Elopement. This word can shut a room up real quick. LOL! Even in 2020 it is a turd in the proverbial wedding punchbowl. At least, it’s that way for people stuck in 1950 with old assumptions and misconceptions.
Since the Industrial Revolution elopements have been defined by a couple running away to marry in secret without the approval of their families. But this definition is neither its origin nor its final destination. Before that, its meaning actually applied to women running away from their husbands to be with a lover. Even before that, the word elope was adapted from an Anglo-French word “aloper” which quite literally meant to escape from captivity. Check out the Merriam-Webster article The Changing Meaning of ‘Elope’ for a truly interesting timeline.
Still, in the now times you may hear people say that the only reason couples elope is because “she got pregnant” or “they don’t have any money.” In a lot of minds there are no other reasons anyone would CHOOSE to skip out on a traditional wedding. Your grandparents, parents and even your own friends might immediately have visions of you popping off to the courthouse for a 5 minute ceremony and some paperwork on a random Tuesday or, (clutches pearls*) heading to a drive thru chapel in Vegas, like some immature children that aren’t taking marriage seriously! They may have fears your marriage won’t present as legitimate or that it’ll be shameful or embarrassing for the family.
While the above scenarios might have been prevalent in past generations, it’s an archaic and outdated way of defining elopements in the present day. Millennials and Gen. Z have redefined the word elopement to be more encompassing of a variety of untraditional kinds of wedding days. No longer is it the hard and fast rule of running off together in secret to marry an unapproved partner under a veil of shame.
Yeah but Dawn that’s what a traditional wedding is too! Yes, but also, no. With a traditional wedding the majority of the couple’s focus and budget is not on themselves but the guest experience. For an elopement, the couple’s focus is on themselves and planning a day they want. If they decide to have some guests, those people are just along for the ride.
Elopements are about choosing purpose over popular and creating peaceful space to be vulnerable with each other so you can freely express yourselves on the day you cross over into marriage. An elopement allows you to be fully yourselves while living a completely customizable dream day of fun and romantic experiences that deepen your connection.
Eloping means running away from tradition for tradition’s sake, away from the things that may be expected but don’t have meaning to you, away from obligations and away from waste. As you run away from these things, you are running toward something beautiful, a wedding day stripped down to raw moments, fully lived, with your life partner.
You can do it anywhere, in any way that lights you up because what you want is the number one priority.
Not at all! No way José! Any day when two people come together to form a new family is awesome! I’m for ALL kinds of weddings. But to me, the most important thing is the couple doing what feels comforting, what excites them the most, and what will give them the most fulfillment going forward. So, if you want everyone and the mailman at your wedding, you should do it! But if you struggle to see yourself enjoying a large or small wedding with a traditional format, an elopement might be what’s best for you.
I recently surveyed 160+ couples* that are currently planning elopements or eloped within the last five years to learn about their motives and experiences. For the purposes of the survey I defined an elopement as including 0-20 guests. Their responses, though not surprising to me, debunk many myths still held by both society and wedding vendors alike.
*The survey excluded couples that eloped in response to COVID-19.
Pardon my french but that’s bullsh*t. Let’s get this idea out of the way right this second. An elopement is a “real” wedding because at the end of the day the two people who wanted to get married, did. That makes it very real. While the delivery system might be untraditional, the outcome is still the same.
But Dawn you know what they mean when they say “real wedding.” Yes, I do. They mean a traditional large scale wedding with 100+ guests, a ceremony, and a reception at an event venue with food, dancing and bouquet toss. And my challenge here is, is it still a wedding if the couple only has 50 guests? Is it still a wedding if the couple doesn’t do a bouquet toss? It is still a wedding if the reception is Sunday brunch and a caricature artist for entertainment, but no DJ? What, actually, are the parameters of a “real” wedding?
It’s semantics, really. No one would say the above examples aren’t weddings. What they are really getting at is that guests and a party with entertainment are what make something a wedding. I am simply saying, that those examples are other types of weddings that are special just like elopements are a type of wedding that is special.
For some there is a short turnaround time from decision to ceremony. But per my survey, over 60% of respondents took three or more months to plan their elopement and nearly 25% took a year or more! That’s not a spur of the moment day by any stretch of the imagination!
The truth is, couples are being really intentional about the way they want to spend their time together and the experiences they want to share. They are often planning to travel to a favorite or bucketlist destination for their elopement. They are putting as much care and consideration in their planning as a couple planning a traditional wedding would.
I see why even in 2020 this can still seem very true. Many wedding vendors offer quick 1-2 hour packages to get in, get the basic vows read, get a portrait or two and get out. They’re everywhere so it can seem like that is the standard AND sometimes the only choice. But it’s NOT THE ONLY CHOICE. This may be perfect for some couples for a multitude of reasons but, for many, this is a far cry from what their elopement dreams look like.
Elopements are not less-than versions of “real weddings.” An elopement is a wedding, and with half of couples taking 6+ months to plan these events, they are not overlooking the value and importance of any part of their day. This is their time to get really vulnerable with their vows and their time together.
Instead of having a fully scripted day, couples have more time to share all their feelings and emotions with each other. The ceremony might be shorter, or it might not. It really depends what the couple wants to include. At a traditional wedding there is a dedicated time slot, the ceremony, where the couple shares their feelings and says their vows, which can last anywhere from five minutes to over an hour. An elopement ceremony could also last five minutes, or it could be a three hour process amidst an all day adventure.
An elopement ceremony can include anything that might happen at a traditional wedding ceremony like readings, inclusion of traditions like handfasting or other unity ceremonies, religious or other songs and so on. It could be a simple reading of vows. It could also look like close family gathering at a location to bless the couple, before the couple departs to another location to exchange personal vows in private before returning to their family to share additional vows and be pronounced married.
There’s no template. That’s the fun part of planning an elopement. It can be whatever you want it to be!
It might seem like that when you look at basic wedding media. 90% of photographers offering elopement photography have 2 hour packages ready and waiting for you to book. While this may have begun as a way to offer wedding day documentation to couples looking to forgo a large traditional wedding, it has settled into being the only option eloping couples feel they have. They assume it’s all that’s available to them because it’s all they see offered.
The problem is that the wedding industry has assumed something about modern eloping couples that is no longer true. Nixing a reception is seen as the couple wanting to forgo any kind of celebration at all, rather than a desire to replace it with something else. And because of a myth about couples only eloping to save money (see MYTH #8), most wedding photographers assume couples wouldn’t choose to have full day documentation like their traditional wedding counterparts. They falsely believe that because you want to cut out certain traditional wedding day services that means you want to do it across the board.
But your elopement day isn’t an abbreviated wedding day. It’s not a less-than, quick errand to run, sign some papers, no big deal, less legitimate wedding day. There are still 24 hours for you to fill with everything from getting ready to goodnight kisses. There are still 1440 minutes available to fill with excitement, love, joy, adventure and unadulterated celebration!
Just because you didn’t want to spend $30000 on a reception shouldn’t mean you are relegated to two hours of celebration and a nice photo at the park. This is your wedding day! You deserve to celebrate all day and have hundreds of beautiful photos that capture every love-filled and happy moment just like all those couples going the traditional route.
Imagine for a minute a day where you could do anything you wanted. A day where you could have the most whimsical experiences, luxurious splurges or crazy adventures with no limits. Imagine a day where you could spend every second basking in unforgettable moments with your partner. Imagine a day you’ll look back on for the rest of your lives with ear to ear grins because it was so quintessentially you! And now imagine on that day, you also get to marry each other. Where would you go? What would you do?
Excuse me for a moment while I channel the lyrics from Aladdin and Jasmine singing A Whole New World… “no one to tell us no or where to go or say we’re only dreaming…unbelievable sites, indescribable feeling, soaring, tumbling, freewheeling…”
You get it.
It can, but it doesn’t have to if that doesn’t feel right to you. A lot of couples will confide in their families and friends before eloping because they want to share their plans and include their loved ones in their excitement. In a lot of cases, immediate family is actually invited to witness the ceremony (per MYTH #6 you CAN have guests).
I will say, most of my couples informed their families of their plans to elope and over half of them had family present at the ceremony. It is up to you and what you as a couple feel most comfortable with.
Actually, you can. This is a big one and a bit of a newer concept in elopements. In decades past, couples that wanted to elope often scrapped the idea because while they didn’t want a big ass wedding, they also couldn’t bear the thought of not having their parents of siblings present at their ceremony. Well, that’s all different now!
There is no industry determined number of guests that will classify your day as an elopement. Personally, I classify an elopement as having 14 or fewer guests. Beyond that, the day can start to be overpowered by guest needs. Ultimately the main thing is that the focus of the day is on you, the couple. It’s about you planning a day for yourselves exactly as you’ve dreamed it, and extending an invitation to your guests to witness it, without compromising any detail.
For some couples they will simply fulfill their witness requirements and stop there. Often these witness requirements can be filled by willing vendors, like your photographer and officiant.
In addition, there are some places in the U.S. that you can get married with zero witnesses and no officiant. That’s right! You can decide to go off, just the two of you, and say your vows and marry each other. It’s called self solemnization or a self uniting marriage and it is legally recognized in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington DC. You still sign and file a marriage license, but these locations recognize YOU as your own officiants.
Ultimately it is for you to decide if having guests will add meaning to your day while keeping the focus on you.
Maybe in the past this was true of couples that eloped, but now it is so very far from the truth. Couples aren’t choosing to elope because their families don’t like their partner. In fact, only ~8% of our survey respondents claimed this as a reason for eloping. So when your friend or family member shares their elopement plans, know they are likely NOT going this route due to any familial rejection of their partner.
As it turns out, saving money is a positive side effect of eloping rather than the reason for doing it in the first place. In fact, the number one reason couples cited for choosing to elope was “because it felt more authentic to who we are” (83% of respondents).
Coming in at a close second was “so the day would center around our relationship” (81% of respondents) and rounding out third was “because we value experiences over all the stuff you need for a traditional wedding” (73% of respondents).
Only ~11% of respondents declared that they “eloped specifically to save money.”
For a lot of couples, they are simply shifting perspective on what kind of day they want to plan for themselves and, in doing so, it may just turn out to cost less. Because the focus with elopements is on the couple rather than the guests, what they choose to invest in any aspect of the day boils down to the value it will bring them alone.
In The Knot’s 2019 Real Weddings Study, the national average cost of a wedding was $33,900. The lowest state average came it at $19,700 for Utah and the highest state average of $53,400 in New Jersey. If you break this down by metropolitan areas the differences can be even more stark! Factor in the average guest count of 131 and it’s easy to see where most of the wedding day money will be focused. Instead of putting their money toward decorations and food for 100, elopement couples are investing in an intimate experience for themselves where they can focus on each other and be vulnerable and authentic in a way that a traditional wedding won’t allow them to do.
When couples worry about their own experience first, the guest experience becomes secondary and merely a way to enhance their celebration rather than run it. That in turn makes it effortless to cut the cost. Of course you can plan a large traditional wedding or an elopement on a low budget, or a high budget. But since the approach to elopement planning isn’t centered on price tag, the financial investment takes a backseat to the emotional investment.
There’s almost always someone who will say this in an attempt to judge or question your moral character. And because of that, this is where a lot of couples will stop daydreaming about an elopement and forge ahead with a traditional wedding in an attempt to appease their presumed guests. But all I have to say is that asking a couple to have a big wedding despite the fact that they might not be able to afford it, might be socially uncomfortable with it, or might feel traumatized by not being able to spend the first day of their marriage in the way they dreamed…is also pretty selfish.
You are entitled to spend the date of all your future anniversaries in a way that enhances your relationship, brings you comfort, and sets your souls on fire. Your marriage might include them as the years go on, but it isn’t about them. Any expectations anyone has, aside from you being married at the end of the day, is a form of shaming, either financial or emotional.
It is not selfish to make your wedding day about your relationship and your marriage. It is a gift you are giving each other and your future to do what has the most meaning to you.
Elopements can happen anywhere on earth! The courthouse or Vegas are just two of infinite options. Open your mind up to the reality that you could pretty much elope anywhere. You are truly only limited by your imagination.
Want to stand on a rooftop overlooking your favorite city to say your vows? You can. Think it would be cool to charter a private yacht and have your friend deliver the ceremony? You can do that! Want to say your I do’s at the coffee shop where you had your first date? We can probably make that happen!
This all goes for the post vows celebration too! Book a hot air balloon ride, go to a comedy show, or have a private catered picnic on the beach. You can spend the day doing any dreamy thing you can think of!
If you’re hoping to have your ceremony in a government building like the insanely gorgeous San Francisco City Hall or the 1910 Harris County Courthouse in Houston, then you’re likely limited to a weekday and certain time slot. But for non-government ceremony venues, you could potentially elope any time of day and any day of the week! Other locations could be a park, beach, restaurant, AirBnb, sailboat, airplane, theme park…you get the point. It could be someplace that has special meaning to you, a place you just like, or a place that’s on your bucketlist. Use your imagination!
It all just comes down to planning. Get in touch with the necessary contacts and you’ll be able to get an idea of your options. Some locations might require you to book further out. Remember, a lot of locations host all kinds of events so you may be competing for spaces and times with other gatherings. In the case of state and national parks you may need to secure permits, which may be limited per day and could sell out quickly for weekend days.
There are wedding planners and floral designers out there that will happily set up a ceremony backdrop for you at a mountain overlook, an AirBnb or pretty much anywhere you can think of. And private chefs and caterers are all too happy to arrive with delicious food and drinks to help you celebrate your day.
You can utilize all the same types of service providers for an elopement that you would for a wedding. They may have certain stipulations regarding availability of items and delivery times if they already have events booked, but that is true of any vendor for any event.
And as a bonus, with a reduced or nonexistent guest list, you’ll have your pick of non-wedding type services too! Think helicopter tours, guided pub crawls and other fun experiences tailored to smaller groups. A whole world of options is open for you to explore!
The most important thing is to be clear about your plans and vision with any service providers you interview to hire.
An elopement is an incredibly important milestone in a couple’s life. It’s not an abbreviated wedding or less special day. It’s a day for a couple to savor the time and emotions they are sharing. But don’t just take my word for it. Read these accounts from some of the real wedding couples I had the honor of surveying!
We live in England and we chose to elope to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We both love traveling and it made sense for us to spend our money on an adventure instead. We didn’t tell family, only a few friends. While we were away, after the ceremony, we sent a postcard to immediate family with a photo of us getting married. Everyone was happy, not surprised, and a little sad they couldn’t be a part of it. It was the best decision we ever made. ~ Emma
We eloped in Vegas. By Elvis and all. No guests. We decided to elope because that just felt right to us. While we both have very healthy relationships with our families, we are both private about our feelings. To us, getting married was incredibly intimate. I couldn’t imagine showing that level of emotion and love in front of everyone who knows me. That is private between my husband and I. In fact, I ugly-cried the happiest tears of my life at the ceremony. I would never have been able to be that raw in front of anyone else. This was the #1 reason we eloped. The financials were a plus. While we are admittedly privileged enough to have our parents help pay for a traditional wedding, neither of us wanted to ask for money. It’s been two years and so far we regret nothing. What we did felt like us. ~ Taylor
We had an extremely intimate multi-day celebration in Anguilla with some of our closest friends/family. We eloped to avoid the circus and make the wedding just perfect for us in our favorite place. We have no regrets. ~ Miranda
I knew for awhile that I wanted to elope, and I was so glad that my husband and I did! We took a long weekend to the city we got married in (it was a destination elopement for us) to explore and enjoy the getaway and make the most of our wedding weekend. We told our families of our plans from the beginning. It took them a bit to understand, but they ultimately understood and accepted our choice. Our wedding was magical and without any guests it allowed us to focus on each other. ~ Rebecca
We eloped on Mt. Roy in New Zealand. Neither of us are into being the center of attention. Both of us were dreading the idea of having to deal with all the planning and execution of throwing a party for everyone we know. Plus we both like to travel a lot so it made sense. When we got home we created a photobook of the professional and personal photos we had taken that day and sent it to our families. They all understood and we have no regrets. We had a wedding planner who made it easy and planned everything for us and just gave us options to make it personal. ~ Arlene
We started planning a more traditional wedding and once we got to the guest list we realized we really didn’t want 99% of them to come because they didn’t matter to our current or future lives. Plus we were just ready to be married. So we planned it in two months and did the damn thing with 8 people on a beautiful lake in Washington. ~ Rylee
We’re planning an elopement at Walt Disney World. We initially made the decision because we both have large families and hosting them all for a wedding would be incredibly difficult financially. We invited only our immediate families and our closest friends, and while we received a few snide remarks from some aunts, the majority of our family was very supportive. Planning our wedding has been so much fun without the stress of the amount of money we would’ve been spending had we had our wedding at home. ~ Anna-Kate
We eloped at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona almost two years ago. It is still one of the best decisions we have ever made and one of the best days of our lives. We have absolutely zero regrets. We decided to elope because it was something much closer to our hearts than having a big planned event that’s not valued enough. We don’t have a lot of friends and family either because we are both kinda loners, but we did have a few family members there. So eloping was perfect for us, it worked with our time frame as well as our budget, bonus! (We just bought a house right before we got married) We valued our wedding experience and memories much more than fancy decorations and big crowds of people. We loved having Mother Nature be our “chapel” and decorations, we loved keeping it simple and seamless yet very intimate, fun and authentic. If we could relive our elopement every year we wouldn’t think twice! We’re already planning an adventurous 5 year vow renewal that will be similar to our elopement! Eloping is just simply EPIC. ~ Shanmari
Our main reason for eloping was that we learned we could spend a week in Greece, pay for all our guest’s stay there, our photo and video, plus a two week honeymoon in Turkey for less than what we were going to spend in ONE NIGHT for a wedding at home. The hardest part of the decision was knowing my dad would not be there to walk me down the aisle, and would not be there with us at all because he can’t fly. But he ultimately was the one who encouraged us to do it because he knew it was so much more “us”. We had just spent a year backpacking around Central America, South America and Europe. My husband and I are always the best version of ourselves when we travel together and it just felt right to get married in a gorgeous and unique place. Another huge reason to elope was that I see the stress surrounding traditional weddings all the time since I am a photographer for these big weddings in my home city. The thing I heard a lot from brides is “I’m just ready for it to be over” and “today just flew by I barely remember it” and I didn’t want that to be us. I wanted every moment of the day to be intentional, meaningful, and centered around us. And it ultimately was! We are both extremely happy with the decision we made. ~ Hannah
My husband has always wanted to get married in his home country of Panamá, and I’ve always had a deep desire to elope without telling anyone. So that’s what we did! Our day was authentic and unconventional, just like our entire relationship. We planned our elopement for a year and didn’t tell anyone, not even our parents. We had only our photographer and videographer with us, who served as our witnesses and officiant. I don’t regret a minute of it. When we came home, we didn’t tell anyone for six months. We were able to really settle into our new roles of husband and wife before being bombarded with questions and opinions, and I’m thankful for that. Our families were overall very supportive and, of course, shocked. There were some hurt feelings, but we know that we made the best decision for us and I will cherish our perfect day forever. ~ Aundra
We loved our elopement. Both myself and my husband have very large and slightly complicated families, so we’ve always considered an elopement to make our lives easier and not worry about pleasing others. We got married on our 10th anniversary in Norway and went to go see our favorite band play that evening. I think going to a concert really gave us the party feel you sometimes miss by not having a traditional wedding, but it meant the attention wasn’t on us. We took a guest each, my sister and our best friend as our legal witnesses and having just the two of them made it so intimate and private. The day was purely about us. I wouldn’t change a thing about our day. ~ Chloe
I never planned on a wedding. I just wanted a dress and my husband. We ended up getting married in a haunted hotel. We had an old fashioned hotel party with a few friends and guests at the hotel. We ended it in a morgue underneath the hotel. We had zero plans or expectations. I was so chill during the whole thing. Our pictures made it look like we had the entire thing planned to a T but in fact we didn’t. It was amazing and I would do it all over again! ~ Miranda
I plan events for work so I could have easily planned a wedding, but every time I went to do it it didn’t feel right to us. We love traveling and we’ve always been on the private side so we decided to look into eloping. We had toyed with the idea since January, paid deposits in late April and eloped in September. We went with Warren from Mountain Weddings New Zealand and they planned everything from flowers, celebrant, makeup, transport, licensing and anything else we needed. For everything including wedding bands, bridal and groom outfits, four days in New Zealand and all activities, filming, helicopters and car hire, we spent about $26,000. We paid for our two friends to fly over from Australia with us and we covered their food, activities and all of our accommodations in a gorgeous luxury lodge. It was definitely cheaper than a wedding in Australia but we didn’t skimp on anything for our elopement. We spent big on video so we could always have something to remember the day and show people. I highly recommend this! We would do it all over again exactly the same in a heartbeat! ~ Jesse
If eloping has been on your mind, I hope this article settles your nerves and empowers and inspires you. There is no limit to how amazing your day can be!
To start start planning your elopement day, get in touch and let me guide you!