Updated: Oct 9
You are daring enough to buck tradition and have the elopement of your dreams! But you don't really know anyone else who has eloped like this and you aren't too sure where to start. In this blog I unpack and take you through the elopement planning process. It's a general outline of the things you need to consider when you choose to elope! As a Texas Elopement Photographer and Guide a lot of my job is to help couples with this entire process so if you read through this and have any questions don't hesitate to reach out! I would love to hear from you!
Step one - Decide to elope!
Some couples know immediately that eloping is right for them and they get to planning their elopement right away! Other couples start out planning a big wedding and then realize that the traditional wedding route feels more forced and that an adventure elopement is actually THE DREAM. Making the decision to elope may not always come easy, you may even ruffle some feathers when you begin telling those around you your decision.
The initial decision to elope is probably going to be one of the biggest obstacles for you to overcome when planning your elopement! I know that this situation varies from couple to couple, relationships are different, families are different. Everyone is different! I get it. Here are some tips to help you when making the decision to elope.
Remember you can totally elope with a few friends and family members by your side! I'd say as long as you keep the guest count down to 15 people than you are still eloping! Plus you get to have quality time with each guest this way.
You can opt for a two day experience. Choose to say your vows and elope just the two of you on day one and have a party with all your mvps on day two! Or choose an overnight backpacking adventure (;
Keep it at a need to know basis. I know that this can look different for everyone. Maybe you need to tell your parents or your siblings about your decision to elope! But if they don’t really need to know don’t tell them beforehand. Instead send out an announcement, show them the beautiful photos from your elopement and tell them stories about your awesome day. SHOW them that this was 100% the right move for you and you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. When they see how happy you are, how full of love and intention your wedding day was, they will be so freakin’ stoked for you and thrilled to hear all about it. Telling people who don’t really need to know about your plans to elope beforehand can definitely add stress. Not everyone understands why you do what you do and people tend to project their own fears onto others. So keeping it at a need to know basis helps a lot!
Telling those who need to know can still be pretty tricky!
Maybe they don’t know the potential an adventure elopement holds, maybe they’ll feel left out, there are a lot of reasons that people may be offended at the idea of not being by your side when you say your vows. Here are a couple of ways to help that process;
Meet them in person and tell them about your decision to elope. Show them this blog that busts some common elopement myths! Show them gorgeous photos of elopements and tell them why you are choosing to go this route. Show them how excited you are about your decision!
Include them in the planning process: Let them go dress shopping with you, include them when designing your announcements, tell them about all of the potential locations you are looking at and adventures you might go on. Let them help!
Include them on the day of: If you want to elope just the two of you you can still include your friends or family by having them write you letters to read after your ceremony or you can face time them after you say your vows...if your location has reception of course!
Plan a dinner or celebration after you elope, set up a way to display your photos or video on a big screen so everyone can experience the photos as if they were there with you! This right here is a big reason your elopement photography is SO important, when you cut down your guest list the value of your photos increases dramatically because they are the only way those who weren't there in person get to experience the day with you.
Budget, activities and locations!
A lot of people assume that elopements are cheaper than traditional weddings. While that can be true because you aren't paying for a venue, catering, rentals and so on it isn’t always cheaper! What you are paying for is experience over material objects. So you are paying for travel, any kind of activities that may require a professional guide, permits, day passes, lodging and so on. Deciding on a budget early in the planning process can help you later down the road!
Now that you have made the decision to elope, told those who need to know and have a budget in mind you can start dreaming up exactly what you might want to do on your elopement day!
Some questions to have in mind when deciding on you adventure;
What activities do the two of you love doing together?
What is your experience with outdoor recreation?
What type of scenery do you feel called towards?
Have you budgeted for anything specific like a helicopter ride or caving tour guide?
For example; I love hiking! My favorite hikes start before the sun rises, explore beautiful rivers and cut through tall grass. I also feel very drawn towards desert landscapes. I love the orange tones, the desert flora and the wildlife. The warmth and the wide open space just feel like home to me! My husband Jacob really likes kayaking and fishing! We have the most fun when we are both doing something we love together. So our elopement might look like heading out for a multi-day camping and kayaking adventure on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park! It would be a win-win for both of us!
Having a general idea of what you want to do and the type of landscape you want to do it in is super helpful when you start to look at more of the logistic planning aspects, Having a general location in mind will help when you begin to search for vendors as well. Want more ideas on where to elope in Texas? Check out this blog!
You will want vendors who specialize in the type of location you are eyeing!
Selecting a date
Being flexible with your elopement date can be a huge benefit! If you know roughly where you want to elope and what activities you want to do then you probably know which season you want to elope in. I recommend trying to have an open mind when it comes to the exact day! Some places tend to be more crowded on weekends so if an intimate experience is important to you then you may want to consider a week day. You may also receive better pricing on lodging and travel if you choose a weekday! Being flexible will be nice when you start looking for vendors as well! This way you won't have to compromise on your vendors because the perfect team is booked on your specific date.
Bonus tip; Considering the night sky when choosing to elope somewhere like Big Bend can be pretty neat! Maybe you’ll want to be able to see the milky way or dance under the full moon!
Thinking about weather
Let's talk about Texas weather! When planning your elopement you'll want to consider weather, you will most likely be spending a lot of time outside! If you are wanting a summer elopement it's going to be HOT. There are ways to beat the heat when enjoying the outdoors though! Like choosing a sunrise elopement for example, when you opt for sunrise you can get the cooler temperatures. Potentially low to mid eighty's until around noon in central Texas! If you are wanting elope somewhere out west like Big Bend or Palo Duro then I highly recommend waiting until cooler seasons like fall, early winter or spring. It get's dangerously hot out west and places like Big Bend need a lot more than an hour or two of exploration so you can really experience the amazing landscape! East Texas also get's miserably humid in the summer months. So for summer time elopements I recommend staying in central Texas and maybe even incorporating some swimming! Spring time in Texas is my favorite season because I love seeing how lush everything is! If you like the idea of a more lush scenery, new growth and wild flowers then spring time might be for you! As for fall, you can check out locations like Caddo Lake, Lost Maples or even some lesser known spaces in the hill country for a glimpse of fall foliage! The temperatures over fall and spring are ideal for recreating outdoors! Which means you'll have to be very vigilant when making reservations for state or national parks as well as camping or lodging during peak hiking and camping season. Winters are pretty mild in Texas except for the occasional cold snap, even then as long as you are able to plan ahead and prepare you can still have fun outside!
Being flexible with your date and able to go with the flow is important even when it comes to weather, you'll want to have a plan b in place in case of rain or dangerous weather! Having the ability to wait out some bad weather and potentially elope a day later than originally planned can save you a lot of headache!
Once you have an idea of when, what and where you can start looking for who will help you make that happen! I recommend finding an elopement photographer first. Most photographers who specialize in elopements recognize that you don’t have a lot of vendors involved to help you plan like you would for a traditional wedding. So they have elopement packages that actually do help a lot with the planning process! Finding someone to help you with planning early on can make a HUGE difference.
Finding a photographer who specializes in elopements vs one who specializes in traditional weddings will also help when it comes time to obtain permits which I do go over in this blog!
Knowing where you want to go and what you want to do can help when you start looking for vendors because you can look for someone who specializes in that area or those activities. If you end up finding a photographer who does not specialize in elopements like yours then you can still find an elopement planner who does! Having people in your corner who have been through the process and can help make your elopement happen is so important! Adventurous elopements are the combination of two worlds really, the wedding industry and the outdoor recreation industry. They both have important needs and logistics to consider that a traditional wedding does not so having someone that realizes this and specializes in it is incredibly valuable. I recommend starting to reach out to vendors six months to a year in advance.
Here are some vendors you may want to consider for your elopement;
Hair and makeup artist
Foood! Whether that means catering, ordering delivery or packing out
Professional Guides - to keep you safe in locations you aren't as familiar with! Also a really cool way to experience new places.
Calligraphy artist to design your elopement announcements
Permits permits permits
When choosing a place to elope you have to consider that you may need a few different types of permits. Some places require ceremony permits, some require photography permits and most places (all state and national parks) require a day pass to enter. Some of these permits take weeks or months to obtain and most day passes must be reserved at least a month ahead of time. This is where an experienced elopement photographer can come in handy! They know who to contact for permits and can help you with this process. This is also why it is important to start planning and reaching out to vendors six months to a year in advance. But if you do start reaching out less than six months ahead of time then being flexible on your date can come in handy!
I know the idea of permits can be frustrating and you might be like "Why though?" Just remember that these permit fees are going towards funding the outdoor spaces we know and love. We are using their gorgeous backdrop for your elopement and getting to experience the land, the least we could do is pay for some permits to help care for that land!
If we ignore permits and are not mindful of our actions when we enter these outdoor spaces then it can have a negative impact on the wilderness as well as accessibility in the future. As a photographer I aim to keep a good relationship with public lands and management so that we are not seen as pests in the outdoors! If parks wanted to they could ban elopements and wedding ceremonies or spaces can close for restoration and we would be even more limited on locations to choose for Texas elopements.
Lodging and travel
While you are working on permits you will also want to work on your lodging and form of transportation.
Let’s look for lodging. What are your lodging requirements? Here are some to consider;
Shared space verses a private space
Are dogs allowed
Do you need something within walking distance of your ceremony location
Do you want something off-grid
Consider the things most important to you for lodging and start your search.
You may want to opt for more style points, like a yurt, airstream or tiny cabin. I mean that would be a pretty epic thing to add to your day and make for some aesthetically pleasing getting ready photos wouldn’t it? Plus creating a unique experience out of your lodging is something that will take your entire elopement experience to the next level!
Maybe there aren't any unique airbnbs near your ceremony location, don't be discouraged! A hotel can still have all that you need! Or if you don’t need much in terms of lodging amenities and want to go backcountry camping instead. Uh yeah that’s totally an option.
Here are some apps/sites to help you find lodging;
Airbnb - For unique stays
Hipcamp - For camping on private land! use my code NIKOLEV for $10 off
Trivago - For Hotels
In terms of travel you’ll want to make sure whatever forms you are using for transportation can handle the activities on the day of your elopement! Do you need something that can handle off-road terrain? Is it something you are going to be camping out of? Do you simply need something that will hold your luggage and gear?
Here are some apps/sites to help you find a car rental;
Like the permits you will want to work on booking your lodging and travel pretty far in advance. You will feel so good when you have these logistics taken care of!
Building A Timeline
Your elopement photographer/planner should help you with this too! Make sure they do provide this service before you hire them. Crafting an intentional timeline on your elopement day is pretty fun and laid back compared to traditional wedding timelines.
It’s more like planning a fun day with your partner! And somewhere along the way you say your vows and get married (:
If you are trying to catch golden hour at sunrise or sunset building the timeline may revolve around that. Or if you are connecting with a professional guide then you’ll want to make sure you are there on time! As far as ceremony and reading your vows, you can really do it whenever it feels “right” though I personally like to urge for sunrise or sunset. It’s so romantic that way! Just make sure you give yourselves space in your timeline to be spontaneous and relax. An elopement is all about being fully present and not too focused on rushing from one place to another. Important things to consider when you build your timeline;
When do you want your ceremony to take place? Do you want it to happen during sunrise or sunset?
Do you want to get ready together or separately and have a first look?
How long will it take to travel from one place to another?
When and where will you eat?
Here’s an example of a half day timeline;
5:00am Julia and Kennon start getting ready together
5:30am Nikole arrives to airbnb, takes getting ready photos
6:00am the gang leaves for the state park
6:20am Hike down to ceremony site
6:45am Ceremony (sunrise)
7:00am You're freakin’ married! Have some champagne and celebrate.
7:30am hiking around the state park
8:30am breakfast picnic by the falls, reading letters from family members, relaxing
10:00am First dance
10:30am hike back to car, drive back to airbnb
11:00am Arrive at airbnb, Julia and Kennon relax, Nikole takes detail photos
12:00pm Set up hammocks, Julia and Kennon have some mimosas and nap in hammocks
Here’s an example of a full day timeline;
5:30 Maggie and Jay start getting ready
6:00 Nikole arrives at airbnb and takes getting ready photos
6:30 Jay and Maggie have coffee together and hang out before leaving
7:15 the gang leaves for the ceremony site
7:30 Ceremony (sunrise)
7:45 You’re freakin’ married! Celebrate!
8:00 explore ceremony site, take in the views, couples portraits at ceremony site
8:30 head to breakfast picnic a few minutes away
9:00 Breakfast picnic overlooking the city skyline!
10:00 Explore the city's murals while riding around on scooters
11:00 Head to the library to explore the modern architecture
12:30 get some vegan snacks and vegan ice cream!
1:00 explore south congress
1:30 first dance on south congress
2:00 Coffeeeee! The best coffee in Austin.
3:00 Rooftop bar, relax!
5:00 head to kayak rentals
6:00 - 7:00 Kayak and watch the bats fly out from under the bridge while the sun sets
Making it official means having a marriage license or certificate! Some couples choose to get all of the paperwork done beforehand so they don’t have to worry about it on their actual elopement day. If you want to do it on the day of, you'll need someone who is ordained to sign your paperwork! The requirements vary depending on the county you are in so please do your own research.
If you don't believe in getting the government involved then you can have a commitment ceremony instead!
What to wear!?
The attire for an elopement has requirements that your typical wedding attire may not have. Like can you lift your legs high enough to climb up onto rocks? Is it lightweight enough for a few miles of hiking? Will you be able to squat and use the bathroom in the wilderness while in your wedding dress? Can you pack it in your hiking pack? Just some logistical things to consider. Weather, activities and location are all factors when deciding how to pack and what to wear when planning your elopement. There’s also the fun stuff like, is it your favorite color? Are there enough intricate details that make you squeal with excitement? Does it have your name written all over it? Will it blow in the wind for dramatic affect? Here are a couple of dress designers that are elopement friendly and drop dead gorgeous;
Shoooes! Okay shoes are so important. From hiking boots that have good ankle support and traction to Chacos that allow you to walk through shallow streams without jabbing your feet with rocks. Your choice in shoes really depends on what you’re doing and where you are doing it but you can still have fun with them! Get some cute hiking boots or some customized elopement day Chacos! They will be a part of your story and adventure!
Here are a couple of fashion forward hiking boot brands, when in doubt REI will have your back;
Pro Tip - Break in your shoes long before your elopement day! Your feet will thank you.
Generally speaking elopement attire does have requirements that you might not need to consider for a traditional wedding. But the clothes you wear do depend on specifics like what you decide to do on your elopement day so waiting until you have your activities, dates and location planned out to buy your attire will help a ton.
Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace principles are a set of ethics we should follow to enjoy and protect the outdoors at the same time. If you are choosing an outdoor adventure or simply to elope in a beautiful outdoor space then chances are you have some form of respect for the outdoors! Maybe you spend your free time recreating outdoors and are familiar with the Leave No Trace principles and maybe you've never heard of them before!
Opting to use public lands for your wedding day (or any day really) comes with responsibilities! Personally, I believe in respecting and experiencing these spaces rather than just using and abusing them. It can be easy to get caught up in thinking of them just as a pretty backdrop to your photos but they deserve so much more than that.
There are ways to enjoy the outdoor spaces sustainably and responsibly so that we can continue to enjoy them and preserve them for those who come after us! By incorporating the seven Leave No Trace principles when planning your elopement day you are ensuring that whatever locations and activities you choose you are leaving minimal impact on the land! Considering the LNT principles can actually help narrow down a lot of options during the planning process as well.
The seven Leave No Trace Principles are;
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find - Minimize campfire impact
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
If you'd like to learn more about Leave No Trace then you can visit their website riiight here
I actually have taken a course specifically for photographers on "How To Leave No Trace" to help incorporate these principles into my business and workflow. So I am an official "Leave No Trace Aware Photographer"! At the end of the course I received a customizable guide to send to couples when we plan their elopement and it is jam PACKED with so much great information on planning an elopement or outdoor wedding that is sustainable and leaves less impact. If you'd like the guide please contact me! I'd love to send it your way.
If you are photographer reading this and want to know more about the How to Leave No Trace as a Photographer course you can find more info here.
If you liked this planning resource and want to find more click here
If you're diggin' the photos and want to see more click here
If you are ready to start planning your Texas elopement click here
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