All photos featured here are credited to our amazing elopement photographers David & Martyna of Wonderful and Strange.
If you and your fiancée love to travel, there’s no better way to honor that than to elope on vacation. With a bit of planning, the two of you could be embarking on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate your love and commitment. So where can you go and where do you start when planning a destination elopement? Having just returned from our destination elopement in Scotland, I have a ton of tips on how to plan your own.
Narrowing down your destinations
The nice thing about a destination elopement is that instead of having to pick between the five popular wedding venues in your hometown, your venue can be literally anywhere – an alpine lake, a beach on a deserted island, one of the most beautiful churches in the world, a national park. So be creative. A good way to narrow down your ideal wedding destination is to determine what are some important requirements for both of you: preferred culture, ideal weather or backdrop, legal requirements, etc.
Use social media for inspiration
If you’re completely clueless as to where to begin, you might want to see where other people have eloped. Follow hashtags on Instagram or Pinterest like #destinationelopement or more specific ones like #beachelopement or #asiaelopement to see where people before you have eloped. This is also really helpful in finding specific vendors like photographers or florists.
Determine where you want to legally marry
Any destination wedding includes the potential legal hassle (or downright impediment) of marrying abroad. Some countries don’t perform marriage ceremonies for anyone without residency or citizenship in that country. If you’re marrying a same-sex partner, your list of legal places to marry is a lot shorter than most people’s. Legal requirements may run the gamut from health screenings to marriage visas that require extra time and money. If you want more spontaneity and less stress, you can always marry legally back home before or after your trip. If you’re excited by the thought of having a legal record of your union in the books in some foreign country, then maybe the international hassle is worth the effort.
Determine the best time of year to plan your destination elopement
Once you’ve identified the where, it’s time to think about the when. Like any vacation, when you elope abroad, you may want to find out general information about weather throughout the year as well as when peak tourist season is. If you’re trying to plan an elopement at a particularly popular public site, you may want to avoid peak tourist season unless you want an audience of strangers at your ceremony. Time of day also plays into that. It’s probably best to avoid popular public spots in the middle of the day, which means you’d have an early morning or evening elopement. Regardless, it can be hard to avoid the prying eyes of other people. Be prepared for the possibility of gawking toursist or a drone following you around. On the plus side, a lot of people are thrilled to see two people getting married so you’ll get excited gasps and congratulations wherever you go.
Start looking for a specific venue
This step may be as simple as looking at pictures of a nice outdoor region you’ll be visiting or as complicated as getting a permit for a castle or paying for a ballroom at a luxury hotel. In all cases, you want to make sure that you have everything figured out beforehand. You certainly don’t want to get kicked out of a public park on the day of your dream elopement because you didn’t know you had to get a city permit to have a ceremony there.
Look for vendors
An elopement is a unique kind of wedding that generally doesn’t involve a lot of coordination up-front, especially if you don’t live in the country you’re eloping in. There are no make-up trials and no rehearsal dinners. You may not even get to meet your photographers or make-up artists until the day of your wedding. You’ll want to choose vendors who are comfortable with this. You don’t want your officiant bungling your ceremony or photographers who are not used to shooting on-the-go.
A good way to find vendors is to start with an elopement photographer, since they typically have their whole portfolio available on social media. They can also point you in the direction of other people they’ve worked with before. People in the wedding industry tend to know other people.
If you like the look of our ceremony, here are the wonderful people we worked with in Scotland:
Flowers: Wild Flower Workshop
Make-up and hair: Bee Bonnie Beauty
Celebrant: Gail Brack
Photography: Wonderful & Strange
Using elopement packages
Though they’re not widely available everywhere, and you’ll more than likely pay a premium, you might prefer the hands-off approach of booking an elopement package. This is like having a wedding planner who will coordinate all necessary services for your big day, including legal paperwork, location scouting, and photography. Some will even throw in a bottle of champagne.
Packing for an elopement
One of the last minute stresses of a destination elopement is that you have to transport everything you’re wearing to another city/country/continent. You’ll want to check with your airline about whether a wedding dress is allowed as a carry-on or if you’ll be forced to check it and live with the fear of being separated from it for the duration of your travels. Although it might be tempting to leave a few last minute things for your destination, I would advise you to bring everything you need from home. The idea of getting a bow tie from the country you’re marrying in is tempting, but spending far too much of your elopement vacation trying to find the right thing can be a drag.
Though most hotels have an iron, you should probably bring a steamer to your destination elopement since a lot of the details on a wedding dress can’t be ironed. Another helpful thing to bring along is a space-saving vacuum bag that you can use to remove some of the heft of a wedding dress. Otherwise it will take up a lot of space in your luggage.
In planning an elopement, you have to be honest with yourself and your partner about what kind of day you will actually enjoy and not what day you’ll enjoy in theory. Sure, the Scottish Highlands look gorgeous in photos, but if you’re the kind of person who will be pissy all day if it’s raining, then go somewhere else. Understandably, some brides bristle at the idea of getting their dress wet or dirty. But if that’s the case for you, why would you ever want to get married outdoors then? If you want an outdoor elopement, be prepared for your dress to rip, get dirt and potentially animal poop on it, snag on branches. And you have to be okay with that.
Accept that there will be some stress
Compared to the months of careful planning that it takes to pull off a 100-guest wedding, an elopement probably seems pretty effortless. But there are stressful aspects that are unavoidable. You still have to coordinate with several people to be at a certain time and place so you can get married. You might have to submit legal paperwork weeks or months in advance. You have to hope that your photographers don’t get Covid at the last minute. Or if you’re doing it very last minute, you have to hope your favorite photographers are available at all. Though it’s on a smaller scale than a wedding, you’re still putting on an event in a different country. There may be delays, legal issues, or mishaps, and there isn’t always anything you can do about it.
Share it with friends and family
Unless you’re secretly eloping, there is something nice about sharing your nuptials with people who love you (and who would have loved to see you get married in person). Sharing your vows, sharing photos, and calling or video chatting with people throughout the day and throughout the trip can be a nice way to keep friends and family in the loop, while still making the whole day about the two of you and what you want to do. There’s no requisite schmoozing with all your wedding guests and you can call it a night as early or as late as you want without disappointing anyone. If you want people to see the ceremony without having to say your vows in front of everyone you know, you can have them filmed to send everyone after the ceremony. Like many pandemic nuptials, you can also live stream your ceremony.
Book a good accommodation
No matter what kind of traveler you are, if you’re doing a destination elopement, you should treat yourself. I can’t think of anything more depressing after eloping somewhere than to go back to a private room in a noisy hostel. Even if you’re traveling around in a van for the rest of your vacation, the night of your wedding should be spent in comfort and luxury.
If your photography package includes capturing the getting ready portion of your day or a first look, you may want to think about booking a house, suite, or at least a room big enough where you can both get ready separately.
Have fun with it
Tradition is nice but tradition can be constricting and stressful. Your elopement should be only what you want it to be. Exchange rings or don’t. Tie the knot or shoot off fireworks. Make your own bouquet from flowers you picked in a forest. Say your vows completely privately. Get married on a Tuesday. Wear boots with your wedding gown. Jump off a plane together. Have pizza for dinner. There are really no rules and no one to tell you you can’t. If your destination elopement is exactly what your hearts desire, it’ll be the perfect wedding day.