You chose to elope because you want an easy-breezy laid-back day, and your timeline is the key to making all your elopement dreams happen!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but having some kind of structured timeline in your day actually gives you MORE freedom to enjoy your elopement in the ways you want to. Rushing around and feeling stressed out is usually born out of a bad timeline or the lack thereof, but when a well thought out schedule is put into place, you’ll have the breathing room to enjoy each moment without worrying that the day is getting away from you.

Here are the 5 ways a timeline can make or break your elopement experience.

Hint: a good timeline means a killer, stress-free elopement.

1. Make sunrise/ sunset timing your number one priority.

Since getting killer, beautifully-lit photos is a priority for most couples, we ALWAYS want to make sure we use the sunrise/sunset as our jumping-off point when planning a timeline. Those glowy, warm images you love look their best just after sunrise and just before sunset, so we want to make sure we don’t accidentally miss out!

If your timeline doesn’t account for sunset/sunrise timing, you might accidentally show up for your ceremony and newlywed portraits with far less time available than you were hoping for. It’s no fun to accidentally arrive with only 30 minutes of light left and feel rushed through what should be a super fun part of your wedding day!

Once that light is gone, we can’t get it back, so we do everything in our timeline-creating power to make sure we show up in time for that sun-drenched ceremony with plenty of time to spare for leisurely newlywed portraits.

Your photographer should know exactly when to expect sunrise, sunset, alpenglow, and civil twilight so you can get the best-of-the-best light for your ceremony and newlywed portraits.

2. Allowing more than enough time to get ready

It’s so important that you and your partner have a calm, stress-free getting-ready experience before you embark on the rest of your wedding day. There are a ton of factors that go into creating a stress-free experience, but the biggest thing you can do is give yourself MORE than enough time to get ready while still sticking to an “out-the-door” time so you don’t miss out on the most fun parts of your day!

If you’re hiring a hair and makeup artist, ask them how long they need to get you and your partner ready. You want to make sure you schedule them to be done with makeup roughly 30-45 minutes before you head out the door. This gives you time to get into your wedding clothes, relax, and if there are any bumps along the way, you’ll have that extra buffer time so you can stay calm, cool, and relaxed.

The same goes for if you’re doing your own hair and makeup. Time yourself doing your entire getting ready process a week or so before the wedding day so you’re not caught off-guard by how long it takes you. Plan to give yourself that same 30-45 minute buffer, and you’ll be all set with time to spare!

Not setting enough time aside for this part of the day can lead to stress and feeling like there’s a bunch of pressure, and that’s what you were trying to avoid in the first place! Do yourself a favor and give yourself plenty of time to get out the door when you actually want to be. When couples don’t have a firm “out-the-door” time, getting ready can drag on and eat into precious adventure time!

3. Accounting for ALL your travel time

Have you ever gotten stuck in nasty two-lane highway traffic? If you’ve ever tried to get out of Sedona on a Sunday evening or into Yosemite on a holiday weekend, you know what I mean when I say traffic can be the ultimate bummer. You also probably know that if you time it right, you can avoid a bunch of the worst rush-hour traffic.

Elopements don’t always involve a long drive on a crowded freeway, but unless you’re getting married at the exact same place you’re getting ready, there’s at least some travel to account for. Whether it’s a 45-minute drive to the trailhead or a 10-minute walk to a trailhead, try to account for ALL the travel time you need to arrive where you want to go, when you want to get there.

When you’ve figured out how long your travel takes, I usually recommend adding on 1/2 to one 1/4 of that estimated time as a buffer, just in case. As an example, if we estimate it should take 30 minutes to drive to a location, I’d probably set aside 45 minutes of drive time to get there. That 15-minute buffer is there if there’s trouble so we won’t miss our sunset, and if we arrive early, we just get more time to play outside!

Hot tip: if you’re using google maps, you can play with different departure times to see how that changes your travel time. You might find that leaving at a different time saves you a lot of traffic/ time in the car.

4. Using the outline of your perfect day to create your elopement timeline

When you’re in the planning phases of your elopement, you’ll have a ton of ideas running through your head of all the ways you want to celebrate with your life-partner!

As you sit down to put together a timeline, you’ll start to get a really clear idea about how much you can realistically fit in a day, and how much photo coverage you’ll want to account for. For example, if you want to get ready and start the day with a sunrise hot air balloon ride, followed by a picnic lunch, a hike, vows, newlywed photos, dinner, stargazing, and a separate ceremony to celebrate with family/ friends, you might sit down and realize that a one and a half or two day elopement would better suit your plans.

Once you have laid-out everything you want to include on your wedding day, you can put together a timeline that ensures that all those things happen!

Without a timeline (or with a not-so-good-one) you might feel unnecessarily rushed because of that “do we have enough time for this” feeling. On the other hand, you might accidentally miss out on something important to you because we just didn’t make time for it.

Regardless of what plans you have for your elopement, a well-thought-out timeline means you get to make all your wildest dreams happen and enjoy newlywed bliss knowing that there’s plenty of time to relax and enjoy the moment.

5. Staying flexible with your elopement timeline

As much as we can account for traffic, delays in getting ready, and even a longer than we thought hike, sometimes stuff just takes longer than we think it might, but that’s why we add buffers, extra travel time, and flexibility into every timeline.

The point of a timeline isn’t for your photographer to announce “alright everyone it’s 3:45 and we’ll now begin your first dance. You have 10 minutes before we must move on to our 20 minutes of champagne and toast time.”

That… would be a lot. I would hate that on my wedding day, and the point isn’t to stick to a rigid set of events/times like you’re rotating craft stations at summer camp. The timeline gives you flexibility, rather than taking it away.

When you finish your vows and pop your champagne, your photographer should be able to peek at the timeline and say “Awesome. we have two hours of daylight left. Let’s get you two set up for your picnic so you can eat!”

After that, while you’re taking sunset newlywed photos, your photographer should have an eye on her watch, knowing you still want time for your first dance. She’ll use that timeline to make sure you arrive at a beautiful spot in time for a first dance before the sun goes down.

The timeline is less about making sure the first dance happens at 3:45 on the dot and more about making sure that the time we have allows for everything you’ve dreamed of for your wedding day– plus a little bit of breathing room.

All that being said…

Your elopement timeline is YOURS to create. Let your photographer know what you want to include on your wedding day, and she’ll help you make it happen. There’s no right or wrong version of a timeline, but you can make your wedding day a whole lot more relaxed and fun by creating an elopement timeline that works for you and the vision you have for your wedding day.

For more elopements, click here!

Check out these images featured on Desert Dove Weddings

5 Ways Your Timeline Can Make or Break Your Elopement

Elopement, Planning


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photography by Kiley Harmon  |  design by Foil & Ink