How to elope

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What is An Elopement? How They Differ From Big Weddings

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, chances are you’ve heard that elopements are TOTALLY making a comeback. And if you have been living under a rock & are totally shocked that elopements are actually a thing, not just a spontaneous thing couples used to do in the 60’s in Vegas when they didn’t want to wait to tie the knot, you’ve come to the right place!! No more going to Google to search “what is an elopement?” – all your questions about elopements are about to be answered by an expert (that’s me!) 😉

What is an Elopement? The Basics

Let’s start off with some of the basics – AKA the questions I hear over & over from couples who are trying to decide what they want their big day to look like. And keep in mind that while I will give you my best answers based on my experience as an elopement industry pro, every elopement and every couple is totally different + totally unique. If my definition of “elopement” doesn’t fit what you’re dreaming up for your special day, that’s okay!! Use this as a guide to help you figure out what you want, and leave anything that doesn’t make sense to the two of you & your relationship.

What is an elopement?

There are MANY different definitions of “elopement,” but in general nowadays, an elopement is a meaningful celebration of a couple’s commitment through an intimate ceremony, with the focus placed more on the couple than on the aesthetic/material things/guests. 

I know what you’re thinking – “wait, elopements can be MORE than just spontaneously running off to Vegas and finding an Elvis impersonator to officiate?!” Hell yes!! The cool thing about modern elopements is that because they’re meant to really be focused around YOU rather than your guests or the huge party you put on, you can literally do whatever the hell you want. 

Why are more couples eloping now?

Honestly, there are many reasons that eloping has become so much more popular in recent years. First of all, more and more couples started realizing that traditional, big weddings just didn’t really align with what they actually wanted. They realized that the only reason they were planning a traditional wedding was to fit the “norm,” to please their way-too-involved family members who’d been dreaming about their wedding for years, to follow “tradition” that they thought they had to follow. And once they started realizing THAT, they started to consider other options – enter: elopements!!

When the wedding industry started talking more & more about elopements, it became more “acceptable” for couples to elope, or to take a non-traditional route. Honestly, so many of us just need permission to do something out of the norm – and once we have it, a world of possibilities starts to open up! 

Another huge reason that the elopement industry has exploded the past couple of years is COVID. Sooo many couples were forced to cancel their big weddings due to the pandemic, and because they really just wanted to freaking marry their boo even amidst all the craziness of the world, they started considering other options. Like having an intimate backyard wedding, or finding somewhere to tie the knot by themselves, with just a couple of witnesses and an officiant – AKA an elopement 😉 

They realized that life was too short and the world was too wild & unpredictable to put off their commitment just for the sake of having a huge party, so why not bring the focus back to them and what was special to THEM?

Why is eloping a good idea?

I’ll go more into this in the pros & cons section below, but overall, the biggest draw of elopements for couples is that they focus on the couple and their love story, and what’s meaningful to THEM, rather than the performance that often comes with traditional weddings. Instead of participating in traditions that you don’t even care about just for the sake of tradition, or paying thousands of $$ for a meal for 400 people that you barely know, or inviting your aunt that drives you crazy JUST because your mom wants you to, you get to think about what YOU really want. 

What’s actually meaningful to you and your partner? What do you two really care about the most? What would make this day the most special for YOU – not for anybody else?

How many people is considered an elopement?

Honestly, there’s no hard number or limit – but in general across the elopement industry, an elopement typically has no more than 10-15 people. More than that tends to get you into the intimate wedding/microwedding category, but again, it doesn’t REALLY matter! The part that matters is that you invite only the people who you truly want to be there by your side. That you’re not just inviting people because you feel like you have to or because you “invited X cousin, so now you have to invite Y cousin.” Whether that looks like two of your closest friends, your immediate families, your grandparents, or NOBODY, and it’s just the two of you, your witnesses, and your vendors, it’s totally up to you!!

Is it still eloping if you tell people?

Totally!! Gone are the days where eloping has to be some sort of scandalous secret that nobody knows about – although totally go for it if you wanna keep it a secret, then announce it later 😉 It 100% still “counts” as an elopement if you tell people beforehand, whether you’re inviting anybody or not. ANYTHING “counts” as an elopement if you want it to!

Is eloping a real marriage?

Yup! Elopements consist of legal ceremonies just like traditional weddings do, so you’ll go through the same process of getting a marriage license, having an officiant, and signing your license & sending it in for finalization afterward.

The only exception to this would be if you want to elope internationally, but you don’t want to have to go through the process of getting a marriage license in the country as a foreigner. In that case, you have the option to get legally married in your home country beforehand, then have a symbolic (but not legal) ceremony abroad to make it easier!

Is eloping cheaper than having a wedding?

In general, elopements tend to be cheaper than big weddings because you’re not spending huge chunks of money on renting a venue or providing food for hundreds of guests. However, elopements are not necessarily always cheaper than weddings – you may just opt to spend your money in different ways for an elopement than a wedding! Because elopements are more focused on the experience rather than material things, it’s likely that your money will be spent more on your photographer, activities for you & your guests, and meaningful meals, rather than a venue rental, a caterer, and hundreds of favors for guests for a big wedding. 

But remember: there are no rules. Spend your money on what’s most important to you and what you’ve decided are priorities for your big day!

What are the main differences between an elopement and a wedding?

Below are some of the factors that differ the most between elopements and traditional weddings!

Guest count

While traditional weddings often have anywhere from 100-400 guests, elopements usually have under 20. No need to invite every long-lost aunt and all of your third cousins that you barely know – keep it to only the people you truly want there to celebrate with + support ya! I promise, your family will get over it eventually if they’re upset about not being invited. And if they don’t, then it’s probably a good thing you didn’t invite them!


Traditional weddings typically take place at some sort of venue that you can rent for the day, or for the weekend, since couples need a large space that can host all of their guests. But elopements can be held ANYWHERE – well, anywhere where it’s legal, of course! Want to elope in the mountains? Do it! In the middle of the desert? You got it. Whether you want to elope somewhere totally new to you or at your favorite place that the two of you love to visit together, the world is your oyster! Just make sure you know what permits you need if you decide to elope on public land like a national or state park.


Like I mentioned already, elopements tend to be cheaper than weddings since there are fewer guests to spend money on, and you don’t need to rent a huge venue. However, the cost of your elopement is totally up to you and what is most important to you to spend money on, whether that be your activities, your vendors, your accommodations, etc!


Big weddings usually involve long-standing traditions, such as “something borrowed/blue/new,” waiting to see each other until you walk down the aisle, first dances, cake cuttings, reception games, etc. You can totally incorporate these traditions into your elopement if they’re meaningful to you, but often couples realize that they don’t really care about those traditions and would rather put their time + money into things that are more important to them, such as activities for their guests!


Speaking of activities, I 10/10 recommend incorporating some into your elopement day, either for just the two of you or for you & your guests to do together! With big weddings, you have to stick to a pretty strict timeline and you’re limited to certain locations near your venue. If you’re having an elopement, however, you can do whatever you want – be it hiking through the mountains, stargazing, camping, biking, kayaking, swimming, playing board games, sitting around a campfire, anything!


With big weddings, the easiest & most popular food option is to hire a caterer, since you have a lot of mouths to feed. With elopements, however, you have wayyyy more options when it comes to what you eat on your big day since you can prioritize quality over quantity! You could hire a private chef to cook for you at your Airbnb, have a picnic in the mountains, hire somebody to create a big charcuterie spread, book a food truck, have a potluck with your guests, order pizza, rent out a room at a fancy restaurant. . . the options are ENDLESS. 

Elopement Planning FAQ’s

How long is a typical elopement?

An elopement can last anywhere from 6 hours to a week. Yes, really!! Your elopement could consist of a quick courthouse ceremony and a classy dinner in the city, or it could be an all-day adventure around a city, or it could be a multi-day backpacking trip through the mountains, orrrr it could be a week-long celebration with your loved ones. I recommend hiring your photographer for at least one or two full days so that they can capture all the most special parts of your celebration!

Where can you elope?

ANYWHERE – that’s legal, of course. Here are some ideas for elopement locations to getcha started:

  • National parks
  • State parks
  • Mountains
  • Forests
  • Deserts
  • Beaches
  • Your backyard
  • Your favorite restaurant
  • Your favorite local park
  • An small venue 
  • An Airbnb
  • A cabin

Make sure to check local regulations so you can get the appropriate permits to hold your ceremony + that you follow the rules!

What vendors do you hire for an elopement?

Here are the vendors I recommend hiring for your elopement:

  • Officiant
  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Planner/coordinator/designer
  • Hair & makeup
  • Florist
  • Dress/outfits
  • Accommodations

Because you’re not having a huge wedding, it may not be necessary for you to hire out other parts of your day like stationery, decor, rentals, cake, and meals/snacks – but you absolutely can if you have the budget!! Here’s an article where I go more in-depth into what vendors you should hire for your elopement.

How long do you need to plan an elopement?

It totally depends on how complex you want your elopement to be, and on how hard you’re willing to work to make it happen! I’ve worked with couples who have had a year to plan their elopement, but I’ve also worked with couples who have done it in two weeks! In general, 6ish months should give you plenty of time to hire your vendors, make plans, book activities, etc. 

How to Plan Your Perfect Elopement in 18 Steps

Phew! That was a lotttt of questions I just answered, I hope you’re still with me. Now that you know what an elopement is, I def recommend checking out my guide to How to Plan Your Perfect Elopement in 18 Steps – this will take you through exactly how to plan your dream day as easily as possible!!

If you’re looking for some more resources to help you plan your special day, you HAVE to check out my blog – it’s packed full of info and inspo that I know you’ll love! And when you’re ready to hire a photographer to capture the elopement that you worked so hard to plan, I’d love to be your gal 😉 Contact me here and give me allll the deetz of what you’re dreaming up!!

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