One of the biggest wedding day decisions you will make as a couple is where to elope. What piece of earth should you choose to get married on?
I strongly believe that a couple’s wedding day should be wholly representative of their relationship, authentic, and relevant to who they are as a couple. And, if their kids are involved, authentic to their little family, too. Everyone deserves a true-to-you wedding day experience. After all, these are moments that are going to stay with you over the years, something to celebrate during good times, and a buoy for your relationship when the waters get rough. One of the best ways to bring your true selves to your wedding day is to choose an elopement location that is completely you.
The beauty of elopements and intimate weddings is that you can get married *almost* anywhere for any reason you wish. There is so much more flexibility to be had when your wedding day consists of just you, your kiddos, and a handful of others (or just you and your kids!). I’ve photographed weddings on mountaintops, lakeside, and in deserts, in 200 year-old barns, and in ancient old growth forests. Each of my experiences has shown me that commitment is enriched when it’s wrapped in the warmth of a location that speaks to your collective soul.
I get it though, the seemingly limitless options can be downright overwhelming. All that flexibility can feel like both a blessing and a curse. I’m here to help! Keeping these considerations in mind while dreaming up a location can help you narrow down the options, and discover a location that is utterly and completely reflective of your family’s love story.
Wedding locations can be broken down into two main groups, 1) locations that have a nostalgic aspect, and 2) those that are novel/adventurous. Of course, a location can be chosen because it falls into both of these categories, as well! Let’s look at them more closely and, hopefully, spark some ideas in the process.
1. Nostalgic Locations
These are locations that evoke a sense of history. Perhaps yours, your relationship’s, your family’s, or a cherished relative’s. Maybe the place you had your first date or first hike, the place where you first said, “I love you,” or a special location that you often frequent together. Nostalgic locations may also stir childhood memories, a place where there are family ties. Such locations may be significant due to ancestral, religious, or heritage-related reasons. Maybe you want to marry your loved one in the exact location that your great grandparents met, or were wed.
Nostalgic locations are steeped with history and, as a result, are oftentimes brimming with sentiment. These locations are a great choice for amplifying those feelings of purpose and intent that are already naturally present on your wedding day.
2. Novel/Adventurous Locations
Novel and adventurous locations become meaningful by virtue of the history that you will create with your partner and your children at that site. If you want a new experience or adventure to share as part of your wedding day experience, these types of locations do the trick.
A novel location has the added benefit of providing challenge, both physical and mental. Facing an unpredictable new landscape or engaging in a new activity together leads to increased cooperation, feelings of trust, and heightened intimacy, all elements that you want present on the day you promise your life to your chosen person (and on all the days that follow!). Sharing a new adventure together forges memories of accomplishing something novel and meaningful as a couple. These memories can, in turn, be revisited when your marriage needs a little pick me up.
Your location might fit into one of the above categories, or may have qualities that make it an equally good fit for both. The most important thing to keep in mind when brainstorming where to elope, and eventually choosing a location, is that it truly represents you and your partner, either literally, symbolically, or both. Perhaps sequoias that have stood the test of time are the perfect giants to witness a union that will, likewise, be enduring. Maybe a placid alpine lake best represents your easy-going natures and the tranquility that you find in each other’s presence. Gazing out from a rugged cliff edge may perfectly embody the excitement that you feel about taking this leap of faith into building a life together.
Finding a location that speaks to your collective soul is incredibly important. And, let’s face it, it’s pretty romantic as well. But what about the more practical aspects of location selection? Thinking about the following early on in the planning process will help turn those elopement location dreams into a stress-free reality!
3. Geographic and Ecological Interests
Probably the most obvious characteristic of a location is it’s geography, all those landforms that make a place so unique. Natural landscapes may be mountainous, coastal, riverine, desert, or tropical. Knowing what type of geography speaks to you is a good starting place for finding the perfect piece of earth to say “I do.”
Interestingly, the geographic characteristics of a location are important enough on a psychological level that researchers in both environmental psychology and anthropology have dedicated their lives to studying how people develop attachments and emotional bonds with the land. It’s easy to see how bonds might form between humans and landscapes, beyond what you would expect is strictly necessary for survival. Landscapes seem to take on a personality and emotion of their own. Rugged mountainous landscapes can evoke a sense of wonder and awe, reminding us the world is so much bigger than we are. This sense of “awe” can make us more generous and increase other prosocial behaviors, like cooperation. And some landscapes just feel romantic.
So ask yourself, is there a particular geographic landscape that reflects you as a couple. A place your family naturally gravitates to? Somewhere you seem to just “fit”? Move beyond choosing a landscape simply for the breathtaking images, and pick a place that provides additional meaning on your wedding day.
What activities do you and your kids want to do on your wedding day? Some locations lend themselves to certain activities more than others. Hiking works well in mountainous landscapes. Cliff walking necessitates the presence of cliffs. And you can’t kayak without a body of water. I know it seems obvious, but believe me, it’s worth pointing out! It’s funny how things like this can be overlooked in the excitement of dreaming up your day.
If you’re eloping with your kids along, it’s also super important to be realistic about both your own and your children’s abilities. If you’ve never hiked as a family before, but are set on this type of adventure for your elopement day, go on some shakedown hikes (shorter and easier day hikes where you can practice and see how your kids cope). If you want to do something you don’t have a lot of experience with, it’s still absolutely doable, it just takes a little planning.
5. Time of Year and Weather
This is a super important consideration to make when choosing where to elope, as some locations are inaccessible during certain times of the year. If you envision your wedding day taking place in a snowy wonderland, but the location you love is closed during the winter months, you’ll want to know this and make alternate arrangements early. Likewise, if you dream of chasing the changing leaves, then you’ll want to make sure your chosen location puts on an epic show during the fall.
6. Privacy and Seclusion
How private, secluded, and remote of a location do you want?And how much are you willing to work to get there? Some really remote locations require backpacking in. Others are so remote that they require access via a helicopter. If having a really private and secluded ceremony is important to you, a remote location may be the way to go. But a remote location isn’t necessarily needed to experience privacy and intimacy either. You can find pockets of seclusion in even the most frequented National Parks, but it, like everything else, does require some planning. You may have to opt for getting married during a particular location’s off-season.
If you’re absolutely in love with a location, but crowds seem impossible to avoid, try exploring locations within a 50-mile radius of the place that you love. The landscape will likely be similar, and you can very possibly avoid hoards of people. The most geotagged locations (those that are popping up on Instagram and Pinterest again and again) will be the most popular. Use those as a jumping off point, and then venture out in all directions to find something that will provide both the landscape and the seclusion that you desire.
This is a big one to consider. Not only because some locations are completely inaccessible during certain times of the year and under certain weather conditions, but also because they may restrict the number of guests who can attend. So ask yourself how many people will be attending. Also, keep in mind any guests that may need special accommodations to get to your ceremony site, and make sure your chosen location has these available. If it’s just you, your partner, your kids, and a couple of vendors (maybe your officiant and photographer), then you’ll have more options for where to elope. However, if close family and friends will be celebrating with you, it’s still entirely possible to find your perfect elopement location!
Can’t bear to part with your dog during your wedding day? Don’t! Finding dog-friendly locations and trails is definitely doable, and definitely worth doing. After all, dogs are family members, too.
A note on permits. Many locations require permits for the ceremony and for photography as well. It’s worth researching and procuring these in advance. If you have a wedding planner helping you out with the logistics, they come in handy during this research. Some elopement photographers will look into this when scouting locations for you as well (I happen to be one of them!).
8. Advance Booking
How much time is needed to ensure the availability of a particular location? Are things booked out months, or even years, in advance? Your timeline is going to partially determine what locations are available to you. If you are putting something together in just a couple months (Hey! It’s possible!), some sites may no longer be available. Ask yourself what your timeline looks like, how flexible it is, and whether it meshes with your chosen location.
9. Domestic or International
There are additional special considerations for international weddings, such as visa requirements, local laws and customs, and general accessibility issues (among others). A lot of these are quite specific to the region. The good news is that many elopement photographers are more than happy to help you navigate these (Yep, me again!). So, if your dream location involves hopping on a plane and heading to another country, don’t let the logistics stop you!
There are many moving parts to planning a meaningful and intentional wedding day, and while the above will help you choose where to elope, it’s important to keep in mind that spontaneity and flexibility are as essential as preparedness. In fact, it’s the spontaneity that oftentimes yields the most meaningful moments. So don’t be afraid to dream a bit and take some risks when choosing your wedding day location. This is your day and there are no do-overs, so above all else prioritize what matters to you!
I hope this helped inspire some ideas! Location scouting is actually one of the most fun aspects of my job. I love nothing more than helping families pinpoint the perfect location for a true-to-them wedding day experience. Get in touch and we’ll find your perfect spot!