First of all, congratulations on your engagement! As a small wedding and elopement photographer, I’ve had the privilege of documenting countless love stories and capturing the magic of weddings. Now that the excitement of saying “yes” is sinking in, you might find yourself wondering, “What’s next?” Don’t worry! I’m here to help you on your elopement planning journey ahead.
Celebrate, Celebrate, and Celebrate Some More:
First things first, take a moment (or several) to celebrate! Share the news with your family, friends, and that nosy neighbor who always seems to know everyone’s business. Pop champagne, have a romantic dinner, or throw an engagement party. This is your time to revel in the joy of this milestone moment.
Don’t forget, your engagement season will likely be one of the most exciting times throughout the whole wedding process, so don’t put so much weight on just the wedding day. Enjoy the beauty of where you’re at right now!
First, here’s a list of things you need to book and a rough timeline you should follow to ensure smooth elopement planning:
First Priorities – After Engagement to 1-1.5 yrs out:
1. Book an elopement planner (optional)
If you plan to hire a planner or coordinator for your day, it’s important to find someone who specializes in small, non-traditional weddings. These typically require more guidance from either your planner and/or your photographer leading into the wedding day and usually have different wants and needs from larger weddings.
2. Create a budget game plan
Ah, budget… the not-so-fun but utterly crucial aspect of wedding planning. Sit down together and have an honest conversation about how much you are willing and able to spend on your big day. Prioritize what matters most to you, whether it’s a breathtaking venue, a live band, or an artistically captured photo collection (hint, hint!). Setting a budget early on will help guide your decisions and keep you on track throughout the planning process.
Find Your Dream Team:
Just like any blockbuster movie, your wedding requires a dream team of professionals. Choose vendors who align with your vision and values, including your photographer (yes, that’s me!). Start by choosing your #1 priority and working around their schedule to select a date. Is your top priority the photos, video, location or venue?
4. Choose your date based around the availability of either your dream photographer, videographer or location/venue (whichever is your top priority!)
Also be sure to consider the weather and crowds for the location you’ll be eloping in when choosing your date!
5. Book your # priority (Photographer, Videographer or Location/Venue)
Don’t worry, you’ll book the other vendors in the next steps!
Piece Together Each Detail to Fit Your Vision:
6. Book your venue or photographer/videographer (whichever wasn’t your #1 priority from step 5)
All of these vendors can fill up many months in advance and are typically some of the top priorities for the day. *Keep in mind, for elopements and micro-weddings your venue might actually be an Airbnb or another rental.*
7. Apply for permits
This may or may not apply to your day, but if you’re getting married in a national park, definitely apply for a permit for your ceremony site as early as possible! These are first come, first serve and many have high demand, especially during weekends and peak season. If it’s too early to apply for a permit, write down the earliest dat you can apply in your calendar.
8. Go dress shopping!
9. Schedule a Hair/Makeup Trial First, Then Book Your HMUA
10. Book a florist who specializes in the style of flowers you want for your day
You might not have realized that there are different styles you florist can have until right now, but it’s true! There are of course, classic wedding bouquets, which is the majority of what you’ll find in your search, but the real show stoppers out there tend to specialize in certain styles of florals. Whether that’s neutrals and dried bouquets, a more ethereal wildflower, garden party vibe or a bold, colorful and non-traditional festival look.
The Smaller Details – 6-8 Months Out
Now that you have the key vendors booked, a rough plan for your day, locations and a solid vision in place, it’s time to dive headfirst into the smaller details in the planning process!
From choosing where you’ll eat dinner to deciding whether you want to include any guests for your elopement, every decision brings you one step closer to the day you say, “I do.” Embrace the excitement, but remember to take breaks, stay organized, and lean on your support system when needed.
11. If your venue doesn’t have a space to get ready, book one on Peerspace.com, Airbnb or VRBO
Your getting ready space does matter, so keep your overall vision in mind when booking this. A barn Airbnb isn’t going to compliment the vibe of an industrial, chic, city elopement in your photos or elopement video.
12. Determine your guest list and send out invites if guests will need to travel out of state
It’s okay if you’re not having any guests here, we are talking about eloping after all! Since the term elopement is often used to refer to less traditional, intimate weddings now also, you might still want to include a few of close friends or family members. Sending invites for a small guest list is an option, or you can opt out of this and communicate plans clearly with the people attending.
13. Plan your honeymoon
14. Schedule dress alterations
Your alterations specialist will let you know the best time frame to schedule your initial appointment for, based on the style of your dress and what alterations are needed.
14. Book flights and any additional lodging
If you’re traveling for your wedding, you’ll likely need to book some flights still or lodging for the rest of your trip. If you’re getting married at the Airbnb you plan to stay at, then this part should already be booked!
15. Book an officiant or ask someone you know to officiate your elopement
Some locations (like Colorado!) offer the option to self solemnize. This means you aren’t required to have an officiant for your wedding, but for many locations you are.
16. If you’re doing a 2 person elopement, make sure you have enough witnesses!
You’ll want to look into the rules for the location you’re eloping in and see if your officiant can be considered a witness. Most commonly from what I’ve seen, an officiant and two separate witnesses are needed. One witness could be your photographer and the other your videographer if you’re doing a true 2 person elopement.
17. Reserve any rentals decorations
An arch, rugs, chairs, tables, etc.!
18. Book a Caterer, Desserts, DJ, Musician or any other vendors you’re wanting
4-6 months before the wedding:
19. Coordinate transportation
Do you need a rental car or a limo or bus for more people?
20. Pick out any groom’s attire or suits and the rest of your wedding details (veil, shoes, jewelry)
If you’re doing a custom or statement suit (which I’ve been loving seeing as a trend!) you could start suit shopping sooner than this.
21. If there’s a wedding party make sure your crew has purchased their outfits
22. Plan the timeline with your photographer/videographer or planner
I always help my couples with their photo/video timeline after they fill out a questionnaire that walks me through their vision and plans for the day. Click here to see a timeline from one of my real elopements!
2-4 months before the wedding:
23. If your elopement is local and you are sending out invites, now’s the time to send them!
24. Finalize the wedding details such as menu, music, order of events, etc.
25. Apply for a marriage license
If it’s too soon to apply for a marriage license where you’re getting married, be sure to write the dates when you can in your calendar.
26. Buy wedding bands
The Final Details – 1 month before the wedding:
27. Confirm all final details with vendors and times for the day
28. Final dress fitting
29. Bachelor/Bachelorette parties and bridal shower!
These are the final celebrations before you’re done filing your taxes as “single” so soak it all in and enjoy appreciate every minute and person who has been there for you!
Enjoy the Ride:
Throughout this whirlwind wedding planning journey, remember to take a step back and enjoy the ride. Cherish each moment with your partner, laugh through the mishaps, and bask in the love that surrounds you. Your wedding day will be a whirlwind, and it’s essential to savor every precious second.
So, my engaged friends, take a deep breath and embrace the adventure ahead. From celebrating your love to curating the perfect wedding day, this is your time to shine. While there will be twists and turns along the way, remember the end goal—marrying your best friend. And when the big day finally arrives, trust that your photographer (me, of course!) will be there to capture the love, laughter, and all those incredible moments you’ll cherish forever.
Here’s to love, joy, and the journey ahead! Happy wedding planning!