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Hi, I'm Michaela, the heart behind Lovely & Planned. This blog is all about elopements and destination weddings, but you'll also find general tips and advice on wedding planning. I'm so happy to have you here! Grab a cup of coffee and stay a while!

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What to Do When You Plan to Elope – A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you plan to elope? That’s perfect, you have come to the right place! Because I share a step-by-step guide on how to plan an elopement, from setting a budget to sending those elopement announcements! So without further ado, let’s jump right in! 

Basics

Budget

The first step when you plan to elope is to set a budget. Although elopements are usually cheaper than weddings, they are not for free, and expenses quickly add up, especially if you are planning a destination wedding.

Here are some expenses you might need to budget for:

  • legal documents (e.g., marriage license, visa, passport)
  • travel expenses (e.g., airfare, train tickets, hotel)
  • travel vaccinations and travel insurance
  • wedding attire and wedding bands
  • wedding planner
  • venue fees
  • photographer
  • wedding celebrant
  • hair and makeup artist
  • wedding bouquet and/or boutonniere
  • stationery (e.g., elopement announcements)
  • small wedding cake and cake cutting fee
  • decoration and rentals
  • bubbly to toast after your ceremony and corkage fee
  • brunch, lunch, or dinner after the ceremony
  • any elopement day activities
  • small, informal party after your elopement with your friends and family

[Related: How to Save Money Planning a Stunning Elopement]

Location & Destination

Then it’s time to decide where you would like to elope to. Here are some questions that might help you to find your perfect spot: 

  • What’s your budget?
  • Do you want a destination elopement?
  • If you decide on a destination elopement, what’s the furthest you would like to travel to?
  • Are you an athletic, nature-loving couple? (e.g., would you enjoy hiking to your ceremony location?)
  • Are you an adventurous couple? (e .g., fancy a balloon ride?)
  • Are you interested in culture and art? (e.g., how about getting married in a museum?)
  • How do you picture your big day? What pictures, feelings, sounds, or smells come to your mind?
  • In particular, what word would best describe your elopement? (e.g., romantic, adventurous, fun, breathtaking, relaxed).
  • Which season do you like best and why? 
  • What are your three elopement must-haves? (e.g., a ball gown wedding dress, an exquisite dinner after the ceremony, not wearing shoes because you want to feel the sand under your toes)
  • What are your three elopement no-goes?

Once you have answered all these questions, you should have a good understanding of your elopement vision! With that in mind, get creative or ask a travel agent or wedding planner for some input!

[Related: 5 Things Nobody Tells You About a Destination Wedding in Amsterdam]

Set a date

The next step when you plan to elope is to set a date for your wedding. If you have a destination elopement, get as much information as possible about the climate beforehand. For example, getting married in the Arabian Desert is truly magical with the endless dunes and the starlit sky, but if you don’t time it right, you may end up with an unbearable heat way over 40°C (104°F). 

Guests – yes or no

Once you know your budget, destination, and date, decide if you want to invite your closest friends and family. If so, send out invitations as soon as possible to give your guests enough time to prepare, especially if you chose a location that’s further away and may require your guests to make travel arrangements.

If you want to get married without anyone else, here are a few tips on how you could still include your family and closest friends to make them feel part of your special day:  

  • Although you may want to skip on ALL the wedding-related planning stuff, go dress/suit shopping with your mum, sister, best friend, or whoever is very close to you! Shopping for wedding attire is such a fun and great way to allow your entourage to be a part of your wedding. 
  • If you like to include the something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue tradition, ask your parents or grandparents to help you out! Maybe you can wear your grandmother’s pearls or borrow your dad’s heirloom pocket watch? 
  • Have dinner or an informal gathering just a few days BEFORE you elope with the most important people in your life! This way, everyone gets the chance to wish you well and give you their blessings. 
  • Ask your family and closest friends to write letters to you that you will only open during your elopement ceremony, where you read them out aloud.
  • Have a wedding website. Include information about your elopement destination, why you decided to elope, and add some images of you, your destination, and even your ceremony venue. After your elopement, upload photos and videos of your day.
  • Do a live stream of your ceremony or make some time for calling or video chatting with your loved ones right before or after your ceremony. ⠀⠀
  • Have an intimate post-elopement gathering to celebrate your marriage, such as an informal BBQ or brunch. Or how about a one-year anniversary party?

And remember, before you post anything on social media, talk to your parents and your closest family and friends first! 

Once you have sorted out the basics, it’s time to figure out the travel arrangements and necessary paperwork.

Travel & Paperwork

Although this isn’t the most fun part, sorting out the paperwork is a crucial step when you plan to elope. If you are having a destination wedding, research the legal requirements of the respective country. If it’s not possible to get legally married at your destination, decide if you want to get married in your home country before or after eloping. 

Then, sort out any (travel) paperwork like obtaining a marriage license, passport renewals, and visa. Book your flights and hotel. Confirm that all necessary vaccinations are up to date. Arrange travel insurance. And finally, make honeymoon arrangements. 

Wedding Essentials & Vendors

At about the same time, decide on your style/theme and color palette for your elopement. If you need some help, here is a blog post about finding your wedding theme, and here is one on how to set a color scheme

Then it’s time to reach out to wedding venues that are within your budget and work well with your style/theme and/or color scheme. 

Also, start booking all other wedding vendors and any elopement day activities. 

Expert Tip: First, reach out to wedding photographers, as often they are fully booked months in advance, especially if you get married during the wedding season. If you don’t hire a wedding planner, a wedding photographer might also be able to give you tips on venues and other wedding suppliers such as florists, hair and makeup artist, and cake designers. 

If you don’t already have your wedding attire and wedding bands, now is a good time to purchase those.

[Related: 7 Tips on How to Find the Right Vendors for Your Destination Wedding]

Checklists & Timelines

You are almost done with planning your elopement! There are only a few things left for you to do before your big day:

  • Create a day-of timeline and share it with all your vendors. Because it’s crucial that everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what you expect to happen at what time.
  • Create a playlist for your wedding ceremony.
  • Write your vows. 
  • Create a day-of packing list, so you remember to pack all the essentials like your wedding bands and the marriage license.

After Your Elopement 

Enjoy your honeymoon, send out elopement announcements, and have a small reception to celebrate with your loved ones!

If you had a destination elopement, sort out any necessary final paperwork that is required to legalize your marriage in your home country. 

What to do when you plan to elope – the 13 most essential steps in a nutshell

  1. Lay the groundwork (budget, destination, date, guests)
  2. Get all the paperwork straightened out (marriage license, travel paperwork)
  3. Make travel arrangements and book your flight if need be.
  4. Book your venue.
  5. Book your wedding vendors.
  6. Buy or rent your wedding attire.
  7. Purchase your wedding bands.
  8. Book any elopement day activities.
  9. Write your vows.
  10. Create a music playlist for your ceremony.
  11. Have fun at your elopement.
  12. Send out elopement announcements.
  13. Legalize your marriage in your home country if necessary.

Expert Tip: Hire a wedding planner, especially if you are planning a destination elopement. Because in addition to standard wedding planning services like finding the perfect vendors for your vision and budget, destination wedding planners know the country’s regulations and can help you with questions like Is it possible to get legally married in this country? What documents do we need? Are there any other requirements we need to be aware of? And they help you save money due to their extensive vendor connections. They know where you are safe to cut costs and where you really shouldn’t. 

Did you know that I’m a wedding planner for Amsterdam and Dubai? If you plan to elope and would like to find out how I can help you, get in touch with me today to set up a complimentary consultation!

Love, Michaela

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