When you think of the word “elopement” what comes to mind? For myself, I always thought of an elopement as a secretive wedding, one where the couple would run to Vegas and get married in a little white chapel. In fact, dictionary.com even lists the definition of an elopement as being “an act or instance of running off secretly, as to be married.”

However, this definition has changed throughout the years. So much so, that even Merriam Webster has changed their definition of what it means to elope.

A couple eloping in Olympic National Park.

What Does Elope Mean?

So what exactly is an elopement? What does elope mean?

An elopement is an intentional, small, and meaningful wedding day where the sole focus of the day is centered around the couple and their relationship.

One of the greatest parts of eloping is the freedom and flexibility it gives the couple. An elopement has no rules. The entire point of an elopement is to build a wedding day filled with experiences that reflect who the couple is.

For example, couples who love hiking may consider hiking to the top of a mountain to exchange vows in front of their immediate family (yes, you can elope with family). On the other hand, couples who love something more relaxing like trying new foods may consider going on a local food tour on their wedding day.

An elopement can look just like a traditional wedding, just with fewer guests, or it can be a completely spontaneous and outdoor adventure halfway across the U.S.

In a sense, the word “elope” has seemed to always stay true to its meaning: to escape.

A couple holding hugging on top of a mountain, eloping.

What’s the Difference Between a Wedding and an Elopement?

There are a few key difference between a wedding and an elopement. To see a more in-depth article about this subject, check out my blog post “Elopements Vs. Weddings.”

In short, an elopement is a wedding with less than 20 guests that takes place outdoors in an epic or meaningful location. There is no formal venue, and overall, it’s a much more relaxed and intimate day filled with doing things the couple loves. While elopements technically don’t have receptions, many couples choose to end the night with a private dinner, dance, etc.

On the other hand, a traditional wedding has over 50 guests and takes place in a formal venue. Traditional weddings are much more structured and include a line of traditions like the bouquet toss, cake cutting, and first dance at a reception.

But wait, if I’m having more than 20 guests but less than 50, what does that mean?

This is what we would call a “small” or “intimate” wedding. These types of weddings usually still take place at a formal venue, but are much more relaxed than a big traditional wedding. Depending on the guest count, these small weddings could also take place outdoors.

  • Elopements = 20 or less guests
  • Small wedding = 20-50 guests
  • Traditional wedding = 50+ guests
A bride and groom holding hands and walking towards the camera on their wedding day.

Should I Elope?

If you’re engaged or going to be engaged, you may pressured to have a big wedding. In fact, you may have not even known an elopement was an option until now. Suddenly, you’re wondering if you should elope or have the big wedding.

As an elopement photographer, I’ve helped countless couples navigate the journey you two may be on right now. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about, which is why I’m going to give you a straightforward answer.

If you’re wanting a day focused on your relationship, a day where you get to exchange vows at your favorite place with your pets and a few friends and family, and experience a deep sense of intimacy and connection, you should elope.

However, if you’re wanting a day more formal and dramatic filled with all your friends and family, an organized schedule, lots of music, decorations, and well-known traditions, you should have a big wedding.

At the end of the day, an elopement isn’t about the wedding favors, color scheme, or table decor.

Instead, it’s about having a day completely dedicated to your relationship, a day where you two get to be completely selfish and have a true intentional experience, together.

A bride and groom hugging on their elopement day

7 Biggest Elopement Misconceptions

Because elopements are still new, you may have heard a few misconceptions about them. I’m here to go through a few of these misconceptions and break them down.

#1: You Can’t Elope With Friends and Family

Nope! This is often the biggest myth I hear about elopements.

Remember when we talked about what eloping used to mean? A secretive wedding in Vegas? That’s where this myth stemmed from. Eloping was an act of rebellion, usually against parents who didn’t approve of a relationship.

However, more often than not, we see couples elope with friends and family. While each person likes to cap guests at a certain number, most people would agree that a wedding with less than 20 guests classify as an elopement.

There are a variety of different ways you can include friends and family on your elopement day, such as having them present at your ceremony, enjoying a post-hike dinner, or even having them help you get ready. There are also ways you can include friends and and family if you choose NOT to invite them, such as incorporating family heirlooms, having them write letters, or even FaceTiming.

A bride and groom holding umbrellas and smiling on their elopement day.

#2: People Only Elope to Save Money

Yes, elopements are much cheaper than traditional weddings.

However, this doesn’t mean that couples who elope don’t value their wedding day. In fact, couples who elope tend to value it even more since they’re going against the grain and choosing a more meaningful and intimate experience.

Truthfully, elopements can be as simple or grand as you want it to be. Whether you’re doing a helicopter tour in Alaska or exchanging vows at a local state park, your wedding day is just as valid as someone who drops $50k on a traditional wedding (okay a bit extreme, but you get the point).

#3: You Don’t Need to Plan an Elopement

Technically, this can be true.

If you’re wanting the traditional courthouse elopement, there’s practically zero planning required. However, most couples book me 6-12 months in advance to get help planning their elopement.

Many couples today spend the same amount of time planning an elopement as they would a wedding. While there are less steps required, there is still planning involved in creating that perfect elopement day experience.

#4: Elopements Are Short and Rushed

While elopements used to be very short, rushed ceremonies, that has changed.

Today, more couples are filling up their wedding day with meaningful activities and traditions, just like a regular traditional wedding. On average, most of my couples book me to capture 8 hours of their elopement day. Some have even booked me for two-day elopements!

You’re probably thinking… how on earth do I fill up that much time?

Well, that’s the thing with elopements. You can literally do ANYTHING you want!

An elopement is an overnight camping trip at an alpine lake, a two-day exploration of Olympic National Park, or an epic helicopter tour of Alaska.

#5: Eloping is Selfish

Just because you want a different wedding experience than someone else does not mean you’re selfish. It means that you know exactly what is important to you and your partner, and that’s all that matters.

At the end of the day, it’s YOUR wedding day. It’s not your mom, grandma, or brother’s wedding day. It’s yours.

If you choose to elope and have an intimate experience over a big wedding, that’s not being selfish. And even if it was, it doesn’t matter. It’s YOUR wedding day.

What Now?

Now that you know the true meaning of an elopement, it’s time to decide whether or not an elopement is right for you. If you’re still wanting a bit more information about the difference between elopements and weddings, check out this helpful article, or if you want to see the top 10 reasons to elope, click here.

If you’re still on the fence, be sure to check out some more useful articles to help you spark your inspiration, like the 20+ Best Places to Elope in California, How to Elope in Washington State, and the Leavenworth Elopement Guide.

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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