| December 30, 2021

Best of 2021 – Adventure Instead

Table of Contents

It’s hard to believe another year has passed. Is it just us or did 2021 truly fly right by?

No matter how quickly it seems like 2021 has gone, we love this time of year when we can pause, take a moment to catch our breath, and truly reflect back on everything that has happened in the past whirlwind of a year!

First, we want to say a HUGE thank you to all of our amazing couples that filled this year with so many incredible memories and unforgettable moments. There is no doubt that our couples are resilient, and this year proved that once again. Our couples are spontaneous, understanding, flexible, and truly down to *adventure instead* with us.

Our 5th Year?!

This year we finally got the chance to watch many couples elope after postponing their wedding days from 2020, and it was insanely special to witness so much long-awaited joy for elopements that we had started the planning process with back in 2019 and early 2020 finally play out!

In 2021, we prioritized being able to offer more help and resources for our couples throughout the planning process, which led to the growth of our team by introducing Rebecca, our elopement planner and travel extraordinaire. She quickly became an integral part of helping our couples plan and have their dream elopement days. We cannot wait to do even more in 2022 with her help and support. 

Lastly, this year we brought one of our biggest visions to life with the launch of our hand-crafted storytelling photo albums! It has been so awe-inspiring seeing so many of our past couples finally hold an album telling the full story of their unique elopement day in their hands. As a team, we had so much fun researching, product testing, quality-checking, and selecting materials so we can offer these to all Adventure Instead couples—past, present, and future. We are super excited to continue creating and crafting albums for our Adventure Instead couples hoping to elope in 2022!

Our jobs and all of these epic milestones that we have achieved over this past year would not be possible without couples that continually trust us, and we feel so thankful to each and every one of our couples this year that did just that. 

So here’s to 2021 and cheers to 2022!

xx The Adventure Instead Team

Maddie, Amber, Tori, & Rebecca

Picture of Maddie Mae | Adventure Instead
Picture of Rebecca | Adventure Instead

2021 At a Glance

  • 112 Adventure Elopements & Intimate Weddings
  • Traveled to 10 states:
    Colorado, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, Washington, Michigan, Arizona, & Wyoming
  • Traveled to 5 countries:
    Iceland, Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria & Belize—All Covid Safe
  • 40,000+ miles of driving
    — We took steps to neutralize our carbon emissions!
  • 400+ miles hiked
  • 433,500+ photos taken
  • Edited & delivered 52,000+ photos 

We Accomplished Some Big Goals as a Team—And As Individuals

Together, we photographed 112 adventure weddings & elopements, expanding our planning capacities by hiring Rebecca as a full-time travel advisor and planner, and started offering hand-crafted storytelling albums. Collectively as a team, we learned about perseverance, storytelling, and about the power of combining our strengths—

But we also have a few individual accomplishments that we would like to highlight, and share some of our personal learnings with you:

Maddie’s Year


  • Gained another fur child—a Micro Mini Bernedoodle named “Rosie”
  • After a year of no international travel, I got to add a new country to my list (Slovenia) bringing my total up to 35 countries 
  • Checked some stuff off my bucket list like base jumping, camping in our 4×4 roof tent, staying on a private island, visiting the highest accessible point in Europe, and photographing an elopement at a private hot spring  
  • Spent the year filming a massive secret project 🤫 which I’m pretty proud of and very excited to reveal soon

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t leave your passport in the glove compartment of your rental car on one island of Greece, while you take a helicopter to another. And if you do, using the inter-island ferries to transfer it can be very useful 
  • Airlines lose luggage more than you would think—make sure anything you need immediately for the next day is in your carryon 
  • 4,137 feet of elevation in 1.8 miles is A LOT for an elopement day

Lessons Relearned

  • Taking time off for yourself is always worth it
  • It’s okay to say no (and sometimes you really should)
  • The puppy stage is harder and longer than you remember

Favorite Photo:

“My Favorite shot of the year a Junebug Award for 2021, but honestly, it was more fun to capture because it had been Timmie’s dream to go cliff-jumping on her wedding day ever since she was little!”

Amber’s Year


  • Picked up a new sport—mountain biking! 
  • Checked many things off my bucket list including solo backpacking, flying on a float plane, and seeing an active volcano
  • Got my motorcycle license and my first dirt bike
  • Signed up for my first adventure race! Let the training begin

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t meet couples 2 hours up a rough 4×4 road with no service—carpool
  • Snow makes sketchy 4×4 roads even more sketchy 
  • Parking and trail traffic in Zion National Park on a Saturday afternoon is INSANE. Hiking Angels Landing with hundreds of people is also insane

Lessons Relearned

  • Making the time for self care is crucial
  • Listen to your gut

Favorite Photo:

“I was able to capture the blue starry night sky as well as the glow from the surrounding cabins & campfires!”

Tori’s Year


  • Bought my very first house in Bend, Oregon! 
  • Was inducted into a cult—Orange Theory—and have become the strongest version of myself I’ve ever been. Planning to do my first race next year! 
  • Checked paragliding and fat-tire mountain biking in the snow off my bucket list
  • In making my first house a home, I learned to refinish furniture and use fun new power tools!

Lessons Learned

  • Rain pants are necessary. I finally purchased my first pair this year—life-changing
  • Always make sure your water reservoir isn’t leaking before going on a 10-mile hike up a mountain
  • Be prepared to accidentally stay the night when you take a seaplane into the remote Alaskan wilderness.
  • Make more time for mid-shooting season backpack trips and personal outdoor adventures. Their positive mental health power can not be underestimated 

Lessons Relearned

  • Always check that your camera harness is with you AND in good working order before hiking up that mountain in the dark
  • Hand warmers are life

Favorite Photo:

“I don’t think I’ve ever captured as many panoramas as I did during my time in Alaska. This one, in particular, shows just how spectacular this place is!”

Rebecca’s Year

 We Hired a Travel Advisor and Elopement Planner!

Hello Adventure Instead alumni and fans! 

I am stoked to have joined this amazing team of humans and to help everyone live their dreams via eloping and photographing such adventures!

I grew up in the mountains of Teller County, Colorado (Pikes Peak Region) and had a childhood full of playing in the woods, climbing rocks, camping, riding horses, and hobby homesteading. As an adult I have been traveling as much as I can, hiking, camping, SUPing, and everything else I can possibly try on the way. I earned my BA in Journalism and a second major in History from Colorado State University and my MFA in International Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland. 

I have been in the travel industry for 5 years, and what became a “try this career” after earning my MFA turned into an absolute passion to help others see the world. I started traveling solo almost 12 years ago, and I have made it my goal to help others see the world, in any and all ways that make them happy. Working for Adventure Instead has combined my personal love of adventure with creating meaningful and special days for couples and our photographers alike! It’s truly a dream come true, and I am so excited to build even more connections and adventures in the coming years.


  • My husband and I bought our first home in Northern Colorado!
  • I took a bucket list solo #vanlife trip to Iceland for 10 days—it was everything and more I could have dreamed of
  • I saw whales for the first time in Iceland—we were so close you could smell them (think of rotten tuna) but I still cried in complete awe
  • I took my first backpacking trip—I am completely addicted now
  • I got to see the Redwoods for my 30th birthday—I also cried there
  • I have helped over 120 couples find their perfect destination and/or plan their days!

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t take a Ford Focus to the Redwoods, especially on sketchy roads to nowhere on the Lost Coast of California. A husband afraid of heights and a shredded tire were a reality check I needed
  • Check equipment before you drive to VERY rural Iceland to make sure everything works. No stove in Western Iceland = cold cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches
  • Airport lounges REALLY are worth it, a gin and tonic before a flight makes the world a much nicer place

Lessons Relearned

  • Earplugs are always a good idea for traveling—screaming babies on a plane, wind storms in Iceland, or a snoring plane mate are all good reasons to have some
  • Long playlists are vital for international flights and road trips, as well as downloaded podcasts and books!
  • Sometimes a real book is nicer than a downloaded one
  • Stop overpacking….stop buying so much food and art abroad…I may actually never learn this

Favorite Photo (yes, you too Rebecca 😉):

“Once a horse girl, always a horse girl. I grew up with American Quarter Horses and I was thrilled to meet Icelandic Horses with the same viking lineage!”

Our Environmental & Social Impact in 2021

In 2021, we continued to make Adventure Instead a 100% carbon-neutral business by offsetting not only our own carbon footprint but also our couples’ carbon impact when traveling to and from elopements and intimate weddings. We do this by teaming up with the organization Trees Water People, which you can read more about in the organizations we donated to below.

Who we Donated To:

In total, we donated $26,900 to organizations that we love in 2021.

We chose to once again support all of the organizations we included and donated to last year that are working towards environmental and social justice. This year though each team member here at Adventure Instead and Adventure Instead Academy selected a meaningful organization they wanted to contribute to, which expanded our list of 8 organizations we donated to last year to a total of 17 amazing groups—all doing impactful work for those struggling with mental illness, LGBTQIA+ individuals, women’s health and reproductive rights, animals in need, and disabled folks in the outdoors. We are so proud of these contributions and we’ve included a bit about the efforts of each organization below and a link to their site!

We encourage you to make a donation to their work or learn more about their missions and accomplishments.

Leave No trace

$13,000 Dollars

An organization very near and dear to our hearts, the Leave No Trace Center is all about providing research, education, and skills to every person who ventures outside—so that they can not only recreate responsibly but also enjoy our world sustainably. Donating to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics supports educating others as a viable and effective solution for land protection.

The Center for Reproductive Rights



This global advocacy organization uses the power of constitutional and international law to advance reproductive rights in courts around the world to secure reproductive rights as a fundamental human right. The Center for Reproductive Rights has strengthened reproductive health policies and care in over 50 countries worldwide.

Native Womens Wilderness



This incredible group is providing education about Ancestral Lands and their People while inspiring healthy lifestyles in the Wilderness and amplifying the voices of Native women in outdoors spaces. By recognizing the truth of the lands we are on and their histories, we can spread public awareness, support the decolonization of the Wilderness, and celebrate the exploration of outdoor spaces.

The Ocean Foundation



This organization is dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of worldwide ocean environments by using their power as a community foundation to support other organizations that share the same cause. They offer a variety of expert services—from grandmaking to research & consulting—to assist in managing emerging threats and creating solutions to better protect our ocean ecosystems and the communities depending on them.

The Trevor Project



This outstanding and impactful group provides free, confidential 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) people under the age of 25. It also advocates against harmful and discriminatory legal policies and practices, connects LGBTQ young people, and researching the experiences of the LGBTQ community.




We support the work of this organization to diversify the stories we hear about outdoor recreation by amplifying stories of adventure and activism from members of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. This strives to eliminate whitewashing tales of exploration and conservation and amplify voices that have historically been silenced or ignored to highlight the full spectrum of the environmental movement through storytelling.

Outdoor Afro



This group aims to change the way outdoor leadership and conservation looks by celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature. They are committed to promoting inclusion in outdoor spaces through leadership, community, and encouraging others to explore their own love of nature.

National Park Foundation



Where would we be without our national parks? Every single one of us must do our part to protect our national parks, and through the NPF’s mission (to support the National Park system and safeguard our national heritage), we help to ensure that national park enthusiasts can safely and responsibly enjoy these wonders for generations to come.

Oregon Adaptive Sports



This organization aims to make outdoor recreation more accessible to individuals with disabilities and dedicates equipment, instruction, staff, and volunteers to provide high-quality, life-changing experiences for their participants to build confidence, self-esteem, and independence.

Adaptive Sports Association of Durango



Adaptive Sports Association’s programs help to enrich the lives of people with disabilities through sports and outdoor recreation. Through this year-round outdoor play using state-of-the-art adaptive sports equipment, participants gain confidence and self-esteem, improve their physical fitness, and meet positive role models.

Trees Water People

$2,650 Dollars

We teamed up with this badass organization to help offset our carbon impact. This Colorado-based group focuses on preserving ecosystems and encouraging local people to actively care for and manage ecosystems. Staffed by dedicated, hardworking conservationists, the entire team emphasizes reforestation as well as the design and distribution of clean energy products.

Broken Shovels



This Colorado-based animal sanctuary provides a home for abused, neglected, used, slaughter-bound, or disabled animals—and it provides healing and education for others through love and connection with these animals to spread kindness to both human and non-human friends.

Girl Scouts of Colorado



Girl Scouts of Colorado is dedicated to offering an inclusive educational group to teach children life skills in business, leadership, STEM, the outdoors, health—and to overall make their communities better and stronger! Rebecca, our in-house planner, is the third generation in her family to have led a troop over the last 75 years, making this organization very dear to her heart.

National Alliance of Mental Illness



This grassroots organization is the nation’s largest mental health alliance dedicated to improving the lives of Americans impacted by mental illness by raising awareness and providing support to those in need. NAMI accomplishes this by educating, advocating for, listening, and leading people with mental illness and their loved ones.

Planned Parenthood



This nonprofit organization provides critical and affordable reproductive health care, education, and resources to advocate for people making informed decisions about their bodies. Planned Parenthood also fights back against oppressive laws to defend reproductive rights and supports policies that expands access to medically-accurate care.

Tenacious Unicorn Ranch



Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is a trans-owned and trans-operated haven for trans and queer individuals based in Colorado that strives to create a safe space for LGBTQIA+ individuals from the cis/het world among animals and stunning mountain views.




GLAAD is an organization dedicated to rewriting the script for LGBTQ acceptance by provoking dialogue through conversations and media to generate meaningful cultural change. They conduct important research about the state of LGBTQ representation in media and encourage ways to grow authentic portrayals of the LGBTQ community.

All together we donated $26,900

Read About These Couples’ 2021 Elopements!

Thank you to all of the incredible couples that have trusted us to document their wedding days. Looking at these photos makes us feel like we are the luckiest photographers and we’re excited for what’s yet to come!

xx Maddie Mae, Amber, Tori, Rebecca, & the whole Adventure Instead Team :heart:

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

Three photographers

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Adventure Instead

Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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