Planning an elopement is so much easier than planning a big wedding that many couples are lost on where to start, or how to make their day feel special. Now I’ll never say that the answer is to just buy stuff, because anti-capitalism is a huge part of why I love photographing elopements so much more than traditional weddings. You don’t need anything in this guide. But if you are wondering what details are worth spending money on, and which ones you can DIY, get a deal on, or skip completely, I hope this post will help you.
While you don’t need special vow books, I think they add a special touch to your ceremony. They’re small and easy to hold with one hand, won’t blow around in the wind like a single sheet of paper, and look way better than reading vows off your phones. (Vows on phones is my number one elopement pet peeve, because it looks like you’re browsing social media instead of exchanging vows.)
You can have vow books personalized with your names, wedding date, or anything else that feels special to you. You can have one book each, or share one book. Etsy is a great place to find vow books. I’ve put together a list of my favorites here, but there are hundreds of options out there: https://www.etsy.com/people/ninareed/favorites/vow-books?ref=profile
(One note on buying vow books: while they often show a photo of “his vows” and “her vows,” most listings let you buy any combination of pronouns: his and his, his and her, her and her, or even non-binary pronouns.)
Ring boxes are very much in the “nice to have if you care a lot about details” category. They can add a fun pop of color into your detail photos, and they do make it very easy to photograph your rings. If you’re having a ceremony with guests, and it’s someone else’s job to hand you the rings when it’s time to exchange them, a ring box is also a great way to make sure the rings don’t get lost in a pocket. On the flip side of that, if you’re eloping without any guests, don’t leave a big ring box in your pocket for the ceremony—the pocket bulge doesn’t look good in photos. You can see some of my favorite ring boxes on Etsy here.
Cake or Sweets
Most of my couples include a cake or sweets into their elopement, because who doesn’t love sweets for a celebration? But there’s nothing saying you need to get a traditional cake if cookies, macarons, artisan chocolate, or breakfast pastries sound better to you.
If you’re eloping without guests, a 6-inch cake is plenty big enough for two people with lots of leftovers. Don’t let the bakery talk you into a bigger cake unless you want to be eating cake for weeks afterwards.
Usually we’ll plan a cake cutting in a location that’s easily accessible, whether it’s at your lodging at the end of the day, at picnic tables near your ceremony, or someplace else that’s not a long hike. It’s pretty hard to carry a cake for long without jostling it around!
If you’re planning on a cake cutting (and you’re doing it somewhere that doesn’t require a long hike), bring a cake stand or nice plate for it! It’s such a nice touch compared to leaving the cake on the cardboard topper it comes on from the bakery, and really elevates the whole look. You want the stand to be sturdy enough to hold the cake and not wiggle around as you cut it, and ideally choose a material that’s unlikely to break. (Avoid delicate glass stands, unless you’ll be cutting the cake indoors.)
Customized cake toppers are a great way to add personality to your wedding cake. Just remember that most toppers are made for big, multi-tier wedding cakes, and can look huge on top of a small elopement cake. I have a few favorite cake stands and toppers saved on Etsy here!
If you’re going to buy something new for your elopement, it feels extra special to make it something you’ll keep using for years to come. Mugs are a great example of this! Get mugs that you’ll want to bring on camping trips or drink your morning coffee, and you have a great reminder of your elopement. And you guessed it—I’ve gathered some favorites on Etsy.
Many couples choose to decorate their backpacks for the “just married” hike back after their elopement. These can be really cute, and will definitely get you a lot of extra congratulations from other hikers! Just make sure that you have some way to attach the signs to your backpacks, and practice putting them on before your actual wedding day. The best signs won’t swing around much—if they do, you’ll get annoyed with them pretty quickly when hiking. You’ll notice quickly when browsing for signs that they’re almost all made with the same font that’s starting to look a bit “live, love, laugh” dated. Either find signs you love, that fits your attire/backpacks/vibes, or skip them!
About Nina Larsen Reed
Nina Larsen Reed is an elopement photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. She plans and captures adventure elopements and intimate weddings, and has photographed over 200 elopements across the Rocky Mountains since 2017.