking down the aisle, per se, you'll still want your highly anticipated elopement moment to be special. According to Mavinhouse Events, "Elopements are a great opportunity to steer away from tradition and pick an outfit that may be more streetwear chic. Consider tea-length dresses rather than long gowns, bold colors, or patterns rather than white. Or, a bird's cage veil rather than a long and flowy one, menswear suiting instead of a dress... the options are limitless."
4. Throw a Post-Elopement Party
Maybe that means a private celebration (just the two of you), an all-out reception with friends and family, or some combination of both. Mavinhouse Events suggests "renting out a private room in a restaurant" to celebrate with close friends and family immediately after you say "I do." Alternatively, you can always postpone the celebration for a later date. "A one-year anniversary party is a great way to host an event that feels like a reception without so much of the pressure of hosting an entire wedding," they share. "If you've gone to a destination where your friends and family aren't close, treating yourself to a fancy dinner for just the two of you can be such a treat. So many top-rated restaurants offer a chef's table where you can have a multi-course menu with wine pairings prepared and served to you specially by the chef."
When you’re phrasing invitations, swap out “invite you to the marriage of...” for “invite you to a celebration in honor of their marriage” so guests know you’ve already signed the marriage license and that they won’t be witnessing your vows.
5. Send Those Announcements
After you’ve tied the knot, let the world know the big news. Submit a formal marriage announcement after you've eloped to the local paper, and have cards printed up with a photo and the good news to send to anyone and everyone. Mavinhouse Events shares, "Send an announcement after you've eloped to let friends and family know (you could send a picture of the two of you from your big day), plan a dinner party, and announce it to everyone there. If you have children, consider a thoughtful way to get them involved."
Do: Prepare Yourself for Family and Close Friends' Reactions
The most difficult part of eloping is the fear that your friends and family will be disappointed they were not a part of your big day. "Know that not everyone is going to support your decision, and be prepared for their reactions," Nickel says. "I recommend telling your parents before you elope to minimize hurt feelings and surprises after the fact. And try to find a way to involve your closest friends and family somehow—whether that's sharing photos with them first or maybe hosting a post-marriage reception. But, shocking your closest friends and family with a social media announcement is a huge no-no: Make sure to tell them in person and if anyone feels hurt or left out, a handwritten note can go a long way."
Don't: Forget to Take Care of All the Legal Details
Thinking of running away to Europe to elope? Don't forget to swing by your local city hall first. "Make sure you check off everything on the legal to-do list," Nickel says. "Remember, you still need an officiant and a witness to be legally married in the U.S. And many countries have different residency requirements in order to be married there (officially), so don't forget to get your marriage certificate at home before you jet off." Because marriage laws vary by state, be sure to familiarize yourself with each state's legal requirements, especially if you're planning a cross-country elopement. Alternatively, if you're eloping abroad, there's a guide for those stipulations as well.
The Ultimate Guide to Elopements
Do: Hire a Local Planner, Photographer, and Videographer
Just because you're having an intimate wedding doesn't mean you're completely on your own. "While many elopements, by nature, tend to be last-minute decisions, I highly advise couples not just to wing it. Hiring a local wedding planner can take a lot of stress off the couple," Nickel says. "Plus, a planner can suggest really special or under-the-radar places that you might not already know. Also, make sure you hire both a photographer and a videographer to document your day. This is especially important for elopements because it allows you to share the moment with friends and family who could not be there."
Don't: Be Afraid to Ask Vendors for Special Pricing
Due to the smaller scale and shorter time commitments, most vendors will offer special rates or à la carte pricing for elopements, Nickel says. "Especially if you're getting married on an off-day—say a Tuesday at 11 a.m.—don't be afraid to negotiate." Oftentimes, you can also find bargain deals simply by failing to mention you're a bride or groom. Say the word "wedding" and many vendors reckon they can jack up the price for their services. Instead of requesting a "wedding" look, you may be able to save money by asking for a "special occasion" hairdo.
Do: Choose Guests or Witnesses
Guests at an elopement? You bet! Whether your state requires witnesses or you just want a few close friends or family members there to be part of the moment, you can definitely still bring some friends along and call it an elopement. The rule of thumb is to keep the count under a dozen. Of course, if you’re inviting guests, you’ll want to make more formal plans and can’t simply pop into the courthouse on a whim.
Don't: Shirk Budgeting Responsibly
Even if you manage to wrangle some discounted quotes from vendors, once you factor in the travel and accommodations, your elopement can run you that small wedding cost you were attempting to run away from in the first place. Be sure to sit down with your partner and discuss any financial concerns. Assuming you've involved your parents from the start, they may be willing to offer some monetary support. "Inviting your parents to your elopement if you're not set on it just being the two of you, is another way to involve them and lessen bruised emotions," Nickel says.
Do: Send a Marriage Announcement
Send a marriage announcement after your elopement, Nickel advises. "Some people might be wondering what happened to your engagement or if they're getting a save-the-date soon. A marriage announcement lets people know that you've already gotten hitched and it's the perfect opportunity to showcase some of those gorgeous intimate photos you captured on your special day." And of course, there's always the chance your recipients will send back a reply in the form of presents.
Don't: Downplay Your Elopement
Just because you're eloping doesn't mean that the day isn't special—it's still your wedding and there is reason to be excited and celebrate. "Don't forget to indulge in the bridal aspects of your day," Nickel says. "Get a special dress and a bouquet and perhaps even set up a table, complete with your dream centerpiece, a bottle of champagne, and dinner for two."
What is elopement etiquette? ›
Whether someone purchased an item from your registry or simply popped over with a bottle of champagne to celebrate, sending a thank-you is proper eloping etiquette — much like a traditional wedding.Should I feel guilty for eloping? ›
Don't feel guilty about choosing to elope. While it may not be the most popular way to wed, it is perfect for many couples and there should be no guilt about wanting a more intimate experience. 3. Do treat it like your wedding day and don't skimp on style.What happens when elope? ›
An elopement is a simple ceremony that is short and sweet, usually around 5 minutes long. The ceremony script has been pre-written by your officiant and you have the option to add your own vows and/or a reading. The entire focus is on the couple and creating a little bit of magic just around them.Do couples regret eloping? ›
One of the top reasons why some couples regret their decision to elope is that their experience of the day and the photos they received didn't meet their expectations. In the age of social media, it's hard to *not* have high expectations when it comes to eloping.Do elope marriages last longer? ›
In fact, we know that when it comes to elopement vs big wedding, the couples who elope tend to have longer lasting marriages than those who spend, spend, spend on a big wedding. Elopement Marriages last longer than Big Wedding marriages.How do you elope without offending? ›
One of the best ways to elope without offending your family is to make sure your elopement day is fully documented. That way, you'll have something to share with them after the day is done. They can relive the day with you two and see your private moment without you having them there on the day-of.Is eloping selfish? ›
When you are choosing to elope, you are not, in fact, being SELFISH. You are practicing SELF-CARE. You are choosing to honor your own needs and feelings. You are making decisions that are right for YOU.How soon is too soon to elope? ›
' The truth is that there really is no short answer to that question. Like so many other facets of elopement it all comes down to your personal preferences. Traditionally, wedding 'season' runs from May through September, but as we should all know by now – traditional rules do not apply when it comes to eloping!Is it offensive to elope? ›
There is nothing to be ashamed of if you want to elope, and it is 100% up to you whether you tell people now, after the wedding, or ever! If you choose not to tell your family, post on social media, or in any other way keep your elopement private, we hope you don't do so out of fear.Why eloping is a good idea? ›
An elopement grants them the freedom to decide how to commit their lives to each other. It creates a magical, intimate way for couples to make their wildest, most romantic dreams about their wedding day come true without asking them to sacrifice a single, intimate moment between the two of them.
What is Micro wedding? ›
A micro wedding is an intimate affair, typically with no more than 50 guests. They still feature time-honored traditions that make a wedding but on a much smaller scale. Sounds good to us!How many people wish eloped? ›
Nearly half of the couples surveyed also said they should have enjoyed it more, while 28 percent said they regret how much they spent, 20 percent regret the guest list (ouch!) and 19 percent said they should have just eloped. What Would They Change?Do people wish they eloped? ›
We have heard so many tired and stressed brides exclaim 'I wish I eloped instead! ' So many couples who do choose to elope do so in order to avoid the stress and the family politics that often come with planning a wedding.How many elopes end in divorce? ›
Shockingly, couples who eloped (just the couple at the wedding) were 12.5x more likely to end up divorced than couples who were married at a wedding with 200+ people.Is eloping cheaper than a wedding? ›
Elopements are significantly cheaper and allow people to focus on their honeymoon. Also, these ceremonies are more intimate and personal than the traditional 300-person wedding.What do I wear to my elopement? ›
Couples who elope typically choose to forgo a formal wedding and opt for an intimate ceremony instead. What is an elopement dress? Typically an elopement outfit is more casual than a formal wedding gown and runs the gamut from white mini dresses to modern jumpsuits.Can I have bridesmaids if I elope? ›
Keep the bridesmaids and groomsmen to a few people if your guest count is extremely intimate. Plus, ensure your location is large enough to accommodate your crew standing with you as you exchange vows.Should you tell your family you're eloping? ›
Tell them ahead of time.
It's wise to tell your parents you're eloping as far in advance as possible of your plans, as waiting until the last minute can come as a surprise and be hurtful, warns Shelley Sommerfeldt, Psy.
- Be open with your respective families.
- Add wedding traditions (or don't)
- Capture your day with a photographer or videographer.
- Make sure your marriage is legal.
- Pick a destination.
- Send out wedding invitations well in advance.
- Set a budget.
This can help us see what the Bible says about eloping: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky.
What do you call a party after an elopement? ›
If friends and family know you eloped, you can simply send invitations to this party in whatever manner you want to frame it – call it a reception, an elopement party, or even an anniversary party. If you've kept your elopement secret, your party invitations could also be a marriage announcement!What is the best age to get married? ›
“The ideal age to get married, with the least likelihood of divorce in the first five years, is 28 to 32,” says Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan. “Called the 'Goldilocks theory,' the idea is that people at this age are not too old and not too young.”How long is the average couple together before they get engaged? ›
Most couples date for two or more years before getting engaged, with many dating anywhere from two to five years. Once the question is popped, the average length of engagement is between 12 and 18 months.How long is the average relationship before marriage? ›
How Long Do People Date Before Getting Married? The average couple has a dating time for over two years according to The Knot. If you wait for half that time, chances are you don't really know the person well enough and the couple's relationship satisfaction may still be in the “puppy love” stage.Is eloping selfish? ›
When you are choosing to elope, you are not, in fact, being SELFISH. You are practicing SELF-CARE. You are choosing to honor your own needs and feelings. You are making decisions that are right for YOU.Is getting eloped worth it? ›
Eloping is great for couples that value experience over a big wedding, or would rather put their money toward something that is more important. Most couples that choose to elope crave a day that reflects their relationship. They're rad couples that value a true experience they can remember forever.Is getting eloped a sin? ›
Eloping is not a sin when you really consider the creativity that comes along with it. It wouldn't be a great Christian wedding idea to dishonor your father and mother to elope, ditch your church family, or have your ceremony ungodly, right? But these are all myths that come along with eloping.Is it better to have a wedding or elope? ›
It's not about leaving anyone out, it's about having the day you want. When it comes to weddings, it's a lot harder to host a giant party and not invite your family. Elopement is purely focused on intent, meaning, and authenticity — which means if that's the day you want, that's the day you get.