What Is Eloping + Why Do Couples Do It?

couple embraces on elopement day

Long ago are the days ‘eloping’ meant running off to Las Vegas to get married in secret. Today, elopements have a completely different meaning and are quickly becoming the more popular than ever. More and more couples are foregoing tradition in favor of the intimacy and uniqueness that eloping offers. Although they were once thought of negatively, elopements are now a widely accepted and even warmly welcomed alternative to big conventional weddings.

But what is eloping and what about them is getting everyone so fired up?

How do elopements differ from weddings, and what’s so great about them?

What is eloping?

While there are many ways to define the term ‘elopement’, I like to say that “to elope means to escape”. Whether its from traditions that don’t resonate with you, pain of an uncomfortable atmosphere, or away from familiarity in favor of an adventurous experience, elopements can help you escape.

Elopements strip weddings back to their core purpose and give couples space to connect without distraction. They give permission to celebrate marriage with love at the center.

Today, many define elopements as small, intimate ceremonial experiences that allow couples to celebrate marriage in a unique + intentional way. Because elopements stray away from the traditional ceremony-reception format, they give couples permission to craft a unique day that focuses only on the marriage itself.

What does an elopement day look like?

One of the most common misconceptions about elopements is that they are quick and simple. Many believe eloping is just a quick vow exchange followed by dinner or a brief photo-shoot, and that’s it. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Elopements are still someone’s wedding day, and they deserve just as much of a celebration as anyone else’s.

The beauty of elopements is the freedom they allow. You can design an itinerary of activities that feel meaningful to your unique relationship. If you both value time outdoors, you could hike or kayak in a beautiful location. Or, if you are wine connoisseurs, you could visit local wineries. Music lovers? Consider celebrating your wedding at a music festival!

When you elope, your imagination is your only limitation.

Examples of elopement timelines:

Below are elopement timeline I created for two of my couples who decided to cancel their big, stressful wedding in favor of something smaller and more intentional:

These are real timelines for real couples who are actually getting married on their elopement day. Rather than capturing the wedding day in just an hour or two of photography, both timelines are full day celebrations with full day photography coverage. While these are just two of a million examples, they both give room for the entire elopement experience to be captured from beginning to end.

To plan your own elopement timeline, try narrowing down a general location and time of year, then find an elopement photographer who will help you create the perfect timeline. Their availability and suggested elopement timeline will help narrow down a specific date.

Where are the best places to elope?

While many couples still choose to “run away” and have their elopement in a different state or even a different country, traveling is not mandatory. Whether you chose to elope on a mountaintop in Colorado, under a waterfall in Indonesia, or under some bistro lights in your own backyard, choosing to elope means giving yourself permission to throw all the obligation cards out the window and spend the day doing… well, whatever you want!

I talk about this much more in my elopement planning guide, but there are essentially four key questions to ask when searching for the perfect elopement location:

  • Does the location offer comfortable amenities and accessibility for guests? If you aren’t having guests, is the location accessible enough for you?
  • Does the location offer privacy for intimate moments and limited distractions?
  • Does the “personality” of the location match your personality as a couple?
  • Is there something special or sentimental about the location? Is there something about the location that just feels right?

Bottom line: the best place to elope is the one that calls out to you.

If you’re willing to dust off your passports, eloping gives you the opportunity to cross off a location on your bucket list. If the two of you enjoy hiking, you could elope on one of your favorite trails. Or if you share sentiment for a particular city, beach, or park, you may choose to elope there.

One of the best parts about elopements is the opportunity to do things however you want. The best elopement experiences are ones with a meaningful and comfortable location, and space to connect and stay present. Your elopement will be so much more significant at a location that is not only beautiful to look at, but also one that has sentimental value.

How much does it cost to elope?

While some people elope to save money, the truth is elopements can cost just as much or even more than traditional weddings. Most people who elope do not do so with cost savings as their top priority. Just like traditional weddings, elopements can be simple (such as an appointment at your local courthouse) or extravagant (like a two-week safari in South Africa). If you’re an eloper, cost isn’t likely the driving force behind your unique celebration of marriage.

When it comes to cost, the biggest difference between elopements and weddings is the obligation to invest in things you don’t resonate with. Elopements give you permission to design an intentional, sentimental, and memorable day without the added pressure of incorporating traditions that you don’t find meaningful.

What costs will we have to consider for our elopement?

Travel.

If you and your partner want a grand or unique celebration, a destination elopement may be the perfect option! Destination elopements offer couples the chance to escape the convention of home and familiarity in favor of an unforgettable adventure. The cost of eloping will naturally increase if you decide to travel. However, with a destination elopement, you no longer have to budget for both a party and honeymoon, and instead can merge the two for one grand investment.

If a destination elopement is something you’re considering, it’s definitely worth saving for!

There’s nothing quite as magical as experiencing a new place with your favorite person. Traveling stimulates all your senses and feeds a part of your brain, heart, and soul you never knew were starving. Experiencing all new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes makes for the perfect celebration for something as pivotal and insurmountable as your wedding day.

Photography.

Because nobody else will have seen your wedding day, the role of the elopement photographer becomes invaluable. Unlike traditional weddings, you aren’t going to spend the day surrounded by guests with iPhones. These photos are the only documentation you’ll have when leaving your wedding day, and may be your only opportunity to share the experience with loved ones.

You might surprised to learn that many elopement photographers are more expensive than traditional wedding photographers. Elopement photographers often cost more simply because they do so much more than just take pictures! For example, adventurous wedding photographers will often require or include travel expenses. In fact, the best elopement packages out there have these travel fees baked right in.

While the average cost of a wedding planner or coordinator usually starts around $1000, many elopement photographers (including myself) include planning assistance in their packages. This means your will help you find a location, accommodations, travel plans, other vendors, etc; everything a traditional wedding planner or coordinator would help you with.

As an elopement photography, my work doesn’t start and end at your elopement day. It starts the moment you inquire, unravels and grows quickly, then doesn’t wrap up until weeks after you day “I do”.

Other elopement costs:

The blank slate that elopements innately offer means you have the chance to build an experience as simple or as grand as you wish. You only have to worry about costs for things that mean something to you, and you can ignore everything else.

  • With elopements, you no longer have to feed a hundred or more guests, but you will have to feed yourselves!
  • You may still wish to hold a bouquet or decorate the space you exchange your vows.
  • Before or after your elopement, you might wish to host a celebration dinner with loved ones.
  • If having a destination elopement, you may want to splurge on first-class plane tickets.

Remember, while there are many costs that are often greater than traditional weddings (like photography and travel), there are so many costs you no longer have to consider when eloping, such as:

  • Banquet-sized meal catering
  • Hours of open bar
  • Excessive centerpieces and party favors

Your only investment is a day (or two) filled with meaningful investments that serve you and your values.

What about friends and family?

A huge misconception about elopements is that they must be a surprise and that you can’t invite any guests. However, just because you decide to elope doesn’t mean you can’t include a handful of your must trusted people.

As I’ve already said a million times, the most beautiful thing about elopements is their flexibility. You can do whatever you want, however you want.

With that said, the most important thing to consider when creating your elopement guest list is the element of intimacy. One of the biggest reasons couples choose to elope in the first place is so they can exchange vows in an environment free from distraction. An intimate atmosphere allows for authenticity and vulnerability, and strips back the day to its core purpose.

The threshold of noise is different for every couple. While some couples require complete isolation from all people to connect on a deeper level, other couples find meaning in saying their vows in front of a small group of people they trust. If the experience would be more meaningful, there’s nothing wrong with inviting a handful of loved ones to your elopement!

How do we elope with kids?

If you plan on making your elopement day a family occasion, I recommend considering your location carefully. Look for locations that are not only accessible for children, but also has activities that will keep them entertained.

Consider locations that allow you to camp, where you can fill the day with family activities such as kayaking, yard games, and casual cookouts. Other family-friendly elopement locations you could consider are beaches where kids can play, or National Parks where can explore.

Whichever location you choose, having a backup plan is important when including young children as their energy and temperament can often be unpredictable. You may also want to consider a weekend-long elopement experience to ensure more intimate moments. Also, inviting other adults who can watch the kids will give you and your partner more time to focus on one another.

Will we regret eloping?

I think the better question to ask is, “will we regret not eloping?” To be honest – you can have your cake and eat it to (literally and figuratively, I guess!). After you have the adventure of a lifetime, you can host a reception or dinner party upon your return. Then during this reception, you can show everyone your photos and tell the stories of your incredible experience.

The problem is, you can’t do it the other way around.

You can’t have a big wedding, then turn around and elope afterwards. You could have an epic honeymoon or vow renewal, but your one and only wedding day will forever be remembered as a big party.

To summarize, what is eloping?

Elopements are powerful, emotional, and magical experiences, plain and simple. Just because you choose to go against the grain and do things your own way doesn’t mean it’s less than a bigger, more traditional wedding. This is still the day you’ll start calling each other your spouse and still the day you’ll remember each anniversary. These are the images you’ll share with your loved ones and say, “this is the day we got married.”

Let's work together to turn your into memories

Other Elopement Planning Resources

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Eloping Abroad: Tips, Tricks, and Good-to-knows This post could just be titled “Finishing Strong When Traveling Abroad” because many of these suggestions are targeted towards those traveling internationally. However, many couples who do elope end up eloping abroad – meaning they decide to visit another country! Whether this is the first time you’ve ever heard the term “destination elopement” or your first time traveling abroad, there are a few steps to consider to make your experience safe and seamless. Tips for Eloping Abroad International Data Plans This one’s pretty much a no-brainer, but easy to forget because of the natural

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