Elopements vs. Weddings: 6 Major Differences

You might be wondering,

Is it better to have an elopement, or a traditional wedding?

Elopements and traditional weddings are vastly different, with most people thinking eloping means just running off to the courthouse to get legally married. But elopements in today’s age have evolved rapidly and are steadily gaining popularity and favor over traditional weddings. And eloping has been completely redefined:

Elopements today are a unique, intentional, and intimate wedding experience that focuses on you and reflects your relationship in a personal way.

Traditional weddings tend to shift the focus of the day to guests and upholding expectations, whereas elopements have no rules, opening up endless possibilities!

Ultimately both represent the start of your marriage, and your love and commitment to each other.

But it’s the journey and the experience that makes traditional weddings and elopements so different.

1. Intentionality & Authenticity

One of the biggest differences between elopements and traditional weddings is intention. Traditional weddings have a set mold for the day, with expectations, traditions, and managing guests which ends up feeling like you’re going through the motions. Elopements break the mold, and value true intentionality. The day is truly about you, and you can spend your time intentionally doing things that celebrate your relationship.

For some people, traditional weddings don’t feel authentic to who they are. Maybe you don’t like being the center of attention or get anxiety with crowds. It wouldn’t be authentic to yourself to have a 300+ guest wedding and feel uncomfortable and stressed all day!

You should be able to be completely 100% your authentic self on your wedding day. But for a lot of people this isn’t possible because of circumstances like anxiety, family dynamics, or traditions that are heavily involved with weddings. Eloping allows you to create a unique and intentional day that’s centered on your love and free of anything that isn’t true to you.

We believe that you deserve a safe and peaceful place on your wedding day, to share in an intentional and meaningful experience with your partner. Above all you should be able to be fully known, loved, and accepted for you at the start of your marriage!

2. People

A huge difference between traditional weddings and elopements are the people involved. According to The Knot’s 2019 survey, traditional weddings have on average 200 guests. This usually involves family, friends, co-workers, friends of family, and more. And for some people, that’s exciting! But for many other people that brings more stress and negative feelings than positive.

Social anxiety and being introverted are not considered with traditional weddings. It can feel really overwhelming to be surrounded by hundreds of guests, have to make small talk, or greet hundreds of guests. And that’s totally okay! Being introverted or socially anxious is not a bad thing, and I’m in the same boat with you there.

Eloping instead gives you options for who you want involved in your wedding, and just how much. You have choices and can take care of your mental health, giving you an experience that is full of joy and peace.

Family is also a contributing factor to the difference between traditional weddings and elopements. And this is not talked about enough! Traditional weddings are very family centered, and for some this can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even downright painful. Traditional weddings can and do often flare up drama with family, and this can cause a tremendous amount of stress, and no one wants to feel that while starting this new chapter of life.

So maybe you aren’t close with family, or maybe you are and just want a “just you” day together. Eloping can cut out a lot of drama or tensions, but most importantly it is focused on the two of you and what you want.

You can have a ‘just us’ experience, or you can still include friends or family, because with eloping there are no rules, and you can do what’s right for you!

These are a few responses from a 2021 poll we conducted with married couples when asked what advice they have for engaged couples about wedding planning.

“Have the wedding you want, not the one your family wants. Their pressure should never dictate your day!”

“If there was one thing I could go back and change about our wedding, it would be that we didn’t invite so many people and kept it smaller.”

“I ended up not eating dinner because people kept wanting to talk. Don’t invite anyone, LOL.”

The common theme I see when polling married couples, is always regrets around how many guests were present. Eloping doesn’t mean you can’t have any guests, but instead is about being intentional with who you share this day. Keeping it small with close personal relationships has never once been a regret we’ve seen.

Entertaining guests is also a MASSIVE center focus in traditional weddings. So much of the day is literally built around keeping guests happy and entertained, with very little time for you to be alone together. And it’s completely backwards. It’s your wedding after all! And you should only have who you want to be present on your day. You shouldn’t spend your entire wedding day entertaining guests and feel like you missed out on your own wedding by the end.

Eloping instead flips the script, centering the day around your experience. You can have a completely private, just the two of you experience, or you can invite close friends or family. Or you can have a private elopement day, and a celebration with friends later on. The beauty of eloping is you have choices, and you get to choose what your day looks like. You deserve to celebrate your love in a safe space where you can be yourself, and truly enjoy the day!

The focus shifts from the guests and instead centers on your experience

This LGBTQ Michigan Elopement has all the vibes complete with a black wedding dress

3. Stress Levels

Another major difference between elopements and traditional weddings is stress levels. We aren’t saying elopements are entirely stress free and traditional weddings are a nightmare, but there are significantly less stress factors involved with elopements. Which overall means a lower stress level and higher enjoyment for your wedding experience!

Did you know the third most stressful life event most people experience is a wedding? And it makes sense, traditional weddings are usually big events with a lot of moving parts. And a lot of people haven’t ever planned an event that big in their lives! And planning a traditional wedding can be so time consuming, it can feel like a part time job by the final stretch.

“I can’t wait to get this over with.” is a phrase I’ve heard often, and it breaks my heart every time I do. I’ve seen the overwhelming amount of stress from planning a traditional wedding suck all the excitement out of people. By the time the wedding arrives, they’re so tired from planning they just want it to be over and done.

Eloping cuts out a serious amount of stress from planning. No, it’s not stress-free, but the process is significantly more enjoyable and laid-back. And more so, it allows you room to feel excited, and truly live in the moment. Because eloping is all about intentionality. You can choose what pace you want your day to be, how you spend your time, and who you share this beginning with. You deserve to enjoy your day to the fullest with the least stress, and make unforgettable memories celebrating your love!

4. Experiences & Expectations

Traditional weddings and elopements often yield very different experiences, which all leads back to intention. Traditional weddings have a set cookie cutter mold, that’s fast paced, with lots of guests and a tight timeline. You don’t have time to be alone together, and it can feel like rushing from one thing to the next, and can for some people end up being a stressful experience.

We asked married couples how they felt about their wedding experience in a 2021 poll, and these are a few of the responses.

“Honestly the day flew by so fast I don’t remember much of anything. Wish we would’ve eloped instead!”

“I worried way too much about other people’s opinions, looking back I would’ve done so much differently and not cared what people thought.”

A wedding day does not make a marriage! We eloped in 2020 (pandemic and all) and have no regrets, it’s all about our commitment to each other!”

And this last answer I couldn’t have said better myself. A traditional wedding can be more about appearances and meeting expectations, and it’s taken away from the true meaning of a wedding. You’re celebrating your marriage and commitment to each other, and you deserve an experience that is meaningful and true to you. And because elopements are intentional and personal, you can focus on what really matters to you, and celebrate your relationship through a unique experience instead.

5. Traditions

Traditional weddings, come with, well, a lot of traditions. And for some this isn’t always wanted. Don’t get me wrong, for some people, traditions are super exciting and fun to do, and that’s totally okay! But for others, certain traditions can be painful or awkward, or just plain ole’ not wanted, and that is also okay.

Eloping gives you the freedom to choose what traditions you do want to incorporate into your day, and what traditions you don’t, so you can have a peaceful experience that is full of joy. If you want to walk down the “forest aisle” between autumn birchwood trees you can. If you want to have a first dance, or pop champagne, you can! You can *literally* do whatever you want, as long it is what YOU want!

What I love seeing most in elopements is couples starting new, personal traditions. This has looked like getting ready together, making breakfast together, writing letters to each other morning of, playing music and dancing around a campfire, and so many more sweet traditions. You can be yourselves, and do what you love together, making your elopement experience intentional and unique to you.

Whether you want to incorporate old traditions, or create new ones, eloping opens the door for many more possibilities than traditional weddings, so you can have a personal wedding day that is authentic to you.

6. Budget

Imagine this, you have $28,000 to spend on a vacation. Where would you go? What would you do together?

I think most of us can agree a $28,000 vacation would be an elevated and unforgettably amazing experience. Well according to The Knot’s 2019 study, the average wedding in the United States costs $28,000. And a a majority of that is put towards a venue that can accommodate lots of guests. For some, the thought of spending that much money on one day, with most of it going towards guests, is off-putting, and no wonder why.

Eloping cuts out a good amount of costs for sure, but more importantly you are spending your money on an intentional, personal experience. Your wedding venue could be the mountains, a waterfall, dunes, or the beach. You can get a gorgeous airbnb with a hot tub and have fancy dinner with friends. You could take a boat tour, go wine tasting, picnic together, hire a private chef, and so much more. You get to try things you have tried before, check off your bucket list, or visit somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, because it’s about how you two celebrate your love authentically! So instead of spending $67 per person for catering to hundreds of guests, you can spend your money intentionally, for you both to have a personal and genuine experience together.

A Blend of Both: Creating your own Personal Elopement Experience

Eloping means you CAN have your cake and eat it too! What I hear so often is “I wish we’d eloped, but I was afraid of missing out on this XYZ experience.” But eloping doesn’t mean missing out! It means opening up the door to a world of options and possibilities.

What’s awesome about eloping is that you can have the elements of a wedding that you DO want, and there is NO set rules or expectations with elopements. These are just a few ways we’ve seen traditional wedding elements blended into elopements!

  • Elope with Family and Friends – You CAN elope with your close friends / family, and have an intimate ceremony in beautiful scenery surrounded by your close relationships. We’ve seen elopements with grandparents, just friends, kids, or even pets present. (Please bring your dog / adventure cat, it’s the best thing ever)
  • Split your time – If you want alone time with your partner, but also want to celebrate with your family, this is a great solution! You can split a day, spending half the day with family / friends, and half the day alone together doing your favorite activities. You can make it a two day affair and spend a day just the two of you, and a day with family and friends. Or you can choose to have a celebration party / dinner at a later date!
  • Incorporate traditions you want – You can have a first dance by firelight, pop champagne, walk down an aisle, share a toast with friends, or create your own new traditions! If you need some activity inspiration, check out Elopement Activities for a Unique Experience

Traditional weddings and elopements have a lot of differences, but what is the most important, is that your wedding is a reflection of YOU. This is about your experience and the start of a new chapter in life together. Because at the end of day, this is your life and your memories. And you get to choose your own path and how your wedding will honor you two. Always remember you deserve to be celebrated in a meaningful way on your wedding day, and in a space where you can be fully accepted and cherished! And for you, that could look like eloping!

Hey! I'm Corinne, an adventure elopement + intimate wedding photographer based in Indiana, but documenting love stories across the U.S. I believe in documenting the start of your marriage in an honest and emotional way that reflects your legacy. So that you can look back on photos fifty years from now with the same emotions of the moment flooding back. Let's take the road less traveled by together and craft your dream wedding day!

When I'm not documenting sweet couples, I spend my days with my sweet husband, Jake, two kitty babies and a crazy dog in our hometown of Fort Wayne. I'm obsessed with hiking and finding new trails, Game of Thrones, and creating art.


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