Table of Contents:

  • 10 Ways to Customize Your Elopement Day
    • Choose a location that holds significance
    • Pick activities that resonate with you
    • Choose traditions that are meaningful to you (or create your own)
    • Incorporate your own spiritual or cultural traditions
    • Have a special unity ceremony
    • Create keepsakes to hold onto
    • Don’t limit yourselves to one day
    • Incorporate your own unique style
    • Include your loved ones (or don’t)
    • Focus on the small moments

One of the best parts about modern elopements is that they bring the focus back to you, the couple, and away from everything else that tends to come with the idea of getting married—traditions, expectations, massive guest lists. . .you get the picture. There’s a reason I preach elopements to every couple I connect with; a reason why they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years: because every love story is so deserving of a unique celebration that feels 100% authentic to the couple and only the couple. The beauty of eloping is that you can tailor-make your elopement to fit you and your partner, no matter what that looks like! To help you get started with planning an elopement that feels like you, without the influence of external factors (like your Uncle Bob who just really wants you to have a barn wedding with 300 people), I put together this list of 10 elopement ideas & ways to customize your elopement. I hope these spark even more ideas that feel good to you, and that this blog post encourages you to craft a day that fulfills all your biggest hopes and dreams together!

If you’re still on the fence about whether you should elope or have a big wedding, pause right here and head over to this blog post, where I walk you through 5 reasons why you should elope.

Utah red rock elopement with nontraditional couple wearing jumpsuit

The location of your elopement is probably one of the biggest parts of creating a day you love, because atmosphere is everything! If you and your partner are dreaming of a small celebration that feels super intimate with just a group of your closest friends, you probably don’t want to choose a 300-person venue with way too much space that you don’t need. Or maybe your ideal day looks like a completely private ceremony in the mountains with nobody around—you’ll want to make sure you choose a trail that’s secluded, or elope at a time of day where there’s no crowds around.

You also want to choose somewhere that’s going to be meaningful to you, and not just a place your mom recommended or that you saw on social media. Your location should be somewhere that holds significance to the two of you; maybe that looks like. . .

The place where you had your first kiss, your first trip together, your first anniversary, etc.

A place you grew up visiting that you’ve always dreamed of showing your partner

Your favorite vacation spot

A bucket list location that neither of you have ever been to

After all, you are going to make a pretty important promise at the location you choose, and you might well be looking back on it for the rest of your lives 😉

In addition to choosing some place that holds meaning to the two of you, there are quite a few things that you should consider when picking your elopement location in order to have a smooth, stress-free day. Here are some of the main ones to keep in mind: 

  • Group size: Make sure whatever location you choose has enough space to fit the two of you, your vendors (aka photographer & officiant), and your guests. E.g. don’t pick a spot on a super narrow trial if you have 10 guests!
  • Weather: Weather will play a huge role in the atmosphere of your day, so make sure that you pick a location where no matter what the weather is like, you’ll be able to have an amazing day. Be ready to embrace whatever comes your way, rain or shine, and remember that even if you don’t get those mountain views you were dreaming of because it’s foggy as hell, the most important thing is that you get married!
  • Atmosphere: The location of your elopement is going to determine the type of atmosphere you create on your special day. Think about whether you want an atmosphere that feels super private, quiet, and intimate, or if your priority is the best views and you’re okay with having more people around/a less tranquil atmosphere. Consider whether you want somewhere clean, modern, and urban or outdoorsy, rustic, and inviting—or anything in between!
  • Landscape: Duh! If you’re eloping outdoors, you’re probably looking for a place with spectacular scenery and unforgettable views. I’m personally biased toward Idaho and all the amazing landscapes we have to offer here, so I recommend checking out my Ultimate Idaho Elopement Guide for ideas and inspiration.
  • Cost: While you will likely be saving a ton of money on venue costs, there are still other costs to keep in mind when choosing your location, including travel costs for you and your vendors, accommodations, transportation, permits, parking fees, and your marriage license.
  • Permits: On that note, make sure you know what permits you’ll need (if any) for the location you choose. Research how long the process will take, how far you need to apply in advance, and what the permit allows/doesn’t allow.
  • Activities: Finally, pick a location that has activities you want to do during your elopement, whether that means you pick an Airbnb with a hot tub for nighttime relaxation & stargazing, or you pick a spot deep in the mountains that you can backpack to.
nontraditional wedding elopement idea for alt nontraditional couples is to get tattoos

Speaking of activities, one of the best ways you can customize your elopement is by picking activities that resonate with you. I’m obsessed with how trendy elopements have become lately because I’m seeing so many more couples doing things that are meaningful to them, and building a day that includes everything they love the most! Elopements are also typically more geared toward couples who value experiences over material things, which is where activities come in: for example, instead of spending your money putting together 200 little wedding favors that your guests might not ever touch again, you can put that money toward unforgettable experiences with 10-15 guests that will last you a lifetime.

If you’re having trouble coming up with activities you want to include in your elopement, it can be helpful to think about:

  • What you love to do together when you have free time: on a Friday night, a Sunday morning, etc.
  • Any daily/recurring rituals or activities you do together
  • Your favorite things to do on vacation, when you have endless free time and can escape from your daily lives for a bit
  • Your personal hobbies and interests (both together & separately)

The activities you choose can be big or small, simple or complex; you don’t need to go and plan a whole excursion if that doesn’t feel like you, and maybe you’d rather drink coffee at a cozy Airbnb together. There’s no right or wrong—just do what feels authentic to the two of you, and what would help you create memories to last forever.

Here are some super fun and unique elopement activity ideas to help you start thinking outside of the box!

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Cozying up by the fireplace under a blanket
  • Watching the sunset
  • Dancing while making dinner
  • Serenading each other/playing instruments
  • Cooking together
  • Playing your favorite board game
  • Reading books next to each other
  • Making cocktails together
  • Playing your favorite video game
  • Setting up a projector and watching your favorite movie together

Want to kick tradition to the curb and have your day be totally, completely unique to you? Go for it! Want to incorporate a couple of traditions that you’ve always dreamed of doing? Do it!

I love elopements because there are literally no rules. There’s no playbook, no guidelines, no expectations you have to adhere to like there often are for weddings. That means that when it comes to tradition, you can go one of two ways: either pick & choose the traditions that hold meaning to you, or say to hell with it and create your own!

Many photographers and other wedding professionals will tell you that elopements are all about breaking tradition (which I agree with, 100%), but that may make you feel like if you elope, you aren’t allowed to include any traditions—which is just plain wrong. Your day is about you and what you want to do, whether that looks like incorporating 1 or 5 or 0 regular wedding traditions. You are completely allowed to mix & match traditions or to make changes to any that you don’t fully love, but you still want to include. As long as you’re following your hearts and not the expectations of anybody else, you’re golden.

Here are a few ways to take common wedding traditions and make them a little more your own, if you don’t want to say goodbye to them completely:

  • Have your first dance under the stars, in the mountains, on a lakeshore instead of in a traditional reception venue
  • Take the sentiment of something old, new, borrowed, & blue and simply incorporate meaningful keepsakes/pieces into your day without those strict guidelines
  • Instead of having a full first look, have a first “touch,” where you stand back to back or on opposite sides of a corner/pillar, and hold hands while you exchange words/vows/letters/gifts—this way, you still wait to see each other until your ceremony
  • Get ready together up until you put on your elopement attire, and then have a first look or wait to see each other until you walk down the aisle
  • Have a private vow exchange before your ceremony; this way, you have a chance to say them in private if you’d rather, and then you can repeat the traditional vows during your ceremony

Incorporating your own spiritual and/or cultural traditions can really help make your day extra meaningful and personal to you. Don’t feel like you need to follow any religious traditions that have become commonplace if they don’t feel right to you—you’re free to include any spiritual rituals or activities that would help the two of you feel connected to whatever you believe in (if anything!), such as a sage smudging ceremony. Likewise, if you and/or your partner grew up in a culture that has any special traditions for elopements, incorporate any that you resonate with. These could be traditions performed during your ceremony, or that could be weaved into other parts of your elopement timeline, such as the Korean tea ceremony (paebaek) that takes place after the main wedding ceremony, or reciting the Lord’s Prayer during a Catholic ceremony. 

On that same note, having a unity ceremony can be a super meaningful way to make your ceremony customized to you! Unity ceremonies are simply rituals or activities performed during your elopement ceremony that symbolize the joining of your lives, and your commitment, in a unique, personalized way. This could be as meaningful as a religious rope braiding ceremony, or as simple and fun as smoking a joint or doing shots together! 

Here are some popular unity ceremonies that I’ve seen couples include in their elopement:

  • Hand fasting
  • Smoking a joint together (my personal favorite)
  • Rope braiding
  • Taking shots after your first kiss
  • Releasing butterflies*
  • Mixing cocktails
  • Pouring sand
  • Lighting a candle*
  • Warming your rings
  • Burning sage*

*Make sure this is allowed at your location, first. Most outdoor elopement locations such as national and state parks have strict policies in place that you need to follow!

The more tangible keepsakes you can create during your elopement day, the better. Yes, you’ll receive a whole gallery of beautiful photographs (and maybe a video, if you hired a videographer) to remember your day by, but digital photos just can’t compare with having some sort of tangible memory to carry with you into the future! These could be keepsakes you create before your day to include in your ceremony, or something you create during the day itself.

Here are a few creative ideas for wedding keepsakes to give you an idea of what I mean:

  • Polaroids: Have 1-2 Polaroid cameras passed around to your guests during your elopement to capture their favorite moments. Keep the Polaroids in a photo album, or frame them afterward!
  • A guest book: Have some form of guest book for your guests to leave you their well wishes & notes of support. This could be a traditional guest book, or something a little more unique such as a vintage phone that they record messages on, or maybe you have them take a Polaroid of themselves to add to a big poster/photo album! There are so many ways to get creative with this one.
  • Signature koozies: If you’re going to have cans of your favorite drinks present on your elopement day, have custom koozies made for you & your guests with your initials, elopement date, etc. These will be so fun to hang onto and use in the future!
  • Dried flowers: After your elopement is over, hire a florist to dry your flowers for you and either preserve your whole bouquet, or take it apart & make an art piece out of. There are so many talented people out there who will help you preserve your flowers for a long, long time so they don’t go in the garbage the next day!
PNW Idaho Oregon Washington alt nontraditional couple makes keepsake sand unity ceremony elopement idea

A lot of couples think that because they’re having a “smaller” celebration, that they don’t need a full day to celebrate, but I believe it’s the opposite: because you have so much freedom to do whatever you please, don’t limit yourselves to just one day! Why not have a full elopement weekend so you can spend more time with your guests? Why not extend your festivities into a full week so that you can fully take advantage of your time together in a beautiful place? Especially if you have a lot of activities you want to do, trying to squish everything into one day will likely just lead to you feeling stressed and rushed.

One thing I like to tell my couples: “be your own trend.” Show off your own styles and let your personalities shine through your clothing—there’s no need to stick to the traditional white gown or neutral suit if you don’t want to. Wear outfits that reflect who you truly are, that match the theme of your elopement, that make you feel like your best damn self. Maybe that does look like wearing more traditional outfits, or maybe that looks like wearing disco-themed attire covered in sparkles, glitter, and pops of hot pink, or maybe it means you dress up in viking-inspired attire to represent your favorite movie genre. Get creative with it and don’t be afraid to be weird!

Here are some alternatives to the traditional white gown & black/blue/grey suits that tend to overpower the wedding/elopement industry:

  • Jumpsuits
  • Colored or patterned dresses
  • Two-piece dresses
  • Fun accessories such as capes or sleeves
  • Colored or patterned suits
  • Colored or patterned ties (bowties, bolo ties, etc.)
  • Velvet or corduroy suits
  • Sport jackets

Choose your elopement guests carefully, and keep in mind that the people you invite will have a major impact on the vibe of your day & how you feel throughout it. So in order to customize your elopement, invite only the people who truly mean the most to you and who would be special to have by your side—or don’t invite anyone at all. And if you do invite guests, you can find special ways to include them in your day, such as reading something during your ceremony, walking you down the aisle, inviting them to do toasts/speeches, etc.

P.S. Feel free to also include your animals, since they’re just as much a part of your family as your closest people are (as long as your location is pet-friendly)!

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you focus on the small moments. You are so much more likely to have an elopement you absolutely adore & will never forget if you focus on being present, being flexible, and taking in the emotions of the day! Be intentional about building in some extra time in your timeline to take a breather and slow down for a bit; otherwise, the day will be gone before you know it. The little moments are what will make your day memorable, so notice and recognize them as the day goes on, and allow yourselves to go with the flow. That, my friends, is the most surefire way to make sure your elopement is spectacular no matter what! 

And if you ever notice yourselves losing sight of the reason you’re eloping, read through these Elopement Affirmations and remind yourselves what you’re doing this for.

All in all, the best way to customize your elopement is to figure out what makes your relationship special, and celebrate that. Decide what “eloping” means to you, not to anyone else, and make it a day better than your wildest dreams. And use these elopement ideas to help you create a celebration that you love!

As your elopement photographer, I’ll be there every step of the way to help you come up with ways to customize your elopement and make it as perfect as can be. Reach out to me here and tell me everything you’re envisioning, and then we’ll start planning together!

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I literally have no words. Natalie is so amazing and talented, and not to mention how kind she is. She has outdone herself! My pregnancy has actually been pretty hard, so it actually brings me to tears to have such beautiful photos to remember it with. I am so so grateful for these beautiful keepsakes.

- Emma

Natalie and her husband are amazing! My hubby does not enjoy taking photos. Natalie was able to make us feel at ease and have fun with our session. She went above and beyond! I was expecting the typical sit here, pose this way, smile, click. NOPE! She asked us intimate questions about our lives. She played music that we love. She created an atmosphere and a mood that made our anniversary photos an experience. We are so thankful for the memories she helped us to create. Also her unique artistry in how she photographed us. I’m in love with the results. Thank you Natalie and Nate 💖

- Alisa

- Madie