| April 1, 2020

Eloping vs Wedding — The 5 Main Differences

Table of Contents

Is it better to elope or have a wedding?

Whether you’re brand new to this whole idea of a non-traditional, adventurous elopement or you’ve been planning and pining for your dream elopement day for years, odds are, you’re already aware that elopements and weddings are pretty different.

Elopements, by our definition, are intentionally small, intimate, meaningful, and authentic wedding experiences that are a true reflection of your relationship where the focus of the day is really about you two.

Weddings typically tend to shift the focus of the day from being solely about the couple to include other factors, such as:

  • the event itself
  • entertaining and obliging guests
  • incorporating traditional elements

The actual result of both elopements and weddings — committing your life to your partner thing — is ultimately the same. It’s the journey, the experience, and the adventure that makes elopements and weddings — wildly different.

Two women embrace at the lake during their mountain elopement.

But, what exactly does that mean — what are the actual, logistical differences between a wedding and an elopement?

Is an elopement different from a wedding simply because it’s more focused on the couple instead of the ceremony?

Is an elopement different from a wedding because it’s some secret, clandestine affair where family isn’t invited?

The reality is, an elopement is different than a wedding because the intention is different.

Ultimately, an elopement day is designed to focus on the couple and what they want. That being said, there are a ton of additional differences, too, which we’re here to dive into with you!

Before we do, we want to make something super clear the day you decide to get married — the day you and your partner take hands and pledge yourselves to each other, the day you’re committing to each other — is entirely about you.

That means your wedding day, elopement day, ceremony day — whatever you want to call it — should be a true reflection of who you are as a couple, what you both want, and how you want to celebrate this epic, amazing day.

We’re pro-elopement, but we’re not anti-wedding. Overall, we fly on the belief that love should be celebrated the way that makes the most sense to the specific couple.

The biggest reason we’re here — explaining all of this — is because we want couples to know that they don’t automatically have to default to a traditional wedding if that’s not what speaks to them.

Your wedding day should be everything you want it to be — no matter what that looks like. We just want couples to know that. If that means choosing a big, traditional wedding because it makes you happy, that’s perfect — do that and love the heck out of your day, you deserve it!

But, if that means choosing to throw tradition out the window and run wildly toward a non-traditional, fringe elopement that rebels against the wedding industry, that’s OK, too — we’re here to help guide you on your wildly different wedding experience.

A bride and groom embrace on a mountain top on their elopement day.
Groom helps bride hold her dress while walking down the mountain on their wedding day.

The 5 Main Differences —Eloping vs Wedding  

Check out some of these poignant differences that we think exist when it comes down to eloping vs having a traditional wedding (in no particular order!):

1.  People

This is an important difference, but not in the way you might think because we’re not talking specifically about the difference in the number of guests. Though, by nature, an elopement is likely going to have fewer people involved, so, that is partly the point.

When we say people, we mean an elopement gives couples the freedom to have the exact amount of people — and the specific people — that makes them the happiest at their wedding.

Because elopements are about the couple and how they want to meaningfully create their own wedding experience, there’s a lot more freedom to set limits and boundaries on the number of people who attend.

For some couples, that means having a just us wedding day where no one else is there. For others, that means inviting only parents, siblings, or best friends. In some cases, that means having a small group of 15-20 people present on their special day.

Why does the number matter?


With an elopement, you’re free to choose exactly who you want to be part of your intentional, intimate day, meaning that if you do want to include people, you’re only inviting those you want to have meaningful time with on your wedding day.

Often, with traditional weddings, you’re obligated to invite cousins, colleagues, old friends, parent’s bosses — it goes on and on until you’re drowning in an invitation list 300 people deep.

With elopements, you’re dwindling down the obligations, the pressures, and the invite list, meaning you’re only inviting exactly who you want to spend intentional time with on your epic day — even if that means just bringing your dog along.

2. Authenticity

We recently posted about how we collected data from over 200 couples to figure out why people were choosing to elope.

The first reason we found was that couples wanted a just us experience on their wedding day.The second biggest reason? Authenticity.

A lot of people feel that choosing to elope gives them the chance to have a day that’s closer to who they authentically are as people.

Think about it — there are people out there who are authentically jazzed about the idea of having a traditional wedding with a fun party, dancing, presents, glamour, and more. But for every couple out there who absolutely loves that idea, there’s another couple out there who can’t stand that thought.

It’s more than extrovert versus introvert, it’s about who people are at their very core. It’s about what couples truly want for themselves on their special days.

Weddings — in some sense — leave every couple with a lot of cookie-cutter outcomes that’s might not be true to who they are. Elopements, on the other hand, give couples the power to say, you know what, this is us — this is what we truly want”

Bride and groom exchange vows during their wedding ceremony.
Bride and groom embrace on a mountain on their wedding day,

3. Choices

While we absolutely aren’t saying that every single traditional wedding is the same (they’re definitely not —t here’s an entire wedding industry out there that makes sure of that), the idea of a traditional wedding does tend to follow a similar formula.

With elopements, all of the rules, expectations, and obligations fly out the window — couples are able to make so many more choices about their day. Especially when it comes down to location.

Don’t get us wrong — there are endless location choices within the realms of a traditional wedding, but elopement choices are different.

For one, you’re not stuck picking among normal venues — your venues are mountaintops, rushing rivers, waterfalls, desert dunes, cliffs, canyons. Your venue is anywhere in the world you want.


Because you don’t have to try to accommodate a certain number of people, caterers, traditions, etc.

Elopements are entirely about choosing an intimate, authentic wedding experience — so if getting married in the middle of the desert, or while kayaking in an alpine lake, or at the top of a cliff screaming into the wind speaks to you, eloping might be the perfect choice for you.

4. Stress

Before we dive into this, we want to make a point — we’re not saying that elopements are inherently free of stress or that weddings are total stress-zones.

That ultimately depends on the kind of people you are, what you have in mind for your day, and how you plan to handle it. That being said, traditional weddings tend to have certain stressful-red-flag-zones that elopements don’t usually have.

For starters, when you choose to elope (even if you’re bringing people along with you), you’re not trying to coordinate a giant party that meets the needs of 200-300 people. The group — if it’s not just the two of you — is automatically going to be a fraction of the average number of attendees at a traditional wedding, which means you don’t have to try to figure out accommodations, transportation, thank-you gifts — and everything else that weddings include — for a huge group.

Elopements can also be a huge relief from family-related stress.

Big, traditional weddings likely include involving family, and for a lot of people, that’s not an inherently stress-free thing.

Maybe you don’t get along with your family. Maybe you do, but you just want to have a day that’s entirely about the two of you. Eloping grants you the opportunity to say, “Hey, we want a day that’s truly about us and reflects who we are — that means having a day that only includes us.”

It’s not about leaving anyone out, it’s about having the day you want. When it comes to weddings, it’s a lot harder to host a giant party and not invite your family.

Elopement is purely focused on intent, meaning, and authenticity — which means if that’s the day you want, that’s the day you get.

Your wedding experience — whether it’s an elopement or a wedding day — should be wholly enjoyable. Have the day that will cause you the least stress, allow you to take in every moment, and let you have the most fun.

5. Values

The reality is, traditional weddings and elopement experiences have different values at their core.

We’re not saying one is better or worse than the other, just that each experience uniquely highlights what matters most to people.

Typically, couples who authentically desire a big, traditional wedding truly value having their communities with them on their day, being in the spotlight, and planning a memorable, exciting party to celebrate their wedding.

On the other hand, couples who choose to elope typically value experiences over tangible things, big parties, and being the center of attention on their day.

According to the Knot, the average price of a wedding in the U.S. is about $33,930.

For some couples, that means spending $30k on a big party for their friends and family — sparklers, table garlands, venues, food, drink, and more. And you know what? That’s awesome. If that speaks to you, you should do that!

But for other couples, that means investing their money into other things they value — like experiences, solitude, kick-ass photos, and an amazing adventure to kick off their biggest adventure ever.

Choosing an elopement versus a wedding day doesn’t mean you don’t want to invest in your wedding experience, it simply means that you, as a couple, value something different than what a big, traditional wedding can offer you.

Groom carries bride on their wedding day.
Bride wipes tear off her face while reading vows to the groom in Yosemite National Park on their wedding day.

Creative Solutions — A Custom Mix of Both

We’ve definitely said this before, but we think it’s worth repeating — there’s no wrong or right way to have a wedding day. If you and your love desire a strictly secluded, just us elopement day where you don’t see another soul the entire time — that’s awesome! If you want your wedding day to include the people you love the most all celebrating this amazing moment in your lives, that’s also awesome.

There are absolutely no rules!

If you crave a little custom mix of both the intimate, intentional elopement with some of the elements of a wedding, there are plenty of creative ways to make sure you’re getting everything you want!

  • Elope WITH your family — this can be done! Some people think that eloping and bringing your family along breaks the rules, but like we said, there are no rules! We’ve been a part of so many beautiful elopement experiences that included close friends, parents, siblings, grandparents, children, and more — some people even want to elope with their dogs (which, disclaimer, we hugely support this, please bring your dog).
  • Split the day — If you want a chunk of your day to just be dedicated to you and your love doing exactly what you want to do but you can’t stand the idea of your family not being a part of your elopement day, try splitting the day in half! Spend the first half of your elopement hiking to the top of a mountain, rock climbing, off-roading — whatever you want, just the two of you — and then meet up with your family at the end of the day for a sunset celebration. Or, swap the order of those two things. You really can have everything you want on your elopement day!  
  • Make it two days — we’ve seen this done! Sometimes, there are so many things a couple wants to do during their elopement experience that it can’t all fit into a single day — especially if they want to have a wild adventure, include guests, and top the day off with a reception after eloping. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that! If you love the idea of a day just for you and your love but don’t want to leave your family and friends out, consider having one full day of just us time where you have the wild adventure you’ve always wanted. Then, dedicate the next day as an elopement experience with your loved ones!
  • Have an extra party — if you and your partner want the best of both worlds (the intimate ceremony but also the sense of community and support), consider setting up a fun reception separate from your elopement. If you’re planning a destination elopement just for the two of you, throw a celebratory party beforehand. Or, plan one for when you come back! We’ve even seen couples have a party before their elopement day where they have their friends and family watch them sign their marriage licenses. The opportunities are infinite!
  • Have tons of mini parties with each of your communities — if you love the idea of including all your special communities as a part of your elopement but don’t necessarily want the hubbub of a big wedding, consider having tons of mini parties with each of your special communities. Think: work-friend parties, church parties, dog-park-buddy parties, book club parties, family parties — whatever you want, you can have!
Two brides wearing winter jackets have a picnic on a mountain on their wedding day.
Bride and groom have their ceremony near the edge of the lake.
Bride and groom pop champagne to celebrate their new marriage in the mountains.

No matter what kind of wedding experience you decide you want, always remember the most important thing — it should be wholly reflective of who you both are and how you want to celebrate this beautiful, exciting adventure you’re choosing to take together.

In the end, the ultimate goal is to have a day — or two — that you can look back on and remember loving every second of. It’s your wedding experience, make sure it looks exactly like you want it to.

Hey there! We’re Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori, elopement photographers & guides who are based in Colorado and Washington. We would love the chance to talk with you about helping you craft your dream elopement. Not only will we help to document your intimate, meaningful elopement experience in a laid-back and exciting way, but we’re also able to help you pinpoint the greatest vendors, the dreamiest locations, and more! We can’t wait to connect with you.


Get in touch with us and let us guide you.

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

Three photographers

About us

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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