So you and your love have decided to get married. Yaaaay! The two of you have realized that you found your person and want to spend the rest of your lives together, and that deserves to be celebrated. The only question now is…how? Do you have an elopement? An intimate wedding? A big, traditional wedding?
Maybe you didn’t even realize until recently that you could be asking this question at all. The norm is still very much to have a traditional wedding, and often couples don’t even know that there are so many other options out there. Some folks know right off the bat that a traditional wedding isn’t the right fit, but plenty of people only realize midway through planning that a big wedding with all of the pressures and expectations that come with it just isn’t them. We hear folks say things like, “Wedding planning is so stressful,” “There’s too much family drama,” or “I just can’t wait for this to be over.”
Oof. That last one. These feelings are so common that they are practically expected for couples while they are planning their wedding. But we are here to show you there’s another way.
1 – There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a big, traditional wedding. For some people, this is the absolute perfect way they could celebrate their marriage. If this is you, that’s fantastic! We just want to make sure it’s a choice that is made, not one that is fallen into because of social pressures or tradition
2 – We see weddings and elopements as more of a spectrum than discrete categories. Different words are used in the industry to try and capture this – elopement, micro-wedding, intimate wedding, big wedding – but the reality is there is not concrete cut off between them.
The wedding day that everyone expects you to have. Bridesmaids and groomsmen, a father like figure walking the bride (if there is one) down the aisle, 100+ friends and family watching as you share your vows with one another, some toasts to your relationship, a cake to cut, a first dance, and maybe a sparkler exit. Like we said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a day like this. For some couples, this is the best way they could get married. So how do you know if this is the right fit for you?
If planning big events, entertaining guests, and partying late into the night is your idea of the best day ever, a big traditional wedding might be for you. Maybe you’re a couple of extroverts (or introverts who have the raddest group of friends and family) and you just can’t wait to hit the dance floor of a big party that’s all about you. If you’re dreaming of seeing all your friends and family dressed to the nines and celebrating with you all night long, a traditional wedding might be right up your alley.
For a lot of couples, their wedding day is the one day they can get all of their people in one place, which can be incredibly meaningful, especially if friends and family are scattered all over the country (or world). If the thought of getting married without all your people surrounding you sounds like the worst thing ever – that’s okay! It just means that eloping might not be for you.
With traditional weddings couples often have back to back tasks for pretty much the entire day. From setting up the venue, getting ready and having hair and makeup done, formal photographs with the wedding party and then with family, the ceremony, more formal photographs, dinner, toasts, first dances, and cake cutting, the day flies by in a blur. We find that couples often way understimate the time it takes for everything to take place, and usually nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. The biggest workaround here is to schedule in far more time in your timeline than you think you need, as well as hiring a coordinator to keep everyone on track and manage all the hiccups that come up on the day so you don’t have to.
These next two follow from having a rushed and stressful day. With all the activities that happen, most couples find they barely spend any real time with their guests. There are a few ways to work with this one, the biggest one being…pare down your guest list. Even with a roomy timeline, spending quality time with each person on your 150 or 200 person guest list in one evening just isn’t realistic. Other options include lengthening your wedding, like having a whole wedding weekend or having an intimate brunch in the morning with your closest people you want to make sure you can have time with before having a larger reception.
This one breaks our hearts. Your wedding day, the day you are committing your life to your partner, and you hardly get to see them. It’s unfortunately a reality of having many people to entertain and a limited amount of time to do it. A big way to navigate this is to do a “first look” together earlier in the day, where you see each other in your wedding attire for the first time (or better yet, have you thought about just getting ready together?). This is often such an intimate part of the day and helps relieve some of those wedding day nerves, as well as ensures some time with just the two of you before the festivities even start. We also recommend intentionally carving out time around sunset to slip away just the two of you (and your photographer) for some more portraits and alone time.
Before we go any further, let’s start with some definitions, because we find there are a lot of people out there with misconceptions about what elopements are. Gone are the days when an elopement meant a couple spontaneously running off in secret (and maybe in shame!) to Las Vegas for a quick, cheesy ceremony and to sign some legal documents.
Instead, we define an elopement as an intentional wedding day where the focus of the day is on celebrating the relationship and prioritizing meaningful experiences, rather than making a big production for the sake of everyone else. You can plan an elopement in one day or 18 months out, with just the two of you or with your closest friends and family in attendance, and you can elope at the courthouse or on a mountain top.
The only rule with elopements is that there are no rules; it is about creating a meaningful wedding day that is genuinely 100% you. So how do you know if this is the route you want to go?
Maybe you’re more of an introvert and the thought of sharing personal vows in front of a hundered other people makes your stomach feel like it’s in knots. Or maybe you hate the thought of spending hardly any time with your partner on the day you get married. If you choose to elope you can skip all of this, and focus on having a day that is just about soaking in the fact that you are getting married. You’ll have plenty of time to be slow, intentional, and fully present with your partner.
Traditional weddings are inherently wasteful. That’s fact, not just a judgment call. Did you know the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage? Dinner and desserts that go uneaten, disposable dishes and cutlery, decor items that are used once and then discarded. And if you’re honest with yourself, are you even going to remember what color napkins you had picked out six months or three years from now? So if you want a day that is more about the experience and time spent together, cutting all the frills and eloping instead can be an incredibly freeing decision.
Again, you don’t HAVE to have a wild adventure to have a beautiful and meaningful elopement day. However…if adventure or the outdoors are important to the two of you and your relationship, elopements are a surefire way to make the day you get married unique and as adventurous as the rest of your lives. Truly the best part about elopements is that there are no rules. Our thoughts? You should be as excited about your wedding day as you are about your honeymoon. So if that means traveling to Iceland for your elopement, wearing hiking boots under your dress, or rock climbing to your ceremony location, you can do it!
This one’s easy – it’s still an elopement if there are people in attendance, so long as the intention of the day is still centered around the two of you and your relationship. For couples who want to include a handful of friends or family, you can have a super intimate ceremony and dinner with your guests, and still carve out half the day to adventure together just the two of you. Or have a whole weekend celebration with one day just you and one with friends and family. The possibilities are endless.
Okay so this one isn’t so much a downside as a logistical thing to consider. There are a few routes to take with this one. The simplest way that many of our couples choose to go is to do all the paperwork and legal stuff before or after their actual elopement day, which frees them up to do things exactly how they want to. If, however, it is important to you to make it (legally) official in the moment, there are plenty of officiants who are down to adventure and hike with their couples, or you can have a friend or family member get ordained (it’s super easy to do here!)
For witnesses, if you are choosing to invite a few friends or family this is super simple, otherwise your photographer can sign as a witness, and couples have sometimes just asked other people they’ve met on the trail to sign (a fun way to do it if you prefer total spontaneity!) Lastly, some places (like Colorado!) actually let you self-solemnize, which means they don’t require any officiant or witnesses to get legally married.
Ultimately, it is your wedding day. There is no right or wrong way to get married, but we’ve seen time and again that some days are a better fit for certain couples than others. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and do something brave and wildly different by having an elopement! And if you do decide on a traditional wedding, let it be because you chose it and it is the best fit for you! Not because you think that is the only way to get married. Whatever you decide, we hope this helped you think through your options to make your wedding day be as incredible as it can be for you!