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This is episode number 10 of the Run Away Together podcast, all about eloping in Bali. I’m your host, Katie Doherty, an elopement and intimate wedding photographer based in Los Angeles. I created this podcast as a resource for couples who are considering eloping. If you’d like more information and some inspiration, you can visit runawaytogether.co.
On today’s podcast, I chat with my friend, Kayley, who recently had a small wedding celebration in Bali, though her actual elopement, which was just her and her husband, Nelson, took place in Canada. They decided on eloping in Bali because that’s actually where they met. I had the pleasure of photographing Kayley’s wedding in Bali. In this little chat, we break down what was easy, what was hard, and recommendations for couples who are considering eloping in Bali.
Here is our conversation.
Kayley: In 2017, I turned 30 at the end of January. I have a track record of being disappointed by my birthdays, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and go on a trip to Bali for my thirtieth birthday. Nelson also had the same idea. He turned 30 the previous November, and he also took a trip. He spent five weeks motorcycling through Vietnam, and then he went to Bali for seven weeks. So, when I got there, it was the tail end of his trip.
Someone had told me that Tinder was a really good way to meet people in Bali. I had been using other dating apps in Los Angeles, but I had deactivated my Tinder. When I got to Bali, I reactivated my Tinder and started swiping. He and I matched, I think on my second day. He had been in Ubud, which is where I was staying before that, so he was the perfect person to show me around. So, we got together for coffee and spent a week hanging out. He taught me how to ride a scooter, and we started seeing each other, and then we had a long-distance relationship for two years after that.
Katie: So you were each solo-traveling and just happened to meet in Bali on a solo 30-year-old birthday trip. He lived in Vancouver, and you were in LA, so it was long-distance. I love that story. We’re going to come back to that because it’s why they chose to have their celebration in Bali.
Avoiding the Fiancé Visa
“If you’re planning on getting married in the States to someone who’s not a United States citizen, you have to apply for this visa.”
Katie: Let’s fast forward. This might not be relevant to everybody, but you mentioned you had some complications with him being Canadian and you being American. So, without getting too technical, why did you guys decide to do your legal stuff in Canada? Because that was really the true elopement, right?
Kayley: Yeah. So, for the longest time, we didn’t think that we would ever get legally married because the United States government is really involved in their citizens’ finances. The minute Nelson and I got married, they would be involved in his finances and any decisions we made with our money in Canada. So, we thought that we would try to keep things separate our whole lives, but once we realized that that would be way too complicated should we ever decide to live in the States, we decided to get legally married and move forward with the process of me getting my permanent residency in Canada. We made that decision and got legally married in Canada two weeks later.
The reason we decided to get married in Canada is that the United States has what’s called a fiancé visa. If you’re planning on getting married in the States to someone who’s not a United States citizen, you have to apply for this visa. You don’t know when you’re going to get it, but once you get it, you have 90 days to get married. So, that’s why we had the legal ceremony in Canada.
We spent maybe a week and a half to two weeks planning that wedding, which was really low-key. It was just us, the marriage commissioner, and two witnesses in a park called Queen Elizabeth Park. We wanted to do a courthouse wedding, but in Canada, they actually don’t do courthouse weddings. Having a marriage commissioner and doing it anywhere you want in the province is the closest you can get. So, that’s what we did.
Eloping in Bali
“I wanted the ceremony to be a representation of our relationship, who we are as individuals, and this unique commitment that we were making, since all relationships are unique.”
Katie: What made you guys decide on eloping in Bali?
Kayley: Actually, we planned on eloping in Bali prior to the Canada ceremony. Even when we weren’t planning on getting legally married, we knew that we wanted to have some sort of landmark or commitment ceremony, for ourselves, but also for our families. My parents are pretty traditional, and I think that that really mattered to them. They didn’t care if we got legally married, but they definitely wanted some sort of proclamation of our commitment. So, that was where that idea came from. We had already planned on eloping in Bali for some time before we decided to get legally married.
Katie: Cool! So, I was your photographer, and I got to witness how special it was. You did a very unique ceremony up on a deck that overlooked the rice fields of Ubud. What made it special to you?
Kayley: Because we weren’t planning on having a legal ceremony at the time that we started planning this wedding, we wanted it to be true to our relationship. I used to photograph weddings, and I’m a wedding hairstylist, so I’ve been to a lot of weddings. While I really admire and respect the traditional wedding ceremony, I realize that a lot of couples sort of go through the motions while planning their ceremony. For me, the ceremony was the most important part of what we were doing. So, I wanted the ceremony to be a representation of our relationship, who we are as individuals, and this unique commitment that we were making, since all relationships are unique.
Creating a Unique Ceremony
“While our ceremony took a little bit longer than a traditional ceremony, I think everyone walked away with a clearer vision of who Nelson and I are as individuals and what our relationship looks like in an intimate way…”
Kayley: So, we decided to create an entirely new ceremony. We scrapped the original wedding ceremony and did ours in a “past, present, future” format. In the past part, friends that knew us as we were growing up spoke on who we were as individuals at different points in our lives. Then during the present part of the ceremony, we had people talk about their experience of our meeting. Then, in the future part of our ceremony, we had friends give advice and had people read cards and things that we had written to each other over the course of our relationships.
Since we dated long-distance, we had a lot of written correspondence, so we had some of that shared. We also had wedding vows that we gave at our legal ceremony, and those were a bit more traditional. We recited those at the end and had our “first kiss.”
Because we had a small ceremony, we were able to incorporate our guests more. While our ceremony took a little bit longer than a traditional ceremony, I think everyone walked away with a clearer vision of who Nelson and I are as individuals and what our relationship looks like in an intimate way, rather than just a formal way that you experience at most wedding ceremonies.
Katie: I agree. I definitely got that from witnessing it. It was very sentimental and sweet, and I loved that everybody participated. Everyone huddled on the ground with blankets, so it was very informal. Everybody got to say something, and it felt like, in the end, I knew you guys so much better from listening to what everybody was saying. And you wore a red dress, which was untraditional but very cool, in Bali. You wore a more traditional dress in Canada, right?
Kayley: I originally wanted to wear a white dress, but I had a hard time finding something I felt fit the locale. Most wedding dresses were too formal. A Bohemian dress would have worked, but I didn’t really want to wear something super boho. I wanted to feel elegant and grown-up.
I was having a really hard time finding something that fit my vision when I found this dress on Reformation, and I loved it. It didn’t come in a color that I felt fit the traditional wedding look, so I got it in red and just embraced the tradition of the culture in Bali. I didn’t want to appropriate it, of course, so I wore a simple red dress and a bold headpiece that kind of mirrored the local tradition.
Finding the Perfect Venue
“There were some issues that arose that we couldn’t have really planned for.”
Katie: I loved what you wore. Can we talk a little bit about how you found the venue? Was that easy to do from California?
Kayley: No, it wasn’t easy. We didn’t want to do a full-service resort wedding for a couple of reasons. The first reason is the price. It’s really expensive to do that. Second, we wanted to have more creative control over our wedding. We wanted it to be really informal, so that required a little bit of extra work on our parts to find the right venue.
I spent so long looking at retreat centers and Airbnbs and all these different options, and I was really struggling. Then Nelson got on the computer, and within 15 minutes, he had zoomed in on Google Maps and found the venue! I was sending him links to all these different things, and then the minute he looks into it, he finds the venue.
Katie: That was an extra little challenge in itself, that you and he were separated. Neither of you was actually in the place where you were trying to plan the ceremony. So, that’s complicated. You and Nelson are very particular, so I’m sure you were looking for something that felt good in terms of decorations and all of that. So, what was the name of the place?
Kayley: The place is called The Rice Joglo.
Katie: We stayed just up the path at Trinity Gardens, which I would also highly recommend. Were you happy with the choice you made?
Kayley: Yes and no. There hadn’t been very many weddings at The Rice Joglo at that point. The host, who is amazing and very helpful, had a lot of ideas on what would be nice for the wedding. He really went above and beyond with decorating. When I say above and beyond, he went beyond. So, we had to edit out certain things. We had to go in and say, I’m sorry, we don’t want this thing, we don’t want this thing…
There also was some miscommunication. We ran into some last-minute issues with the ground not being level where we wanted to have dinner, which resulted in some scrambling. There were some issues that arose that we couldn’t have really planned for. If you’re looking for something really seamless, I would recommend going with a resort. But because we were trying to save money and wanted something a little bit more unique, we ran into some issues that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Katie: This place was nice because your family was staying there and it was also the venue, so that was convenient.
Kayley: Yeah, and it also helped with the cost that we didn’t have an additional venue fee since we had already booked the entire place out for our family. That made things a little bit easier for sure.
Sorting Out the Logistics of Eloping in Bali
“…it’s island time. There’s no rush for them. So, communication was hard.”
Katie: When you were planning from afar, how many different people were you talking to? Did you have a coordinator?
Kayley: Originally, we were not planning on having a coordinator. Then I felt like it would really help to have someone on the ground. We started looking at coordinators, and a couple of different people went out and looked at the venue. One person said, once they saw it, they wouldn’t do it because the venue was on that really long walking path. It was a ways down a walking path, and getting all the tables and stuff out was a lot of work.
We had another coordinator go out, and she gave us a quote for all these things that we didn’t need or want. It was very expensive. We just realized that we were on two very different pages. So, we decided to forego the coordinator. The host of the property said that they could handle it for us. He did, but as I said, he didn’t have as much experience. So it was different than it would have been had we worked with an actual coordinator.
In terms of flowers, we found the florist when we got there. We got to Bali a week and a half before the wedding, and we found a florist there because we knew we would get outrageous quotes had we tried to communicate with people from the States in Canada. We saved money by doing it when we got there.
Ultimately, the flowers weren’t exactly what I had in mind. I had to adjust my vision a bit because we did it that way. We ended up saving a fair amount of money, and of course, the flowers in Bali were gorgeous, even if they weren’t exactly what I had in mind. So it was fine. It all worked out in the end.
Katie: How much was that bag of the plumeria?
Kayley: Frangipani is what they call them there, but yeah, plumeria. I wish I could remember the exact amount. I think maybe a hundred dollars.
Katie: I remember you saying a surprisingly low price. So, you guys had a bunch of those sprinkled around.
I was talking to another couple who eloped in Amsterdam, and they said they found it easiest to do phone calls versus emailing back and forth. Did you email or call, or what was easiest for you?
Kayley: We did a little bit of both. It’s tricky calling to Bali. You have to pay a Google service. We did all emails with the venue beforehand. That was really tough because of the time difference. So, you never got a quick response. Everything took way longer than you were expecting. Also, it’s island time. There’s no rush for them. So, communication was hard. It’s not like getting married in the States, where you get an email back within a couple of hours.
What Would You Do Differently?
“I would change the pressure that I put on myself to make all of my guests feel welcome and comfortable.”
Katie: If you could do it all again, what would you change?
Kayley: I would change the pressure that I put on myself to make all of my guests feel welcome and comfortable. I wish that I had arranged some other way for them to connect with each other when they arrived. We had guests arriving every day leading up to the wedding.
Nelson and I had a week and a half by ourselves, and we were also wedding planning during that time. Yet, that time was the most relaxed part of our entire trip. I always joke that we had our honeymoon before our wedding. So, that part of the trip was my favorite.
It was great having friends and family in town, but I was very stressed with trying to plan this wedding at a venue that wasn’t very experienced with weddings and going out of my way to see everyone when they got into town, communicating with people online, arranging meetups.
Also, we spent so much time with our guests in the days leading up to the wedding that on the day of the wedding, while it was special, I had already seen everybody and everyone had already spent time together. So it didn’t feel as special, I suppose. I wish that I had saved that for the wedding and made the day of the wedding the big reunion. Maybe it would have made the energy feel a little bit different, if that makes sense.
Katie: It does. I remember that people were popping in at all different times, and you and Nelson were being very good hosts to meet up with them, whether it was for a drink or an activity. Yeah, that was a lot. How many people ended up coming?
Kayley: There was 30 people total, including you, Nelson and me.
Advice for Eloping in Bali
“You have to be able to adjust your expectations and not be too attached to your vision.”
Katie: If a couple is thinking about getting married or eloping in Bali, do you have any specific advice for them?
Kayley: Bali is a really diverse place. While it’s small, there are so many different places that you can get married. There are beautiful beach destinations and Ubud, which is more of a jungle area. There are also beautiful islands off the coast of Bali, and those would also be really beautiful destinations for a wedding. So, there’s a lot to choose from.
I think having a really clear vision of what you’re looking for will help narrow it down. Ubud was an obvious choice for us because it’s where we met, and we knew the area a bit already. If your budget allows, I would recommend going out to Bali before the wedding to scout it out. That would have really helped us, but we just didn’t have the budget or time for that.
Katie: Right. That makes a lot of sense. I imagine one of the most worrisome things about planning from afar is that you can’t see things until you get there, but it obviously really helped that you both had already been there and knew the spots a little bit.
Kayley: Yeah. When we got to The Rice Joglo and saw it, we did have to adjust our vision a little bit. We originally planned on having the ceremony on the lawn, and that was where we ended up having the cocktail hour. It wasn’t quite big enough, and we worried about the ground being too wet. So we did have to adjust some things. I don’t think we would’ve needed to compromise our vision quite as much had we gone out in advance.
Katie: Maybe the tip is, if you’re thinking about eloping in Bali, to get there a week or two early so that you have time to make those adjustments.
Kayley: Be prepared to adjust your vision. The one thing I said before the wedding was that I wanted to have a nice wedding in Bali, and not a nice Balinese wedding. What ended up happening is that we had so many different people trying to help out, and in the end, I couldn’t be picky about my vision anymore. You have to be able to adjust your expectations and not be too attached to your vision.
Katie: That’s a good tip. Do you think it would have been any easier if it was a true elopement where it was just you and Nelson and maybe someone to officiate and take photos, would that have felt easier to you?
Kayley: Yes, absolutely. We wanted all of our families to be in the same place. I wanted to make that easy for them. That was one of the hardest things about eloping in Bali, making sure everyone got to the ceremony, knew where things were, felt comfortable, understood how to navigate a foreign country—we underestimated how much work that would be.
If it had just been the two of us, it would have been so easy. While I absolutely loved having all of our friends and family there, and we were so grateful that they were willing to travel, I’m very glad we had our first wedding in Canada. We always talk about how perfect it was. We just had that small ceremony in the garden, and then we went to a local wine and cheese bar, had a charcuterie board, and invited people to come and celebrate. Then we had an after-party with pizza and a keg in a friend’s apartment. And it was perfect.
The Benefits of Eloping in Bali
“I feel like we all walked away feeling a sense of love.”
Katie: I’ll end by asking you what your favorite part of the Bali experience was.
Kayley: I think my favorite part was the ceremony for sure. I knew that that would be. It was so special. It was very intimate, and everyone felt really engaged. I feel like we all walked away feeling a sense of love. I’ve had people say that they felt like they had learned new things about how they wanted to navigate their relationship through the advice of our parents. That was really special, and I think that’s something that people will really remember about our wedding.
We could’ve had a ceremony like that anywhere, but having it where we met gave people a vision of the first day of our relationship. And there’s a certain feeling in Bali and Ubud, especially, and being able to have that energy on our wedding day was special.
Katie: How did you come up with that idea, the idea of the ceremony? What kind of resources did you use? Did you pull the idea from your head, or were you looking online?
Kayley: I did look up unique wedding ceremony and commitment, ceremony ideas, but I couldn’t find much that I liked. So, we pretty much created it on our own. We sat down and started from scratch. What things matter to us as a couple? How can we tell our story? How can we make this commitment and create a vision of what we want our future to be like? So that’s how it started.
We knew we didn’t want to have a traditional wedding ceremony. Originally, we were thinking we would pull some elements from a traditional wedding ceremony, and we ended up not using any of them, once we started dissecting what they all meant and the origins. We just sat down and discussed what matters to us and what we felt was relevant to our commitment to each other.
Katie: I think you guys did a great job. If you’re open, can I link your wedding pictures?
Follow Along on Instagram
Katie: Perfect. Well, thank you, Kayley. I hope somebody found this inspiring or useful or informative. If they have questions about eloping in Bali, maybe they can find you on Instagram.
Kayley: Back in my feed, I posted many of your beautiful photos in there, and I described more about our wedding day there. There’s one specifically that has the format of our ceremony for anyone who’s interested in learning more about that.
I love that girl. I hope you enjoyed our conversation all about eloping in Bali. As always, you can visit runawaytogether.co to find more resources and inspiration for planning your elopement. And you can also find me @runawaytogether.co on Instagram. Send me a message! I’m open to any recommendations or requests for a future podcast episode topic. If you’re considering eloping in Bali, I’d love to hear from you! Reach out via my contact form here. I look forward to serving you! Thanks for listening, and I will catch you in the next episode!