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How to Elope: A Step-by-Step Guide

So you want to elope? Congratulations! Eloping is becoming an increasingly popular option for couples who want to get married. Eloping can be a more affordable, stress-free, and intimate alternative to a traditional wedding, and it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

If you are thinking about eloping, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to do it. We will walk you through the steps of eloping, from deciding if it’s right for you to pick your perfect location.

We’ll also give you some tips on how to make the elopement process go smoothly, including what not to do when you elope. Whether you’re ready to take the plunge and elope tomorrow or are just doing some preliminary research, this guide has everything you need!

What is eloping?

Eloping is when you get married without family and friends around. The traditional definition of eloping is “to run away secretly in order to get married, especially without parental consent,” but these days it usually refers to couples who just want a private wedding ceremony. Couples may or may not tell their families and friends before they elope. People who elope usually just have a wedding ceremony and not a reception.

Wedding venues in Ireland

Eloping can be a great option for couples who want to keep things simple, or who have always dreamed of eloping. It can also be a great choice for couples who are on a tight budget, or who live far away from family and friends.

How easy is it to get eloped?

Eloping is relatively easy to do! You’ll need to obtain a marriage license (which can usually be done online or at your local courthouse) and find an officiant who is licensed to perform marriages in your state. If you’re eloping to a place that isn’t near where you live, you may need to find someone who is willing to travel to you or find an officiant in that location.

Once you have your license and officiant lined up, all that’s left is to show up on your elopement day and get married! While eloping doesn’t require any specific planning or vendors, it’s always a good idea to do some research beforehand so that you know what to expect on your big day.

How long does it take to elope?

The beauty of eloping is that it can be as quick or as leisurely a process as you want it to be! If you have your marriage license and officiant lined up, you could technically elope within a few hours.

However, most couples choose to spend at least a few days planning their elopement and picking the perfect location. Some spend much longer.

No matter how long you take to elope, the important thing is that you’re 100% sure that it’s right for you!

How do you elope step by step?

The actual process of eloping is relatively simple, but first you’ll need to do a little research and make a few decisions.  Here is a checklist of steps to elope:

Decide if eloping is right for you:

  • First and foremost, you need to decide if eloping is right for you. This is a personal decision that only you and your partner can make. There are no right or wrong answers here! Consider your reasons for wanting to elope, and whether it aligns with your wedding day vision.
  • Think about how your closest family and friends will feel, and whether you’re prepared to deal with possible hurt feelings. If you’re not sure, consider talking to a wedding planning or travel professional about your options.

Decide if you want any guests when you elope:

  • Some couples choose to elope with a handful of loved ones. This can either be planned in advance, or you can decide to get hitched on a group vacation or during an existing event like a family holiday celebration.
  • Whether or not you want to have any guests will be a major factor in where and how you choose to get married.

Set a budget for your elopement:

  • Figure out together how much you want to spend on your wedding. List out all the potential expenses of your dream wedding and see what the total is. This will help determine where you can go and what will be included in your elopement.
  • If the initial figure is too high, look for ways to cut back. If it’s lower than your max, see if you want to add any splurges. If it’s just right, full steam ahead!

Decide where to elope:

  • Once you’ve made these decisions, the next step is to pick a location! This can be anywhere in the world that you want that works within your budget.
  • Consider how far you’re willing to travel and what kind of setting you envision for your elopement. What sort of atmosphere do you want your special day to have? Do you want to get married inside or outside? Do you want a private spot, or do you mind if other people are around (like in a public park)?
  • Some couples elope in their hometown, while others travel to destination locations like national parks, beaches, or exotic locales. For some suggestions, see “Where should you elope?” below. Once you’ve picked a location, it’s time to start planning the wedding itself!
Joshua Tree Couple

Decide when to elope:

  • Choose the date for your elopement and check the weather at your location to make sure it won’t interfere with your wedding. If you’re eloping to a Caribbean island, for example, you may not want to do it during a hurricane or rainy season. If you’re planning an elopement in Colorado in the winter, you may want to be prepared to be snowed in (how romantic!).
  • If you’re going to have guests, make sure it’s a convenient time for everyone.

Plan the elopement:

  • Once you’ve chosen the elopement location and date, make any travel reservations and hotel bookings you need to. Are you going to take a honeymoon? Make those arrangements as well. Do this as far in advance as you can to save money.
  • Research the laws concerning marriage where you live and where the ceremony will be. Find out whether there is a waiting period if you need any special medical tests or permits if there have to be witnesses, and how long it will take to complete any necessary paperwork.
  • You’ll need to obtain a marriage license (which can usually be done online or at your local courthouse) and find an officiant who is licensed to perform marriages in your state. If you’re eloping in a remote location, you may need to find someone who is willing to travel to you.
  • If you want to travel out of the country, know that it can be difficult and confusing to get legally married in foreign countries. You may be better off getting married at your city hall beforehand and then holding a symbolic ceremony at your location.

Plan the wedding ceremony:

  • Just because you’re eloping doesn’t mean you don’t want your wedding day to go a certain way. Decide details like what vows you will say, how long you want the ceremony to be, whether you want a bouquet if there will be any decorations, and what you’ll both wear. If you’ll use wedding rings, choose them in plenty of time to make sure they’ll be ready before you depart!
  • When choosing your wedding day outfits, consider the location of your ceremony. For example, if you’re getting married on the beach, you won’t want a long-sleeved, heavy satin gown. Also, think about how you’ll be getting there. If you’re flying, keep in mind that you’ll need to carry on your clothes to avoid them getting lost.
  • Book a photographer/videographer and any other vendor you’ll need for the big day, such as a florist or hairstylist. It can be really helpful to work with a wedding planner at the location to help with any arrangements and ensure everything goes smoothly.

Eloping tips:

Here are our top tips for eloping:

  • Make sure you’re eloping for the right reasons! This is a personal decision that should be made between you and your partner. Consider any potential negative reactions from friends and family—but don’t let that stop you if eloping is really what you want.
  • Pick a location that’s meaningful to both of you, and make sure it aligns with your elopement vision.
  • If you’re getting married somewhere that isn’t at a resort or other type of facility (like a public beach or national park), find out in advance if you need to obtain any permits.
  • Get your marriage license before eloping. You can usually do this online or at your local courthouse.
  • Find an officiant who is licensed to perform marriages in your state, and who is willing to travel to your elopement location if necessary. Or, book an officiant at the place where you’re eloping. If you’re eloping at a resort, they can help you find someone, or may even include the officiant in your wedding package. (Remember that it may be easiest to get married first at the city hall in your hometown, then have a symbolic ceremony at your elopement location.)
  • Once all the plans are made, just relax and enjoy your elopement! This is a special moment that you’ll always remember, so savor every minute. We recommend getting someone to take pictures (and video if you can)—these are mementos you’ll treasure, and it’s wonderful to have the photos and video to share with loved ones since they weren’t there.
  • When booking vendors like a florist, photographer, or hairstylist, be sure to ask for discounts since your wedding will be a small one. This is especially possible if you’re getting married during an offseason or on a weekday.
  • Plan something special for the evening of your wedding. Even though you’re not having a reception, you’ll still want to celebrate. Reserve a romantic table or have champagne and treats waiting in your room.
  • If you’ve eloped to a resort, they may offer a special after-wedding or honeymoon package, so be sure to ask about that. For example, the honeymoon package at Sandals Resorts includes a chilled bottle of sparkling wine, special turndown service with rose petals the night of your wedding, and flowers plus a decadent breakfast in bed on one morning of your honeymoon.
  • Consider telling your family and friends that you’re eloping. It can be important to let the people closest to you know what’s happening, even if you’re not inviting them to witness your elopement. Otherwise, there may be hurt feelings. Some people who elope choose to have a party or casual reception for friends and family after they return home. This helps make your loved ones feel included but still allows you to enjoy your special day alone.
  • If you do decide to throw a post-elopement celebration, word your invitations carefully. Say something like “you’re invited to share in a celebration of our marriage” so guests will know you’ve already had the wedding and this is just the party.
  • If you don’t hold a celebration afterward, consider sending out announcements to let everyone know you’ve gotten married. You can even submit a notice to your local newspaper. (Of course, family and close friends should be told in person first if they don’t already know.)

What not to do if you’re eloping:

  • Most importantly, don’t elope without being 100% sure that it’s right for you! This is a big decision, so take the time to think it through before taking the plunge.
  • Don’t forget to check all the requirements where you’re getting married! You don’t want to show up without necessary paperwork or minus a witness if it’s required.
  • Don’t elope without a marriage license! You’ll need to obtain one before getting married, and you can usually do this online or at your local courthouse.
  • Don’t elope without an officiant! Make sure you book someone who is licensed to perform marriages in your state and able to travel to your elopement location if necessary, or someone at your elopement location.
  • Don’t post about your marriage on social media without telling your close relatives and friends about it first.

Where should you elope?

When it’s just the two of you for your wedding, you can truly get married anywhere. Find a place that is meaningful to both of you, like the city where you met, the first trip you took together, or a dream destination.

If you’re going to honeymoon there as well, make sure the ambiance and activities suit you both. For example, if one of you loves the beach and the other loves to golf, find a beach resort with an onsite golf course. If you just want to lounge around and leave your honeymoon suite only when necessary, choose the most beautiful room you can find. If you’re both foodies, choose somewhere that offers a variety of delicious cuisines.

Something to note is that many resorts offer a free wedding package with a minimum stay (usually at least 3 nights). This can be a fantastic way to elope on a budget, as it will combine your wedding and honeymoon for just the cost of your room.

Here are some suggestions of top resorts for eloping and honeymoons.

Sandals Grande St. Lucian, St. Lucia, Caribbean

For the ultimate romantic escape, how about an overwater bungalow at a luxury adults-only all-inclusive resort? Perched over sparkling turquoise waters, the 9 Over-the-Water Honeymoon Butler Bungalows at Sandals Grande St. Lucian are amazing. Not only do you get gorgeous accommodations, but you also get your own private butler who will handle everything from unpacking to making dinner reservations and arranging activities to drawing a rose-petal-filled bath.

These honeymoons overwater bungalows in St. Lucia have hardwood floors with glass floor panels so you can see exotic marine life without even having to get in the water. However, should you want to, you can easily do so from a short ladder off your private extended sun deck. Also on the deck, you’ll find a bistro set, comfortable lounge chairs, and a huge hammock suspended over the water for the ultimate in relaxation—not to mention the outdoor Tranquility Soaking Tub™ for two!

Inside, a comfy king-size bed comes with luxury linens and a pillow menu, and it’s positioned directly in front of glass doors to give you fantastic views the minute you wake up. These doors slide open to catch the breeze and provide easy access to the outdoors. You may never want to leave your room, but if you do, Sandals Grande St. Lucian is set on a gorgeous beach with calm waters perfect for snorkeling or watersports. You can also lounge by one of 5 pools, soak in one of 4 whirlpools, or play beach volleyball or day and night tennis. There’s a fitness center and a full-service spa as well. The resort offers a variety of delicious dining options and fun bars to enjoy; you can also arrange private dining on your deck.

All Sandals Resorts offer a free wedding package with a minimum stay of 3 nights. This includes a personal wedding planner, bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere, 5×7 wedding photograph, two-tiered white fondant wedding cake, pre-recorded music for the ceremony, a 1-hour cocktail reception for up to 8 guests including bride and groom, marriage paperwork,  discount on spa services, romantic turndown service with flower petals on the first evening of your honeymoon, breakfast in bed with mimosas on any morning you choose for your honeymoon, and a honeymoon dinner with white-glove service and complimentary sparkling wine in one of the resort’s specialty restaurants.

As at all Sandals, your rate here includes complimentary airport transfers; all dining and beverages including unlimited premium liquors and unlimited Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks wines; a stocked minibar in your room; a coffee maker with Jamaican Blue Mountain Blend coffee; water sports and equipment plus professional instruction; roundtrip shuttles to the other resorts; WiFi; daily and nightly entertainment; unlimited land sports; state-of-the-art fitness center; and all tips, taxes, and gratuities.

Couples Swept Away Negril, Jamaica, Caribbean

Quiet elegance meets lush tropical paradise at this adults-only all-inclusive located on world-famous Seven Mile Beach in Negril with its stunning white sand and turquoise water. Couples Swept Away Negril is great for active couples; set on 19 acres, it offers Jamaica’s largest fitness complex.

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You can stay in a classic Caribbean bungalow-style oceanfront suite just steps from the beach and enjoy 24-hour gourmet dining, dance classes, beach volleyball, beach bonfires, nature walks, and nightly entertainment; unlimited water sports and scuba diving, golf, and tennis; Catamaran cruises; area excursions; 6 restaurants and 8 bars (including a swim-up bar); 3 swimming pools and 5 whirlpools; and a full-service spa.

The 10-acre fitness complex including 9 tennis courts, pickleball courts, racquetball and squash courts, a basketball court, aerobics, yoga, saunas, steam rooms, a lap pool, a jogging track, and a fully equipped gym.

At Couples resorts, there are several destination wedding packages to choose from, including the complimentary “One Love Package” with a personal wedding planner, choice of location on the beach or in tropical gardens, sparkling wine and a wedding cake, a bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere, a professional photographer and one 8×10 print, wedding officiant, and marriage certificate.

Jamaica Inn, Ochos Rios, Jamaica, Caribbean

An intimate retreat with a famous history (Marilyn Monroe honeymooned here!), this boutique hotel was named one of the most romantic places to stay in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. Set along an idyllic stretch of pristine beach, this peaceful oasis offers several options including all-inclusive plans.

You can choose your honeymoon hideaway from spacious oceanview suites with private balconies, beachfront cottages, and beach bungalows. There’s plenty to enjoy here: a swimming pool; watersports, yoga, croquet, and local excursions (plus nearby tennis, golf, windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving, and horseback riding); several restaurants, a beach bar, and a cocktail lounge; daily afternoon tea and evening cocktails plus hors d’oeuvres on the terrace; private dining, either beachfront or on your balcony/patio; an exercise room; a library; and an oceanfront full-service spa with cliffside salt water bath.

Jamaica Inn’s “Elope in Paradise” wedding package starts at $1500 with a 5-night minimum stay and includes a ceremony on the manicured lawn overlooking the Caribbean (with spectacular sunsets), onsite wedding coordinator, minister, photographer, bouquet and boutonniere, wedding cake, sparkling wine for toasting, private candlelight beach dinner for two, and a couples massage.

Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Montana

Situated on a sprawling, secluded ranch dating from 1915, Lone Mountain Ranch is an upscale resort surrounded by trees and offering intimate cabins with a rustic-chic decor. A cozy pub, a farm-to-table restaurant, and activities like yoga, massages, skiing, fly fishing, and horseback riding, plus tours of Yellowstone National Park, are some of the amazing things you can enjoy at Lone Mountain Ranch. 

The Big Sky Big Love Elopement Package includes a choice of gorgeous locations to get married. Details vary depending on whether you choose to elope in the summer or winter, but the package always includes bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere, marriage officiant, wedding cake, meals and activities during your stay, two 1-hour massages, your cozy cabin with woodburning fireplace, and airport transfers.

If none of these destination wedding locations is just right for you, check out our articles about getting married in places like Graceland, Joshua Tree National Park, a lodge outside of Seattle, New York City, Ireland, Hawaii, Mexico, Greece, Bali, and more.

Eloping is a great option for couples who want to keep their wedding simple and intimate. By following these tips, you can ensure that your elopement goes off without a hitch! Let us know in the comments below if you have any other tips to share. Happy eloping!