How to Plan an Unforgettable Destination Elopement

How to Plan an Unforgettable Destination Elopement

If you have big dreams of eloping internationally but you’re feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of actually planning it, then you’re in the right place! Maybe your dream adventure looks like exploring the mountains of New Zealand, or maybe it’s relaxing on the beach + eating delicious pasta on the vibrant coast of Italy. Whatever your ideal destination elopement looks like, I’m here to help you plan it + make sure you have the most smooth, stress-free, and epic experience possible. 

I’ve split this guide up into a few different sections, to make sure that we cover all the important stuff:

  • The Why: Reflecting on your vision, values, and priorities
  • The Where: Narrowing down where you want to elope
  • The When: Choosing a season, month, and date for your elopement
  • The Who: Picking who to invite to your elopement
  • The How: Planning out the logistics

Each section is going to have a few questions for you to answer to help you sort through all your ideas + reflect on what you want out of your elopement day, along with my top tips as a destination elopement photographer. You can sit down and make a date out of it, giving yourselves some time to answer all of these questions together all at once while you sip on some yummy drinks, eat a delicious dinner, or just lounge on the couch. 

Or if you’d rather take your time with it + not have a million questions to answer in one sitting, you can split them up and maybe dedicate an hour a week to answering them! It’s totally up to you; these questions + tips are meant to serve you, so you can take whatever makes sense to you and ignore the rest.

So without further ado, let’s dive into how to plan your dream destination elopement!

How to Plan an Unforgettable Destination Elopement

The Why

Before you even start thinking about the logistics of your elopement, I want you to dream a little. Actually, a lot. It’s so important to me that I help my couples dig deep into their why when it comes to their elopement day, so that you’re able to get super clear on what YOU want as a couple and why you want it. If you have this clarity going into the planning process, then it’ll be much easier for you to make confident decisions, get on the same page, and to not let external opinions/expectations deter you from the kind of day that you want. And when it comes down to it, that’s exactly what your elopement should be: yours.

So I want you to start by envisioning what your ideal elopement would look like if there were no restrictions at all—if money, time, and opinions didn’t play a role. Really let yourselves dream here without any limitations, knowing that you’ll have PLENTY of time to worry about what’s actually realistic, to listen to external opinions, and to figure out what you have the budget to do. 

Here are a few questions to answer together about why you’re eloping + what matters most to each of you:

Why is eloping important to you? Why are you choosing it over a big wedding?

How did you come to this decision? What is it about big weddings that you don’t like/doesn’t feel right to you?

What matters most to you about eloping?

What drew you to eloping in the first place? What part of eloping matters most to the two of you?

What do you want to remember most from your elopement?

Is it the activities + experiences you had? The people you interacted with? The food you ate? The decorations you poured so much time into?

What would you regret NOT doing on your elopement day?

This can be a really great question to ask to get clarity on what’s actually important—what would you be really sad about leaving out if you didn’t do it? What would you always regret missing out on?

The Where

Now it’s time to start talking logistics! Picking a location is one of the most exciting and important parts of planning your elopement, because location is EVERYTHING when it comes to what your experience is like. Location will impact what activities you’re able to include in your timeline, what the vibes are, what the scenery around you looks like, how you plan your travel, how much money you spend, how many guests you can invite. . . that’s why it’s great to come up with a few location ideas you love first, then dive into how each one would impact the nitty gritty logistics of inviting guests, planning out your budget, etc.!

When you picture your elopement, what type of scenery are you envisioning?

Are you surrounded by dramatic mountain landscapes? Are you on a boat in the middle of a vibrant blue alpine lake? Are you strolling along a beach at sunset, dancing in the sand and running away from the waves? Walking through an enchanting forest full of lush greenery and towering trees? Exploring the big city and stopping at local cafes, restaurants, + boutiques?

Here are a few types of landscapes you might choose from:

  • Mountains
  • Forest
  • Desert
  • Coast
  • Waterfalls
  • Canyons
  • City
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Glaciers

Are there any sentimental locations you’d like to visit/include?

Maybe a certain place you’ve always wanted to visit together, somewhere you love taking vacations, or the city where you first met.

What kinds of activities do you want to incorporate into your elopement?

Here’s a list of some epic activities to consider including in your elopement:

  • Helicopter tour
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Surfing
  • Boating
  • Four-wheeling
  • Hiking/backpacking
  • Camping
  • Mountain biking
  • Rock climbing

Once you’ve answered these questions, hopefully you’ll be closer to picking the perfect location for your destination elopement! I’d be stoked to hear what you’re dreaming up + provide personalized location recommendations based on your unique vision if you inquire with me; some of my personal favorites include New Zealand, Italy, Ireland, and Scotland.

The When

After you’ve chosen a location (or at least narrowed it down to a few possibilities), it’s time to start thinking about WHEN you want to elope. There are quite a few things to consider when choosing a date for your destination elopement, including your + your guests’ schedules, weather, tourists, costs, and more. Your date will definitely depend on the availability of the vendors you want to hire, as well, so you may have to come back to this after reaching out to your vendors and getting a feel for when they’re available. Below are 6 questions to help you start the process of finding your perfect date!

How far in advance are you planning/how much time do you want to plan?

Would you rather your engagement be short, or do you want more time to plan? If you’re planning a more intricate elopement, you may want to plan for a date further out; if you’re keeping it pretty simple, you can most likely get away with a shorter time frame. 

What does the weather look + feel like at your dream elopement?

What kind of weather would you prefer? Do you love being warm and would like to elope in a tropical climate? Do you enjoy being in the crisp, chilly air of the mountains? Would you rather wear warm-weather elopement attire or cozy up in more layers + long sleeves?

When can you + your partner + your guests take time off of work?

Is there a certain time of year when you + your partner have more vacation time? If you’re inviting guests, when might they be able to take time off to travel for your elopement?

What season do you want to elope?

Fall, winter, spring, or summer? Do you love the cozy vibes of fall and want to integrate earthy fall tones into your color palette? Or maybe you prefer the vibrance and color of spring, and want to elope at a waterfall when the flow is strongest! Consider your location as well: if you want to elope in the mountains, make sure to choose a season when trails + roads are accessible. If you want to elope with wildflowers, find out when peak wildflower bloom is in the area.

What month do you want to elope?

Now that you’ve chosen a season, look at your schedules and narrow it down to a month that will work best for you. Also think about the fact that this may be when you want to take anniversary trips in the future!

What day of the week do you want to elope?

If you’re eloping at a pretty touristy location, you may want to opt for a weekday to avoid crowds as much as possible. Check to see when your location is open, what peak times/days are, and when the activities you want to book are available. 

What time of day do you want to elope?

I actually wrote a whole blog post about this here! Plus, check out this blog post for tips on planning your elopement timeline.

How long do you want your trip to be?

Do you want to spend a week at your location? Two weeks? How much time can you take off? How long will travel take on either end of the trip?

The Who

Inviting guests can be a tricky thing when it comes to weddings, no matter how big or small; guest lists often come with opinions, pressure, expectations, and overall anxiety. I’m here to tell you that your guest list is COMPLETELY up to you, and there is absolutely zero shame in only inviting the people who you truly want there with you! I know it can be hard to leave out people that you love, but if that’s what feels most authentic to you, then it’s your right to do that—and you can always find ways to celebrate with them later on.

Here are the questions I recommend asking yourselves to get clear on who (if anybody) you want present on the big day with you:

Do you want your elopement to be private, or do you want to have guests?

Yes, a totally private elopement is an option—you don’t have to invite anybody! You just need to make sure you have the required number of witnesses present 🙂 

How many guests can your location/venue fit?

If you’ve chosen your location, are there restrictions on how many people can fit? This is especially important if you’re eloping outdoors, as most trails and outdoor locations can only fit fairly small groups. Make sure you know how many people you’re able to invite before you actually start inviting anyone!

Who do you actually want to invite?

If you do decide to have guests, who do you ACTUALLY want to invite? Not who do you think you’re “supposed” to invite, or who you feel you “should” invite: who do you actually want there on your elopement day? Think about family members, friends, and other people who have played an important role in your lives/relationship, and whose support you want at your elopement. A good way to look at it is who you would regret not having by your side.

For tips on including kids in your elopement, check out this blog post I wrote.

Who would you rather not invite?

You’re not mean by saying there are people you don’t want to invite! In fact, it’s important to get clear on who you don’t want to invite so that you know who you do want to invite. Think about family members or friends who may add extra stress, pressure, judgment, or drama to your day that you don’t want.

How can you include your loved ones even if you don’t invite them?

If you have loved ones you’re not inviting but you would still like to include them, how can you do so? Could you maybe invite them to write letters to you that you read at your elopement? Maybe you’ll plan to Facetime them while you’re getting ready. Or maybe you want to plan a separate celebration with them at a later date.

How can you honor loved ones who have passed away?

If you have loved ones who have passed away, and who you wish could be at your elopement, how can you honor them? Maybe you could include photos of them in your decor, save a spot for them at your ceremony, or wear a piece of jewelry they gave to you.

What vendors do you want to hire? Which ones are your top priorities?

Vendors are another big part of the “who” of your elopement. Think through which ones you want to hire, and which ones are your top priorities. This will help when it comes to planning out your budget and figuring out how you want to allocate your money!

Here is a list of common elopement vendors you might consider hiring:

  • Planner/coordinator
  • Stylist/decorator
  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Officiant
  • Florist
  • Hair/makeup
  • Stationery
  • Caterer/food provider
  • Baker/dessert

Will you be hiring local vendors, or paying vendors to travel?

If you have vendors you love in your hometown, how much would it cost to have them travel for your elopement? Would you rather hire vendors who are local to + have experience at your destination?

The How (aka the logistics)

Finally, let’s talk about all the other logistics that come with planning a destination elopement, including budget, marriage licenses, travel, and more. There’s definitely a lot more to think about when it comes to planning an international elopement compared to planning one in your home  country, so make sure you give yourselves plenty of time to do your research + check off all the key tasks!

What is your elopement budget? How much are each of you contributing?

How much are you each comfortable spending? Where is your budget coming from?

What are your top priorities, budget-wise?

What is most important to each of you, and how will that impact where you spend your money? If you have 2-3 top priorities that you’re willing to spend more money on, that will help a ton when you’re figuring out the financial aspect of things.

How are you + your guests traveling to your destination elopement location?

Are you flying? Do you need to book a boat or ferry ride? Who’s booking all the travel?

Do you want to stay in the same place as your guests or find somewhere separate?

It can be really special to stay at the same place as your guests so that you can spend the most quality time together, but you can also totally find your own Airbnb/hotel/etc. and meet up with them when you need to instead!

Where are you + your guests staying for your elopement?

What types of accommodations are available at your destination? Do you want to stay at an Airbnb/VRBO/private rental, a hotel, a resort, a villa, etc?

When will you need to book travel? What airlines fly to your destination?

Figure out how far in advance you’ll need to book all your travel, and see if there are any times that are better/cheaper to book than others.

How will you get around your destination? Will you need/want to rent a car? 

Do you want to rely on public transportation (if it’s available), or would you rather rent a car? You could even hire a private driver to chauffeur you around instead. If you’ll be driving a rental car, what are the requirements, and will you need to get an International Driver’s Permit? Look into what driving there is like, too (e.g. what side of the road they drive on, traffic laws, etc.).

What travel documents will you need to bring with you?

Along with your passport, will you need a visa or any travel documents of any kind?

Will you need any permits for your ceremony location?

If you’re eloping outdoors or at a popular tourist location, do you need any special permits or reservations?

Do you want to legally get married, or have a symbolic ceremony instead?

Getting legally married in a foreign country can be tricky and often comes with somewhat of a lengthy, complicated process. Would you rather put in the work to do that, or get married legally at home first + then have a symbolic ceremony at your destination elopement?

What are the legal requirements of getting married in the country you chose?

If you plan to legally get married, what is the process of getting a marriage license? What documents will you need? How do you apply? How long will it take? How much will it cost?

What do you need to know about the location you’re visiting?

Here are some things I recommend looking into to make sure you’re familiar with where you’re headed:

  • Language
  • Currency
  • Culture
  • Customs
  • Food
  • Driving/transportation
  • Health/safety precautions

Destination Elopement Photographer

Alright y’all, you’ve made it to the end! I know that was a LOT of questions and a lotttt of info, but I wanted to give you as much as I could to help you feel supported in your planning. Please know that as your destination elopement photographer, I will be there every step of the way to guide you, share my expertise, and help you plan the perfect day that you’ve been dreaming about—you’re not in this alone. Reach out to me now and let’s make it freaking happen!

I’ve got tons more elopement planning resources like this one, so here are a few faves I think you’ll love.

How to Plan a Meaningful Elopement: My Top 10 Tips

10 Unique Elopement Ideas to Make Your Elopement Feel Like You

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