Traditional Wedding Vs Elopement: The Biggest Differences

The wedding industry is changing, and elopements aren’t what they used to be. Back in the day, eloping was defined by running away to get married in secret, usually at a courthouse. But now eloping has infinite meaning and possibilities, and is quickly surpassing traditional weddings in popularity. We define eloping as “a wedding experience with a focus on you and your authentic selves together. And creating a space to be known and loved by one another without expectations from others.” So what are the biggest differences in a traditional wedding vs elopement?

The Focus of the Day

The difference is the focus being solely on you two. Traditional weddings almost always focus more on everyone else BUT you, which makes zero sense considering it’s your wedding! Everyone has an opinion, and there is so much centered around pleasing guests. You end up incredibly stressed out, and following a strict schedule with traditions that don’t necessarily fit you. Elopements throw all expectations and tradition out the window. You are free to create a dream day however you want, with whoever you want, and wherever you want! And it allows you two to focus on your love and the start of your marriage, which is the most important aspect of weddings. It’s not an expensive day to please others, it’s an epic and intimate experience shared together.

Traditional Wedding vs. Elopement: Why you should elope

Stress Levels

One major key in a traditional wedding vs elopement is the stress that comes with planning and dynamics. The number one phrase I’ve heard from clients that absolutely breaks my heart to hear is “I can’t wait to just get this over with, it’s been so stressful.” That phrase shouldn’t cross your mind when it comes to this incredible celebration and union of your love! And it’s true, planning a wedding is the fifth most stressful life event experienced, right behind financial stress, often which go hand in hand.

Now I’m not saying elopements are 100% stress free, but they are significantly less so than traditional weddings. Several stress factors in traditional weddings are family politics, budget, guest list, and a plethora of little yet important details like transportation, food, and decor. Eloping gives you freedom and so much flexibility in these areas. You can elope just the two of you, or only invite the most important people in your lives. You can save so much money on details and not have to worry about paying for food, drinks, and favors for 300 people. Eloping simply allows you to shift your focus on you two and what you want your day to look like, and be able to truly enjoy this amazing season of life.

Traditional Wedding vs. Elopement: Why you should elope and how

Guests

Most people assume eloping means you have to go off just the two of you to get married. And while you can totally do this if you want, you can absolutely elope and invite guests. We consider elopements anything with 30 guests or under, this can also be considered an intimate wedding! It boils down to intentionality, and what you envision for your day. If you want to invite guests, invite who you want, and who you couldn’t imagine getting married without. For some this is parents, close friends, or both. But this allows you to have an intentional wedding experience and celebrate with each other or your people.

Traditional wedding guest lists are often a tense subject in planning. You have to juggle so many factors and groups, and some might not mesh well. A traditional wedding vs elopement difference here is huge, and so detrimental to your wedding. Parents often want to invite friends, and it’s easy to go from fifty friends and family members, to your parent’s friends, their co-workers, church members, teachers, and all the friends of friends. Your guest list could go on forever and suddenly you’re looking at a 300+ wedding with a good amount being people you’ve never even met. It’s stressful, I get it and I’ve been there. And the more people are added, the more opinions you get about what to do, and suddenly the day morphs into something completely different than you want. Take a step back and remember, this is YOUR wedding, and no one else’s. The most important thing you can do when it comes to guests is to set boundaries. Talk with your partner and determine a set number, or list out people you can’t imagine getting married without. Or ask yourself, if you could only have 15 guests, who would they be?

Another wonderful option with eloping is the flexibility that comes with. Maybe you want to get married just the two of you, and also celebrate with guests. You can totally have a private ceremony, or who day the two of you, and then have a post wedding celebration, that evening, the next day, or weeks later. It’s completely up to you and opens up the doors to have the best of both worlds.

A couple kissing at Isle of Palms during a gorgeous sunrise adventure session

Budget

A common misconception in a traditional wedding vs elopement is that people only elope to save money. While you can totally save money, the most common reason couples elope is to have an authentic experience! Traditional weddings fit for a lot of couples, but there’s so many more that don’t feel like a traditional wedding reflects who they are and feels like them. Traditional weddings are often very cookie cutter. Usually with a strict schedule, driving around, and order of events. But this doesn’t fit everyone, and that’s okay! Elopements are creative and moldable to a loose schedule and incorporating whatever traditions and activities you want. The idea of an intimate setting, or outdoor adventure that is centered around you two and focuses on the emotions and authenticity of it all really speaks volumes to so many couples, which is why it is becoming more and more popular.

The average wedding costs a whopping average of $33,900, based on the Knot’s 2019 study. $33,900 is a lot of money to spend on an event to please other people, not to mention incredibly stressful. If you’re going to spend that much money, why not spend it on your absolute dream day? That’s exactly what eloping is. Often couples will travel to a cool location, near or far and spend the day doing whatever they want. You have infinite choices, including exchanging vows at sunrise, hiking, kayaking, bar hopping, camping, star gazing, picnics at sunset, visiting a winery for dinner and so so much more. You don’t have to spend $50 per guest for dinner, and can save so much money on favors, transport, or other details that aren’t that important to you. And you can focus on being more intentional with your budget, and spending on what you want. I’ve seen couples get their dream attire, a gorgeous bouquet, or even a cute Airbnb with a styled table for dinner complete with market lights. You have so much more flexibility in your budget to create your dream wedding experience when it comes to elopements.

A bride and groom share their first dance during their intimate midwest elopement

The Possibilities

The best part of eloping, and the biggest difference from traditional weddings, is the endless choices you have. There are infinite ways to celebrate and create a unique and special experience that feels true to you. When it comes to elopements, there are no rules, and you are free to get as creative as you want!

  • Elope with guests! You can get married in a gorgeous location with close family and friends and then celebrate with BBQ and first dances at an airbnb after. Or have an intimate airbnb ceremony with dinner and all the market lights.
  • You can divide it up to get the best of both worlds. Consider having a private ceremony just the two of you, and then celebrating with friends and family that evening, the next day, or even a few months later. It’s completely up to you!
  • Have all the parties. You can get married just the two of you, and celebrate with different groups. You can have a dinner or celebration with family, another with friends, and another with whatever other groups are important to you! Plus it’s a great excuse to dress up in your wedding attire and party again.

When deciding on a traditional wedding vs elopement, you need to figure out what is best for you two. It’s never black and white, and for some people a traditional wedding is perfect. But for others, eloping fits who they are much better. Eloping doesn’t have to mean hiking to remote locations and roughing it in the wild. We’ve shot gorgeous weddings and elopements in beautiful locations that you can easily drive to, or walk an easy short trail. You can get pretty outdoor shots, and then go bar hopping together after. You could go off road in a jeep, take a helicopter, kayak, or keep it simple and sweet with a picnic or bonfire with smores. Your wedding should be your dream day, and a wonderful experience together that fits you and celebrates the start of your incredible marriage. Traditional weddings aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay! Focus on what you want and envision together and let’s make that dream come true. Remember, this isn’t about a wedding, this is about you two getting married, celebrating your love and having an authentic experience together. So in fifty years when you look back, it will be all great adventures and beautiful memories.


I’m Corinne, an intimate wedding and elopement photographer and guide based in Indiana, but capturing love stories across the US and beyond. I believe in documenting emotional and genuine imagery that is true to you, and reflects your hearts. I would love to help you bring your wedding experience to life and document it in all it’s honest beauty. Let’s connect and I’ll help you craft a unique day, recommend vendors, find amazing hidden gem locations, and so much more. Let’s get in touch!

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