How to Plan A Meaningful Elopement: My Top 10 Tips

How to Plan A Meaningful Elopement: My Top 10 Tips

Y’all know I’m all about helping you plan elopements that feel true to you. Elopements that embody everything you love most about your connection, about your relationship, about your story. My goal is to help each and every one of my couples plan a day that’s a genuine reflection of them and them only, no matter what that looks like—and today, I wanted to give you a few ways to do just that. There are COUNTLESS things you can do to plan a more meaningful elopement, from being intentional about your location to doing a first look day-of! I want to share some of my personal favorites that I’ve seen so many couples do, and that have helped my couples’ elopements be unforgettable, heartfelt, and deeply authentic to them. I can’t wait to see how you use them to design your one-of-a-kind day!

10 Ways to Plan a More Meaningful Elopement

1. Consider doing a first look

First looks are always a big debate in the wedding/elopement industry! Is it best to have a first look, or not to have a first look? Does having a first look make your ceremony less special? How the heck do you decide?!

I want to say right off the bat that there is no wrong answer here! One decision is not “better” than the other, it’s completely up to you and what would be best for you and your partner. So instead of telling you that you “should,” have a first look, I want to present you with your options, and let you be the ones who ultimately decide what would be the most special + meaningful for you 🙂 

If you’re not familiar with what a first look is, it’s essentially when a couple sees each other before their wedding ceremony—aka before the traditional walk down the aisle to the altar. It’s become wayyyy more popular over the past few years as more and more couples want to find ways to bring the focus of their day back to them, whether they’re having a private elopement or a big, traditional wedding. First looks give you the chance to spend more time together on your day, and to make the moment that you first see each other much more intimate.

Here are the biggest reasons couples choose to have a first look, versus seeing each other for the first time at their ceremony:

  • It allows them to spend more of the day together: Rather than only getting to spend time together during + after your ceremony, doing a first look gives you the chance to spend time together before, too!
  • For some couples, it makes the moment more special: This one is completely subjective to every couple. Some couples find it more special to see each other for the first time at the altar, in front of their guests, while some might enjoy the moment more in private with just the two of them. Again, no right or wrong, it’s up to you to decide what would be the most memorable for you!
  • It gives you a chance to read your vows before your ceremony: If you invited guests and you’re feeling anxious about reading your vows in front of them, you could do a private vow exchange during your first look instead! Or maybe you just would rather keep your emotional words between each other, rather than in front of people. You can read your vows in private, then simply exchange the traditional vows during your ceremony! This is also a great time to exchange gifts, or read each other letters if you’ve written anything to each other, other than your vows.
  • It gives you more freedom + flexibility for portraits with your guests: If you have guests at your elopement, doing a first look means you can take portraits with them before your ceremony rather than having to wait until after. This gives you way more time to be present and do other activities after your ceremony, since you’ll have gotten the posed portraits with your loved ones out of the way already. You can also take extra portraits of the two of you, which you wouldn’t be able to do if you waited until your ceremony to see each other in your elopement attire!

If these don’t resonate with you, and/or you’d simply rather see each other for the first time at your ceremony, then by all means, skip the first look! That will be much more meaningful for the two of you than if you forced yourselves to do a first look because you thought you “should.” It’s completely your choice, but as your photographer I’m also more than happy to provide guidance + chat through your options with you 🙂 

2. Pick a location that carries significance

One really amazing thing about eloping is that you have sooo much more freedom when it comes to locations; since you don’t have a huge guest list, you’re not restricted to traditional wedding venues! This means that you have the ability to really be intentional about the location you elope, and you can pick somewhere that carries some sort of significance to you and your partner. Especially if you only have a very small group of guests (or none at all!), you have way more opportunities if you don’t have to worry about making sure your group fits at the location you choose.

This could look like:

  • Having your ceremony at the place where you got engaged
  • Eloping in the town where you met
  • Eating dinner at the restaurant where you had your first date
  • Eloping somewhere that all your guests will love to experience with you
  • Picking a trail in a national park you’ve always wanted to visit together
  • Taking portraits at the top of a hike you love to do together
  • Ending the night at a local dive bar that reminds you of the one you frequent at home
  • Getting ready together in the cabin you visit every year for vacations

As long as you get the proper permit(s), your group fits safely, and it aligns with your budget, your options are endless y’all!

3. Buy personalized vow books

This one is so simple yet significant! Instead of writing your vows on your phone or buying the traditional “his/hers” “his/his” “hers/hers” etc. vow books, find a set of personalized vow books. Etsy is FULL of cute vow books that you can add customizations to, such as your names, the last name you’re going to share, your elopement date/location, etc. You could even choose the color of your vow books to match your color scheme, have an illustration added to the cover (e.g. a drawing of a wildflower native to your elopement location, or the paw print of your pet), and choose a material you love. There are even options like these that include beautiful silk ribbons! And if you want to get even more unique + creative with it, you could hire a calligrapher/stationery vendor to create completely custom books for you. I highly recommend doing that if it’s within your budget, because working with someone one-on-one to bring your vision to life is SO magical, and will make it so that your vow books are 100% one-of-a-kind! They’ll look extra special when featured in your detail photos, plus they’re keepsakes you can hold onto forever.

4. Write your vows day-of

Speaking of vows, one of my other favorite ways to make them more special is to write them day-of, instead of ahead of time. I’ve seen lots of wedding and elopement checklists that recommend you have your vows written a week ahead, at least, and while that’s definitely an option, you could also wait until the big day arrives to write them! Doing this might give you a better opportunity to write from your heart and truly dig into all the emotions you’re feeling, nerves and all. Some people might feel pressured to make their vows “perfect” if they write them in advance, or like they have to go back and correct things if they didn’t like their first draft enough. If you let yourself wait until the day of your elopement to write your vows, chances are you’ll be able to write what you’re truly feeling now that the day has arrived, and you’re right in the middle of the excitement! You can always write down a few notes in advance if there are things you want to make sure you remember.

Now this might not be the option for everyone; if it would make you feel stressed out not to have your vows written ahead of time, or if you know you might be nervous the day-of and won’t want to spend your time writing, that’s okay! Writing them in advance doesn’t make it any less special at ALL—it simply means it’s the option that is better for you.

Kelly + Kaylah literally wrote their vows on a mountain top right before their ceremony; check out their magical Fall Elopement at Artist Point for inspo!

5. Have a slow morning + get ready together

This is one of my all-time FAVORITE ways for couples to make their day more meaningful. Instead of waiting until your ceremony to see each other, or even waiting until a first look, why not spend the whole morning with each other + get ready together? If you want to spend the most time possible with your love on your elopement day, then why should you have to separate once you wake up? 🙂 Instead of heading your separate ways and getting ready individually, take the morning easy and be intentional with it. This could look like snuggling up in bed for a little extra time, making coffee together, cooking breakfast and dancing in the kitchen of your Airbnb, reading books next to each other on the couch, or even playing with your pup who you brought with you. You’ll get to start the morning off on a beautiful note, spending quality time together doing things you love and making memories right from the get-go! Then, you can get ready in one room and help each other put on your accessories, your final hair + makeup touches, tie your shoes, etc. It’s always so sweet seeing couples tie each other’s hiking boots or fasten each other’s jewelry, my heart can’t take it. 

Blake + Trystan spent their morning in a slow, peaceful way, making pancakes together in the kitchen and getting ready in the loft of their A-frame Airbnb. Check out their Modern Bohemian Rockaway Beach, Oregon Elopement to see all the pics!

6. Don’t nix the first dance

Who said you can’t have a first dance if you elope? Nobody! While a lot of eloping couples decide to intentionally cut out the typical wedding traditions from their day, it doesn’t mean you can’t include any. The whole point of an elopement, after all, is to do what’s most meaningful to YOU, whether that means including a couple of wedding traditions that hold significance to you, or including none! I always tell my couples you can absolutelyyyy still have a first dance on your elopement day, even if you don’t have a dance floor or a crowd to watch—in fact, I think that honestly makes it more special and intimate. You don’t have to awkwardly sway with a bunch of eyes on you, haha! Instead, you can find a quiet place to dance, such as a spot on the trail you hiked to for sunset, or a beautiful place on the shores of an alpine lake. Try to make sure there’s nobody around so that you can play a little music without disrupting other visitors; pick a song or two that you both love, and we can play them on a small speaker for y’all. Bonus points if you have your first dance at sunset, or after the sun goes down and the stars are sparkling in the sky—sooo romantic and magical!

7. Find ways to involve your loved ones from afar

I often have couples ask me if they can invite guests to their elopement, and the answer is YES! However, you can also find meaningful ways to involve your loved ones even if you don’t want them to be physically present at your elopement—you might just want it to be the two of you, but you still want to feel their love and support, and share the beautiful occasion with them. 

Here are a few ways to include your family and friends in your elopement even if they’re not invited:

  • Facetime them while you get ready
  • Incorporate heirloom pieces in your details/outfit, such as a bracelet that your grandma gave you
  • Include photos of them in your details, or at your ceremony/post-ceremony meal
  • Set up a live Zoom call during your ceremony for them to watch
  • Invite them to write letters that you can read during your ceremony, or during dinner
  • Have them send congratulatory videos that you can watch

And this goes for your four-legged babies, too! Taylor and Jay had SUCH a cute idea, they didn’t bring their dogs with them so they brought photos of them to carry around + take portraits with. You can see their full elopement here!

8. Include your kids

On that same note, you can also find ways to include your kids in your elopement day—whether they’ll be present on the actual day or you want to involve them in some aspect of planning/preparation! Your kids are obviously such a huge part of your lives, and it would probably feel weird to celebrate without them; it’s completely up to you whether you have them join in on the actual day or not.

Here are a few ways to include your kids in your elopement:

  • Let them help you DIY some decorations
  • Invite them to speak during your ceremony (if they’re old enough)
  • Let them choose their own outfits, or a piece of their outfit (e.g. jewelry, accessories)
  • Choose a ceremony location that’s easy for them to access
  • Have them be your flower child/ring bearer

For more ways to involve your kiddos in your elopement, head over to this blog!

9. Get creative with your food & drinks

When you elope with either no guests or just a small group of guests, you have sooo many options when it comes to food and drinks. You won’t be limited to a caterer or restaurant that can provide servings for large groups of 100+; instead, you can think a little outside of the box and have more fun with it. Whether it’ll be just the two of you eating, or you’ll be with a group of family and friends, meals are an amazing time to sit down, be present, and connect with your people—so make them as special as they can be!

Here are a few ways to get creative with your meals/drinks on your elopement day:

  • Go to a dive bar at the end of the night and grab a cider (which is exactly what Claire + Jordan did!)
  • Have a dessert buffet instead of a cake (e.g. items for s’mores, cookies, cupcakes, etc.)
  • Have a picnic on the beach, by the lake, in the mountains, etc.
  • Hire a food truck to bring you late-night snacks
  • Have charcuterie board appetizers (like Taylor + Jake did)

I love the topic of elopement food sooo much that I wrote a separate blog post about it—10 Unique Meal Ideas for Your Elopement Dinner!

10. Incorporate your favorite things

Finally, find ways to incorporate all of your favorite things into your elopement! Your favorite colors, patterns, designs, textures, foods, drinks, flowers, games, activities, animals, people, snacks. . . you name it, and you can do it, y’all. If your elopement day is filled with things you love and that give you energy + fulfillment, there’s literally no way that your elopement WON’T be meaningful and unforgettable. There’s truly no dream too big—Alison + Jacob literally included horses in their elopement, and went on a wildly romantic horseback ride through the California Redwoods. A freaking dream! 

There you have it, y’all—10 ways to plan a meaningful elopement and create memories that you’ll never, ever forget! If you still need someone to document it all for you, fill out my inquiry form so we can connect + get this adventure started <3

Here are a few other elopement resources I think you’ll love!

Top 20+ Best Places to Elope in Oregon

8 Twilight-Inspired Elopement Locations in the PNW

How to Elope at Mount Rainier: Ultimate Elopement Guide

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