How To Plan An Elopement Wedding: The Ultimate Checklist

For most people, getting married is a big deal. You sign on the dotted lines, and make a commitment to be devoted to one person for the rest of your life. This is significant in so many ways, and thus couples place a huge amount of focus on the ceremony marking their wedlock.

When it comes down to it, everyone wants perfection…

It all depends on what your idea of perfection is. Traditional weddings come with a plethora of themed options, as do smaller ceremonies like an elopement wedding. There are numerous checklists that can be found on the web concerning the things you need to have in place ahead of your traditional wedding, but far less of these for elopement weddings. If you’re planning to elope, you’re probably either anxiously wondering how your wedding will pan out or are floating on a cloud of bliss and anticipation. Either way, we’re here to help!

In this article on the Sandals Blog:

How do you plan an elopement?

The ultimate elopement checklist:

1. Choose a budget
2. Select a destination & wedding venue
3. Check the law
4. Choose a date
5. Make travel arrangements (if needed)
6. Arrange accommodation (if needed)
7. Plan the ceremony
8. Write your vows (if any)
9. What to wear
10. Hair and makeup
11. Flowers or no flowers?
12. Low key or fancy?
13. Plan your guest list (if any)
14. Plan the party
15. Announce your elopement


Best places to elope in the Caribbean
Benefits of eloping
Last few things to do ahead of time

How do you plan an elopement?

An elopement wedding is a wedding often planned in secret, without the knowledge of friends and family. Couples choose elopement weddings over traditional weddings for a number of reasons, including having a more intimate and reducing stress.

Considering you’re here, it is safe to assume that you’ve gotten through the hardest part of planning an elopement – proposing the idea to your significant other or fiancé. This is often the most difficult part because you never quite know what kind of reaction to expect particularly if your partner is someone who has always hinted at the desire to have a more traditional wedding. Perhaps you’ve found a way to compromise. Many couples find common ground within the finer details when it comes to choosing between a traditional wedding and an elopement wedding ceremony. Those who might have opted for a traditional wedding often breathe a sigh of relief once they find out that elopement weddings don’t necessarily equate to a guest list of zero, or a rushed theme.

In planning an elopement wedding, one of the first things you need to consider is why you’re doing it. What exactly is your reason for wanting to keep your wedding small scale and private? Once you’re able to answer that question, you’re well on your way to planning a successful elopement wedding.

Without further ado, here's the ultimate elopement checklist:

1. Choose a budget

First and foremost thing on the checklist, how much are you willing to spend? You will get absolutely nowhere with wedding planning until you determine a budget. Will your wedding funds come primarily out of your savings, or will family members and friends help? In some families, it is tradition for parents of either the bride or groom to contribute to the cost of a traditional wedding, but considering most elopement weddings are kept secret until after the fact, this can limit the amount of funds available on the day. Nevertheless, you can choose whether you want your elopement wedding to be a low budget or luxury affair.

2. Select a destination and wedding venue

There is a kind of spontaneity added to the mix when elopement weddings are brought into focus. How far are you willing to travel for love? Discuss with your significant other whether you want a breezy Caribbean beach wedding, a classic garden wedding at home, a fancy French affair in Paris, or even a shotgun wedding in Las Vegas. There are lots of venues and themes to choose from, and these are all determined by your personal preferences on the kind of wedding you wish to have. Once you select a destination, the next step is booking your flight!

Tip: Stay more than three nights in any all-inclusive Sandals resort, and get your wedding for free. Choose from 16 award winning couples-only resorts. Gourmet meals and unlimited drinks included!

3. Check the law

There are legal aspects to keep in mind before taking off for your elopement wedding. It is important to do this early not only to ensure that your union is legit, but to save yourself unnecessary stress. Who really wants to get to a destination only to find out that they needed to fill out forms for their marriage license months ahead of time? Absolutely no one!

4. Choose a date

Choosing a date, sets things into motion in a very real way. You are about to skip off and say ‘I do’ to the love of your life. Considerations when selecting a date include weather, budget, and sentimental value of the day(s) under consideration. Make sure all of these things mesh and are given due priority before making your final decision.

5. Make travel arrangements (if needed)

Making travel arrangements ahead of your wedding is super important. If you’re choosing to cross the borders, keep in mind you’ll want to know the best time to travel to your elopement destination. In travel industry terms, there are three seasons for travel, all of which have their pros and cons.

Travel in the ‘high season’ often comes with higher costs, and busier destinations. On the upside, there’s usually more happening around that time. The ‘low season’ is the least busy time to travel to a particular destination. You may find better flight and accommodation deals around this time, but the weather might be a risk. The ‘shoulder season’ is somewhere in between, and gives travellers the best of both worlds. Travel seasons vary for individual destinations, so make sure to do you research in advance.

It often pays off to arrange your transport to your elopement destination well in advance, whether it will be a taxi, train or flight.

Tip: When you are planning a destination wedding far from home, make sure to arrive a few days before the planned wedding date, so you don’t have to stress when your flight gets delayed. It also gives you some time to recover from a long trip.

6. Arrange accommodation (if needed)

Picture: Overwater Love Nest Suites in Sandals South Coast, Jamaica.

If you are planning an elopement far from home, you’ll want to book accommodation that is in close proximity, if not at the same location as your wedding ceremony. This is helpful to minimize travel once you get to your location. The last thing you want to do is get lost on your way to your wedding! When booking a resort or villa, ensure you read reviews online, and call ahead with any questions you may have. Many couples who have eloped have found that it is better to go with popular destinations with good reviews, as you are more likely to get what you paid for.

Tip: Although an elopement wedding is all about adventure and spontaneity, it’s best to book in advance to ensure a good rate and availability.

7. Plan the ceremony

Next up on the elopement checklist: the ceremony. There’s no need to let go of some of the things you’ve always dreamed would be part of your wedding, just because you made a decision to elope. Ring exchanges, straight from the runway gowns and tuxes, flowers, and professionally done hair and makeup can still be part of your wedding mix – that is of course, if that is what you want. Other things to keep in mind are whether or not to book a professional photographer/videographer. Keep in mind that considering all your closest friends and family may not be invited to the wedding; hiring someone to capture the memories will be a fun way to share the moments with the people you care about.

Tip: If you plan on hiring a photographer / videographer for your elopement wedding in a foreign destination, do your research early to ensure you find someone who will meet your needs on the day. Some wedding venues, like Sandals, might be able to help you out as well.

8. Write your vows (if any)

Elopement weddings are known to be more flexible than traditional church weddings, in the sense that there is no limit to what you can say as part of your personalised vows. On the contrary, incorporating religious aspects, quotes or scriptures, into your elopement wedding vows is typically uncommon. In the end, you choose! Do whatever suits you as a couple.

9. What to wear?

Simple, extravagant, or something in between? Depending upon your destination, you might need to pay close attention to what you wear on your wedding day. Beach weddings may require a more understated wedding look, while you’ll need more traditional wear for a wedding in a chapel. Shoe choices are an important consideration, especially for beach or garden weddings. As elopement weddings are less than traditional, there is lots of room to play with your look, including gown colour choice!

10. Make provisions for hair and makeup

This checklist wouldn't be complete without thinking about hair and make up. Sometimes elopement weddings are rushed or low budget, so there really isn’t much room to fit in a professional hair stylist. This isn’t always the case. Couples opting for luxury included elopement weddings are known to invest large sums of money to ensure every aspect of their appearance is catered to, especially hair and makeup!

Tip: At some all-inclusive resort weddings a professional hair stylist and make up is already included in your stay. Just ring them up in advance!

11. Flowers or no flowers?

What’s a wedding without flowers? Hardly a wedding at all! Personal preference comes into play in this category, but there is no need to opt for a flowerless wedding just because it d0esn’t fit into the mould of what you think an elopement wedding needs to be. If you want a bouquet, go for it. The same goes for the groom, and the classic boutonniere.

12. Low key and budget friendly, or styled and fancy?

Understated weddings can be charming, if of course that is what you’re looking for. Over the top works for some people, and that’s completely fine. Considering you’re saving money by having a condensed guest list, why not shell out more cash for other details that make you happy, like décor?

13. Plan your guest list (if any)

Yes, it is possible to have a guest list even if you’re planning an elopement wedding. How cool is that? Literally, like having the best of both worlds, elopement weddings allow you the option to bring along a friend or two, and even key family members. This is handy as most elopement weddings happen out of state, and it’s nice to have at least a couple of people around to help you keep your head screwed on right, on the day. It isn’t necessary, but for some people, it is something worth looking into. Make a list just in case you decide to invite a small circle of family and friends. Emphasis on small!

14. Plan the party

A wedding after-party is a must, even it’s just the two of you. It is a momentous occasion, and there is need for celebration. Decide whether you want to wait until you reach home to celebrate with family or friends, or plan a quiet and romantic evening with your new spouse while at your destination of choice! Resorts like Sandals plan every detail of your destination elopement wedding with you and for you, down to the after party.

15. Announce your elopement

Next up on the elopement checklist comes the moment you’ve (hardly) been waiting for. It’s time to tell your friends and family that you are officially off the market! There are many ways to do this, but these are some of the most common:

Pre wedding elopement announcements

Some couples choose to share plans for their elopement wedding with family and friends ahead of time. This is a less shocking way to go about an elopement wedding, but as with all aspects of planning a wedding, it is entirely up to you. Make this decision taking into account your need for privacy, and the need to tread carefully to avoid hurt feelings.

Post Wedding Elopement Announcements

Many couples choose to let people know about their elopement wedding after the fact. Common reasons for going this route are to minimise outside influences and maintain privacy.

Elopement announcement for family

Many people note differences in the way post elopement announcements are made to family, versus friends and acquaintances. In person announcements are often recommended for family because of the personal nature of the subject matter. Some people recommend telling parents before the fact. For those who choose not to go that route, and even those who do, it is a good idea to follow up this announcement with an invitation to a smaller celebratory event.

Recommended: Anticipate that not everyone will take this news well. Allow your family members some time to warm up to the idea. Consider that they may feel left out of a significant event in your life. Share lots of photos and videos to lighten the mood.

Elopement announcement for friends

The nature of elopement announcements to friends depends on the significance of the friendship, and how long you’ve known each other. Most people agree that in person announcements are also necessary for close friends, who can also be invited to smaller post wedding events. The best time to deliver your elopement wedding news to family and friends is one or two days after you return.

Tip: It helps to ensure that both parties are present to deliver the news as a united front. You are after all, joined at the hip for life!


Most people choose to notify acquaintances (including co-workers) via email, or a phone call with the happy news. You can also create a unique post card with a picture of the ceremony. The best time to make this announcement is one or two weeks after your wedding.

Bonus: Best places to elope in the Caribbean

If you decide to have a romantic elopement wedding in the Caribbean, rest assure Sandals Resorts are among the most romantic on the planet. With all-inclusive properties in some of the most breath taking locations across the globe, there’s no going wrong with choosing Sandals for your elopement wedding. Here are a few of the most romantic elopement destinations:


Known for its beautiful mountain backdrops, lush foliage and cascading waterfalls, Jamaica is a tropical paradise. There are tons of wedding location options in this vibrant land of Reggae music, and with six Sandals locations to choose from including the idyllic Sandals in Ocho Rios, you’ll be able to customize your wedding to suit your specifications.

See a list of all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas – land of beautiful beaches. You can’t go wrong with choosing the Bahamas for your beach wedding, and especially not with Sandals’ all-inclusive resort in Exuma. Not only is this destination made for romance, but with 700 islands making up this tropical archipelago, there’s lots of room to explore.

See a list of all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas.

Saint Lucia

Home to the world-famous Pitons, Saint Lucia is known to be a wedding and honeymoon destination of choice for travellers the world over. There are three stunning Sandals resorts in Saint Lucia, all top choices, with the opportunity to ‘stay at one, play at three’.

See a list of all-inclusive resorts in Saint Lucia.


Land of 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, Antigua makes for the best romantic beach wedding. While staying at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa (voted ‘the Most Romantic Resort in the World’ year after year), you’ll fall even more in love while exploring the natural beauty of this tropical paradise.


Exotic and unspoiled, Sandals Grenada is known and loved for its romantic and authentic Caribbean experience. Whether you’re looking for a resort wedding, or a wedding in the midst of the Spice Isle, there are lots of options to choose from in Grenada including: villa weddings, plantation weddings, yacht weddings, tropical garden weddings and more.

Tip: Take advantage of the Red Lane Spa at Sandals Grenada to set the mood.


Sandals all-inclusive resorts in Barbados, located in the St. Lawrence Gap area, and offer unique features like an authentic Indian restaurant, innovative bar and pool designs, the largest and longest lagoon pool in Barbados, as well as private Tranquility Soaking Tubs™ on most patios and terraces. In Barbados, you’ll experience two resorts for the price of one, taking you from wedding to honeymoon, effortlessly!

Tip: For Caribbean elopement weddings, don’t forget to bring along your birth certificate and other paperwork needed (if applicable). You can ask Sandals to help you out with this!

Benefits of eloping

Once considered taboo, elopement weddings are becoming much more common nowadays, and with good reason. Here are some of the positives that lead people to make the decision to elope:

More flexibility

You and your fiancé can make decisions about your wedding that are all about you. The canvas is yours to decorate. Have fun!

Less Stress

There are no overly helpful family members trying to convince you to adjust your plans to suit others, and certainly no uninvited guests!

No objections

Anyone’s opinion can wait – whether that has to do with your wedding plans, the timing of your wedding, or the person you plan on marrying.

Budget friendly or super fancy

You decide. You can opt out of writing big checks since it’ll just be the two of you, or you can choose to splurge on the most romantic day of your life.


Elope and be on your honeymoon at the same time! This can save money on travel expenses, and also grant you more time to stay in your fabulous wedding destination. A win-win!

Planning on eloping?

Here’s some last few things to do ahead of time:

  • Gather the necessary documents, including birth certificates and other official identification to take with you on your trip.
  • Contact the local city hall in your destination of choice. Ask about all requirements and deadlines so you can better understand what is needed to get your marriage license in order. Pay the necessary fees in advance if possible.
  • Find out about wait times. In some places, you need to make a marriage license appointment at least 90 days ahead of the actual ceremony.
  • Find out whether you need an appointment at the city hall, whether you need an officiant to seal the deal, and what the witness requirements are. It is important to know who will be able to serve as your witness on the day.

Tip: Sandals resorts will provide you with a witness if necessary, to make sure your elopement wedding is legal.

Go with the flow, but plan!

As with everything else, elopement weddings require a bit of planning. As easy as it might seem to pick up, pack and go, there are some important details that require addressing before heading off. Catering to all of the things on this elopement checklist beforehand will ensure that you have the smooth and hassle-free elopement wedding you desire.

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Kylie Morrow

About Kylie Morrow

Born on the tropical island that is Saint Lucia affords a never-ending source of inspiration. In the past 13 years, Kylie loved to work with various newspapers, magazines and blogs in the Caribbean.

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