Elopements were once known for being hasty, rushed, and impulsive – just a five minute ceremony in a Vegas chapel, and after exchanging “I do’s” you’d go on with the night. But, that’s not what eloping is about anymore! If you’re working with an outdated definition, it can be hard to imagine how you’ll fill up an entire day.
But here’s the thing – this is still your wedding day! This is a big deal, and that doesn’t change just because your guest list is smaller, or because your venue is the great outdoors. In fact, I think choosing to elope means that you’ve decided to make this day exactly what you want it to be, and the fact that your wedding day will reflect exactly who you are as a couple makes it even more meaningful. And that deserves way more than a quick ceremony.
So what actually happens on an elopement day? Stick around for my tips on creating an elopement timeline, and we’ll talk all about what goes into your day, and how you can make the most of it!
You’ve probably never planned an elopement before, and because eloping is a relatively new concept, most couples who set out to elope have no idea where to start! Let’s break down the parts of an elopement day, and what actually goes on the elopement timeline.
I always encourage couples to spend some time together on the day of their elopement. A slow start to the morning, with coffee and maybe some waffles, is the perfect way to relax and soak in what’s about to happen. Couples can sometimes get caught up in the moment – all that planning and excitement, and they forget to be present. The day goes by faster than you expect, and taking time to slow down is important.
Once you’re ready to do hair and makeup and to put on your elopement attire, some couples choose to do this together, and others choose to do this separately. Do whatever feels right for you! If you have a professional hair and makeup artist coming, ask them how long their process takes – two hours is pretty standard, and make sure to leave 15 minutes to half an hour to get dressed.
A first look is the first time you see each other all dressed up in your elopement attire. One of you will stand facing away, and the other will come up behind them and tap them on the shoulder. If you get ready separately, I always love when couples do a first look! It builds so much excitement and leads to some really sweet moments, and so many couples say that all their nervousness completely melted away after they saw each other. Especially if you have guests attending your elopement ceremony, a first look is the perfect opportunity to take some time for just the two of you before joining everyone else. First looks take about 15 – 30 minutes, depending on if your photographer takes some couples photos after!
The moment you’ve been waiting for – the ceremony! A standard elopement ceremony consists of reading the vows and exchanging rings. It usually only takes about 15 minutes, but if you’re planning to include any special traditions in your ceremony, make sure to include time for this in the elopement timeline!
If you have guests attending your elopement, it’s important to take some time for formal photos! You’ll definitely have candids throughout the day, but use this time to get some group photos. If you have a lot of guests, I recommend making a list of photos you want taken so that nothing gets forgotten and no one gets left out! Depending on how many guests you have (and how easy they are to wrangle), this can take 30 minutes to an hour.
You’ll need time for some photos of the two of you in each location! Talk to your photographer about how long this will take and how much time should be added if you’re hiking or traveling to different spots throughout the day.
An elopement is all about planning a day that reflects who you are, and starts your marriage off on the right foot. So whether it’s hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, cliff jumping, or anything else you can dream up, plan some time to adventure during your elopement day!
Here are some sample elopement timelines to get you inspired!
11:00 am – Hair and Makeup Begins
1:00 – First Look
2:30 – Drive to Lake Tahoe
3:00 – Ceremony
3:30 – Photos with Guests
4:00 – Couple’s Photos
5:00 – Return to Cabin
5:30 – Dinner & Cake
4:00 am – Hair and Makeup Begins
6:00 – Drive to Lake McDonald
7:00 – First Look at Sunrise
7:30 – Ceremony
8:00 – Couple’s Photos at Lake McDonald
9:00 – Drive to Grinnell Glacier Trailhead
9:30 – Begin Hiking
1:00 – Arrive at Summit, Couple’s Photos
3:00 – Hike Down
5:00 – Drive to Bowman Lake
6:00 – Sunset Photos
2:00 pm – Hair and Makeup Begins
4:00 – First Look
4:30 – Drive to Glacier Point
5:00 – Ceremony
5:30 – Couple’s Photos
7:00 – Return to Airbnb
8:00 – Hair and Makeup Begins
10:00 – Drive to Helicopter Tour
11:00 – Helicopter Tour Begins
1:00 – Helicopter Lands
1:30 – Drive to Reflection Lakes
2:30 – Lunch with Family
4:30 – Ceremony
5:00 – Photos with Guests
6:00 – Couple’s sunset photos
Now that you know what an elopement consists of, here are some things to keep in mind when you start working on the timeline!
Things like travel between locations will need to be included in your timeline, but buffer time is super important too! Buffer time is time between activities – the time it takes to load everything into the car, the time it takes to get all your guests out the door, the time it takes to set up your ceremony decorations. As a general rule of thumb, things tend to take longer than you expect. Leaving a little bit of extra time between every step on your timeline ensures that you’ll be able to relax on your elopement day, and not feel like you’re constantly rushing from one thing to another. It also gives you some wiggle room in case of traffic!
What does an elopement photographer have to do with an elopement timeline?
Well, everything! Your elopement photographer is going to be the expert when it comes to lighting – so they’ll be able to answer any questions you have about timing. They’ll also have tons of elopement experience, and will be able to tell you how long everything takes and how much time you should plan for everything.
It can be tempting to skip the photographer for the first portion of the day – you may think you don’t need photos of you getting ready, or that you just need coverage for the ceremony and a few photos after. But remember, this is still your wedding day! Each part of it deserves to be documented, and some of those little moments that seem insignificant can actually become your favorite memories. Without photos, you might miss the way your partner looked at you as you got ready, and they were thinking about how excited they were to marry you. You might forget that pun they told while you were out hiking, and how you couldn’t help but laugh even while you were silently cursing the elevation gain.
As a photographer who specializes in adventure elopements, I help couples plan every part of their day – and that includes creating their elopement timeline! If you’re ready to start planning your day, contact me!
If you're thinking about eloping or getting married in NorCal, our blog is an excellent resource for inspiration. We've got sneak peeks of recent weddings, tips for eloping in Northern California, and more. Let The Adventure Begin is the perfect place to start planning.
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