Close your eyes, except not, because you’re reading this post. But pretend like you’re closing your eyes. Take some deep breaths. Good. Take some more.
Now picture your ideal wedding day. Not the one your family wants you to have, or the one your bank account would probably appreciate, but the one that feels the most like you and your love.
Where are you?
Are you on a mountaintop surrounded by nothing but snow, trees, the wind, and me (because someone’s gotta be in charge of documenting just how damn good you folks look in love).
Or are you on a rocky island that you kayaked to in full wedding attire, because you’re a badass.
Will you explore tide pools, share charcuterie, and snort-laugh because you’re so happy?
Or perhaps it’s a sunset bonfire spent toasting to your new marriage with s’mores and your closest family and friends.
Or maybe it’s D) All of the above. Because it’s your elopement, and you get to call the shots.
And the shots? They start with location.
When deciding where to spend your elopement, it’s helpful to have a picture in mind of what your ideal day looks like — think about what kind of experience you want to have, and what kinds of activities you want to do.
For some folks, a 10-mile hike to a waterfall might be just what they’re looking for, while for others stargazing on the beach with their dogs and a three-tiered cake might be the perfect way to ring in their union.
Tip: If you decide to have a photographer capture your elopement day, think about choosing a location that incorporates a variety of different backdrops — woods, waterfalls, boulders, sand. It can make for fun photos to play around in different landscapes while wearing your wedding best.
Make sure to lean on the wedding professionals you hire during the elopement planning process. One of the big perks of working with a seasoned wedding pro is that chances are they’ve probably done it, or something similar, before. They can help you brainstorm ideas, and share best practices.
For example, as an elopement photographer, I don’t just show up and snap photos — I help you design the day you’ve been dreaming of. From location scouting, to researching permits, recommending vendors, helping to plan your timeline, or even serving as an officiant to make your marriage legal as I capture your vows from behind the camera. I started Venture Ever After (formerly Nadia Joyce Photography) in 2010, so I’ve got my fair share of wedding experience, and my clients are welcome to every ounce of it.
Think about your favorite types of places in the Pacific Northwest — does the forest call to you, do the mountains thrill you, do vineyards feel romantic? Spend some time focusing on where you want to explore during your elopement.
Are there areas that hold special meaning for your relationship? Maybe you want to revisit the spot you got engaged in, retrace the steps of your first backpacking adventure together, or share some sweet nostalgia at the place you first told your partner “I love you.”
Tip: The location you choose for your elopement will affect many of your other wedding details, from what kind of clothes and footwear you’ll need, to the food you can bring, and the timing of your day. Make sure to keep your backdrop in mind when planning the details of your elopement — a colorful bouquet can look stunning against the coast’s earthy tones.
You don’t necessarily need to have been to the location beforehand; it can be fun to travel somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting, too. Elopements make great excuses for crossing things off your bucket list.
Again, this is where it helps to turn to the professionals you’re working with. They should be well-acquainted with the area they cover and able to recommend potential locations based on the type of elopement you’re looking for. Bonding is always step one when I work with folks. After hearing who you are and what lights you up, I’ll set to work researching locations that fit your vibe and give you a list of suggestions. If a client is interested in a spot that I haven’t been to before, I’ll either travel there ahead of time to familiarize myself with the area, or I’ll scout it out with a rigorous virtual process.
Besides your beloved, who do you want to celebrate with? Maybe you want immediate family to join for an intimate ceremony, or your closest friends to drive you to the trailhead in the morning. Or maybe you just want to spend the entire day alone with your love. And that’s completely awesome, because one of the best parts about nontraditional weddings is that anything goes.
Tip: Having a hard time deciding where to tie the knot? There’s no need to stick to one spot on an elopement day — you can have your first look in one location, exchange vows in another, and eat cake in a third. Pick and choose if, and when, you’d like others to join you.
Deciding if you want guests to come for some, or all, of your festivities will help to narrow down your location options. Make sure to consider any accessibility restrictions your guests may have. This goes for members of your four-footed crew as well.
Dogs can be really fun additions to photo shoots, but you know your animals’ personalities best. If you’re wanting to involve them in your day, make sure that the terrain and location is pet-friendly, or plan to have someone come and pick them up half-way through, while you carry on with the rest of your activities.
Tip: Wherever your adventuring boots may bring you, remember to give Mother Nature the respect she deserves. I’m a Leave No Trace certified photographer, which means I abide by a set of guidelines structured to preserve the outdoors, so that your grandkids can have a place to elope as well.
Elopements require a lot of planning. There are permits to research, accessibility to think about, busyness to consider, weather to navigate, and only about a thousand more details. There’s the timing of the lighting, and the tides, and the changing seasons. And then there’s the part about how different states have varying marriage laws and requirements.
I’m not saying this to spike your heart rate; I’m saying it so that you’re aware of how important it is to do your research and to stay organized. A good professional (ahem — like me) can help you out with that, and make sure that all you have to worry about on your elopement day is whether you want to drink champagne from a glass, or from the bottle. Cheers!