It’s expensive and time-consuming to host 150 people for a sit-down dinner, no matter how many cost-saving measures you employ for your wedding. Maybe you’d rather spend your wedding money on a downpayment for a house. Or hike a big mountain and say your vows in seclusion. For a number of reasons, it’s no wonder more and more people are tempted to elope.
Jennifer MacFarlane, a wedding photographer in Bushwick, Brooklyn, who cofounded the company Eloping Is Fun, told The New York Times that the couples she works with “want something more laid-back, and there’s this very punk-rock feeling about being married like this in New York City.”
Or anywhere else, for that matter. Elopements aren’t what they used to be: clandestine, quick, quite possibly in Vegas. These days, couples are personalizing their elopements, holding their ceremonies in ever-more exotic locales, and maybe even inviting a few guests. It’s just cheaper and less work overall — perfect if you hate wedding-planning with a passion.
But you still need to get your paperwork in order and work out a few logistics. Ahead, read everything you need to know if you’re thinking of eloping.
It's just cheaper and less work overall — perfect if you hate wedding-planning with a passion.
There are five ways to elope.
1. The city hall or courthouse elopement. A city hall or courthouse elopement is still a “real” wedding. “In the same way that a birth is still a real birth no matter how it happens, your wedding is your wedding,” Stephanie Kaloi, a wedding photographer, wrote on A Practical Wedding. You can dress up (or not), bring other people (or not) — whatever you want to do! But make sure to find out whether you need an appointment. Read our city hall wedding guide for more info.
2. The couple-and-officiant elopement. Here, your choice of venue is only limited by your imagination since you likely don’t have to think about capacity or fork over thousands of dollars, like you might for a traditional wedding. Mountaintop? Beach? Your parents’ backyard? Planet Fitness? (It’s been known to happen.) As long as you have a legally ordained officiant who signs your marriage license, anything goes. Just make sure to pick up your marriage license on time and have your officiant sign it.
3. A self-uniting marriage. Several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, allow you to self-solemnize your marriage, a.k.a. go without an officiant. Check your state’s regulations.
4. The last-minute tiny/surprise wedding. Some wouldn’t technically call this an elopement, but the definition of the word has changed. You can host it in your own backyard and send out text-message invites — like the woman who planned her wedding in five days — or jet away to a dream destination. Many resorts around the world offer affordable elopement packages that include an officiant, flowers, dinner, and other perks.
5. Las Vegas. Embrace the cheesiness. You might even get a visit from Elvis.
Make sure to do this before eloping.
First, research the marriage laws in your state — it’s boring, but necessary. Find out: Is there a waiting period between receiving your marriage license and the wedding? If so, what is it? What are the requirements for witnesses?
If you’re planning a destination elopement in another country, know that there are often residency requirements to fulfill in order to be married legally. So it’s best to pick up your marriage license in the U.S. before you head off. However, some popular places to elope — like Fiji, the “wedding capital” of the South Pacific — take care of the paperwork for you. A Fiji marriage license is valid worldwide. Book your travel and hotel with plenty of time to spare to get the best deals.
Bottom line: Do a bit of research, and you’re good.
Decide whether you want “extras.”
Sure, you’re forgoing all the wedding-planning hoopla for a reason. But there might be some details you can’t leave without. They can include: rings, vows, “wedding-y” outfits, a photographer, flowers, hair and makeup services, your dog, a doughnut bar, and the all-important party. There’s no reason you can’t have a few of your nearest and dearest over to your house or a restaurant after a courthouse wedding.
“I 100 percent recommend hiring a photographer the day you’re eloping,” Kaloi wrote on APW. “I speak from experience when I say that the one thing you might really miss having down the road are photos from the day you got married.”
Many photographers offer hourly rates, and some have special city hall packages. Keep in mind that many vendors will raise their prices if you even mention the word “wedding”; saying it’s a “special occasion” to your photographer or a beauty pro is your best bet. Hey, it is!
Consider a marriage announcement.
Consider sending a marriage announcement to your friends and family, especially if you’ve already announced your engagement. It can be as simple as a Polaroid photo inside a cute card. “Some people might be wondering what happened to your engagement or if they’re getting a save-the-date soon,” Lindsey Nickel, wedding planner and founder of Lovely Day Events, told Brides magazine. “A marriage announcement lets people know that you’ve already gotten hitched.”
You might get some criticism, but you should do whatever you want.
It’s important to realize that not everyone in your life will support your decision. Nickel recommends telling your parents before you elope to help soothe any hurt feelings. Find a way to share the experience with your family members and close friends, whether it’s giving them a photo album or having a celebratory drink or dinner with them. Nickel’s final words of wisdom: Don’t go for the surprise social media announcement. Some things are just better said in person or with a handwritten note.
By: Natalie Gontcharova