• kathleenelizabethphotos

How to Make Your Elopement Ceremony Extra Special


A bride cries during their elopement ceremony vows

Everything You Need To Know About Elopement Ceremonies


Elopement Ceremony Logistics

Adventure elopements are still a relatively new concept, however they are quickly becoming more popular. Elopements are commonly misunderstood simply due to the overall lack of information about them. Most people have attended at least one traditional wedding, but they have probably never been to an elopement ceremony before. So when a couple decides they want to elope, it can be both an exciting and overwhelming process, as it can be hard to envision something that you're not sure what it actually looks like. As an elopement photographer, I've had the honor of witnessing many beautiful elopement ceremonies, so I wanted to create a resource to help couples (like you!) who are planning their elopement figure out the details.


First thing- are people actually getting married in these wild spaces?

YES! Couples who elope are actually getting legally married and signing their marriage license out in these places in nature. And sure, sometimes we have to sign the license in the backseat of a car to make sure it doesn't get too much rain on it, or it gets a little bit of dirt on it- but hey that's just part of adventure elopements. :) However it is 100% legal to get married (practically) anywhere outside. You don't need to get married in a courthouse first.


Can you elope just the two of you? How do you figure out witnesses?

It is most definitely possible for just you and your partner to elope without any guests. For couples who want their elopement to be incredibly intimate and have their day be just them, we just ask fellow hikers that we run into along the way to be their witnesses! Most of the time people are beyond stoked and are pretty surprised to hear what you're doing and are more than happy to help out and sign on the dotted line for you. They don't have to bear witness to you saying your handwritten vows (as that isn't technically required for a legal ceremony) so those can still remain private and just for you two to hear.


What if you want to invite guests to your elopement?

While your elopement can be just the two of you, it doesn't necessarily have to be. If you want, you can definitely include your closest friends and family. If it's important for you to have them there to support and celebrate with you- bring them!


If you can't decide between eloping with just the two of you or inviting guests, why not do both? You can break your day in half or do two separate days completely. Have part of your experience where you do something just the two of you and another where you include your loved ones. The possibilities are honestly endless of how you can make this happen. Unsure of how you can make this logistically possible? I'd love to chat!


Pro-tip: Only invite people that are genuinely supportive of your vision to elope and of your relationship. If they are going to cause you any stress on your day, perhaps celebrate with them after the fact!


What if you want to take care of the legal part before your elopement day?

Don't let paperwork keep you from having your dream elopement day! Many couples choose to complete the legal paperwork at home either before or after their actual elopement date for ease of mind or other reasons (buying a house, healthcare, etc). The day you say your vows and commit the rest of your life to your partner is your wedding day! Don't let paperwork and technicalities get in the way of that.

A couple exchanging rings during their North Cascades hiking elopement

How to Create an Elopement Ceremony


Create an elopement ceremony that is meaningful to you!


When you elope you have the freedom to toss aside any traditions that you don't feel connected to, keep the ones that feel special, and even have the chance to create some of your own! Your elopement ceremony can be as simple or as complex as you desire. The most important thing? That it fits exactly what you and your partner envision, you stay true to yourself and that you make sure you'll have no regrets! After all, you chose to elope so intentionally- your elopement ceremony is arguably the most important part. And how that looks is completely up to you! As long as you're happy, it's perfect in my book. :)


You do however need to include *two* things (in the U.S.) to make your elopement ceremony legal.

  • The Declaration of Intent (the "I do's")

  • The Pronouncement (I now declare you husband & wife, wife & wife, husband & husband, etc)

Choosing a Declaration of Intent

There are SO many different declarations of intent that you can decide between. It's important to choose one that really speaks to you and your relationship. Here are a few examples to get you started. If you don't like any of these, no problem! You can create one that is completely your own.


Traditional

(Name) do you take (Name) to be your lawful wedded wife/husband? Do you promise to love and cherish her/him, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her/him, for so long as you both shall live?


Short & Sweet

Do you, (Name), welcome (Name) as your wife/husband, offering her/him your love and encouragement, your trust and respect, as together you create your future?


In Good Times & Bad

(Name), do you take (Name), to be your wife/husband? Do you promise to love, adore and encourage her/him? Share the good times and achievements as well as the hard times and disappointments? Keep her/him in sickness and in sorrow and to be loyal to her/him forevermore?


Freedom to be Oneself

Do you, (Name), promise to love (Name) and respect her/him, to share your life and your dreams, to build with her/him a home that is a place of love, happiness, commitment and growth?


Do you promise to be a companion to (Name) in all of her/his successes and failures, her/his happiness and sadness, to always give to her/him your unwavering support and above all else, the freedom to be herself/himself?


Play & Laugh

(Name), from this day onward, do you choose (Name) to be your wife/husband, your best friend and your only love? To live together, play together and laugh together; To work by her/his side and dream in her/his arms; To fill her/his heart and feed her/his soul; To always seek out the best in her/his; Always loving her/his with all your heart, until the end of your forever?

If you want to have a more elaborate ceremony, you need to choose an officiant. In some states you can have a friend or family member get ordained easily and for free through an organization like Universal Life Church, which is recognized in most states. If you do decide to hire an officiant, it is essential to find someone you really click and connect with as they will play an important role in your ceremony.

  • Are you wanting your officiant to be fun & playful or more serious?

  • How personal do you want your ceremony script to be?

  • How many rewrites does your officiant offer?

  • Is travel and hiking (if needed) included in your officiant's services?

Ultimately what you include and say in your ceremony is important! Keep reading for more specific ideas on what to include in your ceremony.

A bride laughing during the elopement ceremony in North Cascades National Park
A couple kissing after getting married during their snowy elopement in Washington
A closeup of a groom saying his vows on the beach
A bride and groom taking a moment to cuddle during their vows at sunrise in Washington by a lake

What to do During Your Ceremony

No matter what you decide to do for the legalities of getting married, there are so many various traditions that you can decide to incorporate on the day you say your vows. Or you could skip them all and do something completely different! Get creative with it! :)


Here are a few ideas of what you could do during your elopement ceremony to help get you started:


Read Personalized Vows

Declare any promises you want to share about your future, express any emotions you're feeling, reflect upon your past experiences in your relationship together and commit your life to your partner. These can be as long or as short as you'd like!


Pro-Tip: I recommend writing your vows in a book or on nice paper versus on having them on your phone! Not only do they make a treasured keepsake for years to come, but it also looks much nicer in photographs.


Exchange Rings

Rings are traditionally exchanged as a symbol of commitment since they represent no beginning and no end. That being said you can exchange any other symbol that is important to you as well!


First Kiss

A classic! Celebrate being newly-weds with your first kiss as a married couple!


First Dance

Just because you're eloping outdoors doesn't mean you can't have a first dance if you want one! I love first dances, whether they're on the beach or on top of a mountain- it's always such a special moment.


Pro-Tip: I recommend downloading the song you'd like to dance to to your phone if you use Spotify or a streaming service! A lot of places you may consider eloping won't have cell service and if you download it beforehand you won't have to worry about it!


Incorporate Music

Maybe one of you is a talented musician and you want to bring your instrument along on your elopement and incorporate it into part of your day? Or you could have a musician play your favorite songs or bring a portable speaker with you to listen to music in a hammock or during a picnic!


Handfasting

Originally a Celtic ceremony, this tradition is where your hands are bound together by braided rope as it both literally and figuratively joins you and your partner together!


Unity Ceremony

A unity ceremony consists of joining two parts of something into a singular piece- representing merging two individual lives merging into one. Traditionally this ceremony is done with a candle, however you can really do whatever feels right to you and your partner! Some ideas include: planting a plant together, creating art together, making a black & tan (combining a pale ale with a dark stout), blend a wine together, and so many others!


Wine Box Ceremony

Enclose a bottle of your favorite wine in a box so it can be opened by you at a later predetermined date. Some couples opt to add in love letters to one another to seal with the wine in the box or ask their closest loved ones to write letters to them to read when they open the box as well!


Read Letters

One of my favorite ways to include friends and family members that aren't physically present on your elopement day is to ask them to write you a letter for you to read during your ceremony! It's such an incredibly beautiful way to feel their presence and support from far away.


Pro-Tip: Pre-open the envelopes to make getting the letters out a lot easier!


Pro-Tip #2: Make sure you only ask people who are completely on board with your elopement day plans and are genuinely happy for you to write you a letter! :)


Read Poetry, Reading or a Passage

You can also choose to read (or have your officiant or any of your guests read) a meaningful poem, reading or passage as part of your elopement ceremony.


Surprises & Gifts

If you decide to exchange gifts or surprises with one another, doing it during your ceremony can be a really special time to do it!


Create Space for Those Not There

If there are people or a single person who couldn't physically attend your day, consider including a moment of silence in dedication to them or incorporating a memento or something special from them on your elopement day.


This is the day you've been waiting for- you finally get to commit the rest of your life to the one you love most in this world and marry your partner! At the end of the