Weddings are meant to leave a lasting impression on your life, but that doesn’t mean they need to leave one on the environment. In fact, you can practically eliminate your event’s impact all together by holding a “Leave No Trace” elopement.

“A ‘no trace elopement,’ to me, is where a couple decides to forgo getting married at a more traditional venue and chooses to get married in the great outdoors,” explains Katy Sergent, owner of Katy Sergent Photography.

While elopements are already inherently better for the environment given their small size, this type of wedding takes it a step further by implementing the “Seven Principles of Leave No Trace” – a set of guidelines meant to minimize humans’ impact on nature and wildlife when visiting the outdoors. That way, parks, forests and beaches remain beautiful for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

“A lot of couples pick this type of elopement for many reasons — oftentimes it's to avoid certain logistics of huge traditional weddings or to adhere to a budget, but also to reflect the adventurous nature of the couple and their own love for the outdoors,” says Sergent.

So, whether you’re an avid camper or just want to escape the city, here’s are some tips for leaving no trace behind when saying ‘I do.’

1. Choose your location thoughtfully

Without all of the bells and whistles of a traditional wedding, where you decide to elope takes on extra importance. And the best location depends on what you envision when you imagine your wedding day, says Traci Edwards, an adventure photographer and owner of Adventure and Vow.

“A lot of it comes down to finding the best location for the type of elopement you’re wanting to have. Some couples have guests, some couples have a pet, some couples, it’s just them. It just depends. But finding a location that is durable for that is the first important piece,” she explains.

2. Plan ahead

The first rule of weddings and the first principle of Leave No Trace are actually one and the same – be prepared.

“Make sure to research the trail or park that you plan on visiting so that you're aware of what you're getting into (distance, terrain, etc.). Buy or download a map of the trail for safety,” advises Sergent. “Make sure to keep an eye on the weather, too, and prepare accordingly. Bring along a first aid kit with supplies, just as if you were hiking for the day – anything can happen!”

3. Stay on the trail

Another important tenet of Leave No Trace: don’t stray from established paths.

“When you're traveling or hiking to your elopement spot, be sure to stay on trail or durable surfaces. When people go off trail, it can hurt sensitive vegetation,” says Sergent.

4. Dispose of trash properly

Our world is already inundated with tons and tons of garbage. Avoid adding to it by ensuring you don’t leave behind any trash, like wrappers or bottles. Even the flowers you carry can have a negative impact on the ecosystem, so build your bouquet with native species or fake blooms, advises Edwards.

“If you pack it in, be sure to pack out as well! I recommend having someone (either yourself or a guest) with a backpack that can carry items and any trash you might have,” adds Sergent.

5. Leave nature where it is

Just as you shouldn’t leave anything man-made behind, you also shouldn’t take anything from Mother Nature home with you.

“It might be tempting to pick wildflowers along the way or take a souvenir with you from such a special place, but it's important to leave the habitat intact. Some wildflowers are rare are only grow in those areas, so it's best to leave them so they can flourish,” says Sergent.

6. Keep clear of wildlife

Remember that you are a guest in the outdoors, so be respectful of the wildlife that live there by keeping your distance and not feeding them. If people feed wild animals, they become reliant or get sick.

7. Avoid geotagging

While it’s great to share your big day with the world on social media, geotagging your location can actually be harmful in the long run to nature.

“If thousands of people see a specific place and flock there to hike to see the scenery, it could become overrun and many trailheads cannot handle the number of people going to hike,” says Sergent. “Also, keep in mind what your images portray. “Make sure that you're practicing Leave No Trace and promoting respecting the great outdoors.”

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