December 10, 2019

What Does Elope Mean?

“Elope” is a buzzword in the wedding industry these days, tempting couples with its promises of low budgets and small guest lists.

But what, exactly, is an elopement?

It’s certainly not what it used to be, and it’s probably not what you think.
Why? Because it’s actually whatever you want it to be! That is what makes an elopement so amazing!
Continue reading or watch the video below to learn more about the in’s and out’s of eloping:

Shotgun Wedding: Elopements of Old

Heading to vegas

Elopements used to have a bad rep—or at least, not a very good one. When folks used to say those three syllables, it brought to mind images of Vegas chapels and shotgun weddings. This usually signaled a bad decision or the harried result of one. They were fast, unplanned, and impersonal.

When couples would elope, the entire process was formulaic. A couple, often young and foolish, would decide to get married on a whim. They wouldn’t tell anyone, and the ceremony—performed in a courthouse or chapel with a judge or minister as officiant—was made up of just the two people getting married. Elopements used to forego all the planning, personalization, and platitudes of a traditional wedding in favor of efficiency. There were no tears of happiness or genuine connection, just a line of other couples waiting for their turn to tie the knot. 

Things have changed

But it’s the 21st century, people, and things have changed. Today, these small weddings have shifted from only representing last ditch decision to intentional celebration. We now live in an era where many people are searching out ways to live their lives more authentically and honestly. For many modern pairs looking to celebrate their wedding this way, the solution lies in an elopement. More and more couples are bravely choosing to “elope” in a way that leaves those old trends in the past and feels more natural to their relationship. 

So what makes an elopement these days? Read on as I break down the whos, whats, and whys of these intimate celebrations…

Elopements vs Intimate Weddings

You might be hearing a lot about elopements and intimate weddings these days—so what’s the difference?

Size matters

Traditionally, elopements were tiny wedding experiences that involved only the couple, necessary witnesses, and officiant. Intimate weddings, on the other hand, included a handful of guests. That’s nowhere near the cathedral-full of traditional weddings, but 10-20 of the couple’s closest friends and family. Intimate weddings typically include more of the traditional wedding events than elopements do, like first dances, receptions, etc.

It’s your call

As with most elements of elopement, however, these rules have become more flexible. Today the terms are largely interchangeable as “elopement” has become the go-to term for celebrations of marriage that ditch the norm.

What makes an elopement by today’s standards is flexible, defined most by its lack of definition. The beautiful thing about these small, personalized celebrations is that they can look like anything. This is one reason they are an increasingly popular choice among betrothed couples! Many modern twosomes plan their elopements around the things they love and enjoy, rather than traditional expectations or assumptions. The day (or heck, even days) can truly be a tribute to your love. 

Without the schedules and structures of a traditional wedding, what dictates the course of an elopement is in the couple’s court. From who to invite to how long it lasts, it’s totally your call!

Your Elopement Guest List

Choose wisely

The “who” of elopements is entirely up to the couple planning it. Some couples choose to dedicate their day to themselves and themselves alone. With only an officiant and a photographer/videographer, these couples share vows that, to them, feel all the more intimate. Others bring along a handful of their closest friends and family to aid in the celebration. You may choose to even invite a small troupe of 10 to 20 guests. My biggest piece of advice is to only invite people who contribute to a positive experience. You don’t want to bring any “Debbie Downers” to your special day.

Bits & Pieces

What if you want to have some alone time, and time with loved ones? You can invite different people to different parts of your celebration. Perhaps you say your vows in an early morning ceremony that includes just the two of you, then have breakfast with your family. Afterwards you go out dancing with your friends that night. You can gather all your guests together for a single event, the whole day, or not at all. Who you invite to your wedding and when you invite them is entirely up to you. 


The only restriction on who can attend your celebration is dictated by your state’s laws around marriage. Some states require licensed officiants and/or witnesses at an official marriage. If you’re planning a wedding in North Carolina, for example, you’ll need an officiant and two witnesses. These requirements prompt many couples planning an elopement to deal with the “red tape” elements of their marriage outside of their elopement. You can go to a courthouse and get “married” one day, then have the day of your dreams, no officials required, on another. 

Elopement Venues (Or No Venue at All) 

Almost anywhere

If you’re wondering where you can elope, the answer is almost anywhere. Traditional weddings require stately venues like churches, event spaces, and stuffy hotel conference rooms. But, elopements are flexible enough to accommodate just about any “venue” you choose. Without the expectations of those old school ceremonies or a crowd of guests, you have a range of options to choose from. You don’t need to lug a hundred chairs, room for caterers, an altar or aisle. All you need is the space to promise to love each other, and you can find that just about anywhere. 

Some prefer the outdoors (like me!)

Many couples who elope choose to do so in the outdoors, where they feel most in touch with nature and themselves. Western North Carolina and Washington state are home to breathtaking scenery perfect for elopements, including rushing waterfalls, panoramic overlooks, and verdant forests. But, any outdoor scene—desert or beach or rocky cliffside—is perfect for a small celebration. If you’re not one for grand gestures and prefer the familiarity of your own turf, an elopement gives you the opportunity to get married where you feel most comfortable. You could even use your own backyard, living room, or your favorite park! Without the performance of a traditional wedding, you can choose to celebrate your love in the places that are most representative of it. Some couples might even choose their first date spot or favorite hike. Just remember that you will likely need a permit to get married in public places!

Beautiful places exist everywhere, and “everywhere” is exactly what’s open to you when you choose to elope.  

When to Elope

The Choice is Yours

You can elope any time you want, for as long as you want! You can choose to commemorate your wedding for a few hours, over the course of an entire day, or even over a long weekend. The length and time of your elopement is a decision that’s at your disposal. 

Conveniently, without a lengthy guest list or other schedules to consider, elopements also offer the opportunity to wed on weekdays. Depending on the location you choose, it’s likely that choosing a weekday will allow a more opportune (and intimate) experience. National parks, hiking trails, and even restaurants are generally less crowded and more easily navigable Monday – Thursday. 

Time of day

As for timing, an elopement also allows you the flexibility to choose times of day that are more picturesque and less populous. Sunsets and particularly sunrises will drench you in that golden light glow of promise. Those times also disperse the crowds that tend to gather in popular outdoor spaces. Without guests, you can even witness the sunrise or sunset together in the close quarters of a hot air balloon or airplane. How fun!

Why Elope? 

The reasons to elope are countless! You can read all about them in my other blog post Why Elope: 5 Reasons You’ve Probably Never Thought of! Perhaps, though, the most important of those many reasons is that an elopement can be an authentic celebration of your relationship. You might not feel connected to the traditions of normal weddings or don’t want to contribute to the wastefulness of the industry. Maybe you feel intimidated by the scope of a ceremony, or just want to spend your money wisely. An elopement is your way to celebrate your love outside the rules and bounds of most weddings. Without those confines, your elopement can become a day that is a genuine representation of who you are as a couple.

If you want more help planning and capturing your own elopement – I would love to help!