How to Plan an Elopement (Without Hurting Anyone’s Feelings)

Eloping comes with its own set of planning and etiquette questions—and we’ve got answers.
by The Knot

Elopements aren’t what they used to be (you know, two people sneaking off to wed without permission or approval). Today, lots of to-be-weds choose to elope—or at least to say “I do” in a more elopement-like wedding—and not so much because it’s trendy, but because it simply makes more sense to them as a couple. An elopement is singularly intimate, special and powerful. It alleviates a ton of pressure and planning woes and allows two people to enjoy the sentiment of their ceremony without frills or distraction. And not only does it ease responsibilities, it can also cost a lot less.

Whether you're overwhelmed by the thought of a large-scale wedding, short on time and budget, or dealing with complicated family dynamics, an elopement might be exactly the kind of wedding you’re looking for. Here’s how to plan a elopement that’s just right for you—without feeling guilty or hurting loved ones’ feelings.

The Etiquette of Eloping

Whether your elopement is spur-of-the-moment or something you’ve been considering for a while, don’t forget to share your news with loved ones. Leaving people out of the loop is the easiest way to hurt feelings. You’re not required to invite anyone (except maybe a witness, if necessary), but tell your families in person (or on the phone) before you tie the knot—or immediately afterward. Other than that, you're free to do everything however you'd like—that's the fun and freedom of eloping. Once you’re back from your nuptials, send out wedding announcements to let friends and family know the good news. Including photos and details is always a nice touch

Elopement Budget Options

Only you two know how much you have to spend on your day, so let your budget be your guide. If you're working with a smaller amount, your local courthouse is probably the most cost-efficient way to make things official (and it’s way more romantic than you think). A weekend getaway to a resort, lively city or cozy, small-town hotel is another perfect option—and a great way to sneak in a minimoon or honeymoon to boot (if you don't already have someone in mind, you can often find a local officiant who will marry you). This usually costs about 10 percent of what the average wedding costs. Want to go all out? Wrap a destination elopement and honeymoon into one multi-week trip you’ll never forget.

Where to Elope

You’re going to love this answer: anywhere! That's the beauty of it. If the two of you love to party, head to Las Vegas for a fun-filled weekend of gambling, mouthwatering food and amazing shows, topped off with a wedding ceremony at the iconic A Little White Wedding Chapel. Always dreamed of exchanging vows barefoot in the sand? Fly to Florida, South Carolina or the California coast for a beachfront ceremony. Or head to Aspen for a mountainside winter wedding complete with a perfect dusting of snow. Seriously, your options are endless.

What to Wear

Your elopement dress code is completely up to you. If spending thousands of dollars on wedding attire isn’t your thing, you’re in good company here. For a ceremony so small and private, couples who elope often choose to wear something decidedly more casual and effortless. City hall elopements especially tend to be flexible. Want a wedding look you'll wear again (and again)? Ladies, go with a simple cocktail dress, airy maxi dress, chic pantsuit or anything with a splash of color. Grooms, go as lax as khakis and a button-down or get dressed up in your favorite suit. Just keep the climate and formality (if applicable) of your destination in mind.

Yes, You Can Have a Reception Too

The best elopement idea? Marry quietly, then party your hearts out later. That’s right, you’re allowed to have a big reception when you get home, which gives you the best of both worlds. Wear your elopement outfit again, cut a gorgeous wedding cake and make a registry. Not stressing over the reception might be the reason you’re saying “I do” just the two of you—so this might not be for you. But know it’s an option to say the secluded vows you want and can afford, then host (or let a loved one host) a more laid-back party for you newlyweds.

Important Legal To-Dos

The thought of running off and getting married spontaneously may be romantic, but it can't happen if you don't do the necessary prep work. You'll need a marriage license, and requirements vary depending on the city, state and country. Call ahead to inquire about any special paperwork or if you need have physical tests done, like blood work. Confirm the office hours and know whether or not you need an appointment—you wouldn’t want to show up at the county clerk’s office, all psyched to get married, and get turned away!

Have all of your documentation on hand too: photo ID, certified birth certificate and proof of divorce or death if either of you has been married before. Some places may require a waiting period between acquiring your license and and getting married, so always check first. For a wedding abroad, contact the country's embassy to determine what's needed for nonresidents to be married there. You'll likely need all the same paperwork as above, and also a witness.

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