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Elope Definition—What does “elope” mean?

Elopement.

Say it out loud. Where does your mind go?

Do you see a couple hopping a plane to Vegas to get hitched in a rhinestone-studded chapel? A bride-and-groom duo running off to marry in total secrecy because their family doesn’t approve? Is it two people popping into a courthouse to quickly sign a piece of paper?

If you’re thinking any of these things (or something similar), we promise, you’re not alone.

Elopements continue to be a misunderstood topic—they’re often shrouded in all of these preconceived notions and wild misconceptions that no one can really put their finger on exactly what an elopement really is.

People usually think that elopements are these last-minute, no-frills, secret-operations that are clouded in shame, judgment, or embarrassment.

We’re here to share one simple truth—

That’s not what eloping means anymore.

Those things, though they might have be true once, don’t necessarily define elopements anymore.

We’re continually hard-pressed to find a definition out there that wholly and truly embodies what an elopement actually is now.

So, we solved the problem. We wrote our own.

An elopement is an intentionally small, intimate, meaningful, and authentic wedding experience that is a true reflection of your relationship where the focus of the day is really about you two.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

It doesn’t matter where you’re doing it.

It doesn’t matter who else is there.  

An elopement is about stripping away every ounce of pressure, anxiety, or obligation that has ever tried to weigh you down. An elopement grants you the absolute freedom to commit your life to your partner however and wherever you choose.

A bride and groom walk toward a dreamy mountain cast in a pink alpenglow. These elopement pictures were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement photographer.

As elopement photographers and guides who have helped hundreds of couples embark on their dream elopement adventures, we’re passionate about what we do—but we’re also passionate about helping people understand what elopements truly are.

Why?

Because we’ve experienced—and continue to experience—what real elopements are all about every single time we embark on one with a couple.

Elopements are about that look someone gets when they’re hiking through a forest, hand-in-hand with the love of their life.

They’re about staring into their partner’s eyes and saying the vows they’ve always wanted to say without fear of judgment or embarrassment.

They’re about the moment a newly-married couple looks up into the galaxy above them and knows that now, they get to face this life together—that their love is the only thing that matters.  

The overwhelming majority of people feel like the day they get engaged they’re stuck with having a big wedding. And if a big wedding is something you want, that’s wonderful. You should do that.

We’re just here to let couples know that it doesn’t have to automatically be that way. We believe that your wedding day is your day and it’s your choice how it happens—If that means a big wedding, that’s wonderful. But if it means something else entirely, people should know that’s okay, too.

If all you truly want is an intentional day that’s full of meaning, intimacy, and a pure focus on the two of you, then you’re already seeking out an elopement—even if you couldn’t quite put that into words just yet.

Because when you really boil it down, a true elopement isn’t about the tangible details—it’s not about bridesmaids or mint tins or table garlands.

It's not about a performance, it’s not about a production.

Elopements are about bringing the focus of the day back to the two of you—choosing your love and how special your moment of saying your vows to each other is over everything else.

It’s a brave choice to intentionally choose to have a truly intimate wedding day experience.

A bride and groom get ready for their adventure elopement. The two stand on either side of a Land cruiser in the wilderness as they dress to get ready for their elopement ceremony. When people ask what is eloping, often, it looks something like this.
A bride and groom embrace each other with their eyes closed surrounded by nothing but beautiful mountains and a dreamy meadow. These elopement photos were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement wedding photographer. Being totally alone on your wedding day is one of the benefits of eloping.
A bride and groom excitedly pop a bottle of champagne at the side of an alpine lake. When people ask what does it mean to elope, it often looks something like this—a bride and groom in a beautiful place celebrating exactly the way they want to.
A bride and groom walk toward a gorgeous alpine lake, hand in hand. All around them, giant mountains can be seen and evergreen trees dot the landscape. These adventure elopement pictures were captured by elopement photographer Adventure Instead.

Busting Elopement Myths—Defining Elopement

Everyone has some kind of idea of what they believe an elopement to be—sometimes, those ideas can be built up on foundations of what elopements used to mean.

We like to think that an elopement is the core of a pure wedding—an intimate ceremony celebrating the love two people have for each other. In our minds, it’s the truest form of what committing your lives to each other looks like.

Elopements are still very non-traditional, and we understand that there are still a lot of misunderstandings or misconceptions around elopements that have kept couples in the dark about what the true definition of an elopement is.

So, let’s explore and bust some of those elopement myths!

Myth 1: Elopements are For Lonely, Isolated People Without Family

There’s this dated, preconceived notion about eloping that if a couple is choosing not to have an enormous party surrounded by hundreds of friends, family members, or acquaintances—that they probably don’t have these types of communities or support in their lives.

That’s definitely not the case.

A lot of the couples we’ve worked with that have eloped have very strong friendships, solid relationships with their families, and communities that are backing them 100 percent—but they still choose to take a different route with their wedding day.

Why?

Because these couples decided that, even though they have lots of people around them that the moment they’re committing their lives to each other matters more than anything else.

The whole idea of an elopement is about this focus on getting married with intention.

Yes, you have friends, family, and loved ones you could invite to your wedding day—maybe you have hundreds and hundreds of people who would be there to support you without even a second thought, but that’s not necessarily what your love is about or how you’d prefer to spend your day.

Eloping means choosing to put the love you have for your partner (and how & where you want to say your vows) over things that might not matter as much to you—like a big party where you’re the center of attention.

Instead, you’re choosing to make your day about the two of you, not about a party that could be really stressful and come along with lots of obligation.

An elopement isn’t about excluding people or telling your loved ones you don’t care about them—it’s just choosing to focus on intention and the priorities that mean the most to you. That’s the entire point of eloping.

Couples who have everyone they know backing them or in their corner can still choose to elope because when they look back on their wedding day for the rest of their lives, they want to remember a day that was purely for the two of them—a day without a single regret or a single compromise.

Don’t get us wrong—it’s entirely possible to have an intentional elopement while having guests there.

We’ve been a part of so many beautiful, meaningful elopements that have included more people than just the couple getting married.

The difference lies in the focus—if everyone who’s there at your elopement can get on board with the fact that it’s your day and it’s entirely about the two of you, the intentionality is still there.

A golden light is cast upon a bride and groom as they read their vows to each other during their elopement ceremony. One of the benefits of eloping is that couples get to include their unique eloping ideas into their day without having to stick to a certain schedule.
A couple runs through a gorgeous alpine-meadow. Flowers bloom all around them in bright pops of yellow and white. The two can’t help but smile as they hold onto each other and run through the field. In the background, snow-capped mountains can be seen.

 

Myth 2: People Elope Because They Don’t Want To Invest Money In Their Wedding Day

Traditionally, people tend to think of elopements as always being extremely low-budget options—truthfully, that’s more of a positive side-effect of eloping than the driving force behind it.

Sure, you probably will end up saving a little bit of money, but that’s not the core reason behind it. You can do an enormous wedding with hundreds of people on a low-budget, and you can also do an elopement with a really hefty budget, too.

The reality is, eloping instead of having a wedding day isn’t purely about saving money or not investing in your beautiful day. It’s just about choosing to invest in your day in a different way.

Many couples decide to elope because they want a day that’s entirely focused on them and what they want to do—for a lot of people, that might not mean hosting a big party. For some people, a day that brings them total joy might mean they’re surrounded by nature, doing something they love (like an epic hike or going stand up paddle boarding) with the person they love.

Couples who chose to elope aren’t doing it solely because they think it’s going to cost them less money—they’re doing it because they want to spend an intentional day with the person who means the most to you doing something that makes the most sense for you.

Elopements boil down a wedding to its bones to bring it back to what really matters—you and your partner. Budget has nothing to do with that.

Myth 3: Elopements are for Shameful or Unapproved Marriages

People sometimes think that elopements are these secret ceremonies that couples choose because they’re ashamed, embarrassed, or think their loved ones won’t approve of their decisions.

In this past, this might have been true. But, that’s not necessarily what elopements are anymore.

We’ve had couples who choose surprise elopements, but most times the surprise lies in how they chose to get married—not that they chose to get married at all.

Having an elopement does not mean that you’re doomed to deal with disapproval or shame—it just means that you’re choosing to set aside some of the pressure, anxiety, and expectations that can sometimes go hand-in-hand with the traditional wedding route.

When you choose to elope, you’re choosing not to compromise. You’re choosing meaningful moments packed with intention. We don’t think there’s anything shameful about that.

A couple stands on the cliff at Yosemite National Park during their elopement ceremony. A gorgeous cast of sunlight shines on the valley below them. The two, in the distance, take hands during their elopement ceremony. This unique eloping ideas was captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement photograper.
Two brides hug each other during their elopement wedding. Both dressed in long, white dresses, they hold each other close. In the background of these elopement pictures (captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement photographer) enormous pink and brown mountains peek up.
A groom touches his bride on the hip as she reads her vows to him during their elopement ceremony. He looks at her, holding back tears, as he listens to her during their small simple wedding.

Myth 4: Elopements can only include the two of you

Elopements used to be thought of as these secret, clandestine affair that no one else is allowed to attend because that would break the elopement rules.

But, guess what? There are no rules to an elopement. You can absolutely elope with family, friends, your loved ones—whoever you want to be there.

Bring your mom. Bring your officiant. Bring your kids. Bring your best friend. Bring your dog (please… PLEASE bring your dog!).

Your elopement day is entirely up to you.

There is no defined number of guests (or lack of guests) that will define your wedding as an elopement. It’s all about the intention of the couple and how your guests respect that.

We have photographed so many beautiful elopements that have included the couple’s closest family and friends. We’ve photographed couples who chose to only have their parents present, their siblings, their best friends, or even small groups of up to 15 people.

More than that, if you want to include your loved ones in your day, but you don’t want to sacrifice that intimate, one-on-one alone time with your partner, you don’t have to—you can split your day, have separate ceremonies, or make your elopement two-days!

Like we said, there are no rules as long as you’re following your heart.

There’s no set number of guests that defines your day as an elopement, but (speaking from experience), we’ve noticed that once your numbers grow past 15-20 people, it can become increasingly difficult to keep the focus of the day on the two of you.

The trick with keeping your day an elopement is to be direct with your guests about your intention and not compromising.

We recently were fortunate enough to capture the elopement of an amazing couple who wanted to have their day in Switzerland. They told their friends they were going and invited them along: “This is our day, we’d love to have you there, but this is exactly what we have in mind and we’re not compromising.”

And you know what? Twenty of their greatest friends followed them to Switzerland. All 20 of them made the day entirely about that couple and not once did they distract from their focus or make the day about themselves—they were all purely there to support & love on the couple and it was an incredible elopement.

Intentionality—that’s the beautiful thing about eloping.

what-is-eloping-elopement-definition
A bride and groom stand at the top of a snow-capped mountain holding onto their two children, a young boy and girl. The whole family is smiling and a bouquet of beautiful flowers lays at their feet.
A couple take hands during their elopement ceremony as their friends and family surround them. Eloping with family is one o the best elopement ideas to include in your small simple wedding.
A bride and groom hike down a rocky trail with their adorable puppy. Both in their wedding attire, they’re equipped with hiking gear—backpacks, hiking boots, and more. Hiking as part of your elopement wedding is one of the best elopement ideas.

Myth 5: Elopements are an ultra-quick & Rushed ceremony

In the past, elopements were thought of as a less-than version of a wedding where you snap a few portraits, sign a license, and you’re all packed up in an hour or two.

But in our experience, we’ve found that elopements are these vast, meaningful experiences that are packed with hundreds and hundreds of intentional, love-filled moments—that there’s no way an hour or two would do justice. We believe your wedding day deserves more than that.

Most of the couples we’re fortunate to work with choose elopement experiences that last anywhere from 8-12 hours (we even have couples who choose two-day elopement experiences, too!)

Elopements truly have no rules! An elopement is quite literally creating the most incredible day for the two of you—and getting married too.

That’s one of the things we love most about eloping. One great question to ask yourself to start imagining what your day might look like is: if you two had a free day with absolutely no limits—what would that look like? What would an absolutely awesome enjoyable unforgettable day together be?

There are no wrong answers. No limits. No impossibilities.

Think about what the most honest, authentic day would look like to you two— a day you’d want to soak up every single moment of and look back on it for the rest of your life with a smile on your face.

This could be your wedding day.

It is so much more than an ultra-quick, rushed ceremony.

An elopement is a two-day road-trip through Scotland exploring places you’ve always wanted to go.

It’s backpacking 30 miles so you can say your vows on the top of a mountain.

It’s waking up at the crack of dawn, walking down a sandy beach, diving into an alpine lake, helicoptering over a glacier.

It’s whatever the heck you want it to be for however long you want it to be—it’s everything a wedding day should be.

 

Myth 6: Elopements are always last-minute & Ill-planned

Sometimes, elopements are thought of as last-minute or ill-planned ceremonies—but that’s not always the case for modern-day elopements.

In fact, a lot of the couples we work with plan their elopements as far in advance as weddings—we’re talking 9-months to a year-and-a-half out.

In the past, elopements have been considered last-ditch, zero-effort ways to tie the knot, In reality, they’re actually pure, intentional moments that focus on the intentionality and meaning of the wedding experience.

Elopements aren’t cheating or taking a shortcut or settling for a second-class wedding experience.

No matter what kind of wedding day you’re after, we always encourage you to have the experience that you know will make you and your partner the happiest.

Your elopement can be as planned or laid-back as you want. You can include beautiful ceremony options or go somewhere gorgeous and just say what’s on your heart.

It’s not cheating or copping out to do exactly what you want to do.

Eloping is making this intentional decision to say I choose not to follow a tradition that doesn’t make sense for me. It’s saying I choose you to your partner. It’s saying I choose us.

A bride leads her soon-to-be husband through an alpine-meadow at the top of a mountain. In the distance, clouds surround gorgeous, alpenglow-cast mountain peaks. These adventure elopement pictures were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement photographer.
A bride and groom embrace in the distance as they stand on a rock at the edge of a gorgeous, turquoise, alpine lake. Giant green, gold, and brown mountains surround them in these elopement pictures captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement wedding photographer.

In Conclusion…

Elopements aren’t for people who want to cop-out, skimp, or breeze through the most important day of their lives—elopements are for the brave people who care so, so deeply for the person they love that they’re willing to take a bold leap away from the norm and choose something different, meaningful, and wholly intentional.

An elopement is for the people who want nothing more than to spend, a day, two days— however long—basking in the intimate, meaningful moment where they choose to commit their lives to each other.

It’s for the people who look their partner in the eyes and know that this day—their wedding day—is about them and them only. It’s for the couple that knows that on the day they pledge themselves to each other forever, they want total freedom to say, do, think, and feel what they want.

Elopements aren’t cop-outs.

They’re not a few portraits, license signing, and it’s over.

Elopements are anti-pressure, anti-obligation, anti-doing-what-everyone-else-tells-you-to-do.

Elopements are taking your partner’s hand, holding on, and jumping into a huge adventure together in exactly the way that you want to.

Intentional. Brave. Empowering.

That’s what an elopement really is.   

A bride, a groom, and their dog hike down a dirty path toward a rocky, grassy mountain range. Though dressed in their wedding attire, all of them (the dog included) are equipped with backpacks and hiking gear. These elopement pictures were captured by Adventure Instead, an elopement wedding photographer.


Hey there! We’re Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We’re professional adventure elopement photographers (and guides and officiants, too!) who call Colorado and Washington home. We’d love to help you plan your adventurous elopement. No matter what you want your day to look like, we can help capture your unique, intentional experience in a creative, unforgettable way. We can’t wait to help you start planning your special just us day.

 You deserve the beautiful elopement experience you’ve always wanted—don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

Get in touch with us and let us guide you.  

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HEY THERE!

We're Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We are adventurous elopement photographers & guides based in Colorado that travel worldwide to help fearless couples like you create your unforgettable, wildly different wedding experience—that is completely yours.

Are You Ready to Create Your Own Adventurous Elopement?


If you would like help dreaming up your intimate wedding day, a customized elopement location idea list just for you, planning tools, vendor recommendations, and a creative, laid-back, documentary approach to your adventurous wedding photography—we would love to help you make your adventure elopement dreams come true.

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