Elopement Definition - Defining Modern Elopements

Elope Definition: What Does it Mean to Elope?

elopement definition example of couple sharing their first kiss after eloping in the snow

The Modern Day Elopement Definition: Explaining What Elopements Look Like These Days And Clearing Up Some Common Elopement Misconceptions

Elopement Meaning: The Truth About Elopements And What It Truly Means To Elope

I’m willing to guess that at some point in your life you’ve been told stories about what elopements are. Maybe the elopement definition you’ve heard is that elopements are shameful, secretive weddings that couples have when their friends or family disapprove of their relationship. Or maybe you’ve been told that the only people who elope are those that can’t afford to get married the traditional way. Or perhaps you’ve heard the definition that elopements aren’t real weddings. Well guess what?

I’m here to tell you that every single one of those archaic elopement definitions is outdated. Perhaps that old elopement definition was valid in the days of your grandparents, but times have changed a lot since then. And luckily the modern-day elopement definition has changed quite a bit. Here’s how:

The New Elopement Definition: What Is An Elopement?

So all of this said, what is an elopement and how do we even define elopements today?

Elope Definition: An elopement is a non-traditional, intimate, and intentional way to get married, where the focus is on the eloping couple as opposed to the guest experience. 

The key difference between the definition of an elopement and the definition of a traditional wedding really comes down to the intention behind the day. What is eloping? Elopements are highly focused and defined by celebrating the eloping couple, whereas traditional weddings are primarily focused on the guests at the wedding (whether it be the inclusion of a cocktail hour or extended time spent mingling with guests instead of spending time with your partner). 

While a lot of people define elopements as small weddings that take place with just two people, an officiant, and the necessary witnesses present, elopements these days come in way more flavors.

I’ve photographed elopements with 10 people total present, because the eloping couple wanted their friends and family there. I’ve also photographed elopements where it was solely the couple (something you can do in Colorado, where you can self solemnize or self marry by signing as your own officiant).

Traditional weddings are defined by the guest experience, while elopements aren’t. What exactly does that mean, though? That means with big weddings, you’re planning your day in a way that focuses primarily on the flow of the day for your guests rather than your experience as the couple. 

So you’ll likely have a cocktail hour to keep the guests entertained. You’ll plan out gifts to give them. The list goes on. But beyond dedicating most of your wedding day to the guest experience, you’re also likely dedicating most of your budget to guests as well. 

A key difference between the definition of an elopement versus a traditional wedding is how your wedding budget is allocated. Your elopement budget can be focused on you and your partner, whereas a wedding budget is typically spread out amongst tons of vendors whose primary goal is to keep your guests happy and entertained. Elopements are defined by the preferences and experience of the eloping couple; not the wedding attendees.

The Average Traditional Wedding Couple Dedicates Almost All Of Their Budget To The Guest Experience

The Definition Of A Wedding, From A Budget Standpoint

According to the Knot’s annual study of the wedding industry, the average couple these days spends $258 per person on the guest experience for their weddings. With the average couple having 136 guests at their wedding, that’s $35,088. 

After crunching the numbers, I think it’s safe to say that the key difference between the definition of an elopement and the definition of a traditional wedding is centered around this idea of your day being about you and your partner, versus your guests. When you have a traditional wedding, you’re typically dedicating the majority of your wedding budget to the guest experience. If that’s what you want, that’s awesome! Go for it! But for a lot of couples, this doesn’t vibe with them. And that’s where elopements come in.

The Way We Define Elopements Is A Bit Different: The Budget is Focused On The Eloping Couple's Experience

The Definition Of An Elopement, From A Budget Standpoint

Ok that makes sense, but you probably have one key question about this whole elopement definition of ours: aren’t elopements just secretive, poorly planned, sometimes shameful events where a couple runs away to a place like Las Vegas to tie the knot? What is an elopement, really? Honestly, I can’t blame you for thinking that. 

Our culture has done such a crappy job of showing couples how insanely intentional and epic modern day elopements can be. Luckily, we’ve witnessed this elopement definition change a lot these days. And people are starting to view elopements as the epic option they are. In fact, I’d argue that elopements are some of the most genuine, love-focused, fun, and intentional ways to get married. And I’m excited to explain why. I’ll also dive into what an elopement isn’t and debunk some of the common misconceptions a lot of couples have when considering an elopement.

A Quick Story About Eloping...

But before I dive into defining elopements any further, I want to share my own elopement story. I don’t want to just throw out this elopement definition without explaining why I’m qualified to define elopements in the first place. First off, I’m an elopement photographer who exclusively specializes in photographing these types of intimate weddings. I’ve seen firsthand how unique, thoughtful, and fun these days can be. But beyond that, I also eloped. I have outright lived this new and modern definition of eloping, which is why I’m so excited to share what it really means to elope.

My husband Ed and I were planning our own traditional large wedding for a whole year (booked a venue, hired vendors, the whole nine yards). But we eventually realized that a big wedding didn’t feel like us, and that it wasn’t the best representation and celebration of our relationship. There are a number of reasons why we decided an elopement was best for us, but ultimately we spent the next year planning our adventurous elopement instead of our traditional, big wedding. We ditched our old wedding plans and did things our own way.

When we made this choice to elope, we definitely received our fair share of objections and misunderstandings when it came to the definition of an elopement. And we spent way more time than I’d like to admit explaining to people that our decision to elope was actually the best choice we could have made. Explaining how the definition of elopements has changed over the years was difficult to say the least. 

After our experience, I vowed that I wouldn’t allow any other couple to go through the struggle we went through in trying to explain to friends and family how the definition of elopements has changed over the years. So in honor of that, if you’re considering eloping, this article is here to be your guide to defining elopements and explaining what they are (and what they certainly aren’t!). 

I’ll also talk about how things have really shifted since the days of our parents and grandparents (who defined elopements much differently). And why elopements might just be the new frontier of weddings, with couples choosing to have their wedding their way, without the wedding industry telling them everything they “should” do and “should” have. Because at the end of the day, if we’re being honest, the wedding industry machine typically doesn’t have couples’ best interest at heart.

First, Let's Talk About What An Elopement Isn't

Debunking Common Misconceptions About The Meaning And Definition Of Eloping

Elopement Definition Misconception 1:

An Elopement Is Some Last-Minute, Quickly Pulled Together Wedding

This old-timey elopement definition is like nails on a chalkboard to us. The truth? Most couples I work with have spent just as much time planning their elopements as others do when planning their traditional weddings. When you look at the traditional elopement definition, you’re likely to run across some explanation of how elopements are rushed and poorly planned. But elopements can’t really be defined by the amount of time a couple spends planning them.  

So much intention and thought goes into planning an elopement, from finding the perfect elopement location that really speaks to you as a couple to putting attention into all the little details that matter to you both (like having an elopement picnic or wandering down your favorite hiking trail). Because of the smaller scale of an elopement, the attention to detail can be even more important and noticeable than with a larger wedding.

Elopement Definition Misconception 2:

An Elopement Has To Be A Secret

Sure, there are some couples who opt to follow elopement tradition, if you will, and keep their elopement a secret. But that sort of eloping couple is definitely not the majority. Many couples love getting their close friends or families involved in the elopement planning process. And sometimes they even bring those loved ones along for their elopement. Yes, you heard that right: elopements can have guests. It’s just usually a very small number. For example, I define elopements as intimate weddings with less than 10 people total. And while bringing along friends and family to your elopement isn’t required, it’s certainly an option if you want that.

Elopement Definition Misconception 3:

ElopementS Are Defined By "Running Away". You Can'T Elope Right In Your Hometown

While some couples choose to elope in remote mountain towns or in their favorite national park, others choose to elope right in their hometowns. Whether it’s a small backyard elopement in your childhood home or a woodsy elopement on a hiking trail you take your dogs to regularly, an elopement can happen anywhere. The important thing is that you find a place that speaks to you. No, you don’t have to travel to elope. You totally can if you want, but an elopement isn’t defined by the act of running away to get married. And no, elopements don’t exclusively happen in Vegas!

Elopement Definition Misconception 4:

Eloping MakeS Your Wedding Less Legitimate

This is a BIG one I used to hear a lot when people defined elopements. Eloping doesn’t signal that your relationship is less legitimate. What does it mean to elope? It simply means you want to be intentional about the way you get married. And it means that you’re not taking everything the wedding industry says to you as truth (and let me tell you, that’s a good thing!). And while we’re on the topic, an elopement is also not a shameful alternative for couples who can’t have a traditional wedding. Frankly that’s just a bold-faced lie the wedding industry wants you to believe so they can get you to spend the equivalent of a home down-payment on this one-day event.

So Now That We've Talked About What An Elopement Isn't...

Let's Talk About What Elopements Are, And The Perks Behind Choosing To Elope!

The Perks of Eloping

I've Talked About How The Elopement Definition Has Changed...But What Do They look Like These Days? And Why Are They Such An Incredible Option?

We’ve seen a huge shift in what elopements look like nowadays. And one of the biggest shifts is that elopements can’t really be put into a box. Each couple can customize their elopement day to be whatever they want it to be. I’ll talk a little bit about what that really means for you.

With This New Elopement Definition, You Get To Fully Customize Your Elopement Day. You Get To Pick And Choose Which Traditions (If Any!) Matter To You

  • Elopements allow you to put traditions aside if they don’t speak to you. They encourage couples to exist outside the box the wedding industry is trying to put you in. 
  •  When you elope there’s no obligation to mingle with people you’ve met only a handful of times in your entire life.  Unlike traditional weddings, where you’re spending all this time mingling with almost-strangers, elopements allow you to spend all that time with the person you’re marrying. And that’s the point of getting married anyways, isn’t it?! That’s one of the awesome things about the definition of elopements: you define how you get to spend your time.

When You Elope, You Don't Have To Write Your Vows For An Audience

  • With elopements, you don’t have to censor yourselves when you write your vows. The intimacy and definition of elopements allows couples to share their words honestly, without worrying about what an entire room full of people might think or say.
  • You get the privacy and benefit of minimal witnesses to what you’re saying. I’ve seen so many couples write two sets of vows on their wedding day when they choose the traditional wedding route: one that they read in front of everyone and one that they keep to themselves to share later. Frankly it’s sad that that even has to be the case. This is YOUR WEDDING DAY. You should be able to be open and honest, and elopements allow you to do that.

With Elopements, You Get To Be Intentional About Your Elopement Budget. Gone Are The Days Of Spending the Equivalent Of A Home Down-Payment On Your Wedding

  • When you elope, by definition, you get to put the focus on experiences rather than things. 
  • You save money on the guest experience (remember that $258/guest I mentioned earlier?), which you can then put into having your elopement at your favorite travel destination (if you want to travel for your elopement). Or investing in that dream dress or elopement photographer you’ve had your eye on. Imagine how much farther your wedding day budget could go if you decided to elope.
  •  You can choose a few select parts of the day to invest most of your budget and splurge a bit, and you’ll still end up spending way less than you would with a traditional wedding.
  • And best yet, all of this money you’d spend on your elopement? It’s all dedicated to you and your partner having the best day possible, rather than blowing your budget on an open bar, table settings, and floral arrangements that’ll likely get thrown out at the end of the night.

With This New, Modern Elopement Definition, You Get To Choose Your Own Elopement Adventure

  • You can go with the flow and maintain a sense of spontaneity on your elopement day. There isn’t nearly as much rigidity with elopements as there is with bigger, traditional weddings. Sure you’re following a general plan and elopement timeline, but it’s by no means as strict as a traditional wedding.
  • You can elope in pretty much any location you can imagine: national parks, the beach, on a mountain pass, in a backyard…the list could go on forever.
  • You have the chance to elope in a place that has meaning to you: something that no traditional wedding venue could give you.
  • Elopements are defined by their freedom. The flow of the day is entirely up to you. You get to choose what you want to do. Your ceremony and the events leading up to and following it can look however the heck you want them to look. Want to go rock climbing on your elopement day? You can do that. Want to camp out on your favorite trail the night before you tie the knot? You can do that too. Want to take a cooking class together the morning of your elopement? Go for it.

You Get To Be Selective About Who Comes To Your Elopement

  • When you elope, you don’t have to bring along every person you’ve ever known. Elopements, by their nature, and intended to be intimate.
  • Some couples choose to elope just the two of them, and others choose to bring along friends or family. It’s really up to you to decide. 
  • No one is entitled to be a guest on your elopement day. You call the shots. There’s no pressure to invite friends of the family that you’ve maybe met a grand total of 3 times in your life.

Elopement Planning Doesn't Have To Feel Like A Full-Time Job

  • For so many couples, wedding planning can feel like a full-time job in and of itself. But with elopements, there aren’t nearly as many moving parts.
  • Eloping isn’t nearly as stressful, especially if you have a good elopement photographer who can help you throughout the process. Many elopement photographers will be able to find you the perfect elopement location, recommend awesome vendors, and create your day-of elopement timeline for you. 

Elopements Allow You To Soak In Every Moment Of Your Wedding Day, Without Feeling Rushed

  • You want to know the most common thing I heard from married couples when I was planning our own wedding? They kept saying that the day went by so quickly and that they didn’t even get to enjoy it. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is spend all this time and money on an event that feels like it went by in an instant. I’d much rather savor every moment, and elopements allow you to do that.
  • Because you’re choosing every part of your elopement day with intention, you call the shots on the pace of the day.

The Most Common Questions We Get About Eloping

The New Elopement Definition And Elopement Meaning

It’s interesting to me that so many people say this to couples considering eloping over having a traditional big wedding. The fact of the matter is a wedding day is about the couple. It’s about celebrating their love and commitment. So it’s only natural that couples get to choose the way they want to get married.

In so many ways, traditional weddings are a production for two key parties: the wedding industry and the guests. Notice how the couple is nowhere in that mix. If choosing to have a big wedding feels right to you, that’s amazing. You should absolutely go for it. But if eloping is something you’d much rather do, you’re not being selfish or disrespectful for doing it. This day is for you and your partner, not your guests.

Absolutely. Choosing to elope doesn’t mean you’re not close to your family. In fact, a lot of eloping couples (myself included!) bring their immediate family members along with them. And inviting your close family to your elopement is a huge sign of how strong your relationship with them is, because of the selective nature of these types of intimate weddings. The modern-day elopement definition doesn’t involve leaving any and all loved ones behind. Sure, you could choose to elope just the two of you. But you can bring along a few close friends and family too.

We personally brought our parents and siblings along during our elopement, and I’ve photographed many elopements where my couples did the same. The traditional elopement definition doesn’t apply these days.

I feel you here. I actually come from a culture where big, traditional weddings are expected too. I won’t lie, it was tough taking the road less traveled and eloping, but eventually my family understood. At the end of the day, I was able to explain the intention behind why we wanted to elope: that we felt like a big wedding was more of a show and less of a celebration. That we didn’t want to be the center of attention for 8 hours straight. That we wanted to be open and honest in our vows, without almost-strangers listening in. That we didn’t want to waste money on decor that didn’t really matter to us.

But if talking to your family about your intentions behind wanting to elope doesn’t make a dent, you can always elope and then have a more traditional, ceremonial reception to celebrate with everyone later. That way you have your intimate elopement you’ve been dreaming of, while still including the traditions that are important to your family.

Yes! Elopements come in many different shapes and sizes. Some people want to have friends and family there, and others don’t. It’s totally up to you who you invite. The important thing to remember is that it’s your decision. Remember, no one should feel entitled to be a part of your elopement day. Only you get to decide who comes.

And if you want to celebrate your elopement with your loved ones without them being there for the day-of, you can always plan a post-elopement reception!

While the old definition of an elopement may have made them seem that way, I definitely disagree with this idea when it comes to modern day elopements. And here’s why. 

Ok, just take a moment to think about the concept of a big wedding: a couple gets together with over 100 people in a room, stands in front of each other for 30 minutes, pours their hearts out, kisses in front of said room of people, and has stuff thrown at them as they walk away. When you really think about what a traditional wedding ACTUALLY is, the whole concept is very strange and bizarre. 

In fact, I’d argue that elopements make a lot more sense. You’re not putting on a weird, likely rehearsed show for a room full of people you might not know super well. You’re being authentic to your partnership and celebrating in whatever unique way suits the two of you best. Honestly, that’s the perfect elopement definition: getting married in whatever way feels right to you.

You absolutely can! As an adventure elopement photographer, I specialize in mountain elopements. And I have a wide range of eloping couples reach out. Some want to hike 10 miles on a 3,000 ft elevation gain trail. Others choose to say their vows at an overlook close to the trailhead. Adventure elopements aren’t defined by how much physical activity is involved. They’re about you adventuring in a way that feels right to you.

Let Me Ask You This

If someone told you that you could have a wedding day where you wouldn’t have to deal with the immense stress of planning everything and entertaining a room of people you’ve only met a few times in your life, would you like that?

What if that person told you that you could toss all tradition out the window and do whatever you want on your wedding day, whether it’s going on a hike to your favorite alpine lake or swinging in a hammock in your back yard before you say your vows? No uncomfortable garter fetching in front of a group of people. No saying your personal, intimate vows to a room full of watchful eyes. No time spent mingling with strangers instead of spending time with your partner on your wedding day. No show. No production. Would you like that?

Honestly, if you’re nodding your head in excitement and wondering how you can ditch all the annoying pressure, tradition and nonsense that comes with traditional weddings, I don’t blame you. That’s how I felt too. And that’s the thing about elopements: they empower couples to have their wedding their way. You get to make your own rules. You get to create your own traditions…ones that actually have meaning to you. When we define elopements this way, we’re quick to realize that eloping might just be the most powerful wedding you could have.

The wedding industry will constantly push their narrative down your throat, telling you everything you “need” to have when you plan a wedding. But the only thing you “need” is the two of you and your love. That’s it. Keep it simple. Make it complex. Whatever you do, just make the day your own. This is your day, after all. Nobody else’s. Only you get to have a say in how it looks.

P.S. As an adventure elopement photographer, I believe in not just documenting my couples’ elopement days, but helping them navigate the elopement process too. I’m an advice giver, resource provider, cheerleader…all the things! And it’s because I’ve been in your shoes, planning my own elopement while simultaneously trying to explain to the world what it means to elope.

I know this process can be scary at times, but I’m here for you. Let’s talk about your dream elopement.

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