Hey folks! Welcome back to the Ready to Wander Podcast. Oof, our first official episode that isn’t an introduction. Well hello, hi! I am so happy you are here and ready to wander with me, Sydney Breann. Now I know in the intro episode I introduced my so-called content pillars of business, photography education and tips, travel, entertaining adventure stories, and all things living and experiencing the outdoors. Today’s episode is going to fit into the photography content pillar. Today, I will be detailing a step by step guide to planning your dream elopement.
As a full-time Montana elopement and intimate wedding photographer, most of my couples are planning their elopement from across the country. Seriously, one of my favorite parts of my job is helping couples plan their dream day. Really: if you can dream it, it can happen! I am always so thankful that my job is literally planning, dreaming, and conceptualizing the most beautiful days with my couples. I call myself your day-of co-creator. You won’t ever find me telling you where you have to go or what you have to do! But one of the best parts of my job is finding awesome locations and activities that may fit into your dream day.
Now, later I will chat more about PREPARING for your dream elopement rather than planning your dream elopement. But when you are in the beginning stages, these steps will come in handy as you start to dream up your day.
So, if you are engaged, hoping to elope, helping a family member or friend plan their elopement, or simply hoping to learn more about planning elopements, this episode is jam packed with information. Without further ado, let’s WANDER into it. Ha, see what I did there. OMG I am cringey.
So. You’re ENGAGED and are in the beginning stages of deciding between a wedding and elopement, now what?!! Obviously POP THE BUBBLY 🍾, soak up each second of saying “fiancé”, and celebrate. If nobody has told you this yet: there is no rush to plan your wedding or elopement. As a full-time elopement photographer (and current BRIDE) I know what a bonkers time it is after getting engaged . And then tack on planning an elopement!? Trust me, I am in the thick of it right now, too! I’ve put together a list of 12 steps to be your guide after getting engaged to help you plan the elopement of your dreams.
Before we really dive into the nitty-gritty of planning your dream elopement, I want to share what my fiancé and I did to get started with our own elopement planning (and what I tell all of my clients as well).
Have a little at-home date night or at the local brewery with your partner, and start dreaming up your day. No matter how little or extravagant your dream, write it down, and talk about it! By throwing out some ideas to one another, you’ll find out what each other values about their dream wedding day. From there, you can bounce ideas off of each other that you may not have thought of before. But, I want to encourage you to take this step a little bit further. Not only are you both writing down your own dreams and desires; you are also going to write down your top 5 non-negotiables.
Both of you should write on your separate lists, 5 non-negotiable priorities that you must have on your wedding day. These items should be things that you absolutely could not go without on your big day. For example, my fiance and I’s separate lists looked something like this:
His 5 non-negotiables:
My non-negotiables were:
Now, after you have your separate lists, go over them together and combine ideas to create your couple’s version of your non-negotiables. For example, we took our two lists and combined them to create the following:
Once you both have your top 5-non negotiable items, you’ll be able to create a list together to have a better vision for what your priorities are. This is super helpful when it comes to budgeting, finding a location, number of guests invited, etc. Now, you’ll really be able to conceptualize what your day could actually look like and what is possible.
I truly think our planning process was a breeze once we created that non-negotiables list. Once we had our list in hand, we found your dream location! Everything else fell into place after that. We were able to book our dream vendors and a VRBO that fit what we were looking for. I don’t think we could’ve done it so seamlessly if we hadn’t set aside time to dream.
Ooof! That was a lot. And we are not even into the good stuff yet. So, let’s jump into the step by step guide to planning your dream elopement. So after you have sat down and started dreaming, here are the steps you need to bring that dream to life.
The location you choose for your elopement is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Not only should you strive to find a place that is special and meaningful to you as a couple, but you also want to consider the atmosphere and setting for your elopement. Maybe it’s a place that has been on your bucket list forever, or maybe it’s your favorite vacation destination. Wherever you choose, go at it with the two goals of sentimentality and atmosphere.
If you’re struggling to find the perfect location, I suggest starting with envisioning what you picture around you as you say your vows. Do you want mountains? Alpine lakes? Fall foliage? Desert views?
But if you still can’t decide on the perfect place, don’t worry! Your elopement photographer or planner should be able to help you figure it out. When my fiancé and I started brainstorming locations, we knew we wanted to get married in a place that was new to both of us. We wanted to make our first and best memory as a married couple there. Spoiler alert: We settled on northern Washington because it was a place we’ve never been! It helps that it also fits our interests with alpine lakes, fishing, and incredible hikes. It was also a place we knew our few guests had never been either!
Once you have the place narrowed down, it’s best to choose a date, month, season, (or range of dates) that work for you. This will help you set the timeline for the rest of your planning to ensure you have ample time to arrange everything else for your elopement. If you have some flexibility in the date, that could be to your benefit! As a photographer, I love when couples inquire with a flexible date – it means there are more dates available and more flexibility with your other vendors. If you don’t have a specific date, think of what time of year is prettiest in your location, when you are able to take time off of work, etc.
Ha! My favorite step of all! Once your location and date or season are decided, you can find your photographer! Some couples prefer a photographer local to the area, others may have a photographer in mind that will have to travel. Whichever you decide, I encourage you to find a photographer that will capture the emotion, authenticity and intimacy of your elopement, while providing an incredible experience and being there to be your storyteller. I recommend hiring a photographer who is familiar with the area, or provides in-depth location scouting services and expertise so you know everything is taken care of on your elopement day.
You’ve set an elopement date, you’ve found a location and a photographer. Now, it’s time for the fun stuff. If engagement photos are your jam, it’s a great chance to get some time with your photographer! A lot of couples that choose to elope don’t end up taking engagement photos because their day can be planned quicker than a traditional wedding. This is the case with many of my couples, but many couples will opt in for a day-before or after session in lieu of engagement photos to still get some fun photos together not-in wedding attire. But if you want them, take ‘em! If not, no worries!
Lodging or small venue, planning services, catering or baker for dessert, hair and makeup, your officiant, florals, etc. There’s a lot of vendors that could be booked for your elopement, or you can go simple and simply have a photographer. Your day can be as extravagant or simple as you would like! And this is the PSA to do whatever the heck you want on your day. Because it is exactly that- your day, and you will have zero regrets if you do everything that makes you feel giddy and content. Alright back to the point, As big of a pain as it is, book your other main vendors as soon as you can so that you can just sit back, relax, and await your big day.
If you are eloping in a national park or national forest, even a state park… you will absolutely need to look into applying for a permit to utilize the public lands. Check out the service website of your choice for more information, or your photographer should be able to help with this. I provide permit help to all of my clients. What this looks like is I provide a location guide for the desired area, and let them know of any permits or regulations for those areas before they even decide. Once they do decide, then I triple check the required permits needed and send a step by step email on how to apply and what to expect.
Even if you’re not tying the knot in a national park or forest area, do your research to make sure nothing else is required of your to say vows, host a ceremony, or take professional photos in that area. Like I said, your photographer or elopement planner should be able to help with this step as well.
Some couples choose to send a save the date, some choose to have an after party, and some choose to announce after they eloped. Whether you choose to invite your family and friends or involve them in other ways, there are tons of options like having dinner with them when you return that night, having an after party a few weeks or months after, reading letters from family and friends, facetiming them and screaming we’re married, and the list goes on. If you do choose to invite guests, consider a wedding weekend so you can have one adventure day and one family day. Win, win! (Newsflash: that’s our plan, too!) We wanted to prioritize our own private vows and adventure, but also include family in some way, so we decided to have a wedding weekend.
While this step may come a little earlier for some couples when planning your dream elopement, make sure you purchase your elopement attire in advance. Getting a wedding dress takes time, as does getting fitted for a suit or a special outfit of your choice. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to research timelines for your particular attire.
What! Elopement activities?! Hell yes! Activities are what make your day unique. They make your day all about you. You can do your favorite things, or just enjoy the view. I may be biased but your elopement is an incredible opportunity to do some epic activities. From hiking to stargazing to having a picnic or a private chef, to writing your vows together or making coffee at your favorite lake at sunrise, to sharing a first dance or roasting marshmallows by a bonfire, to fly fishing and kayaking to going off-roading in a jeep or backpacking, there are endless elopement activities to consider.
I find my couples have the most memorable day when they choose a couple of their favorite things or activities to include in their day. There is no better way to start your marriage than partaking in your favorite activity or sharing your favorite dessert, or even watching sunset from your favorite overlook.
Once you decide the activities (or lack thereof) that you want to do on your elopement day, you can start to form some sort of timeline. Enlist the help and expertise of your planner or photographer to help you create a perfect, seamless elopement timeline to fit your vision. Think of what time of day you want your ceremony (or what time you received your permit for), when you want to do your activities, what your plan is for dinner, etc.
Your planner or photographer can help ensure that everything falls in place beautifully, while also preparing for weather, travel times, parking, etc. I always hop on a call with my couples to go over their timelines and what their day will look like, with plan B and C in tow as well. Remember: y0ur timeline can look anyway you want it to. Are you thinking sunrise and waking up at 2 am to get to your destination for a sunrise alpenglow? Do it! Are you hoping to have time to get back to town for dinner with family? It is possible!
Number 11: Finally PREPARE FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT
This could be a whole other podcast, so I won’t go into too much detail. However, preparing for your elopement starts months in advance and continues to the days leading up to your big day. I do have another awesome blog post, all about preparing for your elopement, but here is an overview. Start buying gear early so you can check those important items off your list. Make sure you have lodging and vendors booked and finalized, and triple check your rental car and lodging dates.
Find your permit information and keep that handy, do any final check ins with vendors, and then get into the nitty gritty. Start fueling your body to stay healthy and prepared for any activities you have planned. Make a list and pack your bag well in advance to be prepared for weather, and also so you don’t forget anything (cough, like the rings). Finally, complete any final appointments and snag your marriage license if you are not getting legally married prior. Wooof I think that will be a separate podcast. There is a lot to dissect there.
Whether your elopement is in 3 months, or 1 year… continue your celebration! Your big day will be here before you know it. And although you did not choose a big traditional wedding, you can still celebrate just as much! Being engaged is such an exciting time in life and your relationship. Make sure to still set aside time to soak up this season of life with your partner. Keep dreaming together about your big day, but most importantly: dream about your marriage together.
Ugh that was so good. I hope that was helpful if you are in the midst of planning or just in the beginning stages of dreaming about your elopement. Remember, your day can look and feel anyway you want it to. This list is simply a start, and I am so excited for you to get planning!
Well, that’s it folks. We’ve wrapped up all the steps you’ll need for planning your dream elopement. Thanks so much for tuning into the Ready to Wander Podcast. You can find more on my website, sydneybreann.com or sydneybreann.com/readytowander. I do post these episodes and show notes on the blog, and if you are looking for more information about travel, elopements, etc. That is a great place to find some resources.
And let’s be friends on Instagram! You can find me over at @readytowanderpodcast or find me on my photography account @sydneybreannphoto. I will catch you in the next episode! Are you ready to wander?