Weddings can be overwhelming, expensive, and exhausting, so eloping with your fiance is a great way to take the pressure off from intensive wedding planning and family stress. (Surprise, I got married!) Read why eloping was right for us, reasons to elope (or not elope), and about the best places to elope! This is not going to be your typical guide to on how to elope. We eloped and here you’ll find the stories of others who made the decision to elope around the world in some unique elopement places. I’ll also be including some tips on how to elope without offending family members, whether to elope or have a destination wedding, how to handle your elopement announcements, what to know in hiring the right photographer for your elopement pictures, and other things to keep in mind when deciding if you should have a traditional wedding, destination wedding or elope.
In this article:
What is an elopement?
Should you elope?
Why I eloped: Our story
Pros and Cons of Elopements. (Reasons to elope & Reasons to have a traditional wedding)
Tips for eloping (Things to keep in mind)
Due to the many beautiful photos, I recommend reading this article while on wifi.
What is an elopement / What is eloping?
Elopment is a no f**ks given approach to getting married. Love is beautiful, but weddings are often not about the bride and the groom, but about everyone else (and keeping them happy). Eloping means that you’re going to get married how you want without caring about the wishes of other people and/or family members. This often means that you’re getting married in the middle of the forest, exploring a national park, driving up to the little White Chapel in Vegas, or organizing a trip somewhere new to get married there. It can also mean just dropping by city hall for a secret marriage ceremony.
You getting married and you’re feeling like your wedding is getting out of hand... eloping can be an option. It can be cheap, however it can also be expensive if you intend on checking off a bucket list trip at the same time.
In June, my now husband and I had a low-key, low-stress ceremony in Amsterdam together with one family member and a close friend. We had debated having a big wedding in the US, however we just felt that it was time to make it official (and put a ring on it). I could have made it a true elopement by not telling my parents, but as their only child, I felt like I should tell them.
Should I elope?
If you're saying I WANT TO ELOPE after all the drama of planning a wedding, I get it. However, there's some things to keep in mind. If your family is integral to your life and/or you've always dreamed of a fairytale wedding, you need to consider that this is your one chance for a big wedding to make your family happy and have a big wedding. However, big weddings are expensive and I was a bit shell-shocked at prices when I started wedding planning.
At the end of the day, it's about what you and your fiance want. If you have a clear vision of a romantic wedding with just the two of you (plus/minus a few friends), elopement is what you're dreaming of. The thing about marriage is that you need to live with consequences and reactions of those you love. Unlike a vacation or even an engagement, you will face scrutiny that you did not include your family on a big day as your marriage is a huge day for both family and friends. If you decide to have an elopement instead of a wedding, you will face disappointment, occasional judgment, and sometimes anger from those who love you and wanted to be part of your big day. As someone who eloped, it can hurt, but you need to remember that these are people who truly care about you and their relationship with you. It is not coming from a bad place, but from a place of love, respect, and shared history. I personally don't regret eloping (and neither did many of those I talked to), however there is no right answer. It's a truly personal choice and there may be consequences from eloping.
For travel lovers: Elope OR Destination Wedding?
I think an elopement can be perfect if you're someone who's looking for the romantic wedding and/or looking to save money while having the wedding of your dreams on a budget. Unfortunately in the US, a venue can cost 5k by itself. If you're dreaming of a destination wedding and starting to panic of the cost of all the guests, an elopement means that you can have the destination wedding you're dreaming of plus a honeymoon built in. Destination wedding photographer Julian Navarette estimates that you can elope abroad to Europe for less than 5k.
Why I eloped and my elopement story
Jacob and I met in the US, but we committed to a trip to Italy together as strangers. It’s been over three years since that first trip to Venice together and we got married in Amsterdam this summer. We’ve lived together for over two years and after doing a legal ceremony in the Netherlands, it just felt right to take the next step to: get married. We’ve chosen to live our lives abroad together, travel together, and snuggle our cat together, so as cool as being registered partners was, we lacked legal rights in the US (although we had full rights in the Netherlands). This meant that I could not visit Jacob in the hospital if he was injured in the US--and our legal status also complicated things a bit when traveling together in more traditional countries when people would ask us if we were married.
We’re both Americans and we intended to have a ceremony in the US the following year, so I started looking into the paperwork. Per my dad’s recommendation, I checked with an attorney to figure out what we had to do in order to get married in the US--and I did the same for the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, it was one step: making an appointment as we already had a registered partnership while the US required a frustrating amount of bureaucracy. We wanted our families and friends to be there, but at the end of the day, we decided that we loved each other and we wanted to get married after brunch on a Sunday.
Our wedding was low-key and low-stress. We told our families that we would get married and they were happy for us (although disappointed they would not be there). Our wedding was perfect thanks to its little moments: the 10 euro dress I found on a clearance rack, our ridiculous game of thrones elopement announcement, finding the perfect photographer (Iowa photographer Jennifer Weinman), the kind professional photographer (Yuli van Bennekom) who offered to take portraits of us while we celebrated after the ceremony, my aunt flying over from the US to be there, opening champagne on the canals, getting into the New York Times for the Sunday wedding announcements, and running into my friend on the way home to have her over for cake prior to snuggling our cat. I wouldn’t change a thing besides having more family/friends there.
Reasons to Elope (and not to elope)
Tips for eloping
What are your expectations for the elopement? What would you want from a traditional wedding?
Do you want a private ceremony somewhere remote? Would you be happy with a national park? Do you know anyone who can legally officiate or do you need to hire someone? Do you still want the setting to be elaborately decorated? What is NOT negotiable that you want from a traditional wedding? This can include a traditional wedding dress and/or vows. Do you want to go hiking or climbing to where you get married? (The sky and your budget is your limit!)
The paperwork will be a lot of work. I wish I didn’t need to mention this, but it’s a lot of work getting together all the necessary documents for an international elopement with international apostilles, which can add up to 2-3 weeks, to receiving a single document. Take care of this early and make a list to stay on top of what you need.
Is your wedding legal where you’re getting married? I had a paperwork nightmare related to this, but it was luckily legal in my home country together in the certificate. In some cases, your marriage might be legal in ONE country, but not the other, so check carefully before you set the destination. Even some states have complicated requirements that require that you're there at least a week ahead to figure out the license.
How NOT to offend your family & post wedding celebrations. As my parents and my husband’s family were unable to attend our wedding, we wanted to have a low-key party in the United States for our friends. It’s still not cheap to hold a second party, but there will be a lot of feelings hurt about your elopement and I think it’s really great to celebrate with those you love. That said, the nice part about eloping is that you don’t need to rush to have the party as you’re already married and we selected a date almost 1.5 years after our marriage to give ourselves some time to save up for a weekend in Asheville, NC with a private celebration in a beautiful historic barn. If you're wondering how to elope without offending family, I think a private celebration at a later point in time (once you save up) is the perfect way to make people feel included and to celebrate properly with family/friends.
How to carry a wedding dress on a plane. I didn’t have this issue, however I’d recommend even carrying with you in the cabin (if you’re flying) to ensure that it doesn’t get damaged. Ask your dress shop or the dry cleaner to help you package it up properly.
Give yourself a few months to plan. It depends on how elaborate the wedding is and if you've hired local help, however never underestimate the paperwork and how many details there are for weddings (even if you're a no-frills bride). Even after you're married, your family will want photos, albums, notes... So be ready.
Don't forget your photographer and get a GOOD one. With normal weddings, you have a million photos on everyone's iPhones, however with elopements, you only have the photos that you took that moment. Those photos will be your memories of that special day and what you'll be sharing with others after the fact. Of ALL the things to spend money on, hire a good photographer to capture the moment. Also if you go cheap with other things: A good photographer can make the worst location and you look amazing.
What is the TOTAL budget for eloping? With elopements, you need to take into account extra costs that you wouldn’t have at home: flights, legal documents, somewhere to stay flowers, food... People are often surprised how cheap Europe is once you're here. If you're shopping at a grocery store, staying in a local neighborhood, or even going to a lesser known destination, you can cut costs considerably. Airfare is the biggest hurdle, however I recommend checking Secret Flying for flight deals!
Do you plan on hiring somewhere at your destination to take care of the details? For many destinations, there will be elopement specialists happy to take care of the local details (often including the venue) for you at an extra cost. If you’re not a planner, it might be a good option.
What to keep in mind when hiring an elopement photographer
You need to think about who you want to hire, what style of photography you want, and how much you're willing to spend to fly your favorite photographer abroad. You will need to pay for the meals and accommodations of your photographer. Most photographers (myself included) are very enthusiastic about elopements and typically will give you a bit of a discount if it's somewhere they want to go.
If your photographer is local, you can save on costs (depending on where you're shooting) and they might have local knowledge of some great spots, however you might need to flexible in terms of style depending on how many photographers are in the area (can be harder for more remote areas).
I repeat: Do not go cheap on the photos as they are your only memory of your big day and how you will share the big news with your family/friends. It is worth it to find the right photographer and to cut back on other parts of the budget.
For me, it was important to have a photographer who captured the locations and us in those locations in an iconic way that made it uniquely Amsterdam. (This includes cute cats!) As a photographer myself, I had quite a few must have shots that I worked with my photographer to have.
Elopement invitations & elopement announcements
This is a good way not to offend your family as simply inviting them is thoughtful, even if they cannot attend.
You don't need to invite anyone (barring finding enough witnesses to get married). If you want a small intimate wedding somewhere remote and you only need 2 witnesses, you can always ask your photographer and/or wedding coordinator to assist with being a witness.
I decided to call my family to invite them after we set the date before our elopement and like a hipster, I invited all my friends via a Facebook event organized at the last moment. Don't expect many people to come as your elopement may not be somewhere convenient, however you might be surprised who can make it.
I decided that we'd announce our elopement in three parts. I impromptu applied to the NY Times Wedding section about one week before our wedding. Miraculously, we got in and we were the only non-Ivy graduates in there. Asa New Yorker who grew up reading the New York Times, including the Sunday Wedding section, I was thrilled to get in and my parents were so excited to pick-up the Sunday times to see a big photo of ME inside of it! The newspaper with your announcement is also a great keepsake from your wedding, however it does require some planning ahead and some newspapers have photo requirements where your faces are at the same level. Regarding getting into the New York Times Wedding Section, I think it's a lot easier if you have a good story, get married somewhere different, or simply....SUBMIT YOUR WEDDING ANNOUNCEMENT. It's really that easy.
We also mailed out homemade postcards sent made on Moo.com that we made ourselves involving the photos of us with petting cats and this homemade Game of Thrones themed elopement announcement. (You need to have watched Season 3 to get the joke.) It was cheaper to send them after the fact using US postage stamps after mailing all the postcards with stamps back to the US to be mailed in Kentucky....than it was to send ANYTHING from abroad.
Best Places to Elope & truly unique elopement places
There are so many beautiful places in the world, but the unique location where you get married to your spouse will be one that you remember is memorable. However, you don't actually need to even leave your hometown to get married. You just need to go to the city hall or in some states, you can do it yourself (and register at a government building later).
Best places to elope in the USA
Eloping in Vegas, Nevada, USA
There is something iconic and awesome about Vegas, especially being married by an Elvis impersonator at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas. Nevada has some of the most lenient marriage laws, so if you're looking for a quick and iconic marriage, an elopement in Vegas is definitely one to consider. The desert is closeby with plenty of options for outdoor activities within aday trip from vegas.
Elopement in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
There's something so dreamy about the French-inspired architecture of New Orleans, however you can also shoot your elopement photos underneath the romantic vines of the many willow trees in Louisiana to lend a beautiful, romantic, atmospheric vibe to your elopement.
Elopement in Colorado, USA
There's just something beautiful and magical about the midst falling over the lush, green forest in Colorado. Even better? The mountainous landscape of the Rockies set against the forest. For couples who are craving adventure mixed with some incredible nature, consider having your elopement in Colorado's beautiful state/national parks!
Elopement in Miami, Florida, USA
"My husband and I decided to elope last January to Miami Beach. Out Story: We met on a catamaran travelling from Panama to Colombia in 2014, and didn’t really leave each other’s side after that first day, travelling together around South America. Overlooking Quito, Ecuador, he asked me to marry him and I said yes! Our relationship became long distance for a while – me living in London, him in Texas, but our goal was always to get married and be together.
We were in Florida in January 2016 visiting family and again discussing the difficulty in getting our families together and where to have our wedding when we decided to elope. It made so much sense to us, and eradicated the problems of being from two different countries. We went on a road trip around South Florida, only the two of us knowing our secret plan. On February 17th we met with an officiant on the beautiful and quiet North Beach in Miami, and said our vows with just the ocean as a witness. It was perfect!
Afterwards, we went for an extremely lavish lunch on South Beach, a few cocktails, and headed back to our gorgeous hotel room overlooking the ocean. From the huge range of hotels for every budget, the great restaurants, and the stunning beach for a backdrop to your nuptials – Miami Beach has everything you could need for the perfect elopement!"
Thanks to Emily Bloor from Luxury Backpack.
Elopement in New York City, USA
My hometown is the PERFECT place for a elopement for those who love an urban environment. As a New Yorker, I can tell you that there's something so dreamy and otherworldly about some of the lesser known parks. This beautiful shoot was shot in Fort Tyron in Manhattan. Of course, it's impossible to have your elopement in New York without some iconic photos of the skyline.
Elopement in Redwood Forest, California, USA
California is full of beautiful locations, whether it's the seaside, the redwood forests, or even the beach. This incredible photoshoot of an elopement in the redwood forests makes me dream
Elopement in Hawaii, USA
"In Hawai’i, you don't need any witnesses to get married which certainly helps if you are planning to run away and elope. That’s exactly what I did in 2013 when I married my beau in with only a celebrant and photographer present on the island of O’ahu. The photogenic beach that I got married on, Waimanalo Beach, is a popular site for weddings - I even saw two other couples getting married on the same day! However, there is a whole island of choice when it comes to the location, ranging from other tropical beaches, to grassy areas with Jurassic Park like mountainous backdrops. You can even do a ‘trash the dress’ shoot at the same time because there’s no need to keep that dress neat and tidy for the reception! One of my favorite memories of the day was playing around in the water, but overall I love that the day was all about us. No fighting family members, no catering to other people. Just us and nature and it was the most perfect day.” -Katie from The Kate Show Blog
International elopment destinations
For travel lovers, eloping abroad is the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of a life full of adventure.
Elopement in Jamaica (Montego Bay)
For island lovers, an elopement in Jamaica is the perfect remedy for those looking for an accessible and cheap place to elope coming from the US. The sandy beaches, numerous resorts, and clear water in Montego Bay make it a dreamy (and easy) place for those looking for something different yet romantic.
Elopement in Bali, Indonesia
Bali is absolutely magical and affordable. For those looking for one of the cheapest places to elope abroad, you should be considering Bali, which is full of magical rice fields, friendly locals, affordable villas, lush forest, and ancient temples. There's a reason why numerous couples have chosen Bali for their elopement destination.
Elopement in Santorini, Greece
From the moment that you see the white houses of Santorini, you'll understand why brides are obsessed with this international destination for elopements. Thanks to the many weddings that happen in this Greek elopement destination, Santorini has a well-established network of wedding professionals happy to help you organize your big day.
Elopement in Ecuador
Meg and Lindsay run the number one female based LGBT travel blog, Dopes on the Road. In September of last year, they eloped in a private ceremony at My Sacha Ji Wellness Resort in Otavalo Ecuador. Their ceremony was set on the side of a volcano overlooking a lagoon in the mountains of Ecuador. Once they returned home, they celebrated their six month wedding anniversary with a brunch reception in Washington DC.
Elopement in Italy (Florence)
My husband and I had our first date in Italy and started falling in love with Italy (and each other then). For those who love old world charm, top-notch wines from Tuscany, and some of the world's best pasta, there's something undeniably romantic about an elopement in Florence.
Elopement in Paris, France
Photo by Julian Navarette, a professional wedding photographer based in Texas/NYC, was lucky enough to shoot this beautiful wedding in Paris. Who can deny the romanticism and magic of a wedding in Paris? An elopement in Paris is a dream destination for many brides due to its stunning architecture, fantastic food, and iconic landmarks.
A Unique Elopement in Ukraine
As a born wanderluster, or as the German’s say fernweh (a true longing/ache for distant places; a craving for travel), I deeply love to travel. Recently, my Austrian partner and I learned just how easy it is to elope while traveling through Ukraine. During a beautiful, artistic and spiritual ceremony we learned all the traditions of a hutsul wedding in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains.
With the help of friends, some old, some new, everything was prepared for us. Getting married in the Ukraine is especially unique because the colors, the traditions, and the non-stop food/drinks and dancing. We had the best day of our lives! From traveling back and forth to/from the church on horseback, to the process of getting the bride and groom ready (braiding the bride’s hair, the traditional outfit which is totally handmade including the exotic jewelry….the more beads worn, the richer you are in the eyes of society….the traditional shoes, down to the feather in the groom’s cap…worn on the right when single, left once wed…etc.) – Everything has meaning! One interesting tradition is the bread. The bride and groom gets to pull it apart and whoever gets the bigger part is the boss of the home. Guess who got the bigger part?! That’s right, I’m the #bosslady….LOL Later, the bread is distributed to the guests then, lastly, given to the newlyweds.
The party continues into the reception, including homemade moonshine with golden roots, vodka, wine and much much more. There are also different kinds of dance moves, like placing the bride & groom inside a circle of guests. The funny part is that, even without our families being present, the native participants will make you feel like a member of their community! Believe me, you will have the best time of your life. Thanks to Olga Maria from Dreams in Heels.
Elopement in Azores, Portugal
The first thing you will notice about Portugal is how WILD this destination is. To elope and marry here is a truly unique place to elope. Luckily, the Azores islands in Portugal are very tropical in climate year round. The weather is always gorgeous here and the sights to see will keep you coming back for more! I say yes to eloping here, you will not regret it! (Photos by the incredible talented Simon Ly.)
Would you consider eloping?
Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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