Elopement Tips from Wed and Willow Wedding Planning

Sometimes, life brings someone your way and you think, “Ah, yes, this is one of my people.” Heather Vale of Wed and Willow Planning is one of my people. This girl loves weddings, travel, and her adorable husband. We’re both of the same mindset that there’s just something extra beautiful about destination elopements. Heather and her husband eloped in the stunning Olympic National Park in Washington state, so I knew she would be a seasoned pro to ask advice to share with brides interested in eloping. Take a look at all the knowledge she shared:

What inspired you to elope?

Neither of us wanted a large wedding, and we were both attracted to the idea of a destination ceremony. We wanted something more private. We didn’t want to be drained and overwhelmed, and I knew I wanted to share my vows with just Max.

I think a common hesitation couples have to eloping is the feeling of guilt around not inviting a ton of people to their elopement–or not inviting anyone at all! Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

You have to strip away all the opinions and focus on the two of you. Your wedding is your time to be selfish. Your family may get involved and emotional about the idea, and it takes courage. It’s still a wedding and a beautiful experience, it’s just not as traditional. People’s feelings may be hurt, but I also think that people sometimes create their own guilt. It’s too much for one person to feel guilty about what everyone else thinks. Your wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, and you deserve to celebrate that however you want to.


Do you have any tips for planning an elopement?

The word “elope” has connotations of quick and spontaneous, but I would suggest planning farther ahead than you may think you need to. Really do your research, and get a wedding planner if you’re able to–either one local to you or local to the place you’re eloping in. A wedding planner is great for finding vendors in little-known or low-population areas. Search blog posts, too; vendors are often super adventurous and willing to work with you. We flew a local-to-us photographer out because we loved being able to have a connection with her before our wedding day. It can be more expensive that way, but you definitely get what you pay for. Also search hashtags of the area you’re going. For example, we got married in Olympic National Park so I searched things like #olympicwedding and #olympicpeninsula.

Is it cheaper to elope and have a reception later?

You can make it as affordable or extravagant as you want. When you’re planning, be sure to include your travel expenses in your budget. You get to pick and choose your experience after that. For lodging, you could rent an Airbnb or VRBO and split the cost with your guests, or you could host your guests, or you could have them get their own lodging. With an elopement, you could also have your honeymoon immediately after in the area you’re in without having to pay much extra in travel fees. It’s really however you choose to build it.

How did you find reputable vendors while planning states away?

We found our officiant on Thumbtack, but the great thing about technology these days is you’re able to Skype or Facetime vendors before you get there. You can read reviews and look at photos of their recent work. It doesn’t have to be super complicated.

Do you think an elopement equals less stress or more stress?

It all depends on the scale of the event. The fewer people and vendors involved, the less stressed you'll be. Be organized and invest in and trust your vendors. If it's a very intimate elopement, you can create your own timeline. Look at the sunset time and think about where the sun will be falling. Sunrise elopements are beautiful, but consider the prep time that you'll be putting in that morning. If you're having your hair done, you could potentially be getting ready at 3 a.m.! If you're able to, travel to your elopement location ahead of time. Plan out your day-of appointment schedule carefully, and make sure to eat on your wedding day!

How did you pick your elopement location?

Olympic National Park resonated with us. I think it's very important to think about what experiences are in the area that will add to your wedding day. What's important to you– food, drink, being outdoors, the beach, luxury? If you can scope it out ahead of time, see if it feels like “ the right place”.  It has to feel good, not just look good. Know the backdrop that you want and make sure it's authentic to the two of you. Is something calling to you? Make a list of things and places that you like and are interested in. The place that you elope in will become a place you return to or share with others for the rest of your life.

How can a couple know if eloping is right for them?

Eloping is right for them if they're looking for more of an experience and less of an extravaganza often times it's for travelers and people who want a non-traditional wedding. You don't have to travel to elope, but it's often one of the elements people think about. if the “traditional” wedding idea doesn't feel authentic to you, and if intimacy and having a private space are important to you, it's definitely something to consider. You can bleed your heart out without judgment and you can make it whatever you want. You could elope up north, where you two first met, a destination you've both been dying to travel to, the possibilities are endless.

What is the hardest part of eloping?

I think first it's making the decision to elope and then choosing your elopement style (just the two of you, immediate family and friends, the whole gang, etc). Picking a location and deciding how far you'll go, and then finding a place you both respond to can be hard. It can also be difficult finding vendors and picking the vendors you need, which is why I would recommend visualizing your elopement first.

Do you have tips for flying to your elopement destination and traveling with your wedding “stuff”?

Many flight attendants are happy to hang up your dress and suit for you. Keep the essentials on you or in your carry-ons. You could always ship some items out ahead of time and have vendors hold them for you. Some things you don't need to bring back that you originally bring out with you, like florals, welcome bags for guests, etc.

What was the process for scheduling your elopement in Olympic National Park?

We emailed the park to see if we needed a permit because many of the national parks have location limitations and require a permit. Olympic, however, did not have limitations. We got our marriage license from the county we were getting married in and then the license got sent to us, and we had to bring it with us.  You have to get your marriage license from the county you're getting married in only if you're not getting married in the state you live in.

How did you prepare for the weather?
I would suggest looking up the predicted weather and arriving ahead of time and having a back-up plan. For a place like Olympic National Park, you’ll want to bring hiking boots, blankets, jackets or sunscreen, umbrellas, and aloe vera in case you get sunburned. Make sure that you're well hydrated and well-rested. Then you can take on pretty much anything!

We talked about flying with your wedding items, but what are some general travel tips you have for eloping couples?

Plan to arrive a few days ahead of time in case there are any delays in your travels. Your luggage could get delayed, which is why it's important to have your essentials in your carry-on bag. You want to be relaxed, so arriving early and having a buffer will help keep you calm and happy.  It's also nice to arrive early to chat with vendors if possible or if it's needed. Also know the risks that are involved. Look at a locations regulations, like limits on wedding locations, if pets are allowed, if there's a required group hiking size because of bear activity, Etc. If you're inviting friends and family, give them lots of notice so that they can plan their travel accordingly. Buy your dress with plenty of time so I can be sized and ordered and back in your hands before you leave..

What are some of your favorite WI elopement spots?

Cave Point and Door County in general, Up North in the woods, Devils Lake, the La Crosse bluffs, any of the cute Bed and Breakfasts around the state… We’re really lucky to have four distinct seasons here in WI, there’s something for every couple.

What are five of your favorite elopement locations outside of WI?

  1. All the National Parks!

  2. Anything with mountains

  3. Waterfalls make for stunning backdrops, too

  4. Backyards and family land are really special because it’s a significant place that’s usually easily accessible to the two of you

  5. Of course Olympic National Park!

As a wedding planner, what are your top three dream elopement planning locations you’d love to collaborate on?

  1. Italy

  2. England

  3. Any of the National Parks!

Heather was kind enough to share some photos from her STUNNING Olympic National Park mountain top elopement, captured by the wonderful Alyssa Lentz Photography. More of her work can be seen at alentzphotography.com.  I’m going to go try and cure my severe case of wanderlust now ;)

Adventurously yours,