What does Elope mean in 2023? Maybe not what you think.

When you think of the word elopement, do you picture a couple running away in the night to get married under questionable circumstances? If so, it’s time to update (ahem, upgrade!) that definition of eloping!

Laughing couple says their vows in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado for their elopement

Updated: April 26, 2023

The old definition of elope

Many people picture elopements as these secret, last-minute weddings, where the bride and groom are defying their parents’ wishes about getting married.

As Merriam-Webster’s dictionary tells us, this definition was accurate at one point in time. Eloping used to mean getting married without telling anyone. Eloping used to mean sneaking off at night or running away to get married, or having a taboo courthouse or Las Vegas ceremony. 

But that’s definitely not the case today.

What does elope mean in 2023?

Today, an elopement is just another word for a smaller, intentionally-thought out wedding.

Typically an elopement will have around 10 guests or fewer. If you’re looking to have a small wedding, but with more guests with an elopement, you can also consider a microwedding, which is about 50 guests or fewer.

Now you might be thinking…Okay, but what does that even mean to have a more intentionally thought out wedding?

Well, it means taking the time to stop, and think, and have a conversation with your partner about the way that you want to get married.

In the United States, and many other countries, it’s pretty much assumed that when you get engaged you’re going to jump right on Pinterest to start picking out a fancy venue, elaborate floral arrangements, and planning your DIY table centerpieces. And for some couples, that does sound like a perfect wedding day.

But for many other couples, that just doesn’t feel like the right way to celebrate making their life commitment to one another. 

Maybe it’s the family drama that often comes with wedding planning. Maybe it’s the outrageous cost associated with a large venue and guest list. Or maybe it’s the stress of trying to coordinate a dozen vendors while figuring out things like seating charts and massive wedding to-do lists.

Whatever the reason, not all couples love the idea of a traditional, cookie-cutter wedding.

And that’s where elopements come in! 

Eloping means No Rules

Elopements are all about YOUR experience for wedding day, not the experience of the 100 to 200+ guests. 

With elopements, you two get to make an intentional choice to decide what’s important for your wedding day and then actually do those things

If you love to hike and explore with your partner, you can have a hiking elopement in an awesome country you’ve never visited before. If you dream of a small, simple ceremony in your parent’s backyard, you can do that too. Or if you want to have an epic helicopter adventure elopement in Alaska or mushroom foraging in a forest, no one’s going to stop you!

You get to choose what you want to do for your day! There are NO RULES except the ones you make.

As an elopement photographer, I consider it my mission to help empower couples to truly be themselves and plan a day that feels absolutely perfect and true to who they are. 

Eloping couple stands on the top of some rocks with a moody and cloudy sky behind them

10 Elopement Myths Busted

I’ve run across a lot of myths about elopements. So I wanted to take some time to bust some of those myths!

Myth 1: You have to elope at the courthouse or in Las Vegas

Many people like the idea of eloping, but they want an alternative to a Las Vegas or courthouse wedding. 

Luckily, these days you can elope wherever you want in the world, and you can include whatever activities you want. Some fun activities for your elopement day include hiking, backpacking, rides in a helicopter or hot air balloon, off roading, kayaking, and skiing. The list doesn’t end there, and you’re only limited by your imagination!

Myth 2: Elopements are for people who don’t care about their wedding

Elopements are definitely not just for people who don’t care about their wedding. In fact, many couples who elope care as much or more about their wedding as the day they are committing their lives to their partner.

They care so much that they want to make sure they have enough time to slow down and really enjoy every moment.

They care so much that they want their day to be about their love for each other, and not just a production for other people.

Myth 3: Elopements are just a cheap alternative

While you will probably end up spending less on an elopement than a traditional wedding, it’s definitely not true that all people who elope are just looking for a cheap alternative.

Most couples who decide to elope do so because they want to prioritize spending their wedding day in a way that is meaningful to them. They want a wedding that truly reflects their personalities and their values.

And this has nothing to do with the investment they’re making in their special day.

Bride and groom holding a Just Married sign in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado after their elopement

Myth 4: Elopements have to be secret

This myth dates back to the old definition of elopements. These days, your elopement definitely doesn’t have to be kept a secret!

It’s completely your choice whether and when you want to tell friends and family about your elopement day.

Myth 5: Elopements don’t involve planning

While it is true that elopements usually involve much less planning, there is still some planning involved.

The average time spent planning an elopement is usually between 2 and 10 months, although it is totally possible to plan your elopement in as little as a couple of weeks or even days.

One thing is for sure, planning your elopement will likely be much less stressful than planning a wedding!

Myth 6: Guests at elopements

I frequently see a lot of confusion about whether you can have guests at your elopement. So I’ll clear this one up.

Of course you can have guests at your elopement! I have seen plenty of instances where close friends or family totally understand a couple’s vision for their elopement, and in these cases, it can be great to have them with you.

Typically an elopement will have around 10 guests or fewer. If you’re looking to have a small wedding, but with more guests with an elopement, you can also consider a microwedding, which is about 50 guests or fewer.

I even have a whole post about how to include friends and family in your elopement!

Bride and groom hugging while 3 small wedding guests look on at Della Terra elopement

Myth 7: Elopements are just quick vows and a few photos

One of the most common misconceptions I see about elopements is that they are quick or rushed, and only last an hour or so.

In fact, most couples I work with typically choose a full day photography package. Why? Because even when you’re eloping, this is still your wedding day!

Your wedding day is way more than just saying your vows and taking some pictures.

This is one of the most special days in your life, and you deserve to spend your day having the best experience of your life. 

That includes everything from waking up and enjoying breakfast together, getting dressed, hopping in the car and heading out for an exciting adventure, finding an amazing place to say your vows, having your first dance together, popping champagne, having an epic celebration afterwards…you get the idea!

Consider a traditional wedding, which easily lasts a full day for the bride and groom. Once you start thinking about badass activities you want to do, like hiking, jeeping, or rock climbing, it’s pretty easy to see how an elopement would be a full day! I can promise you won’t regret treating your elopement day like the special day that it is!

Myth 8: Can you celebrate your elopement?

Of course you can! Plenty of couples choose to incorporate a celebration into their elopement plans. There are so many options, including having a party or reception after your elopement, or planning an engagement party beforehand, or a photo watch party afterwards. Check out this elopement reception planning guide for more ideas and inspiration!

Same sex lesbian couple holding bouquets of yellow and white flowers standing in the snow and laughing during their elopement

Myth 9: Is eloping selfish?

Every now and then, I hear the argument from someone that elopements are selfish. And to an extent, maybe they are. Huh?

Yeah, I said it. 

But guess what, traditional weddings can be considered selfish too.

With a wedding, you are throwing a party for yourselves, asking people to come and celebrate YOU and give YOU gifts.

If people have to travel, it may cost them quite a bit of money to come to the wedding, on top of any gifts they give. And that isn’t even to speak of how much each member in the wedding party spends on attire, bachelor/bachelorette parties, hair and makeup, etc. And did you know that the average wedding generates 400 POUNDS of garbage?

So maybe eloping is selfish and maybe weddings are selfish. But in my opinion, it’s your wedding day, so you deserve to be a little selfish. This is a day you only have once, so you’re going to want to be able to look back on it and feel that it was really spent in a way that is meaningful to you and your partner.

Myth 10: No one will understand our decision to elope

A lot of people are worried that their friends and family will not understand their decision to elope.

While it’s true that not everyone will understand, even when you explain your reasoning, it’s been my experience that more people than you think will get where you are coming from.

The truth is there are actually a lot of people who look back on their wedding day and wish it was simpler and more focused on their commitment to their partner.

It helps to communicate with your friends and family and explain your choice on why eloping is the right decision for you. At the very least, you deserve the chance to speak your truth, and your family and friends deserve the chance to support you. More on that in this post!

Colorado Springs elopement in the fall with mountains in the background

Are you planning an elopement?

I’m more than just a photographer. Helping couples create their dream day is what I do best!

Get in touch and let’s chat about your vision!

Or check out more elopement planning resources…

Elopement Photographer Kim from Wild and Found Photography

Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!

Eloping bride and groom standing in a field with What Does Elope Mean? text on the image

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