You’re newly engaged or planning to be, and you’re considering whether you should elope or plan the big wedding. You know they’re different, but how? You want to invite friends and family, but is that allowed at an elopement? What about a venue space? Should I worry about flowers?

An elopement, according to my own personal definition, are intentional, small, and meaningful weddings where the sole focus of the day is centered around the couple and their relationship.

However, weddings tend to take a different approach. Filled with festivities, table decor, and catering, the true meaning of marriage – committing your lives to each other – tends to get lost in all the chaos.

Let’s dive into the main differences between elopements and weddings.

5 Elopement vs. Wedding Differences

These are the five main differences of elopements vs. weddings.

#1: Guests

One of the main differences between elopements and weddings is the amount of guests.

An elopement has 20 guests or less. It’s a very popular misconception that elopements don’t include friends or family, but that’s not the case at all!

A small wedding, also known as an intimate wedding or micro-wedding, has 20-50 guests.

A big, traditional wedding has more than 50 guests.

While many consider the guest count to be the biggest difference, it actually has to do with the intent behind inviting guests. At elopements, guests are invited because they’re meaningful and significant to the couple, whereas at weddings, guests are invited because they have some connection with the couple.

For example, at an elopement, the couple may invite their immediate family, but not extended family members like aunts and uncles that they haven’t seen or spoken to in a few years. However, at a traditional wedding, extended family members are usually always invited, despite the lack of deep connection.

#2: Venue

One of the best things about elopements is that they take place virtually anywhere! Whether you’re looking to exchange vows on top of a mountain, on the coast of Washington, or under a roaring waterfall, you can! The location chosen also tends to be more meaningful for elopements. Many couples choose to get married where they first met, got engaged, or simply had an unforgettable experience. Most elopements take place outdoors.

When it comes to big weddings, there needs to be more structure. Often times, the couple is limited to a handful of venue options, all of which need to fit the needs of the ceremony and reception. This also comes with more planning and expenses to cover costs such as the decor, chairs, tables, etc.

A groom reading his vows in front of a waterfall on the couples wedding day.

#3: Price

Before we get into pricing, it’s important to note that people who choose to elope aren’t doing it to simply save money. This is a very big misconception about elopements. While you will save a pretty penny, know that couples who elope tend to value their wedding day more than others, which is why they intentionally chose to go against the norm and choose a wedding day experience that’s intimate and authentic.

Did you know that the average wedding cost was $28,000 in 2019?

For elopements, that number is cut in more than half, with an average cost of about $15,000. However, this number can also be much lower depending on your elopement location, budget, etc. In fact, many couples end up spending less than $10,000 for their elopement.

Why so much lower?

With elopements, you don’t need to worry about the cost of things like a venue space, catering, dj, decor, etc. Instead, a bulk of the money is put towards things like a specialized elopement photographer, lodging, and activities. Without guests to entertain, the couple spends their money doing something they would much rather enjoy, such as traveling for their elopement.

#4: Personalization

When it comes to throwing a big wedding, it can be hard to have an extremely personalized experience. Often times, venues only allow you to get married on certain days, book their preferred vendors, and put time restrictions on things such as food and music. If you love traditional elements and appreciate rules and schedules, a big wedding may just be for you. However, if you’re looking for a bit more flexibility, consider an elopement.

With elopements, you really have the chance to personalize your day however you see fit. This could mean getting married at midnight on New Years, personalizing your ceremony to include sage brushing, or even traveling to Alaska to get married under the Northern Lights. The possibilities truly are endless.

A bride and groom roasting marshmallows on a fire on their elopement day.

#5: Stress

Before we get into it, I want to make a point that elopements are not stress-free experiences. In fact, like traditional weddings, elopements still require planning. This also goes to say that big weddings don’t inherently cause stress. That being said, weddings do tend to have more stressful scenarios than elopements. Let’s get into it.

When it comes to traditional weddings, the couple will often feel a bit overwhelmed trying to plan an event for 100+ people. This stress usually comes from designing seating charts, determining how much food needs to be ordered, and trying to find a venue that can accommodate that many people.

Big weddings also carry more family stress. For example, your sister wants a certain color scheme, your mom thinks you should buy a certain dress, and your father-in-law wants to invite a family member you don’t talk to.

With elopements, many of these factors are stripped away and the couple has the freedom to make the choices they want to make.

A bride and groom hugging by a lake on their elopement day.

What if I Want a Big Wedding and an Elopement?

Maybe you’re still on the fence. You want all your friends and family members at your wedding, but you still want that authentic and intimate wedding day experience with your partner. How do you combine the two?

  • Invite your friends and family! Once again, an elopement doesn’t have to just be the two of you. You can definitely invite friends and family members to watch you two exchange vows and commit your lives to each other. Heck, you can even bring your furry friends!
  • Split your wedding up over two days. Let’s say you want an epic experience with just your partner one day, and a heartfelt experience with your family the next. This is a very popular thing to do amongst couples who want both an adventurous outdoor experience and a more traditional one with close friends and family.
  • Marry now, celebrate later. This trend was very popular this past year. I had a handful of couples who decided to have an elopement with just the two of them in a meaningful place. Then, a few months later, they threw a big party in a traditional wedding venue to celebrate with friends and family.
  • Incorporate traditional details on your wedding day. Just because you’re eloping doesn’t mean you can’t have a first dance, cut the cake, or walk down the aisle. Incorporating these details on your elopement day will make your elopement feel like a wedding.
A bride and groom holding hands by a lake on their elopement day.

Elopement vs. Wedding

At the end of the day, it’s important to choose an experience you resonate the most with and know you’d be happy with looking back 20 years from now. No matter what experience you choose, be sure that it’s authentic, intimate, and completely, wholeheartedly you.

Want more elopement planning help? Check out all my planning resources, or read specific articles like What Does “Elope” Mean, Oregon Elopement Guide, and this epic Mountain Elopement in Northern California.

NEED HELP PLANNING YOUR DREAM ELOPEMENT?

Snag your FREE elopement guide to help you plan your dream elopement in California, Alaska, or even Spain! Learn everything you need to know about how to plan a “just us” experience.

A free guide all about how to elope, created by a California elopement photographer.
A girl holding a camera and smiling.

ARE YOU READY FOR AN ELOPEMENT EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER?

I’m Brianna, a California elopement photographer who inspires, encourages, and empowers couples to push traditional boundaries and create experiences they’ll remember forever.

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