6 Tips to Planning a Private Wedding Ceremony

Francis and I were engaged for 4.5 years before finally getting married. It’s not that we had doubts or couldn’t find the right location, it’s because we couldn’t figure out how a traditional wedding fit into our vision of what we wanted, and the budget we wanted to spend. Early on in our relationship we decided to have kids first, and involve them in a wedding later. Planning a wedding after we grown our family also meant our budget was reduced.We strategically did this because starting a family was a priority over having a wedding.

When someone tells me their getting married I immediately thinks of a beautiful dress with a flowing train, the walk down the aisle, a dance party, and a candy bar. I think these have become standard items that we expect for a wedding, and they are absolutely beautiful when done big or small. While I love attending these types of weddings, the idea of being the centre of attention in front of 100+ people did not sound like fun for either of us. Plus, we couldn’t justify spending big money on a location and decoration.

We live far from our families, and couldn’t decide where to have our ceremony. We didn’t want a big wedding, and we also didn’t want to ask people to travel across the country for our wedding. We were almost decided on eloping to Vegas or somewhere tropical, when a friend did something crazy. They went to a local forest trail and had a private ceremony with the only guests being their photographers. Why hadn’t we thought of that?! From there we picked a date three months out and started planning. The most importand detail of the planning was finding the perfect photographer.This was a special day to share with our kids and we wanted to make sure we documented every minute of it. We fell in love with the work of Danaea Li, and we’re Lucky that we chose a Sunday that fit into her schedule.

Finding an officiant was the easy part. We chose Lani from Young Hip and Married. Local elopements are their jam, and they came highly recommended. They really were amazing from start to finish. They even have a photographer package as an add-on if you want to skip finding one on your own. We chose Lani as our officiant because she’s a prairie girl just like me, and working with her was so much fun. Anything I was worried about, like strangers crashing the ceremony or what to do in case of typhoon rains, she had a solution for and made me feel reassured.

While we’re calling it a private ceremeny, we did decide to invite three friends to stand up for us. It was a combination of wanting help wrangling our children, and just wanting emotional support on the day of. Were our parents upset by not being there? Of course. And as a parent I would be disappointed too. But we explained our decision, and kept it fair to both sides of the family. We still wanted to celebrate with those closest to us, so we invited our local friends for a dinner at an amazing restaurant after.

Rhonda-Francis-Wedding-324_zpsjhj5nzddOur wedding really was a dream come true for us. Of course we did miss our families on the big day, and there was a bit of rain, but we still had a blast. It was relatively stress free; get ready, grab flowers and children, walk to the park, & get married. And if you’re not sold on the idea yet, our ceremony was under $300. Our attire and photographer were extra, but we didn’t need to spend on location rental, or decoration.

If a local elopement interests you, I’ve listed a few things to consider when planning and searching finding the perfect spot to say “I do”.

Rhonda-Francis-Wedding-360_zpsj2xhbmmaYou Can’t Please Everyone

I’ve put this at the top of the is because I feel it’s the most important thing to consider. There will likely be a few hurt feelings of people who had hoped to share your big day with you. But make sure to stay true to your vision. You can always invite a few people who you really want to be there with you, but don’t be afraid to plan the day that YOU want. Explain how you feel to anyone who is unhappy with your choice, and trust me, even if they’re unhappy with your choice, they will still be happy for you.

Rhonda-Francis-Wedding-197_zpsoqbm4gp3Location, Location, Location!

Having a private ceremony opens up so many amazing opportunities for locations. You don’t need to worry about transporting seating or decorating, and size of the location will never be an issue.

There are a few easy options that don’t require much planning, like your home, a hotel room, park. I love the idea of choosing something meaningful to the both of you like the restaurant of your first date, or the park you were in the first time you realized you loved each other. For us, we chose a forest trail beside our home for its beauty, and also because we can visit it whenever we’re out for a family walk. If you do choose a public location, I recommend visiting the spot during the day of the week and time you plan to have the ceremony.


The peak of the local mountain might have a beautiful view, but are you prepared for the sweaty hike up? Find a mountain with a gondola or car access, and keep hours of operation in mind. As wonderful as spending the night under the stars with your new spouse may sound, being forced to snuggle with the local wildlife because you missed the last gondola down might not be as fun.


One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is if you mind strangers watching your ceremony. Most people jump at the chance to watch a romantic ceremony, so be prepared for an audience. If you don’t mind, your options are very open. If you prefer an isolated location where you’re hidden from the general public, leave yourself time for location scouting leading up to the ceremony in case your first choices don’t work out.

If you love a certain park or lake, but find it too busy, take a walk around and try to find a private clearing or less frequented view-point. Don’t be afraid to ask around; sometimes people in the area might know of the perfect spot. Your officiant or photographer might have some suggestions of private locations too. Ours had a few great ideas based on what we were looking for.

Rhonda-Francis-Wedding-335_zpsf4gbbyi6Time of Day

A sunset ceremony beside the pond you had your first kiss might seem perfect, until the mosquitos take prey on you. Daylight, local traffic, and convenience play a big factor.

We had originally picked out a private spot at a local lake we love, but after scouting we found they closed the park if it became full by 11am. For us, a 20 minute hike in, if the parking lot was closed, wasn’t a risk we were willing to take.

If you’re choosing an indoor public location like a restaurant, you might want to consider a time that is less busy. Choosing a 5pm ceremony time, instead of the dinner rush, will prevent you having to shout your vows over the background noise. It might help to get your dinner to your table faster too.

One of the great things about a private ceremony is that you don’t have to be confined to the traditions of a Saturday or even a weekend. Consider your options and if you can, pick a day that’s less popular to save money if you’re also doing a dinner or flowers. We chose a Sunday because we knew it would increase our odds of booking our photographer and a restaurant for the group dinner we had planned following the ceremony.

Rhonda-Francis-Wedding-495_zpsqbmrxv8uMother Nature

She can have an odd sense of humour on your big day, when your hair and make-up is just perfect. Rain is an easy one to tackle with a pretty umbrella, but if you’re choosing an off-the-beaten-track location, you’ll want to consider mud or extreme temperatures. It can get cold in the mountains and by water, and pretty muddy on forest trails. Living in Vancouver, rain was likely to make an uninvited appearance at our ceremony. I tried to keep my dress up and off the trails, but decided that I only wear the dress once and wasn’t going to worry about it. I still have a tiny muddy footprint from my daughter on my dress that’s just the sweetest. But if dragging  your dress through the dirt doesn’t interest you, come up with a plan B, pack some rain boots, or wear a shorter dress. There’s always options.


Are you planning a private ceremony? Or did you already have one? I’d love to hear about your story.

Photos by Danaea Li Photography

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