Elopement Timeline Advice

Want to know how to build out the perfect elopement timeline? Read on for all our top tips and tricks!

By Vanessa and Chad, ‘The Outlovers’, your elopement experts.

8th May 2024

So, you decided to elope and you’re LOVING the idea: it feels so right and so like ‘you’.

But now you’re getting into the planning stages and it’s starting to get a little confusing. Am I right?! 

You’re trying to figure out how long your elopement day should be and what your elopement timeline might look like… But how on earth could you possibly know?! You’ve never done this before.

Don’t worry! We have. More than a hundred times, in fact! 

So, let us help you figure out your elopement timeline. We’re going to share all our tips ‘n’ tricks for creating an elopement day timeline that is realistic and enjoyable, and we’ll even share multiple elopement timeline examples so you can see how your day might flow.

Why we suggest more than a quick hour or two for your elopement timeline

Personally, our elopement packages begin at a minimum of 4 hrs of coverage, and there’s good reason for that…

Your elopement day is no ‘lesser’ than a big traditional wedding

We HATE the expression ‘I’m just going to elope’. There’s no ‘just’ about it! Your wedding day is a big deal and deserves to be fully celebrated, whether you choose to do that in front of a hundred other people or privately just you and your spouse. So, if other couples get to celebrate all day long, why shouldn’t you?! 

Your day has the potential to be so much more

An elopement is so much more than just a 5 minute ceremony and a few quick photos, and your elopement day timeline should reflect that. This is a whole day dedicated to you and your love. A day where you can do whatever the heck you want, so make the most of it. Explore a new place, go hiking or off-roading, splash out on a private plane ride or a private chef, enjoy a picnic…. Whatever feels like fun for YOU! 

The longer your elopement timeline, the less your experience will feel like a photoshoot

We know, this one sounds counter-intuitive, but we promise it’s true! If you only plan a super quick elopement timeline and maybe have your photographer for an hour or two, you’re going to feel pressured to blast out as many photos as quickly as possible. That means all your strongest memories of your elopement day are going to be of posing, posing, posing…. And who wants that?! 

When you plan a full day elopement timeline, packed with all your favorite activities and moments you’re legit excited about, then you get to truly LIVE out your day, not just go through the motions, and your photographer is going to be hanging out capturing all the magic that is happening before them.

That sounds way more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

The slower the pace of your elopement timeline, the stronger your memories will be

The memories you make on your elopement day need to last a lifetime. By going slowly, and being present in the moment, you can forge the strongest of memories deep in your soul. The kind of memories that will transport you back in time even when you’re gray and old! Opting for a longer elopement timeline will mean it doesn’t all go by in the blink of an eye.

Considerations for constructing your elopement timeline

Brainstorm how you want to spend your elopement day

Obviously, before you can figure out how long your day is going to be and how the various pieces are going to fit together, you first need to decide HOW you want to spend your day.

Your elopement day is essentially a blank slate: a whole day where you get to do whatever the heck you want.

Don’t be afraid to dream big!

Maybe there’s some aspects of a traditional wedding you’d like to include? Even though you’re eloping, you can still have a first look, cut a cake, enjoy a first dance etc. 

But you can also add in as many non-traditional elements as you’d like, too! Wanna go hiking? Off-roading? Tuck into a mountain-top picnic? Hop on a private plane ride? The sky really is the limit.

If you’d like more ideas on how to spend your day, you might enjoy this: 100 Epic Ideas To Make Your Elopement Day Special.

Decide what time of day is best for your elopement timeline

There’s a few things to consider here:

  • How busy a particular spot is! Depending where you’re eloping there may be a time of day that works best to avoid crowds. Being open to a sunrise elopement is usually a great way to minimize the number of other people around.

You can read more about planning a sunrise wedding here.

  • Photography! If photos are important to you, you’re going to get the best light around sunrise or sunset. So, we would recommend planning your elopement timeline around one of those. Better yet, both! The vast majority of our couples opt for our 8hr package, which allows them to catch both sunrise and sunset, AND have a break in the middle. 
  • What do you most enjoy as a couple? Do you enjoy early starts, does the potential of sunrise excite you? Or does that sound MISERABLE on your wedding day?! Plan a day you’re looking forward to, not something you’re going to dread.

Want to know more about our packages? Take a look here.

All the little activities add up: add EVERYTHING into your elopement timeline

When you’re mapping out your elopement day timeline, don’t forget that alllllll the little activities add up: make sure you’re planning for everything, not just the big stuff. And don’t forget to factor in some time to just ‘be’. Don’t have everything so tightly packed together that it’s go, go, go. Give it all a little breathing room.

Once you have an idea of how you’d like to spend your day, a really helpful first step is to list everything out in chronological order.

For example: get up and enjoy breakfast together, get ready, pack up the car and head to first location, first look, explore the area, ceremony, pop some bubbles and eat cake, first dance, head to second location, soak in the sunset, read letters from family, stay out and watch the stars. 

Having this general order will help you when it comes to pinpointing your actual elopement timeline.

Don’t forget to factor in travel time

This is a little detail that people often forget when they’re figuring out their elopement timeline. You need to get a realistic handle on how long it’s going to take to get from A to B (and potentially B to C and C to D if you’re exploring multiple locations). Does travel time vary with different times of day eg. Is there a rush hour? Is driving going to be slower if you’re setting off in the dark? 

Oh, and don’t forget to fill up with gas the night before!

Add extra time into your elopement timeline if you’re bringing guests

If you’re bringing your nearest and dearest along to your elopement day, you’ll want to factor in a bit of extra time for everything. It always takes longer to coordinate 10 or 15 people than it does just the 2 of you. 

Simple things like toilet breaks or loading up vehicles need a bit of extra time. If you’re walking out to your ceremony spot you’ll need to account for the slowest person, not the fastest! And, of course, you’ll want to factor in time for photos with your guests.

Insider secret: if you know your people tend to run a bit late give them a start time 15 mins earlier than is really needed!

The importance of buffer time in your elopement timeline

Ohhhhhh, we cannot overstate this one!!

Everything always takes longer than you think. That’s just an unavoidable fact.

So, when you’re building out your elopement timeline ALWAYS add a little buffer.

This will also be a huge relief IF something were to go a little ‘wrong’ on your day and you find yourselves running late: knowing you built in extra 10-15 mins at various stages will give you peace of mind. If you needed to pivot to a Plan B because of a road closure or some unexpected event, for example, you’ll still stay on track if you built in buffer time!

We’d also always suggest starting a little bit earlier in the day than you think necessary, that way if things take longer earlier on you won’t be running late and feeling stressed before things have even begun!

How to build out your elopement timeline

Ok, we’ve looked at all the factors you’ll need to consider to create a realistic, enjoyable elopement day timeline.

But, still, how do you actually put it together?!

Work backwards to create the perfect elopement timeline

This might sound strange, but as you create your elopement timeline, don’t start at the start! Instead, start at the most critical part(s) of the day and the timing you would like for that, and then work backwards from there to figure out what time you need to start.

For example, maybe you know you’d like to take sunset photos after your ceremony, and sunset is at 7pm. Then your logic is going to be something like this:

“‘Golden hour’ (the best time for photos) begins around 6pm, so I need to be wrapping up my ceremony celebrations by then. Popping bubbles and enjoying cake will likely take around half an hour, so I’ll kickstart that by 5.30pm. My ceremony will also be around 30 mins, so I’ll start that by 5.00pm…”. And so on, and so forth.

But don’t forget: buffer time!!! So add a little extra padding into all that to be on the safe side. Otherwise you risk running late and missing out on those sunset photos.

Work with your photographer!

You do NOT need to figure this all out alone. We totally understand that trying to figure out your elopement day timeline can feel super overwhelming and confusing.

That’s why we actually write a day-of timeline for all our couples!

We’ve done this before, we’re familiar with the locations, we know how long things realistically take, we know when the best light is etc.

So, let us help you!

Elopement timelines examples

Now you know how to put together an elopement timeline, but you might still be feeling a little unsure about how long you actually need for all the things you’d like to do, and what a realistic timeline actually looks like.

We’re going to share multiple sample elopement timelines here, along with our thought process behind how much time we’ve allotted for things. Hopefully this will give you a much clearer idea of what’s realistic in a given timeframe!

Elopement Timeline Example 1: 4 hrs at sunset

A 4 hr elopement is what we would call ‘short, sweet and simple’: there will be plenty of time for a first look, your ceremony, some celebrations and, of course, epic photos. You might even squeeze a super short hike in there! But it’s not enough time for a longer hike, exploring multiple locations, an off-roading adventure, horse-riding or any other adventure you might choose.

This is 4hrs of photos coverage, but we’ve also shown how the time prior to that beginning may be used to help you plan your day.

MorningTake it slow, have breakfast, write out your vows
11.30-1.30Hair and makeupThis is assuming it’s just one person, it may take longer if it’s multiple
1.30-2.15Have a light lunch so you’re set for the day aheadHave something ready in advance that’s easy to snack on if you’re nervous/excited
2.15-2.30Load up the car and do a final checkHighly suggest putting together a checklist of every last thing you need
2.30-3.00Drive to your location and meet your photographerIf you think the drive is 20 mins, give it 30!
3.00-3.30Arrive, finish getting ready on siteThis is when your photography coverage begins
3.30-4.30First look and explore the area a littleThere’s definitely a little buffer time here in case things start late
4.30-5.00Your ceremony, let’s get you MARRIED!This will likely be more like 15 mins, but it’s a good little buffer
5.00-6.00Celebrations! Maybe you’d like to pop some bubbles, cut a cake, have a picnic or enjoy a first dance.If you have guests you may need longer here, as you’ll want photos with everyone
6.00 – 7.00pmSunset photos in that glowing evening lightWe would suggest an hour is the minimum time you want here to get really WOW photos

Just a reminder: to figure all this out, we started with the basis of wanting to shoot sunset photos from 6-7pm and then worked backwards from there.

Elopement Timeline Example 2: 8 hrs, sunrise to sunset

8 hrs is the perfect amount of time for the vast majority of couples. It will allow you to enjoy both a sunrise and sunset adventure with a little break in between, OR it will allow for a slower start, capturing the getting ready process and maybe staying out for star-gazing afterwards. An 8 hr elopement timeline allows all the important moments and fun to be captured without ever feeling hurried or stressed.

5.00-6.00amMeet your photographer at the trailhead and hike under the stars to your first locationIt’s SO important to start on time so you don’t miss sunrise. Add extra buffer here if you know you’re slow in the mornings!
6.00-7.00Get ready on site and enjoy a sunrise first look
7.00-8.30Explore and take WOW photos in the soft morning light
8.30-9.00Your ceremony, let’s get you married!Little extra buffer built in here
9.00-9.45Enjoy a breakfast picnic
9.45-10.30Hike back down in your wedding clothes, ‘in action’ shots along the way
The middle of the day is yours, to grab food, relax, maybe enjoy a fun activity.
6.00-7.00pmCheck in for your private plane rideThis is the amazing company we use for plane rides in Moab.
7.00-8.00Touch down in the middle of nowhere and enjoy a totally secluded sunset
8.00-8.30Fly back in, enjoying the last moments of light on your wedding day

Elopement Timeline Example 3: 12hrs, spread across two days

We would suggest that 12 hr elopement timeline packages are for ‘go big or go home’ kind of couples! Maybe you don’t want a break in the middle of the day: you want to really make the most of every minute your elopement day has to offer. Or maybe you’d like to split that time across two days and check out two completely different locations. Whatever your reasons, you can really have it all with 12 hrs, with no compromises whatsoever!

Day 1: in the desert
12.00-1.15Cook brunch together, write your vows outThis is such a perfectly relaxed way to start the day together and makes for really sweet photos
1.15-3.15Get ready at your AirBnB
3.15-3.45First look in the gardens
3.45-4.00Load up the car, final checks
4.00-4.30Drive to a spectacular overlook
4.30-5.15Explore a little, time to soak it in and just be
5.15-5.45Your ceremony!
5.45-6.30Celebrations. Pizza and beers??
6.30-8.00Soak in the sunset, WOW photos in the evening lightA longer timeline allows for extra time for these photos which is a WIN!
8.00-9.30Cuddle up and wait for it to go dark for star photosSooooo worth it!
Day 2: in the mountains
Have a sleep in, a lazy morning and then drive to the mountains over lunchtime
4.00-8.00Spend the late afternoon/early evening off-roading with Jeeps to get to the very best locations and let it all sink in: you’re MARRIED!

If you’d like to check out our packages, you can do so here. All of our packages include a huge amount of planning assistance so you don’t have to figure this out alone!

So, there you have it! All our best advice for creating an elopement day timeline that is relaxed, fun and realistic. We hope you found the sample timelines useful and have a better understanding of how to put one together now.

But, don’t forget, you do NOT need to do this all alone! All of our couples get customized timelines as part of our planning assistance. So, don’t be shy to reach out if you’d like support.

We would love to create an epic elopement experience for you!

We provide planning assistance, photography, ceremony officiation and optional videography for adventure-seeking couples across the US and worldwide.

Get in touch to start brainstorming with us!

Chad & Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’

Let’s do this thing!

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