Elopement Ceremony Ideas | What to Do During Your Elopement Ceremony

Elopement Ceremony Ideas


Updated: 10/18/2021

You’ve found the perfect spot – maybe on top of a mountain, or in the vast desert, or amongst the Redwoods.

You’ve set a date – maybe spring so you can see the wildflowers, or winter so you can trek through shimmering snow.

But now, it’s time to plan the moment you’ve been waiting for! The ceremony – where you’ll stand facing the love of your life, read your vows, and promise to spend forever together. It’s pretty dang special, but a lot of couples wonder, what actually happens during an elopement ceremony?

This guide will give you some elopement ceremony ideas, so you can plan a unique, one-of-a-kind celebration to kick off your marriage! Here are the steps to planning your elopement ceremony, and some tips to make sure your day is free of expectations and full of love.

Here’s what you’ll find in this Elopement Ceremony Ideas guide:

  • Step 1: Decide on an Officiating Style
    • Option 1: Self Uniting Ceremony
    • Option 2: Have a Friend or Family Member Officiate
    • Option 3: Hire a Professional Elopement Officiant
  • Step 2: Design Your Ceremony
    • Elopement Ceremony Ideas  
    • Elopement Ceremony Ideas with Family 
    • Elopement Ceremony Ideas with Kids
    • Elopement Ceremony Decor Ideas
  • Step 3: Make it Legal 
    • Option 1: Do the Paperwork at Home
    • Option 2: Get Legally Married During Your Elopement
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Elopement Ceremonies

Step 1: Decide On an Officiating Style

The first step to designing your dream elopement ceremony is to decide who’s going to officiate! An officiant is a person who performs the ceremony – the one who has you repeat the “I do’s” and pronounces you married. More importantly, they sign your marriage license to make sure the knot is legally tied. But did you know that you don’t always need an officiant?

Self-uniting elopement ceremony ideas from Sunset Cliffs in California

Option One: Self Uniting Ceremony 

Option one is self-uniting! It’s sometimes called self solemnization, but self solemnizing your marriage gives you complete privacy and control over your ceremony. This is our personal favorite option on the list of elopement ceremony ideas!

What is self-uniting?

Self uniting means that you marry yourselves! Instead of having an officiant perform your ceremony, it’s just the two of you exchanging vows and rings, and having your elopement ceremony exactly how you want it.

We love it because you don’t have to worry about the logistics of hiring an elopement officiant and meeting them somewhere remote and outdoors (where you may not have service, making things tricky). You can go with the flow, exploring to find the perfect ceremony spot – one that just feels right

You can also write your vows from the heart, without worrying about who will hear them – without an audience (or with a small audience of just your favorite people), you can be emotional and vulnerable, without the stress and awkwardness of an officiant that you don’t know very well standing by. Go at your own pace, take breaks for hugging and tear wiping, and really take in the moment.

How do we self solemnize?

There are two options for self uniting or for a self uniting ceremony.

First, you can elope in a state that doesn’t legally require an officiant to sign the marriage license! Colorado is the easiest state to elope in, as no witnesses and no officiant is required – all you have to do is sign your marriage license, and you’re married! Washington D.C. makes self-uniting easy as well, but it isn’t as scenic.

In Wisconsin, you can self solemnize, but the government doesn’t guarantee that your self solemnized marriage will be acknowledged in all contexts. Pennsylvania allows you to have two witnesses in place of an officiant, while Nevada, Kansas, Maine, and Illinois allow for religious exceptions to the officiant requirement.

But, you don’t have to elope in one of those states to have a self-uniting ceremony! If you elope with Wild & Free, we can sign the papers for you. We’ve basically got the California marriage license memorized by now because so many couples love the privacy and freedom that a self-uniting ceremony offers.

You can have your personalized, custom self-uniting ceremony, and because we’re ordained to officiate, we can make it official by signing your marriage license! We got ordained through Universal Life Church, and can legally marry you so that you can have the elopement ceremony you want.

Is self-uniting right for you?

While we think a self-uniting ceremony is amazing for small ceremonies, we usually recommend having an officiant perform the ceremony if you have more than 5-10 guests. It can be a little awkward for couples (you’ve never done this before, we don’t blame you!) to guide their own ceremony for themselves and for their guests, so an officiant definitely helps the “flow” of your ceremony, which can be necessary for bigger elopements! 

What a self uniting ceremony can look like:

A lot of couples have a hard time imagining their elopement, and their elopement ceremony – so here’s what it can look like to self unite!

  • You find the perfect spot, with an amazing backdrop and gorgeous lighting (don’t worry, your photographer can help)
  • A grounding exercise led by your Wild & Free photographer, to calm the nerves and prepare you for the ceremony
  • We give you space, and you begin the ceremony when the moment’s right (we don’t perform ceremonies, we just sign the papers to make it legal! We’ll be a fly on the wall for the rest of the ceremony so that you can take in the moment with each other.)
  • Partner 1 reads their personal vows
  • Partner 2 reads their personal vows
  • Ceremony personalization – keep reading for more ideas below!
  • Ring exchange
  • First kiss
  • Celebrate!
Self-solemnizing elopement ceremony ideas from Mussel Rock Park in Bay Area
A great elopements ceremony idea is to have a friend officiate your wedding like this couple in Big Sur, CA

Option Two: Have a Friend or Family Member Officiate

You can also have a friend or family member officiate your elopement! This can be a really fun elopement ceremony idea because these are the people who know you best. They know your story and all about you as a couple (and maybe even before you were a couple) and will be able to create a funny, personalized ceremony. This option allows you to go with the flow, as they aren’t contracted for a specific time period!

Pros of Having a Loved One Officiate your Ceremony

Having a friend or family member officiate your ceremony has a lot of pros! It makes for a more personal ceremony, it can be more comfortable than hiring a stranger, it gives you freedom for hiking or going to remote places, and you can more easily pull off a surprise for your partner!

Cons of Having a Loved One Officiate Your Ceremony

But, there are also a few drawbacks to this elopement ceremony idea! This is likely their first time officiating, so you’ll definitely need to choose someone who won’t get stage fright and someone who’s okay with public speaking. There can be some little blunders, but don’t worry – the personal, unique touch is what makes this special! You can help them create an elopement ceremony script to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Creating an Elopement Ceremony Script

While it can be nice for you (the couple) to be surprised on the big day, you can still help your elopement officiant with an outline for the elopement ceremony script. Here’s a general outline of things to include!

  • Start with a message about cell phones – an unplugged ceremony is a great way to ensure that all your guests are present and in the moment. Nothing ruins a wedding ceremony photo like cell phones in front of faces!
  • Couple walks down the aisle – this one is optional, but if your elopement location allows, you can walk up to your ceremony spot!
  • Opening lines – in the beginning of the elopement ceremony script, you can have the officiant thank the guests for coming and officially begin the ceremony.
  • Personal anecdotes – this part is the most customizable! Have the officiant come up with some stories, funny memories, or the story of how the two of you got here.
  • Partner 1 reads their personal vows
  • Partner 2 reads their personal vows
  • Ceremony personalization – keep reading for more ideas below!
  • Ring exchange
  • Officiant pronounces you married
  • First kiss
  • Celebration, group hugs, party!

How to Make This Elopement Ceremony Idea Legal

To ensure that your loved one slash officiant can legally marry you, they’ll need to get ordained! Luckily, they can do this in just a few minutes on ULC.org – and it’s completely free. After they fill out a quick form, they can perform marriages and pronounce you married!

You can also have your friend or family member perform a symbolic ceremony, and have your Wild & Free photographer sign the papers! That way, they don’t have to worry about getting ordained and you don’t have to worry about legalities and logistics.

Family member officiating Mendocino Headlands elopement
Jewish elopement with Chuppah by the mountains and a peaceful lake in Montana

Option Three: Hire a Professional Elopement Officiant

The last option for the first step on these elopement ceremony ideas is to hire a professional officiant!

Pros of Hiring a Professional Elopement Officiant

A professional officiant is, of course, a professional! They’re the experts on performing ceremonies, from public speaking to creating an elopement ceremony script. They can help guide you through the process, so that you aren’t DIY-ing, and can create an experience for you and your guests!

This is a great option for ceremonies with over 10 guests, as you’ll have a well-led ceremony. You can communicate with your officiant to include any religious practices, cultural traditions, or surprises for your partner. 

Cons of Hiring a Professional Elopement Officiant

The drawback to this elopement ceremony idea is that a professional elopement officiant may be more limited in where they’re willing to go – they may not be able to join you for the adventure you have planned, and will need a specific, concrete plan for when and where to meet you.

Some couples also don’t like the idea of having a “cookie-cutter” ceremony, and feel that it isn’t personal – we totally feel you. However, you can hire an elopement officiant who specializes in unique ceremonies who can create a customized elopement ceremony script for you! Some of my favorite elopement officiants include Love Story Vows who you can consider your “cool hippie Aunt Heidi” ready to make you laugh, or Ken Robbins who can provide you with the most immersive, grounded, ceremony experience, or Officiant Jimmie who is ready to bring the fun and excitement and even share his tradition of “Seal it With a Shot!”

Spring beach wedding

Step 2: Design Your Elopement Ceremony and Make it Your Own!

After you’ve decided who’s officiating (or who isn’t), it’s time to design the ceremony! Some couples keep it simple with vows, exchanging rings, and sealing it with a kiss, but here are some elopement ceremony ideas to consider adding to make it unique!

Elopement Ceremony Ideas to Add On

Here are some elopement ceremony ideas to consider incorporating into your day!

Handfasting

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition, where your hands are tied together to symbolize the connection of two people. The couple joins hands, and ties them together with a cord!

A Walk Down Memory Lane

You can print out photos of some of your favorite memories together, or put together an album. It’s so special to flip through and look at your relationship and how far you’ve come on your elopement day!

Pop a Bottle of Bubbly

You can pop some champagne to celebrate saying “I do!” If you’re eloping outdoors, I recommend getting a glass bottle of sparkling water – some parks don’t allow alcohol, it’s cleaner (no sticky mess), it’s more environmentally friendly, and you can save the good stuff for drinking. Yum!

Anniversary Capsule

Put together a box of goodies to open on your 1, 5, or 10 year anniversary! It can be letters to each other, sentimental items from the elopement day, a wine bottle, anything that you’ll want to open when you celebrate this day.

Whiskey Blending Ceremony

A whiskey blending ceremony is a fun elopement ceremony idea that represents unity! You both choose a flavor of whiskey and blend them together. Letting them rest gives you the best effect, so save your blend for an anniversary!

Plan a Surprise

Planning a fun surprise for your partner can make the elopement ceremony even more special. You know them best, and you know what would make this day absolutely over-the-moon incredible for them, so plan something unique!

Embrace Your Talents

Embrace what you’re good at during your elopement ceremony – whether it’s writing a song or a poem, or presenting them with a painting, or anything else that you know would make them feel incredible!

Unity Ceremonies

A unity ceremony is something that symbolizes your union – these can be cultural or religious traditions, or something like handfasting, lighting a unity candle, planting a tree, or mixing sand. You can also create your own, like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Be sure to consider the feasibility of doing your ceremony outdoors, and make sure it’s something you can do at your elopement location.

Cultural Traditions

Embrace your roots, and incorporate any cultural, religious, or family traditions in your elopement ceremony. We’ll support you 100%, and encourage you to pay homage to your stories and your backgrounds.

What is an Elopement? | What it means to elope in 2020 | Modern-day elopement meaning

Elopement Ceremony Ideas that Include Your Family

Some couples want a private elopement day that’s just them, while others include a few loved ones! Here are some elopement ceremony ideas for when you’re eloping with family.

Read Letters

This one’s for couples who are eloping alone, or those who have some family members who couldn’t make it. Have your family write you letters to read on the big day – this can be so special, and bound to be a tear-jerker!

Have Someone Walk You Down the Aisle

If you have an “aisle” at your elopement location, choose a loved one to walk you down! This can be a really meaningful role and will make your loved one feel included in the elopement.

Ring Warming Ceremony

A ring warming ceremony involves passing the ring around so that everyone can put their blessing on it before you exchange rings and officially tie the knot.

Speak to Your Guests

During the ceremony, talk to your guests! You can thank them for being there – today and every other day that they’ve supported you, and share with them some stories about your relationship, what you’ve accomplished together, and everything that’s brought you here. Your guests are an important part of your day, so taking some time to include your family in your elopement ceremony is so meaningful! 

Have Family Members Take Turns Speaking

We once had all 4 parents take turns reading a section of the couple’s story and “officiating” the elopement – it was way cute and super meaningful. Having your family take turns saying a few words about the two of you is a great way to include them in your elopement ceremony – whether it’s part of the officiating, or you take a moment to have everyone share a story or memory!

Have Someone Perform

You can also have someone perform a song or reading for your elopement ceremony. It can be a meaningful passage from a favorite book, a musical performance, a poem, or a religious or cultural ceremony.

Have Your Family Pronounce You Married

As the elopement ceremony is coming to a close, you can have everyone pronounce you married, or have one person do it! 

boho elopement ideas with kids

Elopement Ceremony Ideas that Include Kids

If you have kids together, or if you’re becoming step-parents, including your kids in your elopement ceremony is so special, for you, and for the kiddos! You’re becoming a family, and these elopement ceremony ideas will let them know that they’re a big part of your life and your marriage too.

Read Vows to Children as You Become a Family

If you have children together or children to who you’re becoming a stepparent, it can be so amazing to read vows to them. As you become a family, let them know that this is their story too!

Add Gifts to Your Ceremony

A gift can be a physical symbol of love, and surprising the kids with a gift during the ceremony can be a great way to make them feel included! This can be a necklace to a new stepdaughter, a trip to Disneyland for the family, or anything meaningful or special.

Give them a Chance to Speak

If your kids want to say something during the ceremony, give them a chance to speak, read a letter, read their own vows, or perform something for you! This is a great way to include them in the ceremony and let them express their feelings during the elopement day.

Have Them Pronounce You Married

You can have your kids “officiate” – older kids could perform the ceremony (if they’re under 18, they can do this symbolically and your Wild & Free photographer can sign the marriage license to make it legal), and younger kids can just pronounce you married at the end. We once had a kiddo say “Alex, you may now kiss my mom.” How cute is that?!

Include Them in the Unity Ceremony

If you do a unity ceremony or include a religious or cultural tradition in your elopement, your kids can be a part of that! For example, you can include their hands in the knot tying (or have them tie the knot), or you can all make that peanut butter and jelly sandwich together.

Give Them a Role

Just because a lot of traditions get tossed away when you elope, doesn’t mean you can’t keep a few! Having ring bearers or flower children can give the kids a fun job to do during the ceremony, or you can have them walk you down the aisle.

As a side note, keep in mind that throwing flower petals may not always be allowed, and might not be Leave No Trace friendly at some locations. Some alternatives can be filling a basket with leaves that you found there (works for fall elopements, when there are already leaves on the ground), waving ribbons, and carrying a sign or a photo.

Boho Elopement Ceremony Ideas

Elopement Ceremony Decor Ideas 

When it comes to designing your elopement ceremony, there’s also the visual aspect! You can add some decor – but make sure to check the rules for your elopement location, as some places don’t allow certain decorations or add ons.

Here are some ideas for your elopement ceremony decor!

Rugs to Stand On

Adding a rug is one of the simplest ways to make your photos pop! We have a few rugs to lend to eloping couples, and you can get your own and keep it in your house as a stylish reminder of the day.

Picnic Blankets

Because a lot of places don’t allow chairs to be set up for the ceremony, you can bring a picnic blanket for your guests to sit on! Otherwise, they can stand or sit on rocks amongst the scenery, but for longer ceremonies or elderly guests, providing a blanket to sit on can be more ideal. You can also bring a few camping chairs.

Arches

Arches and arbors replace the traditional “altar” and give your ceremony a nice backdrop! You can make your own with some wood, rent one, or ask your florist about adding one to your elopement.

Florals

Instead of an arch, you can also have some floral pieces on either side – these do a great job framing the couple!

Macrame

You can add some macrame to an arch, hang it on some trees, or create some cute decorations for your ceremony! Afterward, you can use this to decorate your home.

Keep it Simple

You don’t need decorations for an incredible elopement ceremony – you can also let nature work its magic! This is easier to plan, easier if you’re hiking, and allows you to get to more remote places. If you feel like you’ll miss the decor and design, keep in mind that you can also use some of these elements for your getting-ready space or a stylized picnic.

A fun elopement ceremony idea is to include playing a song for your partner like this couple in Lake Tahoe

Step 3: Make it Legal

The last thing you’ll need to design your elopement ceremony is to make things official! You’ll need a marriage license, but you have a few options for when you sign the paperwork.

Option One: Do the Paperwork at Home

This option is popular for couples who are eloping out of state or having a destination elopement. You can do the paperwork at home – get a marriage license in your home state, and either sign it at the courthouse or in front of a notary public (or have a friend or family member get ordained).

Don’t worry, your marriage doesn’t begin when the paperwork is signed! Saying your vows makes your marriage real – not a piece of paper. Almost all destination wedding couples do this, as other countries can have confusing waiting periods, blood test requirements, and all kinds of hoops to jump through. Getting the paperwork out of the way ensures that on your actual elopement day, you can have a blast without worrying about logistics and stressing about formalities! Even in the US, different states have different marriage laws and requirements, and getting the legal stuff done at home is so much easier than working a trip to the county clerk into your travel plans.

Option Two: Get Legally Married During Your Elopement

If you want to get legally married during your elopement, you’ll need to get a marriage license in the state where your ceremony takes place! Every state has different laws and requirements, so be sure to find out what they are.

Some things to look out for include

  • Do you need to come in person? Some states require this, while others let you apply online or by mail. Make sure to work this into your travel plans if needed!
  • Marriage license expiration – you’ll want to get your paperwork done early, but different states have different expiration dates (ranging from 60 days to a year), so check to make sure you aren’t applying too early.
  • Waiting period – some states require you to wait a few days (usually 3) before you can have your ceremony after getting the marriage license
  • Officiant and witness requirements – most states require an officiant and two witnesses, but some require one witness or none at all. No matter what, we have a plan for you if you elope Wild & Free!

If you’re tying the knot in California, check out this California elopement guide for a breakdown of the state’s marriage laws!

Couple doing a self-solemnizing elopement ceremony at Yosemite

Frequently Asked Questions About Elopement Ceremonies

Here are a few frequently asked questions that we get about elopement ceremonies!

How long is an elopement ceremony?

An elopement ceremony is usually 10 – 30 minutes long. A self-uniting ceremony with no guests present is usually pretty short if you’re just exchanging vows, but ceremonies that incorporate cultural or religious traditions, unity ceremonies, unique and personalized touches, or include family or friends are longer!

What should be included in an elopement ceremony?

There are no rules when it comes to what should be included in an elopement ceremony! If jewelry isn’t your thing you don’t have to exchange rings. The only thing you have to do is get married! Most couples include vows, rings, and a first kiss.

What do we do after the elopement ceremony?

Every elopement is different, and we’ll help you figure out what to do after the elopement ceremony! Your day should be an adventure, from beginning to end – so whatever would make this the best day ever, do that! It can be a picnic on the beach or a helicopter tour, and anything in between.

Wild & Free Tip!

Ready for some awesome elopement ideas to make your day unforgettable? Wild & Free coupes get access to all the planning resources, and personalized tips and ideas for making your elopement day fun and special!

Ready to elope Wild & Free? Get in touch, and let’s start planning!

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Wild & Free Elopements is based in Southern California and photographs elopements all over the world.


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