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How to Cancel a Wedding and Adventure Instead
Cancelling a wedding is not an easy decision for most people. Whether you’re at the very beginning stages and decided a traditional celebration isn’t actually what you want, or you’ve already sent out invitations and now have to navigate uninviting guests – this guide can help you process the emotional, strategic, and step-by-step processes necessary to complete this daunting task. Your reasons for canceling your wedding might be heartbreaking – a global pandemic, family tragedy, or logistical nightmares. Or, you might be feeling relief – perhaps you always actually wanted a small, elopement-style celebration instead. My hope is that whatever you’re feeling right now – in the end, you get exactly the celebration YOU want!
Should I Cancel, or Postpone?
This is for the couples who want the wedding they were planning, or at least they want some kind of get-together with their loved ones eventually.
Maybe you’d planned a 2020 wedding and then a global pandemic shut down your venue – should you get married in a smaller ceremony, or should you postpone (for an unknown length of time) and enjoy your original wedding plans at a later date?
Well, there is actually a third option we’ve found to be the best option for most couples – get married in a small elopement ceremony, and plan to celebrate with loved ones at a reception in a year or two! While it might seem easier to just throw in the towel and cancel altogether, we are huge proponents of postponement and rescheduling – patience and some creativity can save a lot of money and disappointment! Especially if you’ve put down some non-refundable deposits, you might want to consider this.
If you can’t imagine getting married without your loved ones present, you can invite a small group to an outdoor elopement. At Adventure Instead we photograph elopements with up to 25 people – you can still enjoy any wedding traditions that matter to you at an elopement! You can walk down the aisle, wear white, toast to the future, and share the moment with your closest friends.
The greatest benefit of a post-elopement reception is that you can get the best of both worlds while still getting married when you want. In fact, you can even “relive” the elopement by sharing a video or a slideshow of photos at the reception – plus, who doesn’t want the excuse to celebrate twice!?
Canceling a wedding that you wanted can be really difficult – but don’t think of it as “giving up” and instead find ways to still enjoy all the parts of a wedding that matter to you. If you were looking forward to a classic urban wedding – elope in a chic courthouse ceremony. If you had planned a rustic mountain lodge wedding – rent out a cabin and elopement in the mountains. Your vision of your wedding doesn’t have to get thrown out when you cancel your wedding. Instead, personalize elopement plans to celebrate your style!
Whether you’ve decided to just elope, or elope now and plan a wedding reception later, you still have to cancel/adjust your wedding plans – however far you’ve gotten with them. It might feel like a daunting task, but we’re here to help! If you follow this step-by-step action plan outlined below, the overwhelming to-do list will become much more manageable.
How to Cancel a Wedding: The Steps
- Sit down with your partner & list the MOST important parts of a wedding day for you two.
What are your non-negotiables? What does your wedding day HAVE to have? Write those down! This will help to ground you and give you a baseline for re-creating your wedding day. It’s important to decide from the outset what things are most important to you, because you don’t want to end up compromising on something that will negatively affect your entire outlook on your wedding.
It’s also important to be honest with yourselves through this process – let yourself grieve and be frustrated over the change of plans, if you feel those emotions, but don’t let yourself “throw out” important things because you’re frustrated. The “let’s just get this over with” mentality is exactly what you DON’T want to have when you finally do have your wedding!
- Make a list of everything you’ve done so far & collect all your contracts.
What vendors have you committed to? This includes a venue, photographer, videographer, caterer, etc. Make a checklist of each of those things and collect any contracts you’ve signed. Each of your contracts should have a cancellation or rescheduling clause – find out exactly what it is you’ve agreed to and whether there is any flexibility to suit your new plans. If you’ve had to cancel your wedding due to a social crisis or otherwise extreme circumstances, it’s worth noting that vendors might have a plan in place for accommodating you outside their normal operating procedures.
If you have a lot of deposits sent in to vendors who have a “non-refundable deposit” policy, consider other ways those vendors can transfer funds to suit your needs. For instance, if your venue won’t be used for your wedding but you DO want to have a reception in the future, see if it’s possible to transfer your deposit toward using the venue for your reception – depending on the later date, you might even be able to save some cash by requiring fewer hours or a non-peak season date. This is a win-win for everyone involved!
- Reach out to each vendor you’ve hired & ask about availability.
Once you have a solid list of everything you’ve already planned – now organized in a checklist for backtracking – ask each vendor what their cancelation policy is, whether they have a rescheduling fee, what their availability is if you were to postpone, and what date they need to know by if you’re going to change your plans. If you’d like to postpone, it might be worth not choosing a new date until you’ve spoken to each vendor to see when they have overlapping availability.
This stage can be kind of frustrating because you’ll probably find that there is no single date all your vendors will be available again in the future. Remember, you don’t have to make new plans yet – but it is important to discover what deposits you can get back, what vendors you could use for a postponed event, and which vendors you can cancel with even if it means forfeiting some cash. If you’re canceling a wedding to elope instead, most eloping couples end up spending less on the event – budgeting will very likely be a part of this step in the planning process depending on what you learn from speaking with your vendors.
- Decide what you’re going to hold onto, what you’re going to postpone & what you’re going to let go of.
Now that you know what’s most important to you both, what your vendor’s policies are, and what your budget will look like moving forward – it’s time to begin making decisions. You’ll want to decide what vendors to move forward with, and which ones to cancel with. You’ll also pick a date and a location for your elopement. If you’ve majorly changed your plans to elope instead of having a big wedding, there’s a good chance your location will change too. If you’re no longer accommodating guests, this is your opportunity to ask yourself “if I could get married anywhere in the world, where would I go?” We help our couples dream up locations all the time, and we have a blog written about how to pick the perfect elopement location.
Even if you’re not ready to begin making plans for your elopement or reception, the quicker you can inform your vendors of a cancellation the better. As photographers, we can’t speak for all wedding vendors but I know how appreciative we are to learn of changing plans ASAP. If you’ve signed a contract with us, we’ve blocked that date off our calendars and might even have turned down other inquiring couples because it’s YOUR date. The sooner we know about a change in plans, the more likely we are to accommodate a new date for you or rebook the date for another couple.
- If you’ve already sent out Save The Date cards or invitations, it’s time to inform guests of your plans.
If you’ve cancelled a wedding in favor of eloping instead, you might have to cut down on guests (or eliminate guests all together). Even if your loved ones can’t be there in person, there are alternatives to include them! You could live stream your elopement ceremony, plan a reception in the future, or even ask your friends and family to compile letters you can read together at your elopement. Due to the number of cancellations or postponements we witnessed from the COVID-19 pandemic, we got to see a lot of creative ways couples informed loved ones of a change of plans. You could send out notices that your wedding guest count had to be reduced for whatever reason, and take the opportunity to invite them to the reception in the future. Or, you could simply send notices of a “pause” on the event if you’re postponing but don’t have a new date yet.
Something we heard time and time again as couples cancelled larger gatherings in favor of smaller elopements is that guests who were uninvited preferred to get the news personally– if you can, give your loved ones a call and explain the circumstances. If you can blame the shrinking guest count on location or another factor, that might soften the blow. Don’t take it personally if someone expresses hurt by your decision to not include guests at your elopement – your wedding day is your day and it is 100% up to you who is present.
- Now, it’s time to create a new plan!
The hardest part is done – you’ve cancelled anything that needed to be cancelled, informed anyone who needed to know about a change in plans, and it’s finally time to craft a new plan! If you’ve cancelled a wedding but chosen to keep the date and elope instead, you might be on a shorter time crunch – don’t worry, we’ve helped couples plan incredible elopements with only a few weeks notice. If you kept on some vendors and have a date and location already chosen, the hardest part is done. If you’ve decided to start from scratch, we’d love to help you find your perfect location and plan your dream elopement!
How to Plan an Elopement
Whether you scraped your old wedding plan entirely, or you’ve chosen to elope now and have a reception later, a just-us elopement ceremony is a great way to keep your chosen date special. You two are in love and despite whatever upheaval led you to cancel your wedding, you can still get married! At the end of the day, your wedding day will always be first and foremost about the commitment you’re making to each other – your union can be witnessed be 200 people or 2 people and it will still be just as significant.
Planning elopement is really only a few steps – after planning and cancelling a wedding, this might actually be a breeze! Depending on what you’ve made of your previous plans, you might want to jump in at step 1, 3, or 5. But even if you’re completely starting over from scratch, these are the 8 steps to planning your elopement:
- Pick a date.
Maybe you’ve already done this – if not, this step can be done in conjunction with vendors you want to work with, chosen based on the season you want to elope in, or simply pick a date that is a nice collection of numbers!
- Choose a location.
When you choose your location, consider these 3 things: weather, accessibility, and environment. Locations can have totally different levels of access depending on the weather and time of year – some roads close in the winter and trails can become inaccessible for hikers. The environment can also look totally different depending on your date – an aspen grove in the winter will be bare, whereas the trees will be golden in late autumn.
- Hire a photographer.
This could also be your step one – we often help couples choose their date and location. But, you also might want to choose someone local if you’re going to have a destination elopement to save on travel costs. A photographer who knows the area (local or otherwise) will also be instrumental in helping you figure out the details of a destination you might not have traveled to before.
- Reach out to other vendors.
Elopements don’t require as many vendors as a traditional wedding, but there are still a few common ones: officiant, florist, videographer, chef, hair & makeup artist. It’s entirely possible you only hire a photographer (everyone at Adventure Instead is ordained & can sign your marriage certificate).
- Familiarize yourself with local laws.
If you’re going to be getting married outdoors on public land, you might need to apply for an event permit (this is required in every national park). Also, if you’re eloping in another country or state, each place has different requirements for a legal marriage, and you’ll want to ensure you apply for any paperwork in time.
- Purchase or rent attire.
Your attire should be chosen with your location and date in mind – lighter, flowy clothes are great for outdoor elopements in the summer, and warmer attire will be appreciated if you get married at higher elevations or in the winter.
- Finalize details.
If you’re going to be traveling you’ll need to find a place to stay. We have a guide for choosing an Airbnb rental for your elopement – you’ll also want to finalize details with local vendors for picking up floral arrangements, cake, etc.
- Have a Plan B.
I know, this elopement is already your Plan B – but, maybe we should call this Plan C then. You’ll want a backup plan for inclement weather no matter where you choose to elope. If you want to trust your photographer with this task, we always scout out an alternative ceremony location in case of rain. If your rental allows events, you might even want to choose an Airbnb that would make an awesome backup plan in case of a freak storm.
Keep Perspective – You Still Have the MOST Important Part of Your Wedding
The most important part of your marriage is right next to you – your partner. It doesn’t matter if you have a 200 person wedding or a 2 person elopement, you’re still going to end up married at the end of the day. We know you’re experiencing a scary, stressful, and downright frustrating moment because you’re either cancelling or postponing your wedding. But, whether you’re mostly heartbroken or somewhat relieved – we want you to know YOU’VE GOT THIS!
Eloping can be a truly beautiful authentic wedding experience better than you ever imagined. No, we aren’t exaggerating – we’ve literally crafted an entire business around the belief that eloping is the BEST way to get married, and every year hundreds of couples agree with us and Adventure Instead! For those of you who still aren’t sure what to do, there are tons of resources available to lend a helping hand. Reach out to your vendors, ask other experts for advice, and feel free to leave us a comment or question below! We’d love to help turn this change of plans into your dream wedding!