When you’re engaged to be married, but buried under catering menus, to-do lists, and secret Pinterest boards featuring enough decorative twigs to build the world’s largest bird’s nest, forgoing a huge wedding for a combination elopement/honeymoon can look rather appealing.
Picture it: spur-of-the-moment vows in an exotic locale, the only evidence of your nuptials a lone photo of your blissful faces snapped by a local. Then? Instant honeymoon.
But it’s not quite that easy. As romantic as ditching the checklists and heading for all-in-one paradise sounds, doing a little bit of planning before boarding that plane will help you avoid wedding-day disasters that can occur even when you and your true love are the only attendees. Plus, we found the latest information on six trendy budget getaways that you might want to consider for your own last-minute ceremony.
Investigate the process for a marriage license.
Before you even commit to the location for your elopement/honeymoon, talk to the convention and visitors bureau to research the hoops you have to jump through to obtain a marriage license there. Some locales, though popular, have restrictions like waiting periods or witness minimums that could hamper your ideal ceremony. For example: “In St. Lucia, they have very strict rules,” says Shawn Rabideau, founder of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design in New York City. “You’ve got to send all the paperwork in, and the resort sort of helps you with that—they bring it down to the local city office—but you really need to follow the rules. Otherwise you could find out—and this has happened—people have found out they weren’t even legally married.”
Some documents that might be required are birth certificates, passports, divorce decrees (if applicable), a certified copy of the death certificate for a widow or widower, and so on. Applications for a marriage license also might need to be filed before you get there—if only to avoid extra fees. An additional precaution to take when marrying abroad is to check travel.state.gov, which lists information such as whether same-sex marriage is illegal. Depending on the restrictions, it might make sense to do a private ceremony in the states and a symbolic one abroad, says Rabideau.
Will your elopement include just you and your partner? Or are you bringing a few friends? Posing simple questions like those can uncover potential organization problems: “How easy is the location to get to?” Rabideau says. “For example, some of the resorts or the islands in the Caribbean only have flights certain times a day and certain days of the week. Is Grandma going to be traveling for 12 hours? That might not be the best thing for Grandma. Are you going to be like, ‘Oh, we can just Skype with her, that’s great?’ Technology doesn’t always work.”
If, upon further research, your dream location might be a travel nightmare or not as quick-and-dirty as you had envisioned, stay stateside to cut down on surprises.
While you’re planning, go over the emotional fallout too: “Before you make the decision to elope, consider for just a moment and make sure that it’s not going to be something you regret,” says Jamie Chang, of Mango Muse Events in San Francisco, who specializes in destination weddings. “Not the getting-married part, but the not-having-anyone-there part. Will you be sad if your Mom isn’t there? You don’t want to look back and wish you’d done it differently.”
Lean on the hotel or resort for assistance, but ask questions.
Most hotels and resorts have experience organizing weddings for out-of-towners, so it’s smart to listen to their advice, even if you want a unique DIY wedding with hand-picked caterer, officiant, music, and décor. “They’re going to have a list of vendors that they use and rely on,” Rabideau says. “That usually is the best way to go. If they’re recommending them, they don’t want them to fail. It’s their reputation.”
That said, ensure you get the experience you want at the price you want, even when choosing a pre-existing package. “See what the resorts have to offer,” Rabideau says. “Do they have an onsite planner that can help you? Very often the onsite planners are more like assistants, so they’re juggling 10 or 20 other clients… Are there any hidden fees? Do they do more than one wedding on the day? If they do, is it next to you? Is it like a factory? If you want to feel special, it starts to take that specialness out of it.”