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How To Plan an Elopement or Microwedding

A complete guide to all the essential information when planning an elopement or micro wedding

San Francisco City Hall Elopement


You’re engaged! Congratulations! And the next step is to start planning your wedding, but where do you start? Maybe you already know you want something smaller and more intimate, but you aren’t sure what that looks like. Or maybe you didn’t even realize there were other options out there outside of a traditional wedding! Well, you are not alone. Although elopements have been around for many years, they have significantly changed in recent years. You may be asking yourself, “What is an elopement, and what is the difference between an elopement and a micro wedding?” This post will help answer all your elopement planning questions as well as explore what it means to elope and how to plan an elopement or micro wedding.

WHAT IS AN ELOPEMENT

What do you think when you hear the term elopement? Do you picture a couple sneaking down to a courthouse or maybe even running off to a Las Vegas chapel to seal the deal? Well, you’re not wrong! While those are absolutely elopements, there is a lot more to the meaning of the word today. Elopements have become quite popular amongst couples in recent years for several reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that they create a sense of intimacy and intentionality. Couples who choose to elope prioritize values and experiences over traditions and expectations. No longer are elopements rushed and unplanned events, rather they are intentional and well-thought-out days that focus on the couple and their marriage and reflect their personalities and interests.

Benefits of elopements
– Prioritize freedom and intimacy
– Focus on each other and the marriage
– Smaller guest list ~10 people or fewer
– Endless location possibilities

WHAT IS A MICRO WEDDING

A micro wedding is an excellent option for those who want the benefit of a simple ceremony without feeling limited in the number of guests they can invite. The easiest way to think about a micro wedding is as a cross between an elopement and a traditional wedding. Micro weddings can still have a venue, vendors, and a reception without the stress that comes from planning a celebration for a large group of people. This makes them very similar to weddings in the traditional sense, these events are just on a much smaller scale. Oftentimes, a micro wedding allows couples to splurge a little more on the details they choose. This helps create a more personalized experience for their guests. Micro weddings offer couples a more affordable and less stressful alternative to traditional weddings and they also make for great destination weddings due to a smaller guest count.

Benefits of micro weddings
– Prioritize simplicity and relationships
– Focus on details and traditions
– Small guest list ~50 people or fewer
– Great for destination weddings

Seattle Wedding and Elopement Photographer
Elopement Planning Tips

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ELOPEMENT AND MINI WEDDING?

While elopements and micro weddings have some similarities, they also have some key differences. Both options can save you money that you might have expected to spend at a traditional wedding, though many couples that decide to elope or have a micro wedding decide to spend their full budget regardless to create and experience a day that is truly meaningful to them. Both options have smaller guest counts and are more flexible when it comes to choosing a ceremony location.

The major differences between elopements and micro weddings is that elopements tend to be completely customized to the couple and they may choose to forgo some or all of the wedding traditions while micro weddings keep the structure and traditions of a large wedding.

Similarities
– Typically cheaper than traditional wedding
– Smaller guest counts
– Flexible location

Differences
– Elopements are focused on the couple and their marriage; micro weddings are focused on the details and relationships
– Elopements typically forgo traditions and micro weddings keep traditions

No matter which event type you choose to plan, know that your day can look however you want it to look. No one option is better than the other and there is no right or wrong when it comes to planning your wedding so if you want to keep some traditional elements at your elopement that’s ok, and if you want to break a few planning rules for your micro wedding that’s ok too! This day is about you and your partner and no one else, so create moments that matter to you!

HOW LONG DOES AN ELOPEMENT LAST

A lot of people think that an elopement is a quick event that lasts only 1 or 2 hours, but for many of my couples who have chosen to have an adventure elopement, it has been an all day event of 8 hours or more. Where you choose to elope will have a big impact on your wedding day timeline as we will need to incorporate the travel time it takes to get to the destination as well as the time spent getting ready and any other activities you have planned throughout the day. Having photos of your entire day, from getting ready, to first look, to adventuring, to exchanging your vows and having your first dance, will help you relive your day over and over and have something to remember your day for years to come.

5 STEPS TO PLAN YOUR ELOPEMENT OR MICRO WEDDING

1. Pick your date and hire your vendors
2. Determine your budget
3. Create a guest list (or no guest list)
4. Pick your location
5. Get the legalities finalized

*Bonus Tip – Have a backup plan
PNW Adventure Elopement

1. Pick your elopement date and book your vendors

Typically, the first decision couples make after getting engaged is to choose their elopement date. Maybe it is a date that holds significant meaning to you and your partner, or maybe your date is dependent on the location you want to elope at and the best time of year to elope there, or maybe you just have a specific vendor in mind and you’re willing to book your date based on their availability. Either way, having a specific date or general timeline is something you will want to have in mind when you start reaching out to your elopement vendors. Keep in mind that vendors can book up several months in advance, particularly in the summer months as that is considered wedding season, so once you have an idea of when you want to elope, it’s best to reach out to your vendors right away.

Vendors to Consider Hiring for Your Elopement or Micro Wedding

PHOTOGRAPHER

A photographer is one of the best investments you can make on your wedding day, and I’m not just saying that because I am a photographer. The right photographer can add so much to your wedding day experience from helping you research locations, to providing fun ideas, to suggesting other vendors and resources for your elopement day.

Another bonus is if you aren’t planning on having any guests at your elopement, hiring a photographer to capture your day will allow your friends and family to relive the day with you when you receive your photos. Plus you will have an endless amount of photos to use for albums and prints to display in your home. After all is said and done, the only things you will have left from your elopement day are your memories and the photographs, so invest in a professional photographer, and who knows, you may just get a lifelong friend out of it.

OFFICIANT

In most places, the only vendor you are REQUIRED to have is an officiant or minister who can legally marry you. Whether you get married in a courthouse with a Civil Wedding Officiant, hire a professional wedding officiant or have a friend or family member get ordained in order to perform your ceremony, you will need to ask someone to legally marry you so an officiant will likely be at the top of your vendor list.

*Fun fact, there are a couple of places, such as Colorado State, that allow couples to self-solemnize which means that you do not have to have an officiant sign or even perform your ceremony. The couple is able to do it themselves, and it is legal!

Also depending on the location where you get married, you may be required to have one or two witnesses present. If you are bringing guests to your elopement, they can sign as your witnesses. And don’t worry if you aren’t inviting any guests. Oftentimes, your photographer or other wedding vendors are willing to act as a witness for you.

San Francisco City Hall Elopement
San Francisco City Hall Elopement

WEDDING PLANNER

I get it! Planning a wedding, micro wedding, or elopement can be intimidating. It’s hard to know where to start or what to look for, especially when you might not even be aware of what options are available to you. This is where a wedding planner can help. Wedding planners are experienced in all aspects of a wedding and a good wedding planner will listen to your vision and help make sure that your ideas are executed down to the very detail all while helping you stay within your budget. They will also be able to provide an extensive list of vendor recommendations helping you choose the best vendor for your needs and your budget.

Wedding planners add so much in terms of value for your elopement. Oftentimes, they are a jack of all trades in that they can be skilled in decorating, flower arranging, and even officiating. A good wedding planner will know all the tips and tricks for anything that might come up during your day and will lead and assist in the day’s tasks such as setting up and tearing down, cutting the cake, and holding a mini reception for you and your partner after your ceremony. Wedding planners are skilled in being able to bring all the elements of an elopement together in a clear and organized way while adding an extra special touch that makes your day even more memorable.

Outside of the expertise and knowledge a wedding planner can bring to your wedding or elopement day, a wedding planner can also help alleviate any potential stress on your big day. They will be the ones to help ensure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there and if there are any hiccups, they work to come up with a solution without you needing to get involved and take on additional stress.

To learn more about the importance of wedding planners, check out this blog I wrote on Why You Should Hire a Wedding Planner.

Washington Elopement Cake Reception

FLORIST

Honestly though, who doesn’t love fresh flowers? Flowers bring life and color to any space and your wedding or elopement is no exception! You may be tempted to forgo the florals altogether if you are not planning a large wedding, but there are still some amazing ways to incorporate flowers into your day and they are sure to add life and character to your photos.

A professional florist can add so much value to your day and by incorporating florals, you are able to showcase your personality more. Flowers can reflect your individual style just as much as your wedding outfits and by coordinating the two your elopement will feel more cohesive and beautiful. It’s amazing how the right flowers can elevate an elopement and create a mood or vibe around the wedding day. A good florist will be able to execute your vision and bring it to reality while providing expertise on which flowers will work best for your environment. Hiring a professional florist also alleviates any stress from you to provide the florals. Your focus can be solely on your elopement day, without having to worry about the extra details.

Types of florals to incorporate in your adventure elopement

– Traditional Bouquet
– Floral Crown or Hairpiece
– Floral Wristlet
– Boutonnières
– Arch or Arbor

*Tip – Check if your elopement location has any live flower restrictions. Some areas limit the types of flowers due to protected wildlife so you will want to inquire about any potential restrictions when applying for any special permits.

Choosing the right florals for your elopement or micro-wedding will add so much to your photos and will help set the mood for your ceremony, not to mention that they smell amazing and look beautiful. Be creative with your florals and have fun! They don’t have to serve just one function. For instance, if you have a bouquet for your ceremony, you can repurpose that to serve as a centerpiece for your intimate dinner after your ceremony. Your floral arch at your ceremony can serve as a decor piece at your mini reception. Put those flowers to good use and repurpose their function to get enjoyment from them throughout the day.

HAIR & MAKEUP ARTIST (HMU)

You may be considering whether or not to hire a Hair & Makeup artist for your elopement or whether or not to do it yourself, and while I have seen brides choose both options, there are a few reasons why hiring a hair and makeup artist for your day may be a good idea.

1. It’s an opportunity to be pampered. Having someone else help you get ready is the ultimate way to feel relaxed on your wedding day
2. A professional knows all the tips and tricks and can help you choose a hairstyle and makeup look that will flatter and enhance your natural beauty
3. Ensure your look stays in place all day long, no matter what you are doing. A HMU has all the right tools needed to make sure that your look stays in place whether you are hiking up a mountain or partying on the dance floor and there are even adventure hair and makeup vendors who will be happy to go with you on your adventure elopement to touch up your look throughout the day as needed.
4. A HMU artist will help you create your best look and they will ensure you look good from all angles which will go a long way in reflecting well in your elopement photos.

PNW Hiking Adventure Elopement

2. Set a budget

A huge benefit of elopements and micro weddings is that they typically cost much less than a traditional wedding. On average, elopements cost anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000 but what you spend truly depends on what you and your partner envision for your day. Couples that choose to spend less on their ceremony will often go on a larger trip for their destination elopement or honeymoon. This allows them to truly experience their day and create memories doing activities they love.

Even though elopements can be less expensive, they are not always. It truly depends on what you value as a couple and what you want your elopement day to look like. In general, elopement cost savings tend to come in the forms of venue and catering for your guests, as the costs for your vendors typically stay the same no matter if you have a small elopement or large wedding. Your photographer, videographer, planner, florist or wedding outfits will likely cost the same whether you decide to elope or have a micro wedding, so set a realistic budget based on what you want to plan for your day.

If you decide to elope instead of planning a traditional wedding, feel free to be creative in how you use your budget. Go big or go home! Think of an international country that you could visit or a national park you want to go to. Perhaps you want to rent a water plane or helicopter that can take you to an epic viewpoint that might otherwise be hard to reach. Or, if you prefer an outdoor adventure, go glamping for a few nights. When you choose to spend your elopement wedding budget on experiences rather than material goods, you are able to create so many more memories on your wedding day, not to mention you’ll get some epic photos from it as well!

3. Create a guest list

Yes, you absolutely can have guests at your elopement or micro wedding and yes, it’s absolutely ok to not have any guests either! There are no rules when planning an elopement so invite who you want and don’t feel pressured to invite people out of obligation or concern for hurt feelings. Want to only invite immediate family? Great! Are there a couple of close friends you couldn’t imagine spending the day without? Thinking about bringing your pet? Do it! This day is about the two of you so do what makes you happy and invite the people who you couldn’t imagine spending your day without!

4. Choose your elopement location

How to choose an elopement location

PNW Winter Elopement


When it comes to choosing a location for your elopement the world truly is your oyster. The possibilities are endless and as a destination wedding photographer, I am down to travel and go anywhere with you for your special day. Do you have a country that has been on your bucket list for years? Let’s go! Or maybe you dream of a quiet, backyard wedding at your childhood home. I am here for that too! Whatever it is, know that it is possible and I will be here to help bring your vision to life.

But how should you go about choosing a location for your elopement or micro-wedding? With so many options to choose from, how do you narrow it down? My best advice is to sit down with your partner and envision your perfect wedding day. Where do you see yourself? What kind of backdrop do you envision? What kinds of things are you experiencing? Who are you doing it with? All of these are important questions to consider when planning your elopement and they will help you decide where you want to get married.

There’s no doubt that the location you choose will be special for you and your spouse for years to come so take your time dreaming and talking about it together. Perhaps it’s a place you’ve both already been together or maybe it’s somewhere that is completely new for you both or maybe it includes an experience that you both tried together for the first time. Whatever it is, choose a place that inspires you and I promise, whether or not it’s your first time visiting, or your 10th, it will forever be a special place for you both!

One of the main things to consider when choosing your elopement location is the time of year. You will want to consider things like the seasons and the weather as well as how busy the area will be during that time. If your elopement date is set, then choose a location based on the best time of year, but if your date is flexible, choose a location that speaks to you and set your date based on the best time to visit.

It is important to note that the view or backdrop of a location may change depending on the season. For instance, winter in Utah brings a dusting of snow over the red rocks which can provide a stunning contrast from the rest of the year. And spring-early summer in the PNW brings a slew of wildflowers to fields at the base of Mt Rainier. Envision how you want your elopement day to look down to the setting and try planning your day around the time of year that will give you the look you want.

How to choose the best getting ready location

Wedding Day Getting Ready Photos


Once you have narrowed down your location to a particular country, city, or destination, it’s time to think about where you want to get ready and where you want your ceremony to take place. One of the amazing things about elopements is that there are no rules! If you want to have your getting-ready photos in one place and get married in another, that’s ok! If you want to have a private ceremony and then invite guests for a celebration afterward, that’s ok too! This is your day, so plan it how you want and do the things that make you both happy.

There are many venue options to choose from when it comes to getting ready photos, but a very popular option for elopements and micro weddings is Airbnbs. Airbnbs are a great option as they can serve multiple purposes such as your lodging, getting ready space, and first look or ceremony location. It’s always a good idea to check with the host prior to booking to confirm if photography is allowed at the AirBnB and if there are any restrictions (i.e. are pets allowed?) Also, keep in mind that Airbnbs at or near popular locations can book up far in advance, so once you have a date finalized, you will want to start booking accommodations. A couple of other things to consider when choosing an Airbnb or any venue space for your getting ready photos:

LOCATION

Is the space near your ceremony location or will you need to drive or hike a couple of hours? Either way, you will want to be sure to add in enough buffer time to get from one location to another if needed.

PERSONALITY

Does the space reflect you, your partner, and your personality? Is there a particular style or era that you just love? Let your getting-ready location reflect that!

LIGHTING

Does the space have good lighting? You may want to look for a space that has lots of windows or great natural light to ensure the best lighting for your getting-ready photos. Before finalizing your Airbnb be sure to send it to your photographer so they can provide input on how it will photograph as well as point out some ideas to consider on how to best utilize the space.

Other options for getting ready photos can include a hotel, a camper van, or your own home. The flexibility to create a day and choose locations that are unique to you is one of the things I love most about elopements.

How to choose your ceremony location

Intimate Wedding Ceremony in Washington State


Your ceremony location will be a special place for you and your spouse for years to come. After all, it’s the place where you committed to loving each other so choosing this spot is no small task.

Deciding on a ceremony location can depend on a few other factors of your elopement. How much effort will it take to get to your location? Are you bringing a pet with you and, if so, are they allowed? Will you be hiking a long-distance? If so, maybe you want to change outfits once you arrive at the destination. Do you have older family members or friends attending? If yes, then you may want to consider choosing a ceremony location that is easily accessible or just a short walk for your guests.

Some locations are as simple as driving up and walking a few feet to a spectacular view while others can be more of a hike and may not be suited for all guests. If having guests at your ceremony and adventuring for your elopement are both important to you, we can always do both and find an easily accessible location for your ceremony and then go on a more adventurous excursion for your portrait photos together.

While it is very common, not all elopements take place outdoors or in nature. You can have your elopement in the city, at a city hall, or in a chapel and have your portrait photos taken in a nearby neighborhood or park. Your elopement day should be a reflection of you and your partner, so don’t feel like you have to be someone you’re not just because you’ve seen other people do it a certain way. Make the day your own and choose locations that represent who you are as a couple.

5. Get the legalities in order

In order to get legally married, you will need to do a bit of research to see what the requirements are to get married in your location. On top of the marriage application and license for your particular county, there may also be other licenses, fees, or permits you’ll need to obtain. For instance, if you are eloping at a National or State Park, there are often parking/entrance fees as well as special events/wedding fees within the parks. As your wedding photographer, I will help ensure you have all the information you need regarding permits and fees for these locations.

If you are planning an international elopement, it is important to check the requirements for the country that you choose. There are a handful of things to consider such as, Does the country have residency requirements? What documents will they require? What are the age requirements? Will the marriage be recognized in your home country? While getting married internationally is absolutely possible, some couples may find the extra layers of planning stressful and opt to get the legal documents processed in their home country and then have their actual elopement day on the day they choose in their destination. No matter which way you decide, know that you have options to choose from that will allow you to create a day unique to you!

Bonus Tip* Have a backup plan

As we all experienced last year with COVID, circumstances can arise that are out of our control and we may have to adjust. It’s always best to have a backup plan in place, whether that means rescheduling to a different day or choosing an alternative location. While no one wishes to have to change their elopement plans, it is better to have some ideas to pull from. And just know that if a situation does arise, as your elopement photographer, I will be with you every step of the way, rain or shine!

The most important thing to remember when planning your elopement or micro wedding is to create a day that is all about you. A day that is filled with details and activities that are meaningful to you and your partner. Whether you choose to incorporate traditions or do things your own way and on your own timetable is completely up to you!

Thank you for reading and I hope this post was helpful in allowing you to learn more about how to plan your elopement or micro wedding. You can read more about Important Tips for Your Wedding Day and if you are ready to inquire, please send me a note on my contact page.

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