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Elopement 101: Your Planning Checklist

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Get away and say "I do"? Check.

The Cosmoplitan of Las Vegas - Chelsea Penthouse | Photo by Mayhew Photo

Elopements, in the traditional sense, are when the couple goes somewhere else to get married in secret from family and friends. The idea of an elopement has definitely evolved beyond just that to include an intimate destination wedding as well, bringing a small group of close friends and family joining your nuptials. The point is they are always about the two of you.

If you have decided eloping is for you I have provided a checklist of things to think about while planning your own elopement. If you are still on the fence about it, here are 5 reasons an elopement may be for you.

The Cosmoplitan of Las Vegas - Chelsea Penthouse | Photo by Mayhew Photo

Choose your elopement style.

It may seem like an elopement is pretty straight forward. And they absolutely can be. You can pick a location and go somewhere with an all-inclusive package and call it a day. However that is not the only choice in today's industry. Many elopements have turned into intimate destination weddings where you can go anywhere and still have your dream wedding, just on a smaller scale with just the two of you. Adventure elopements have also been rising in popularity where you can scale a mountain and tie the knot at the top. The rest of this blog will help you to work out exactly what you want in your elopement, but I just wanted you to know that it isn't black and white. Elopements don't have to be traditional, they are can be a great reflection of your style, personality, and energy. Starting this journey with even a small idea of what you want will make planning easy.

Decide what the most important aspect of your elopement is.

What are the most important details in the vision of your day? Maybe you want to go to Hawaii because you want to be married on the beach. Maybe you love photography and want to make sure you get some killer images to hang on your walls when you return. Maybe you are wanting to elope to save some money and have a fun quick wedding. Sometimes there may be multiple aspects that are important. But figuring out what you value will help you in your planning process. These decisions will guide your plans on where you get married and where your budget will be going.

Choose a travel destination.

This will be different for everyone based on wants, needs, budget, and time to devote to your day. But this is a great opportunity to go somewhere new and exciting, or maybe the chance to go back to a meaningful vacation spot you previously visited. Wherever you go, it will become one of the most meaningful places of your life because it is where your union will begin. Be it a romantic beach wedding in Mexico, a glamorous San Francisco affair, or a fun Vegas quickie, make sure it is somewhere you will have a great time and make beautiful memories together.

Research the legal stuff.

If you are traveling abroad for your elopement, do your research. Every country has different requirements for your travel visa and marriage license. License requirements may even vary from state or state. Make sure to do homework so your union is legal and there are no surprises along the way.

Determine your budget.

The dreaded B word. Weddings can get super expensive, and this is a big reason some people will decide on an elopement. But even here things can get expensive. The best thing you can do is set yourself a budget of what you want to spend, for everything. This includes travel, wedding, and leisure. If you are a person who likes to plan you can of course break this down as much as you want, setting limits on travel/venue/etc. But having a dollar amount in mind will make decisions easier. It is easy to decide against a $9000 venue when your entire budget is $12,000 for example, because you know that doesn't leave much room in the budget for anything else. But also give yourself some flexibility if possible, otherwise you may have to sacrifice from one area or another. Weddings get expensive and I feel like a majority of couples spend more then they had initially planned, I even did it with my own wedding. This goes back to why knowing your most valued areas of the wedding are, that way you can funnel money into that area you love and take away from whatever may have not been as important.

Pick a venue or ceremony location.

The world is yours to explore, where do you want to get married? The decision may be difficult, but start to imagine your dream location. I personally feel like the location truly guides every decision you make. Do you want to be married in a highrise tower overlooking a gorgeous city at night? Do you want a romantic sunset garden wedding? There is a venue for every vision you could have. Do not limit yourself to a location with an address. The natural world around us is so beautiful, and an outdoor on location wedding could be the right option for you. A short drive from our home in Las Vegas is a variety of amazing desert scenery such as the Valley of Fire. There are beaches, mountains, and forests. With your imagination, or with some help from the internet, you can find amazing places to say "I do". Mobile services for on location weddings are an option if you want to do this. Once you have the spot, everything else should fall into place.

Valley of Fire, Nevada | Photo by Irving of Mayhew Photo | Copyright Chapel of the Flowers

The vendor checklist.

These people will be your team and friends throughout the process.Your team of vendors will vary based on what you need, but are some considerations for your day:

• wedding planner or day of coordinator

hair and makeup artists


photographer and videographer



food options such as a restaurant or baker

It is highly recommended that you hire professionals in all categories. Professionals will make sure everything is legal, run perfectly, and delivers quality.

Make your travel arrangements.

Once your date is picked and your location is secure you should be booking any travel arrangements you need such as your car rental, flights, hotel, etc. Making your travel arrangements is flexible in the checklist. The only reason I suggest doing it after securing your location is to guarantee the date is available at your ideal location if that is an important detail.

Pick your attire.

Your location may have a huge influence on your attire when it comes to eloping. For example, if you are getting married on a beach, consider wearing something that won't be hard to walk through the sand. If you are getting married in the summer in Las Vegas it gets HOT, it is a desert after all. Something short and breathable to keep you cool might be a better alternative to your traditional full length bridal gown. Also don't be shy to embrace elements of the location you choose. Las Vegas is known to be flashy, so a high fashion look may go great for a Vegas elopement. Where as a tropical wedding has more of a relaxed vibe, where you may wear more island inspired attire. Either way, let your location and personality shine!

Don't forget about travel as well. I often see bride's asking how to get their huge gowns across the ocean. If you are on a plane you may need to bring your dress as a carry on or ship it in advance. I may not have the answer for every travel situation, but definitely keep it in mind and do your research on airline's policies. Beyond the travel challenges, you may also need additional vendors to help with steaming or pressing your attire after travel to make sure it is wrinkle free for the big day. Besides a dress or tux do not forget all the other attire details such as accessories, shoes, jewelry, hair, and makeup.

Get your rings.

If you are planning on wearing rings to show your new found status, make sure you bring them for the sentimental exchange during your ceremony. They are not a requirement and I have had many couples not planning to wear rings, but if your rings are important to you, don't forget them at home. Or perhaps you want to get tattoo rings instead, in that case maybe bringing your photographer along to capture that moment as well! Just an idea.

Write your vows.

Some couples just want to repeat the vows of their officiant, but others want to present their own or share something special to their partner. This is a personal choice. You can definitely just say what is on your mind in the moment, but it is worth a mention to take some time to write your vows if it is important to you.

Plan your photo session.

Your photography will be planned with your photographer. But there are some details that will need to be planned and discussed prior to your day. Your photographer is likely to spend the most time with you during your day compared to any other vendors. You want to discuss what is important to be captured. Do you want just portions of the day documented, or the entire day from start to finish? Is a posed session important to you? How do you want to receive your images? Will you use your elopement location for posed photos as well, or is there a special location you had in mind? These are some things you'll need to discuss with your photographer as they may need time to secure permits and permission to photograph at specific locations. For an example, some locations I have used require two weeks to a month in advance to book.

Plan your celebration!

What will you do once the ceremony is over? Plan a celebration! Every place will allow you different opportunities but take advantage of your locale. Dinner at a fancy restaurant, a night out at the bars and clubs, or whatever speaks to you. Just make sure you go out and enjoy your first evening as a married couple! There are so many websites that will help you with things to do wherever you are at. From travel sites to youtube channels dedicated to certain locations, you have so many resources on the internet. But one of your best resource can be your vendors you're working with, since they'll have a better insight on where to celebrate from a local's perspective.

Put together your timeline.

If you have a wedding planner they should put together your timeline and get it to your other vendors. If you are doing everything yourself, I highly recommend taking the time to put this together for yourself and your vendors to allow everything to run smooth as possible. Here is a sample timeline for an elopement to help you out.

Las Vegas Boulevard | Photo by Mayhew Photo

So to recap here of your checklist:

☐ Choose your elopement style ☐ Decide what the most important aspect of your elopement is ☐ Choose a travel destination ☐ Research the legal stuff ☐ Determine your budget ☐ Pick a venue or ceremony location ☐ Pick your vendors ☐ Make your travel arrangements ☐ Pick your attire ☐ Get your rings ☐ Write your vows ☐ Plan your photo session ☐ Plan your celebration ☐ Put together your timeline ☐ Do the thing!

And finally a few additional tips!

These are just a few important things to keep in mind as you plan.

1. You may get a better deal on everything if you hold your elopement during the week. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, and even some vendors have lower prices because they are most busy on weekends during busy seasons. Weekdays tend to be a bit slower.

2. If you want an elopement between the two of you but still want your family to be a part of the celebration consider holding a party when you return home. Send elopement announcements and party invitations with the fab photos you got done while you were away. Planning a party is easier, funner, and may be cheaper then planning an full blown wedding. That way you can get the best of both worlds, and your wedding attire gets more then one use.

3. Have a vision! Everyone wants everything to go off perfectly. But also be prepared to be flexible. Things may change during your planning, things may not be perfect the day of. The beauty of an elopement is it is smaller, so you have much less to juggle. But weddings, no matter how big or small, notoriously run late or have some sort of issue. Be prepared to accept it as it happens, as long as you get married that is really all that matters right?

4. Hire quality professionals or know the questions to ask. Many couples from out of town may not know to check if a location requires a permit to host a wedding/do a photo session. New photographers may also not know or just try to go to a location and hope no one approaches them. For example, you may not be able to just host a beach wedding in a random location.. Legally anyways. If you want to make sure your vows do no get interrupted by security telling you to leave, or do not want to be escorted off a property where you were promised photos but never had permission to be at, please hire the right people. Additional fees from vendors may not always be for profit, instead used to secure permissions from a location. Always ask for transparency from your vendors about locations and their policies. If your vendors do not know, ask them if they can look into it or look yourself. It is better to ask the questions then have your entire event ruined by poor planning.

5. In the same vein as permits, also make sure your venue selection allows outside vendors before you go an hire everyone. Wedding venues having a 'no outside vendor policy' isn't uncommon. Or requiring additional fees to bring in your own vendors. If you find a photographer you love but pick a location that requires you use their photographers, it can result in a really awkward situation to be in. These are things you want to be aware of before securing everything so there are no surprises for you or your vendors on the day. That way you can make a decision on what is more important, the venue or the vendors you had in mind.

We hope this guide helps make your planning a bit easier. And do not forget to get out there and enjoy yourselves. Happy elopement!

xoxo, Aly

Mayhew Photo

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