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    How to plan an elopement in 12 months [Step by Step guide]

    So you’re wondering how to plan an elopement in 12 months or less. Awesome, I’m here to help. You’ve probably heard from friends or family that planning a wedding can take years. Years of stress and worry. How long does it take to plan an elopement then? Well, as you probably guessed, 12 months. Sure, you can plan one in 30 days technically. Or you could plan one over 3 years, but 12 months is a nice sweet spot. In this article I’m going to break down what do you need to elope? How to plan an elopement with family (or without). Sample budgets and timelines to get you thinking, as well as the vendors you will need. So let’s do it, let’s discuss how to plan an elopement in 12 months.

    Why elope?

    There are so many reasons people choose to elope. In my opinion, the biggest reason for people to elope is the intimacy it allows you on your wedding day. For a traditional wedding, you really don’t spend much time together. But with an elopement, you get the entire day. There is also the fact that it requires less planning. Less moving parts (vendors). And can generally be pulled off in a shorter time frame.

    Another amazing thing about elopements is the freedom you get. You’re not tied down to picking a venue from a list. You can elope anywhere you want. And without guests to worry about (or just a few at the most), you can go anywhere you want. Finally, there is of course the cost. Eloping in general, is less than half the cost of a standard wedding. So with that in mind, let’s break down how to plan an elopement. Your elopement. Your way.

    How to plan an elopement in 12 months | A step by step guide

    Planning an elopement does not have to be difficult. In fact, planning an elopement can be downright simple. Just like anything in life, it can be as difficult as you want to make it, so let’s not do that. What do you need to elope? Who do you need to elope? Let’s go through it, step by step, how to plan an elopement in under 12 months.

    Step 1 | Determine a budget

    The first thing I want you to do, if you haven’t already, is go and check out my ‘how much does an elopement cost’ pricing calculator. Using this calculator will allow you to play around, and work out what a realistic budget is for your elopement. I highly recommend doing this alongside your partner. There’s no point you coming up with a high end luxury budget of $50,000 and your partner thinking a budget of $2500 is reasonable. This will create unnecessary tension, so do it together.

    So sitting together, talk about what’s important to you. What do you prioritise? Are photos and video the number 1 thing you want to spend on? Are you more interested in spending on accessing an epic location? Maybe the wedding dress is the most important aspect of your day. Rank your priorities, as a couple, and then use the calculator to determine a rough budget.

    When to do this? 12 months out, should be your first task.

    How to plan an elopement, the first step is to determine a budget for your elopement. Photo of groom reading vows to bride at elopement in NZ
    Bride and groom standing underneath a waterfall at Earnslaw Burn in Queenstown NZ. This is how to plan an elopement

    Step 2 | What kind of elopement do you want?

    Elopements are just as varied as weddings, if not more. I know people tend to have a specific view of what an elopement is based on what they see on Instagram and Pinterest. But, there are a lot of variables to consider.

    The first thing you might want to think about is where you want to do this. I don’t mean the exact location, but are you wanting to travel? Or are you wanting to elope locally?

    The next thing you will want to consider is how adventurous you want your day to be. Are you wanting to hike up a mountain to elope? Maybe you’re wanting to fly in a helicopter up to an Alpine Lake, or up into the Glaciers in New Zealand.

    These option’s are not hard and fast. For example, you can have an adventurous destination elopement. You can also have a laid back destination elopement. Your elopement type is up to you.

    Courthouse Elopement

    A courthouse elopement is exactly what it sounds like. You go down, usually to your local courthouse, and elope there. You can have guests, and you can have a photographer. They do not personalise the ceremony, and it’s kind of a ‘get in and get out’ thing.

    Destination Elopement

    A destination elopement is anything where you would require accommodation. So that could be flying halfway across the world, or driving a few hours from your home. Most people assume a destination elopement has to be international, but this isn’t true.

    Adventure Elopement

    For the adventurers out there. This kind of elopement is not a relaxing day. You are on the go all day. Maybe you’re hiking a mountain, or maybe you’re road tripping up the East Coast of NZ, stopping at all the best places for photos. Heck, you could even be eloping on a surfboard at your favourite beach.

    Low-key Elopement

    Maybe your day to day lives are so hectic, you just want to relax on your wedding day. What do you need to elope this way? Vendors, and drinks probably! Honestly, this type of elopement is conducive to getting an amazing Airbnb, having your ceremony, and portraits on site, and just enjoying one another’s company.

    Step 3 | How to plan an elopement with family & friends

    Now is the time to determine whether or not you want guests at your elopement. Again, I want to reiterate, there is no right or wrong way to elope. This is totally a personal preference thing. Click here If you want to know how to tell your family you’re eloping without them, as this can often be a bit of an anxiety inducing thing for many people.

    I suggest sitting down with your partner, and being honest about what you want. This is not the place to be shy about your intentions. This is how to plan an elopement 101, honesty! For example, if you want your parents, siblings and best friends there, and he wants no one, there’s going to need to be some major compromise.

    Something else to consider here is that having guests, or not having guests will impact the overall logistics of your elopement. If that doesn’t make sense, let me break it down for you.

    Bride and groom running along the cliffs in Mornington Peninsula in the rain. What do you need to elope? Do you need guests?

    Elope with Guests

    If you are choosing to elope with guests, there’s a few things to know. First of all, the location. You will need to choose a location that can accommodate guests, especially if some of them have mobility issues (think grandparents). With guests present you will have less flexibility should you need it. The more people you need to notify of any changes, the harder changes will be to execute. On the positive side (and there are so many, trust me), you get to have your family present. You get to see their tears. You get to share such a special moment with them. The best thing to do is find ways to include them, beyond being a guest, and remember, they are here for you. You don’t need to start compromising and changing your day for them.

    Elope without guests

    Eloping without guests can also be an amazing option. You will most certainly have more flexibility and freedom. Since you’re only having to worry about 2 people, a celebrant and a photographer, you can basically choose anywhere that both of you can access. You can also very readily change aspects of your day, including locations and timing, as you have no guests to consider. In my opinion, the downside is that you do forgo the emotional joy many people get out of having their family present. That is a personal preference however, and I can absolutely see the benefits of committing your lives to one another in private. So just remember, there is no right and wrong, only what is right or wrong for you. This is your elopement.

    Two brides embracing on the cliffs in the Blue Mountains at sunset. Both brides wearing black.

    Step 4 | Are you telling anyone?

    So now you know whether or not you’re going to be inviting any guests to your elopement. So the next logical step is to determine how you’re going to tell people you’re eloping, if you’re telling people at all. Obviously if you’re inviting guests, you’ll need to at least tell those guests about your plans. But, if you’re not inviting anyone, you might not want to let people know about your plans until after you’re married.

    There are many different ways you can do this. You can do the old ‘engagement party’ that turns into a surprise announcement of your elopement. You can tell people individually. It’s really up to you. If you want to see a full guide I created on how to tell family you’re eloping, just click the link.

    I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s the pros and cons of going either way. Well you’re in luck. I’m going to go into that below.

    Keeping it secret?

    How to plan an elopement without telling anyone you’re eloping is a true art form. You’ve got to do everything yourself, unless you have me, in which case I do everything for you while you sit back, drink a beer, and enjoy life. But jokes aside, there are some pros of eloping in secret. You experience no external pressure to compromise. There’s no chance of family members complaining and making you feel bad about your choice. It’s also a little bit more exciting. It’s a secret, and when you do finally tell people, it’s an absolute outpouring of emotions which would feel immensely cool!

    Telling people you’re eloping

    What do you need to elope, if not a helping hand? Well if you’re planning to get some external help, you’ll need to tell people about your choice. And this can be awesome. Not only does it give you the option of having some guests in attendance, but it also means you can get some support in the planning process, even if you’re not planning on having these people present on the day. So how do you do it? That is the biggest question I get from people at this stage of planning. Thankfully, I have a list of ways to go about announcing to the world about your elopement, so check that out!

    Step 5 | Book your photographer

    This is a major step. And no I don’t just say that because I’m a photographer. I say that because, in my opinion (and I held this opinion when I got married), picking the right photographer is one of the most important decisions you will make. It can make or break your elopement.

    So what do you do? How do you pick the right photographer? Sit down with your partner and discuss broadly what’s important to you? Do you value feeling comfortable? Having fun? Amazing artistic photos? Do you want to save money and get a beginner, or spend more and get a seasoned professional? Once you have this information, go through google, or Instagram and put together a list of 3-5 photographers you love.

    Things to look for when it comes to their website or Instagram is the way they talk. Do you think you would get along with them on a personal basis? What about their photos? Do they speak to you, or are they just ‘meh’? Once you know, here’s what to do.

    How to plan an elopement, step 5, book a photographer. Bride and groom standing on the edge of a cliff, on top of a mountain at sunset as the sun washes in behind them over the valley in the Blue Mountains

    Step 1 | Shortlist

    Do some research here. Start with Instagram & Google. Create a list of your favourite 5-10. Then discuss it. Cut it down to about 2-3 based on a combination of their images/personality.

    Step 2 | Contact

    Now that you have a shortlist, time to send an email. The more info you can give the better reply you’ll get. Make your email personalised, not just a copy and paste email.

    Step 3 | Meet/Video

    Once you receive a reply, organise a meeting. This could be in person if you’re local, or via Zoom if not. Either way, you need to meet with prospects to see if they’re a good fit.

    Step 4 | Select

    Don’t sleep on this decision. As soon as you know who’s right for you, jump in and book them. You don’t want to miss out. As soon as you do, the planning commences!

    Bride and groom hugging against the last rays of sunlight in the Blue Mountains. How to elope with your best friend in the Blue Mountains

    Step 6 | Figure out location and date

    Now that you have a photographer all booked in, my suggestion is to utilise their knowledge and experience, figure out a location you would like to elope, and a date. When most people come to me to plan an elopement they have a rough idea what they want. For example, they know they want to elope in New Zealand in the Spring, but nothing more than that. Others come to me and know they want to elope in the Mountains, but nothing more than that. And some people have absolutely no idea, they just know they want to elope.

    Again, there’s no right or wrong. You don’t have to have it all figured out, that’s what I’m here for. I can give you recommendations all across the world, including the best times of year, and even the best days of the week to elope wherever we settle on.

    And that’s another thing to consider, the date and the day of the week. I highly recommend Spring and Autumn, just for that less volatile weather. I also recommend mid week, such as Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to ensure more privacy and intimacy.

    Where do you want to elope?

    Here are my steps to pick a location. Step 1, do you want to elope locally or are you happy to travel? Step 2, What kind of landscape stands out to you? Mountain? Cliff? Lake? Beach? Step 3, How adventurous do you want to be? Do you want to hike? Or do you want to pull up, jump out of a car, and be right there? Step 4, how much money are you prepared to pay to access your location? Step 5, combine this info, and pass it on to me, I will advise you of places that perfectly match your criteria!

    What time of year do you want to elope?

    I do this after I do location. The reason for this is simple, location dictates time of year. For example, if you want to elope in the Mountains, in a destination and are happy to spend money, I would recommend flying to NZ, and getting in a helicopter, which for me is a Spring/Winter thing. If you wanted a beach elopement, destination, very laid back, I might recommend Spring/summer for the right feel. With the location in mind, think about the season/time of year, and let me do the rest.

    Step 7 | Figure out how to legally elope

    Researching how to plan an elopement would be a total waste of time if you didn’t factor in the legalities of eloping. Remember, how you legally elope will change in different countries, and sometimes even different states. If you’re confused, and wondering how to legally elope in NSW (or Australia), this article will run you through the legalities. If you’re eloping in NZ, check out the legalities of eloping in NZ here.

    The best piece of advice I can give you here is to speak to a celebrant. They are your gurus in terms of legalities. If you’re eloping internationally, contact your version of Births Deaths Marriages (BDM), let them know your plans to elope overseas, and they will be able to advise you on the additional steps you may need to take to legally elope.

    Generally speaking, you will usually need 2 witnesses (I’m 1 witness usually, so you just need 1 more), to not already be married, and to be over the age of 18. Just never assume you know the laws, speak to someone who does, get it confirmed, and don’t be disappointed.

    Bride and groom hiking up Coromandel Peak during a storm for their elopement in New Zealand. What do you need to elope? An adventurous attitude if you want to elope in NZ
    Step 8 on how to plan an elopement is to book all your vendors. Bride and groom hiking up Mt Kosciusko in the snow to their elopement ceremony.

    Step 8 | Time to book in vendors

    This is where you truly get to finish off planning your elopement! You’re putting together your dream team. So what do you need to elope? And who? Let me give you some insight on what I consider ‘the essentials’ for planning your elopement. If you want to include vendors outside of my ‘essentials’ go for it! These are just the vendors most commonly required to elope.

    Like I said above, a Celebrant is the one and only true essential. Without them, you cannot get married, period. So choose wisely. Next up is your Hair & Makeup team. Sometimes I suggest my couples do this themselves, but that’s usually only if they are eloping remotely (so to avoid hefty travel fees for hair and makeup), or if they are just really good at it and want too!

    You will also likely need a Florist for a bouquet and a button hole, Transportation & Accommodation, as well as Suits/Dresses. But when do you actually book these vendors?

    Celebrant

    Aim to book your celebrant 10 months out, they book out early.

    Hair Stylist

    Hair stylists usually have teams, book 8-9 months out ideally.

    Makeup Artist

    Makeup artists usually work together with hair, so book together.

    Florist

    Unless you want something specific, book at least 7-8 months out.

    Cars/Accom

    Cars, Helis, Planes & rooms, book as soon as you lock in a date.

    Suit/Dress

    Any time you want, but do tailoring 6 months out, and 6 weeks out.

    Step 9 | Let’s create your timeline

    You’re here. Finally, at the end of the planning process. I know it seems like a lot, but trust me, with my help, you will get through most of this in only a few weeks. Plus, like I said, I do almost all of this for my couples, all they have to do is tell me what they want, and I’ll get it done for them.

    So now we plan your elopement timeline. This should always be done with, or by your photographer. We know how to lay out an elopement so it works best, and we understand light. If you haven’t already, outline to your photographer the plan in your head, what you want and what you don’t. From here, they should be able to put together a timeline that will work perfectly for you. It may take a few drafts, but it’s worth it. This step is crucial.

    Once you have a timeline fully designed, you’re on the home stretch now. Time to sit back, enjoy the ride, enjoy each other, and let your vendors work on things in the background.

    2 brides embracing after a storm in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia. Both brides wearing red and terracotta coats to add colour to the shot. What do you need to elope? Good vendors and a great location

    How to plan an elopement – Common Mistakes to Avoid

    Frequently asked questions about how to plan an elopement

    1. How do you structure an elopement?
      Honestly, you structure an elopement just like a wedding, but with much less rigidity and restrictions. The only thing you usually do not have for an elopement is a reception, but if you’re having guests, you might have an informal one back at an Airbnb for example.
    2. When should I start planning an elopement?
      I suggest 12 months out, unless you’re planning something really big, like travelling across the world to elope somewhere massive. This will require extra planning of course, and extra time to budget. But in general, 12 months is plenty of time.
    3. How many guests is considered an elopement?
      There is no hard and fast rule about guests at an elopement, but as a rough guide, 10-15 guests is usually the super limit of guests you would expect at an elopement.
    4. What are the downsides of an elopement?
      None. Simple. You can do all the same traditions as a wedding. You can have important guests, but, you get to do things your way without compromise. Check out my top 10 benefits of eloping if you want to know more.
    5. What vendors do I need when planning an elopement?
      I’ve got a comprehensive list above, but, I consider my essential vendors to be; Celebrant, photographer, videographer, hair & makeup, florals, accommodation & transportation as well as suits/dresses. Anything beyond this is personal preference but probably not essential.
    6. Do you walk down the aisle when you elope?
      Absolutely you can, regardless of whether you have guests or not.
    7. How to plan an elopement with family?
      There are plenty of ways to include family or friends in your elopement. One of the things I do for my couples is help to plan their dream elopement. So if that includes your family, let me know and I will help make that happen.
    8. What if I want to elope overseas?
      Again, I help to plan elopements for all my couples, and that goes for international elopements too. The only thing you will need to do here is check the legalities of eloping in the country of choice (I will do this for you). You might also want a bit of extra time to plan it as there are more moving parts, and depending on the additional cost of the international travel, you might need more time to budget for it.
    9. How long does it take to plan an elopement?
      The actual planning process is relatively quick, usually about 3-4 months of work. But, I recommend leaving 12 months, just to be safe.
    10. Does an elopement have to be a big adventure?
      No. If you want to elope in a cave in Iceland under an ice waterfall you can. If you want to trek for days to get to a ceremony site, let’s go. But if you want a laid back elopement, you can totally elope in your PJ’s in your living room, or at a local cafe. It’s an elopement, it’s your wedding your way.
    11. Is eloping a legal marriage?
      Yes, it absolutely is. Eloping is no different to a traditional wedding when it comes to the legalities. So long as you see the legal requirements of wherever you’re getting married, you’re good to go.
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    james white
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    December 30, 2023

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