It’s a question that a lot of couples face when they first get engaged: elopement vs wedding…what’s the difference between the two? Should you even consider an elopement?
There’s been a recent trend of couples questioning whether a traditional wedding is right for them, or if they’d be more interested in getting married in a different type of way. Elopements have given many modern day couples the chance to take a different route with their nuptials. But it begs the question: what is the difference between elopements vs weddings, and is one better than the other? And more importantly, which one should you choose for your wedding day?
Historically, there has been a lot of stigma surrounding elopements, but have things changed in recent years? And how so? We’re here to break down the differences.
One of the biggest differences between elopements vs weddings is the number of people present. While traditional weddings can have potentially a couple hundred guests, elopements are typically the couple and maybe a tiny, select group of family or friends in attendance.
Ultimately, the decision between which type of wedding is best for you is highly dependent on you and your partner’s personality. Do you two freak out over the idea of sharing your private vows in front of a room full of people? Or are you of the mindset “the more the merrier”? Would you prefer to spend most of your time mingling with your guests, or would you rather have more private time with your partner on your wedding day? All of these are factors to consider when debating an elopement vs wedding.
When sorting out wedding budgets, the difference between an elopement vs wedding becomes really obvious. While elopements typically don’t require the same budgets as traditional weddings, even if the budgets were the same, the way the budget is allocated is highly different.
It’s no secret that weddings are expensive. In fact, according to the Knot’s annual study of weddings, the average cost of a wedding is $33,900. Yup, you heart that right. Basically the down payment on a home. Or what you’d spend in 2 years living in a luxury apartment. And bear in mind that that’s the average. Depending on where you live, that number could be much higher. States like New York, Washington State, California, and Colorado have much higher costs of living than the national average, which means the numbers are even higher there.
On top of that steep price for a traditional wedding, you’re having to spend your money on so many different aspects of the day. Since most traditional weddings focus on the guest experience, much of your budget is going into table decor, catering, drinks and appetizers, gift bags, cocktail hour games, and other elements of the guest experience. In fact, the majority of couples’ wedding budgets go to the guests. And what you commonly see when a couple has to spend money on such a wide range of services and products is that they can’t really splurge on any one thing in particular. Most things have to be heavily budgeted. It’s one of the reasons so many couples try to DIY portions of their wedding day or have family help out instead of hiring a planner or other wedding professionals.
On the other hand, elopements are much more simplified…and so are their budgets. You’ll need to find an outfit to wear (which can be traditional or non-traditional), you need a location (permit fees for places like national parks are only a couple hundred dollars, compared to several thousand dollars for a venue), and you’ll likely want someone there to document the day. If you’re traveling to your elopement destination, you’ll also want to factor in travel and lodging costs. Those are really the essentials. Everything else is just a plus.
But what does that mean? It means that if you want to splurge on the dress or your dreams or the photographer you’ve had your eye on, you can do that, and still end up spending less than someone who chooses to have a traditional wedding. Why? Because your budget is split amongst a much smaller pool of vendors.
Every time we chat with a couple, we ask them why they’ve chosen to elope in the first place. And we typically get a few common responses on why these couples have opted for an elopement vs a traditional wedding. So without further ado, the explanations we get most often for why couples choose to elope…
Weddings are steeped in tradition, and for many couples those traditions just don’t feel right to them. So they opt for an elopement vs wedding, because they are drawn to the idea of customizing a day to include whatever activities they enjoy doing together. Eloping has allowed them to customize their wedding day to be 100% personalized to the activities they value.
Elopements are not just for introverts, but they certainly can be an introvert’s best friend. We work with a lot of couples who find it super uncomfortable to read their vows to a room full of people. Or making the rounds to every table after dinner. They want the privacy that an elopement brings, and the intimacy to be completely open with their partner without worrying about guests listening in.
Elopements aren’t about the guest experience. They aren’t about cocktail hours, large dinners, and making your way to greet every table at your reception. They are about you and your partner spending as much time together and having a day that feels like it’s completely yours. Many of our couples choose to elope because they’ve been told by their friends and family how little time they spent with their significant other on their own weddings days, and they don’t want that for themselves.
We spoke to this a bit above when discussing elopement vs wedding budgets, but this point has a huge impact on why couples choose to elope versus have a traditional wedding. It’s easy to feel like your wedding budget is being stretched thin when planning a traditional wedding. So many couples feel like they have to haggle and negotiate every little element in order to stay within budget. But with elopements, you can splurge on the small number of things you value and still spend a fraction of the price you would compared to a traditional wedding (like planning your elopement in your dream destination!).
The timeline for an elopement vs wedding can be pretty extreme, even if you’ve opted for a full day of celebration for each. An eight hour elopement and an eight hour wedding timeline can look very different. Why? As we mentioned earlier, a traditional wedding is very focused on the guest experience, and dedicated time for cocktail hour, speeches, family photos, toasts, bouquet tosses and the like are all baked into one eight hour day. And this is one of the biggest reasons couples say they feel like their wedding day was a rushed blur. So many events are packed into what originally might seem like a lot of time…but you’d be surprised how quickly eight hours can go by during a traditional wedding.
On the other hand, elopement timelines are more of a blank slate. All couples will include some sort of ceremony and couples photos, but other than that, it’s really up to you how you spend your time. You can choose to have a private picnic by an alpine lake. You can opt for a 6 mile hike in your favorite national park. You can pop champagne at the top of a 14er. You can start your day at a cabin nestled high up on a mountain pass, with brunch shared between you and your partner.
Elopements have changed a lot these days, and for the better! Modern-day elopements aren’t really seen as secretive events, but rather adventurous and one-of-a-kind experiences that allow couples to really infuse their personalities into their wedding day. When it comes to elopements vs weddings, the key difference is that elopements have empowered couples to take back their wedding day and make their own rules. They get to define what their elopement day looks like and make it “theirs.”
The fact of the matter is this: the day you get married is about you and your partner. It’s a celebration of your love. There’s nothing shameful in wanting to celebrate it in a way that honors your relationship. Whether that means hiking up your favorite trail before the sun rises to say your vows by a glacial lake or having an elopement ceremony on the rugged coastline at sunset, elopements have put the power back in the couple’s hands.
Honestly, it’s pretty laughable that certain people find elopements selfish. Let me ask you this. Isn’t it arguably more selfish to ask your family to chip in over $30,000 to plan a large event with a room full of almost-strangers, simply because that’s what everyone expects of you? Especially if that type of event doesn’t feel like your vibe?
Here’s the thing. If a big wedding speaks to you, and you see the value in that, you should absolutely have one. There’s no shame in that, and there’s nothing wrong with investing your money in something you will value and look back on for decades to come. But let’s get one thing clear: it’s not wrong to have a day that feels like “you,” and if that means eloping…you should do that. Ultimately, people that want to shame you for having a day that doesn’t feel authentic to your relationship shouldn’t have a say in your planning process whatsoever. This is a day of love, after all.
It takes bravery to make the decision to elope rather than have a traditional wedding. But at the end of the day, if that’s what feels right in your gut, you will thank yourself for having a wedding day that feels truest to you.
As elopement photographers who specialize in adventure elopements, we help our couples navigate the process of bringing their elopements to life. We’ve also eloped ourselves, and we know what you’re going through during this process. We’ve dealt with it firsthand, both with our own elopement and all of our couples’ elopements.
So if you love the idea of having an elopement vs a wedding, but maybe aren’t sure about what your day could look like, we’re here to help.
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way
Colorado Elopement Photographers + Adventure Wedding Photographers