Planning an elopement wedding, humanist style

Planning an elopement wedding, humanist style

Planning a wedding can be a joyous thing, looking forward to your big day and making it everything you’ve dreamed of. Lists, binders, schedules and budgets are a bride and groom-to-be’s best tools in planning the perfect day.

That said, ‘wedmin’ isn’t everyone’s idea of a great way to spend their weekends. And that’s where elopement comes in.

What is an elopement?

Elopement is traditionally defined as the act of running away to get secretly married. Think Gretna Green or a Las Vegas wedding. In the past this might have meant it was a marriage without parental consent – imagine young lovers absconding in the night to follow their hearts’ desires.

Today, elopement is more about your choices as a couple.

Eloping in modern parlance can sometimes be used to mean a small destination wedding, rather than a completely secret ceremony with just the two of you there.

Humanist weddings work well for eloping couples. You can personalise your ceremony in whatever way you want, plus you can hold it anytime and anywhere – as long as you can find a celebrant to lead it.

Just like Imanina and Lewis who eloped to the wilderness of the High Peak in Derbyshire, with just their humanist celebrant, their two best friends and their dog.

Credit: Lewis and Imanina’s photographer Becky Payne

Why elope?

There are lots of good reasons for choosing an elopement for your wedding.

For some couples, it’s the ultimate romantic choice. It is a chance to whisk their partner away to a secret location, to have a ceremony which really is just for them.

For other couples it’s the chance to shake off difficult conversations about guest lists, family, budgets and locations. These are big issues which can really cause difficulties and even heartache for the engaged couple, so eloping can be a great solution.

People who don’t like a lot of fuss, or who are getting married for the second time, sometimes choose an elopement as a streamlined wedding option.

Some people love the spontaneity of an elopement. Some like not having to spend all their savings on the big day itself. And for some it’s all about throwing out traditions and expectations.

Whatever your reasons for considering eloping, the important thing is to discuss it together and be sure it’s the right thing for you. Hopefully this guide will help you decide!

Why not to elope?

We’ve talked about the good stuff – we should probably look at the ‘cons’ too. Being sure it’s the right decision for you is very important because there are also lots of reasons not to elope.

Friends and family are often a big part of our lives, and not having them around you when you get married mightfeel strange.

When you elope it might mean that you won’t get to groan at that terrible best man’s speech, throw shapes with your best friends on the dance floor, or glide down the aisle with everyone’s eyes on you.

Eloping means a very small wedding ceremony, often with just the two of you there. While that might sound lovely in theory, it could feel different in practice. Yes, you’ll save on catering, but you’ll miss out on the communal joy of a special event.

Think carefully about whether an elopement is the right fit for your love story and for the start of your life together as a married couple. If it is, then read on for a great set of tips and elopement ideas from our celebrants!

Elopement ideas, essentials and useful tips

So, how do you elope? This might seem obvious (just run away!), but there are some good tips we can pass on from our experienced celebrants to make your secret ceremony run smoothly.

  • Decide on what kind of elopement you want

Do you want a simple ceremony in Gretna Green, or a romantic (and non-religious) humanist ceremony on a secluded beach? The style of ceremony you choose will depend on your style as a couple, your budget and timescales.

Talk it over and, if you decide on a humanist ceremony, then check out tip number two…

  • Book your celebrant and your venue straight away

When you’re not having a big wedding you might think that there’s no planning to do, but to get the right location, venue and wedding officiant could still take time.

Check out our Find A Celebrant map to see which celebrants work in the area you’d like to marry in, and then contact them for an initial conversation. It’s especially important to find the right fit for your elopement because it will be a very intimate ceremony with just a few people present.

  • Do the legal bits

Don’t forget, you still have to do all the legal stuff too, even if you’re eloping.

That means ‘giving notice’ at your local registry office that you intend to marry, a minimum of 29 days before the date. So sadly eloping is not quite as spontaneous as it might seem, but you can still turn it around in a month.

Be aware that non-religious elopements officiated by a humanist celebrant are legally recognised in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales and England, you will still need to marry at a registry office, which can be done before or after the elopement and could take just around 15 minutes.

The plus side of this is – if you can find a celebrant from our network who is willing to do it – you can have a much more spontaneous elopement with a humanist ceremony, then do the legal stuff whenever you want afterwards.


What’s involved in a humanist elopement?

A humanist ceremony for an elopement will follow the same principles as a humanist ceremony for a more traditional wedding – it will be bespoke to you, and non-religious.

Our ceremonies tell your love story in the way you want and can include readings, music and moments of ritual, like handfasting. They can be funny, heartfelt, quick, informal, romantic, serious… whatever works for you and your partner.

Before you elope you will meet and talk with your celebrant, sharing what makes you click as a couple and how you met. This is a lovely part of the wedding planning and lots of couples say it is great preparation for the big day, and for marriage itself.

You’ll also talk about the feel and type of ceremony you want. Your celebrant will then write a ceremony script based on your story and wishes. They are also a great source of knowledge and experience when it comes to weddings and wedding ceremonies, so they can help guide you through the process.

After the elopement

So what comes next?

After the ceremony you’re likely to want to celebrate in some way – whether that’s a meal with just the two of you, or a big party.

Maybe you’ll extend your elopement straight into your honeymoon, spending some of the money you’ve saved on beautiful hotels and spa treatments. This can be a beautiful way to continue the intimacy of your wedding into your first holiday together as a married couple.

If you want to have a celebratory party with your nearest and dearest – the unofficial ‘reception’, if you like – then you’ve got more planning to do! Some couples organise this in advance, but if you want to keep things secret that can be tricky. Others wait til they announce they have eloped and then send out their invitations to the big shindig.

If you’ve already said ‘no thanks’ to traditions by eloping, you’ve paved the way to continue the same way with your next steps too, so choose the path that suits you.

Credit: Lewis and Imanina’s photographer Becky Payne

Find a celebrant

If you’ve been inspired to elope, then head over to our map to find a celebrant for your elopement!


'My humanist ceremony was the most special day of my life. All my family were blown away. Both my parents said that they'd never been to a wedding that was more personal or heartfelt.'
Madeleine, 34


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If you're planning your wedding now, then contact a celebrant as early as possible.