When you think of the word “elopement”, what comes to mind?
Is it some kind of hidden, rushed marriage – running away to the courthouse to escape family pressures?
Perhaps a last-minute arrangement in Las Vegas, or a cheap-o solution for people who don’t want to plan and pay for a huge wedding, or who just don’t care about their wedding as much?
Well, I’ve got news for you – that definition is straight-up outdated and obsolete.
The term elopement has taken on a new meaning throughout the past several years. It’s evolving and shifting into this wonderful new concept: an intentional, meaningful, and personal way to get married that’s becoming more and more prevalent and accepted.
It’s our job to start sharing what it truly means to elope nowadays, and why couples are deciding to elope – and to empower adventurous, daring couples like you to make the decision for yourself whether or not an elopement is right for you.
The average wedding (according to Wedding Wire’s 2019 Report) includes 126 guests and costs a whopping $38,700 – or even higher in areas like New York City, where the average is closer to $50,000. Altogether, the wedding industry is a $76 BILLION dollar industry, and it’ll only keep growing (source).
The average wedding also creates 400 pounds of garbage, and 63 tons of CO2. That means that in just a single day, one wedding produces the equivalent emissions that 4-5 people would produce over the course of an entire year. With 2.3 million weddings happening each year in the US alone, that’s also 1 billion pounds of trash every year, with no end in sight (source).
Eloping is about saying NO to the stressful, expensive, archaic, wasteful practices of the wedding industry that just aren’t for you, and saying YES to an experience that is intentional, meaningful, personal, intimate, and uniquely yours.
The definition is shifting, growing, and evolving, and the wedding industry better watch out.
I think it’s important to start by busting a few myths about elopements:
Myth #1: To elope is to run away in secret, to hide a shameful marriage, or to get married in a rush.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and is not the reason most couples are deciding to elope nowadays.
Many couples are spending months or even years planning their perfect, intimate, dream adventure elopement, and often couples announce that they’re eloping before it happens.
Many couples tell their family, or announce to the world that they’re choosing to elope.
Myth #2: Eloping is isolating, lonely, or selfish – and excludes all the important people in your life.
Eloping doesn’t have to be selfish or lonely – and you don’t have to be alone to elope.
An elopement doesn’t mean you can’t invite anyone. You might choose to bring your parents, siblings, or best friends. You might end up with 10-25 guests – or maybe you make the decision to elope in an intimate setting with just you two and the officiant.
There’s no rule in the elopement book saying you have to exclude the important people in your life at all – a lot of couples who elope plan a huge party after they’ve eloped, to celebrate with all the people they love.
(There are no rules in the elopement book, because there’s no elopement book – and that’s the beauty of it!)
The important people in your life will understand your decision, and even if they’re sad that they missed out on your vows, they’ll get over it. I’m sure they’d love to party with you and celebrate your marriage – if not, I’m not sure inviting them to your wedding would be right in the first place.
Myth #3: An elopement is just a cop-out for not wanting to plan and pay for a big wedding.
If you told any of my couples that their wedding day was a cop-out, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t go over well. Marriage is not a decision anyone makes lightly, and neither is eloping. Couples who elope nowadays are doing so in a very intentional way.
Not wanting to plan a big wedding might have something to do with it, but why should a couple be forced to have (and pay for) a wedding they don’t want, and that they don’t love?
So what does it mean to elope?
I like to define an elopement as:
An intimate, small, meaningful wedding experience that’s intentionally focused solely around you two and your love.
Eloping is about carving off all of the parts of a traditional wedding day that you deem unnecessary and inauthentic to who you are. It’s about saying “screw it” to all of the stress, frustration, and drama around planning a huge wedding.
It’s about the courage and freedom to do things your own way, and create a wedding experience that’s uniquely you – no matter where, how, or with whom.
An elopement could be on top of a mountain, in a church, or in your own backyard. You can invite a handful of your closest friends and family, or you can hold a super-intimate ceremony with only you two and an officiant. You can hold a big reception afterward, or keep it just between you two. It’s up to you.
Whatever form it takes, an elopement is focused around the intimacy of marriage and the relationship you two have. It’s about bringing in the things that you care most about, and discarding all the rest.
All of those other factors – guest counts, seating charts, family drama, money, whatever it is for you – can easily detract from the intimacy, sacredness, and personalness of your vows.
If you’re planning a big wedding, it might feel like things are getting out of your hands – and an elopement is an intentional decision couples make to keep it close to your heart.
If you’re sitting here, reading this, nodding along – here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering eloping.
1. Who do you want to be present, and will the people you invite hold you accountable in your commitment and your vows?
An elopement doesn’t have to be a lonely venture if you don’t want it to be. It’s a common misconception that elopements have no guests – that’s so not true!
We’ve photographed elopements with up to 12 guests, and these were no less elopements than those with no guests at all. It isn’t about the numbers, but rather the intention you take with deciding who is invited, and what your experience will be like.
Maybe you’re just very private people, and you’d rather have an adventurous experience that you two alone get to enjoy. Maybe you decide that hiking 12+ miles to the top of your favorite mountain is very important to you, and decide not to bring anyone along.
Maybe you decide to throw a big reception later on, to celebrate with your loved ones. Maybe you just couldn’t get married if your mom wasn’t there – that doesn’t mean you can’t elope.
2. Could we spend money on other (better) things?
Although most couples don’t elope nowadays for the sole purpose of lowering their budget, it is an awesome byproduct of having a smaller, more intimate wedding or elopement. First off, you aren’t taking 150+ people out for dinner and drinks. You likely won’t pay for a huge venue, a DJ, musicians, catering – honestly, all you need is a location, an officiant, and a photographer! When it comes to location, many couples are able to find a place to elope for very little, like a national park, a state park, or a hidden gem of a place that means a lot to them.
Ending up with a lower budget can also free up your budget to hire the photographer of your dreams – couples are often able to spend 50-90% of their entire wedding budget on a fantastic photographer who can help them plan and design their dream elopement, and give them photos they can then use to announce their marriage and share their memories with their loved ones.
So if you’re under some financial strain trying to plan your wedding, just know it isn’t the only way. Your money might be better off spent on a down payment for a house, paying off some debts, or – and we love this option – going on a totally kickass honeymoon!
3. What’s most important to you when it comes to your wedding day?
Is it the invitation font, or the color of the table runners? Is it the music at your reception, or the flavor of your wedding cake?
Some of those things may be important to you, and you might find some joy in planning all the little details.
But in my opinion, nothing should be higher on your priorities than your love and your experience. The commitment you two are making together and the great time you have while doing so.
Regardless of whether you end up planning a traditional wedding or eloping, every couple should sit down and think over their priorities. Maybe you discover that you care more about your honeymoon than the number of guests, or maybe you decide that a cake cutting is important to you after all.
Whatever you come up with, the day you get married is important. You deserve a wedding day that truly reflects who you are and what you hold dear.
So that brings me to my final and most important question for you:
4. What would bring you the most joy?
A big, traditional wedding, or an adventurous, intimate elopement?
This is the most important question you can ask yourself if you’re trying to decide which route is best for you.
If the thought of spending hours on a complicated seating chart, dealing with family drama, spending money out the wazoo on X, Y, and Z, and having to plan a huge wedding and follow all the traditions – if the thought of it all stresses you out, or if you feel like you have to plan a wedding that doesn’t reflect who you truly are…
There’s another option.
And if that isn’t enough to convince you that eloping is a viable option for you, take it from me.
I had a big wedding – and I wish I had eloped.
For my wedding, I rented out a big venue and invited 150 of my friends and family. Although we did DIY a lot of it, we still spent way more than we budgeted. I thought that was just what I was “supposed to do”, and I felt as though I was never given any other option. Eloping was just a pipe-dream – it wasn’t for me, it was inaccessible, it was ludicrous. It just didn’t seem possible.
Although I totally enjoyed marrying the love of my life and partying with my friends, the whole wedding planning process was frustrating and arduous.
Between perfecting the guest list, balancing various family tensions, combatting opinions and expectations coming from every which way, and watching the money go down the drain – it was extremely stressful.
But even more importantly, it didn’t feel like US. My husband and I are adventurous outdoorsy people, and we’re pretty unconventional. We love to hike, explore new places, and try new things. There wasn’t much about our wedding that spoke to that, besides our bucket list guestbook and our registry full of camping gear – but the overall experience of our wedding day felt very “by the book”.
Not to mention how exhausting it all was to plan!
If someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and told me I could skip all of that fuss and instead spend a day climbing a mountain or exploring a new place with my partner, just the two of us – that we could have the wedding of our dreams, one that reflected who we are and focused completely on our love – and even have some money leftover in our pockets for an epic honeymoon? Get outta here.
There’s no question what I would have done – I would have eloped.
I wish somebody had given me the permission to elope – so here I am, hoping and praying that you, a random stranger on the Internet, can learn from my mistake.
All it takes is the realization that you do indeed have the option to elope, and that you don’t need anyone’s permission but your own to have the incredible wedding of your dreams.
Because your wedding day matters.
I’m Louise, adventure elopement photographer and visual storyteller based on the East Coast. I’d love to help you create your dream adventure elopement!