What Is an Elopement? What You Need to Know About Eloping

Your guide to what it means to forgo a formal wedding and elope.

To gain a better understanding of what it means to elope in lieu of having a traditional wedding day, see our breakdown below.

Photo: Carrie King Photography

While wedding planning can be exciting and, at times, downright blissful, there is no question that the process can be incredibly stressful. Even pairs who hire planners admit that they never imagined how many decisions go into planning the big day, so for those who aren't excited to plan a ceremony or reception, the task can seem daunting. If you add in the stresses that come with wedding planning during the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, many couples become overwhelmed while planning their dream wedding and may even lose sight of what they wanted in the first place. For the various reasons of stress, concern for the future of travel for those imagining a destination celebration, and more, many couples may elect to forgo a traditional wedding event and elope.

If you and your husband- or wife-to-be are considering this option, there are a number of things to keep in mind. While you won't have all of the same items on your planning to-do list as a couple who is organizing a larger event, there are some details to consider if you choose to get married this way. Though more and more pairs are deciding to go through with an elopement instead of getting married in a more traditional wedding ceremony, many couples are still misinformed about what the elopement process truly entails. So what is an elopement exactly? To gain a better understanding of what it means to elope, see our breakdown below.

Photo by Chrisman Studios

It isn’t just for young couples without familial support. 

There is a long list of reasons why a couple might want to elope – the greatest of which is usually to save money. Others may decide an elopement is the way to go if this is their second or third marriage, they both wouldn’t care at all for a traditional wedding ceremony, or they want their vow exchange to be spontaneous and romantic. With some parts of the country and world limiting gatherings due to current events, other couples may choose to elope rather than having an intimate wedding with fewer guests and family members in attendance. Though most couples will still want to plan a large wedding, we will likely see a trend of small celebrations and eloping in 2020 and beyond.

There are a few conflicting definitions. 

In the technical sense, “to elope” means “to run away,” but modern times have linked eloping directly to weddings and marriage. People use “elope” to describe a few different scenarios nowadays: when couples get married without telling anyone at all until after they are married, conducting the ceremony with just the bride and groom after having informed family and friends about your plans weeks or months prior to the elopement, or having a very small affair with a few close witnesses. All of these elopement scenarios can be done at a courthouse, among other venue options, so when choosing to elope, ensure you and your beloved decide together which option makes the most sense for you and your families.

This will give up your “right” to register. 

If you choose not to include loved ones on your wedding day and elope instead, you should not expect any gifts to celebrate your marriage. While friends and family may send some presents or a card of congratulations after you elope – depending on their knowledge of your elopement – wedding etiquette states that a "gift registry" is to be created for the guests that attend your nuptials. Thus, in the case of an elopement, having no guests in attendance will mean no wedding gifts for the newlyweds.

You’ll have to take part in some planning. 

Unless you’re doing the absolute bare minimum for your elopement, there will still be a few elements to plan for when preparing to elope: travel, lodging, elopement venue, and attire will have to be accounted for. If you have elected to conduct the most basic wedding ceremony for your elopement, you will still need to be prepared with legal documents, such as birth certificates and a marriage license – plus other documentation depending on your state’s laws. We implore you to do your homework to make sure that your elopement ceremony is legal and you actually are married. Though you're not having a traditional wedding, a couple may decide to hire an elopement wedding planner to help with logistics and all of the details mentioned above. If you've always envisioned having a bouquet or pretty flower arrangements in your wedding photos, a planner can help a couple organize these elements, wherever the elopement may take place.

Bride & Groom with Washington, DC Monuments

Photo by Eric Kelley; Floral & Event Design by Amaryllis Floral & Event Design

Loved ones may not be thrilled. 

This likely comes as no surprise, but choosing not to host a “proper” wedding celebration might come as a shock to some, and be seen as hurtful or disrespectful to others in your family. Some couples elope in order to avoid creating drama within their families, but there are plenty of instances wherein an elopement will cause more unrest than a traditional wedding ceremony. Be prepared for backlash – perhaps having a rational explanation (that's consistent for the couple) behind your reasoning will help to ease any potential disappointment related to your elopement.

“Luxury elopements” are gaining popularity. 

While a couple may select to elope in order to avoid spending money on a “real” wedding, there is a current trend many couples are partaking in that involves everything a wedding ceremony typically does – the formalwear, aisle, heartfelt vows, picturesque décor, a professional wedding photographer, etc. – except for the wedding guests themselves. Pairs who opt for this eloping method often have the money to spend on a traditional wedding day, but do not wish to deal with the typical challenges a couple might face from those invited to a wedding – as well as those not invited to the wedding.

It’s still possible to have a celebration. 

It’s not uncommon for a couple that has eloped to host a small dinner or a post-elopement party after their vows. There are some couples who decide to celebrate upon their return from their elopement and others who would instead host an extravagant anniversary party after one, five, 10, even 50 years of marriage – like this couple who had a surprise vow renewal at their 50th wedding anniversary party, which featured a Las Vegas theme to honor the location where they decided to elope. If this option interests you, remember that the get-together post-eloping will be a more simplistic version of a wedding in that you will be playing host or hostess, and you must take on the typical responsibilities that come with that title.

Las Vegas isn’t the only option. 

Though Vegas is a great choice for couples who are looking to get married quickly due to the abundance of chapels and the no-wait marriage licenses, there are plenty of other locations to choose from when eloping. There is, of course, your local courthouse if you’re looking for something straight forward, but if you’re hoping for a more romantic concept, your wedding venue can be nearly anywhere. If your ceremony requires only an officiant and/or a few witnesses, do some research about your favorite areas – parks, beaches, cruise ships, etc. – to see if they’d be able to accommodate your small wedding party. Many hotels and resorts in the states and abroad offer elopement packages, so those are worth checking into as well – especially if you have a preferred property or destination in mind. We featured one couple who eloped on a mountain in Crimea, so the options truly are endless!

Make it special for you as a couple. 

Even if you never dreamed of planning your wedding day as a little girl, you don't want to look back on your decision with regret. There are some couples who eloped and then later felt that they didn't place enough importance on the day as they should have. Don't fall into this trap! If you make your elopement special to you as a couple – and every pair is different – then you won't have any feelings of elopement remorse. For example, even if you don't want to plan a big wedding but you love sweets, enjoy slices of a cake and Champagne just the two of you after you say "I do." If you love fashion, wear the bridal gown you always envisioned. Hire a photographer to commemorate the day with a pre- or post-elopement photo shoot if you want to have images to remember the day. Make the celebration about you as a couple – that is why you're eloping after all, isn't it?

Read up on our expert wedding advice and see beautiful photos from a rustic elopement in Santa Barbara, California.