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DIY Planning your elopement | Non traditional elopement ideas


After many years of shooting many different types of weddings I have determined that I love micro-weddings, elopements the best. Do not get me wrong I am passionate at shooting all types of weddings, but I thrive at shooting these types of weddings. I think it is because I get to help my couples plan their own day exactly how they want it to be and they each turn out so unique. I guide them with ideas for food, decor, places to stay, places to do sunset photos, ideas for activities to make it more unique etc. via personalized pdfs sent to each couple. From there we facetime, brainstorm and make their elopement a full day of storytelling truly catered to them. This, among many other reasons, is why in 2023 I will only be taking on elopements and micro weddings.

One of my past wedding couples told me I should write a blog on tips to DIY plan your elopement since I have helped so many of my couples do this. So here I am excited to help you all out with: DIY planning your elopement.

  1. Start with a location (then a date). Seems simple but this can be the hardest part. Think of places you love together or things you love to do together and go from there. I am happy to help with ideas for examples. These are ideas based on couples I have shot or ones I have seen done before.

-If you love to hike then research locations that you find beautiful to hike in. For example, you could hike Mt. Rainer in the fall or a waterfall in the Washington region. You could also hike the desert in Joshua Tree and climb up some jumbo rocks or go in the canyons at Zion. Really if you love to hike a national park elopement is just right for you!

-If you love cities, which one brings you both joy and why? The answer to this will give you ideas on what to do on your wedding day. If you love San Diego, because you can surf the morning of your wedding, do your ceremony on the beach and do a picnic dinner outside by the water then that is the best city for you. If you love San Fransisco, think of why you love it so much and ideas can stem from that. For example, if you love the archieture you could get married on a rooftop there then get food in the city and end the day with a walk on the beach or a walk on the golden gate bridge.

-If you love kayaking find a place you can easily rent on on your wedding day. My couple got an airbnb with a private dock and 2 kayaks and they did this activity to end out the night. They got married by the water as well, ate by the water and then kayaked.

-If you love cliffs, ocean and forests then find a place with both like Mendocino, Ca where you can get to all 3 of those spots in less than 15 min. You could do one spot first look and ceremony, one spot dinner and one spot activity and sunset photos.

-Get creative with it, ask for help when needed (I love to give new ideas to my couples) and make sure the idea you pick is one that truly brings both of you joy.

2. Nail down the activities you want to do and the timeline.

Ideas for activities to do on your wedding day:

  • In home session morning in casual clothes morning of wedding
  • Engagement session in regular clothes morning of wedding
  • Go to your favorite coffee place to sit and enjoy coffee/food
  • Go to your favorite food place: ex. dumplings, tacos, ice cream etc.
  • Sunrise hike
  • Kayak, canoe, paddleboard
  • Surfing
  • Play music or worship in the meadows, on the street or by the beach
  • Hike in the mountains and
  • Picnic on the beach or in the desert or in the mountains
  • Snowboarding or Ski

Really just have time during the day for what you guys truly love to do. Let this be a memory that you can hold onto and remember on this amazing day. As for the timeline I will add a mock one below for an elopement. Each one is so different. I help each couple and customize it to their wants (a benefit of hiring a photographer/video team that is truly invested in serving you is this!)

Elopement day: 7 hours of coverage and sunset time of 7:00 pm

12:30-1:30: Go get coffee at a local shop then do a little in home session at the airbnb (already be mostly ready at this point)

1:30-2:30 pm: Get final touch ups done for getting ready

2:30 pm: first look

3:00-3:30 family photos at airbnb or bridal party if they have them

3:30-4:00 pm: drive to ceremony spot

4:00- 4:30 pm: ceremony

4:30-6:00 pm: Toasts right after ceremony, first dances and picnic dinner with family and friends

6:00-7:00 pm: Hiking, kayak and couple photos

7-7:30: Dessert time and celebrate!

3. Make sure once location, date and vision is set you hire all your needed vendors and recieve necessary permits. (Photographers/Videographers are usually hired while this stage is in process as we do help with timelines usually).

Vendors to possibly hire: Dress, Mens outfit, Makeup, Hair, Florist, Caterer, Baker for desserts, Video, Photographer, Airbnb, rentals if needed. (For the dress, I have so many shops I recommend from around the US, just ask me and I will send you a full list)

Make sure if you are getting married in a national park to get a permit months in advance for both the ceremony and for the photographer/videography. Airbnb’s also need to be asked in advance to have photos, video and other people on their property.

4. Make the day your own by adding unique touches to it that truly reflect who you both are! The huge benefit to doing an elopement is making those little details shine.


If you get married at let’s say Joshua Tree national park you could get cute vases and plant a little cactus in each one for the guests to take home. It can also be their name placement for their spot at the table to sit at.

If you get married in the mountains than you could bring a rug to stand on for your ceremony and hand each guest a map of the area circling where you love to visit for their stay. I have also seen couples get a graphic designer to make a custom painted map of places to stay, eat and things to do in the area for destination weddings.

If you are a huge foodie then focus on what foods bring you joy. If we got married again I am pretty sure Eli and I would either have paella or puerto rican food- plantains, chicken, beans, rice and pork chops. We would end the night with a platter of our favorite desserts for the table. If you are at an airbnb you could hire a chef to make this for you or you could hire one of your family members to do it. I would print the menu and make it the centerpiece on each plate if this is your focus.

If you are doing a sunset hike with your family and friends after your ceremony than you could also give them all maps, as well as maybe trail mix snacks for the hike.

5. Ways to save money:

Even elopements cost a good amount of money, vendors usually have to put a lot of time into your wedding day no matter how many people attend. So focus on hiring the key vendors you want and then on the items that are not must haves for you find ways to save money.

Ways I have seen my couples save money, and some of these I suggested to them: If they have a friend/family that cooks really well buy the ingrediants and plan the menu for them to cook.

Rent a airbnb that is already the decor style you want for your wedding day and use tables, chairs and decor from around the house to make a dinner table. Make sure to ask the airbnb if this is okay. I have also brought things from my house for my couples and happy to always!

Build your own arbor – I love the triangle ones or the geometric ones lately, borrow a rug or use nature as your backdrop!

If more people are staying at the airbnb with you, that means you can cut the cost down.

If doing an activity- kayak, rock climbing etc. see about starting a honeymoon fund or a gift registry that can have that on there so it is paid for.

Dessert- I have had couples bake their own cake, I have actually made many of my couples their desserts as a gift (mostly cookies) or you could have a family member do it.

Guys outfit: Rent an outfit!

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