Eloping in 2021: When, Why & How
By Raashka Mannie

26 August 2021

As Carly Rae Jepsen once said: run away with me. She was totally talking about elopements, right?

Wedding planning comes with ups, downs and all arounds. You go through a whole slew of emotions because it’s one of the best days of your life, and that title can come with a lot of pressure. For many, getting through it and finding the light on the other side as they celebrate with their loved ones makes it all worth the effort. For others, choosing to elope instead is the answer.

Eloping has been around since the seventeenth century. So a long time. It’s not the newest concept, but the reason for eloping has evolved as the years have gone on. It has shed its layered history and emerged as a safe, stylish solution for the modern couple looking to celebrate their wedding in total privacy. Nowadays, eloping also has the added benefit of being bubble-friendly, allowing couples to tie the knot while keeping recent times (i.e. the ongoing pandemic) in mind.

In this blog, we explore the details of eloping in recent years, from its pros and cons to a checklist of what you can’t do without. If you’re thinking of trading in your traditional wedding for an elopement, then you’ve come to the right place.


Image by Diana V Photography & Film

 

“What does it mean to elope?”

In an old school, dated movie kind of way, many people imagine that eloping is taking off to a city filled with neon lights and music (à la Las Vegas), getting married in a dimly-lit church and driving off into the sunset. Once upon a time, this image might’ve been on the nose - but no longer.

Elopements today don’t necessarily mean quick, easy and done for a dollar. You definitely do not have to set a budget of $50 and wear a pair of oil-stained jeans to elope. If that’s your wish, then go for it and let everyone else be damned - but all the to-be-wed couples should know that there are plenty more options when it comes to eloping.

Many modern couples choose elopements for the sense of adventure, privacy and cost-efficiency. They immaculately plan the location, outfits, wedding photography, videography and more when putting together their elopement. Elopements allow you to pick places that otherwise aren’t necessarily wedding-friendly, such as snowy mountaintops or secluded islands - or even your own backyard, as quaint as it may be. They eliminate things like full-on catering and other traditional parts of a wedding related to having guests. All you have to think about is you. It’s no wonder this appeals to many couples today.


Image by Bayly and Moore

 

“How do I decide if I want to elope?”

Choosing whether to elope can be a very personal thing. We’re sure you don’t need us to tell you about how family and loved ones can be quite insistent when it comes to your big day, wanting this, that and more from you. Before you let them needle you an entire wedding gown and set you up at the altar, before you can think twice, consider your own emotions on the topic. If you’re not entirely happy to have a traditional wedding, eloping could be the answer.

You should also look at it logically. Ask yourself about:

  • Your budget. How much are you willing to spend? Are you financially secure? What would you sacrifice in a traditional wedding if you cut corners, and would it be worth it?
  • Your timeframe. What date do you want to be married? Is it feasible in the current climate? Can everyone make it? What are the schedule conflicts? What date works for you versus what works for your potential guests?
  • Your venue. Is it available during this tumultuous time? Does it accommodate everyone you want to invite? If so, is it accessible?
  • Your wedding vendors. Who are the must-haves for your elopement? What kind of wedding vendors do you personally feel you need and don’t need? How do you pick wedding vendors suited to an elopement rather than a traditional wedding?
  • Your guests. Do you want to invite a sparse handful of loved ones? Is it reasonable to expect them to come with you? 
  • The legality. Who is going to be the witness to your marriage? Have you thought about an officiant? Do you need an appointment in order to pick up your marriage license?

 

These are not just things to consider as you look into eloping. They’re factors you consider when looking at marriage in general. Budgets, timeframes, venues, wedding vendors and the legal details all matter with or without a traditional wedding. Discuss it at length with your partner to figure out if eloping fits the bill. Remember to ask the tough and complicated questions because they all matter.


Image by Grey Area Productions Photo & Video

 

“What are the pros and cons to eloping?”

 

Mixed: reactions from loved ones

It’s tough, but the reactions you get from your loved ones can vary. Some may be upset; some may be thrilled; others may have a jumble that encapsulates the whole shindig. If you choose not to share your elopement before doing so, your potential guests may feel surprised and even hurt. If you choose to share your elopement before doing so, your potential guests could be all of these things, in addition to a little indignant at not being invited. People can inevitably take elopements more personally than they should, which leads to a lot of emotions that you may not want to deal with. You might have to prepare for the whole kitchen sink from them when you decide to elope.

Pro: don’t break the bank

One of the main reasons couples look at eloping is because of how cost-efficient it can be. Notice how we say can. How your wedding budget works and why is still entirely in your hands. While you may not have to fork out extra money to cater to guests, set up a dance floor, hire furniture and so on, how much you save all depends on the type of elopement you have. Luxurious getaway elopements can end up costing the same as a traditional wedding, especially if you get really ritzy. That said, elopements generally do tend to fly under the standard pricing of a traditional wedding because many couples are looking to do just that.

Pro: security comes first

More relevant now than ever is the safety behind an elopement. There aren’t hundreds of guests or your beloved, frail grandmother to worry about. You’re keeping them safe and sound by choosing to elope. With COVID-19 still very prevalent around the globe, elopements are a fresh solution to having a love-filled wedding in privacy. It runs no risk to you or your guests while still allowing you to celebrate in a fun way. In addition to that, some couples just enjoy the added layer of privacy. If being in front of a crowd or having to talk to tons of guests makes them anxious, then eloping is a beacon of light they are all too happy to embrace.

Con: the legal details

It’s something you have to think about regardless of the type of wedding you have, but it’s something that eloping makes you think about a little harder. If you’re going to elope somewhere overseas, you have to consider their laws. If you’re keeping it local, remember to consider your own laws. In the majority of places, you still need an officiant and a witness to be legally married. You still have to stop by your local city hall to get your marriage license and iron out other details. With international elopements, places have different residency requirements to be officially married there.

Pro: you can still have guests!

Who said an elopement means no guests at all? You can still invite a lucky few - but we mean a few. We don’t want to venture into micro wedding territory, after all. Some couples choose to have a friend be their officiant; others invite along a loved one or two to be the witness. Elopements used to mean stealing into the night without a clue, but not anymore. You can make this celebration super intimate. The select people you invite will be over the moon, too - what a way to make them feel special.

Con: no after-wedding gift pile

Probably the biggest drawback of an elopement is not being able to sit in a pile of wedding gifts after tying the knot. Unless you do end up telling people about your elopement in advance and setting up a no-strings wedding registry for them to contribute to, people won’t know to get you anything because they don’t know you’re getting married. Can’t really blame them, can you? This is why we recommend holding a post-elopement party, so you can still have a fun party and share your wedding registry with all your loved ones, so they have a chance to contribute.


Image by Ralph Bella Photography

 

“I want to elope. How do I do it?”

 

Legal requirements

When deciding to elope abroad, you’ve got to check, double-check and triple-check their laws. Research their stipulations, reach out to an informed vendor or wedding expert from the country and do the paperwork ahead of time. Some places require you to wait a set period of time before you get your marriage license; some require you to have multiple witnesses, while others let you self-solemnise. It’s your duty to do your research with care when considering where to elope and why.

In New Zealand, you’re allowed to get married with either a personal ceremony or registry ceremony. Personalised ceremonies mean you must have a venue, celebrant, marriage license and witness. Registry ceremonies mean you must have a venue, marriage license and witness with a limit of 20 guests. When it comes to the overlapping factor of a marriage license, you must make it clear where you’re to be wed, have a backup location, marry within three months of receiving the license and have these things sorted three days before your marriage. While a marriage license for a personalised ceremony costs $150, it is $240 for a registry ceremony. All of the legal requirements concerning marriage licenses can be found here.

Timeframe

Have you picked your date? As much as you might just want to take off in a flurry of romance now that you’ve got your marriage license, you have to make sure of things like the weather, temperature, season and so on. In New Zealand, the North and South Island are vastly different. You’re dealing with different terrains, hours of light and more. All of these things factor in when choosing your wedding outfit, your venue, where to have your wedding shoot and more. No one wants to get soaked to the bone in chilly rain while posing on a cliffside, do they? It’s a good rule of thumb to do thorough research on the weather and climate of your chosen location. There is no “perfect” time to elope because your elopement depends on you. All we have to add is, please make sure your wedding photographer and videographer have enough natural light to work with.

Average cost

When you crunch the numbers, the average cost of a traditional wedding in New Zealand is around $35,000. Elopements come in all shapes and sizes. Some couples want to go as tight with their budget as possible, sticking to a backyard ceremony that includes their marriage license, celebrant, some cute outfits, a wedding photographer and a sprinkling of fairy lights. Given the average cost of these things, that could end up being no more than $3,000 - and that’s us springing for the slightly nicer $50 fairy lights. Of course, not all couples want to go this route, which is valid. They might want to spend more on a wedding gown, a snazzy suit, a cute cake for the both of them, a wedding videographer or whatever else makes them happy. There are quite a few couples who enjoy mountain top elopements, accessed only by a helicopter. Keeping all that in mind, the overall average cost of an elopement is still markedly less than a traditional wedding. Unless your tiny wedding cake is encrusted with rubies, you should be saving a pretty penny.

Wedding vendors

There are some wedding vendors you simply can’t leave behind when having an elopement. Celebrants and wedding photographers are two of the most essential wedding vendors to exist when it comes to an elopement. That said, other wedding vendors are pretty important for certain couples. Wedding videographers, sewists, bakers, caterers, transport, venues, stylists, florists and coordinators all might have a part to play in your elopement, depending on how you choose to stage it. Don’t hesitate to ask wedding experts for advice and tips as you plan your elopement. Inquire about elopement packages, find wedding vendors with a background in elopements, and be sure to plan the kind of elopement you want with all your heart.

Post-elopement celebrations

You might want to ask us, “Hello, why would I throw a party if that’s what I was trying to avoid by eloping?” But we’ve got news for you: a post-elopement party is nothing like a wedding. There’s no ceremony, no walking down the aisle and no stress. It is exactly what it sounds like: a party. You’re giving your loved ones a chance to munch down on some excellent eats and treats, as well as giving them a sense of being part of your day in some form. If you’re really not keen on something like this, whether it’s for personal reasons or safety ones, then have a post-elopement party that’s just you and your partner. Indulge in good food, sip on champagne and revel in being married.


Image by Valo Photo & Cinema

 

“What are the dos and don’ts of eloping?”

 

Do decide the details of sharing your elopement

Eloping means you have to make this decision. Be extra clear with your partner about who you’re telling, when and why. If no definite rules are laid down, things could get messy, so be firm about this and stick to it. If you’re not telling anyone that you’re eloping before you do it, don’t tell a soul. If you’re telling a couple of trusted folks, do so and remind them to keep it under their hats. Everyone has different circumstances regarding family, friends and more, so it’s up to you how you handle sharing your elopement. The bottom line is that it must be done.

Don’t ignore your budget

Now, we know we said you’d be saving a packet when you choose to elope, but let’s not get sloppy. Your wedding budget is still very much a real thing even when you’re eloping. Just because you no longer have to worry about your bridesmaids’ dresses or what the kids at your wedding will eat doesn’t mean you throw out your entire budgeting plan. Couples may get too relaxed when they decide on eloping, leading them to make uninformed financial decisions. You must keep track of how much you’re spending and where because your future matters as much as your elopement. The responsibility of budgeting is simply a party of adulthood; don’t ignore it.

Do plan in advance

While the idea of eloping does inspire a particular carefree attitude, there is still planning involved. As mentioned above, you have to think about the timeframe of your elopement and get your marriage license sorted out with time to spare. You also have to book your wedding photographer and videographer in advance because those are busy people, and busy people can’t follow you to a snowy peak for an elopement at the drop of a hat. Experts also advise checking in with a local wedding planner so you can sort out the flow of your elopement, possible venues and other recommended wedding vendors.

Don’t expect it to cost nothing

This is one of the pitfalls that couples can fall into. People often think that elopements and micro weddings are as cheap as chips. The truth is all weddings, when done right, are never as cheap as chips. Yes, both elopements and micro weddings have cost-effective factors built into them. No, that does not mean you’re going to get away with a fantastic venue, shimmering wedding outfits and the world’s best wedding photography for next to nothing. Elopements are here to lessen the financial strain of weddings, but no celebration erases them altogether. As you plan your elopement, be rational and keep that in mind.


Image by Kate Little Photography

 

“Are there any must-haves for an elopement?”

 

Wedding photography and videography

We cannot emphasise this enough. Wedding photography and videography are the most essential aspects of eloping. With most (if not all) of your loved ones having to miss out on your special day, wedding photography and videography is the only real way to share the magic of your elopement with them. Sure, you can describe the way the sunlight looked glinting off the water as you tearfully said your vows, but let’s not pretend that’s the same. Wedding photography and videography will forever be the cornerstone of every wedding celebration. Aside from the sharing reasons, it also keeps your elopement fresh in your own memory. You need this sentimental keepsake of your special day, both for yourself and for the loved ones who want nothing but the best for you.

Styling, personal and otherwise

Styling an elopement can mean multiple things. Personal styling can mean an outfit you look good in and makes you feel your best. It can mean getting your hair blown out or some soft, natural makeup. Other styling can mean those small additions that you didn’t know you wanted, like a bouquet of roses or a floral archway you found. It can mean putting down a half-circle of fairy lights as you have your tiny ceremony near the sea. Your elopement deserves those personal touches. If you want to, reach out to a wedding stylist and ask for some pointers when it comes to making those moments more personal and pretty at the same time. You definitely won’t regret it.

A great celebrant

As a necessary factor, you want a celebrant that suits you. We advise reading reviews and meeting with multiple celebrants before making a decision. Different celebrants will cost different amounts. You’ll also want to find a celebrant with some experience with elopements. Everyone has different preferences for what they want their celebrant to do and say, so make sure you’re on the same page with yours. Only registered celebrants can perform any wedding in New Zealand. The official and complete list of registered celebrants can be found here.

A dreamy location

When you close your eyes and imagine paradise, what do you see? With elopements, chances are you can have your wedding there. Elopements give you the freedom to have your wedding at places you would never have dreamed of. Some famous spots in New Zealand include Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Roys Peak, Whanganui National Park, Piha Beach and Whangarei Falls. From glittering waterfalls to snow-capped peaks, these wedding venues are magical through and through, seemingly made to celebrate love. If you choose to have your elopement in New Zealand, there is no shortage of picture-perfect spots. If you’re venturing overseas for your elopement, well, then the world is your oyster, isn’t it?

An announcement

When all is said and done, certain things must literally be said and done - one of those being your announcement. Your announcement is a formal (or not so much, depending on your vibe) message to your loved ones that you’ve officially gotten married. This may be the time you tell everyone you’ve eloped, or it may be the time the world at large finds out. Either way, this announcement clarifies your engagement and lets you show off your stunning wedding photography and videography. An announcement also allows your guests to share the love by potentially sending wedding gifts. It also gives you the chance to possibly schedule the post-elopement party we’ve all been waiting for. It’s a win-win!


Image Lionel Tan Photography