Post Summary: This is a guide to help you decide whether you should elope or have a big wedding, depending on what your priorities are and what would be the best fit for you & your partner’s relationship! I’m going through how elopements and weddings are different, what you should take into consideration, and how to know which option is right for you.
Today I’m addressing the big question among engaged couples nowadays: should we elope or have a big wedding? With elopements becoming significantly more popular over the past 5-10 years, many couples are opting to stray from traditional big weddings in favor of smaller, more intimate celebrations – and it is a trend I am SO here for. I want all couples to get married in whatever way best fits them and makes the most sense for their relationship, whether that’s a huge wedding with 100 of their favorite people or a private elopement with just a couple of people to be witnesses.
I created this blog post to help you figure out whether a big wedding or an elopement is right for you, based on what the two of you are envisioning for your dream day, what your priorities are, and what would be MOST meaningful to you. Neither choice is wrong, and neither choice is right – they’re simply two totally different options with the same outcome: you get married to the love of your life and have the best day ever!
Ready to finally figure out what your special day is going to look like? Let’s get you married, friend!
How Weddings Are Changing
Before we dive into the nitty gritty & lay out everything you should take into consideration when choosing between an elopement and a big wedding, let’s take a quick look at how much weddings have changed in recent years.
Big weddings have been around forever, as you probably know – ever been invited to 10 weddings in one summer and been burnt the heck out once they were all done? It’s a common experience once your friends around you all start getting married: you receive an invite, you RSVP, you buy a new outfit, and you dance the night away – then rinse & repeat. Now don’t get me wrong, big weddings are an absolute BLAST, especially when you’re celebrating people you love! But more and more nowadays, couples have been realizing that big weddings aren’t for everyone, and there is another option that allows for a lot more customization, rather than a somewhat cookie-cutter day that looks just like their friends’ wedding that same summer.
Times are changing: there has always been more than one way to get married, but elopements used to be pretty frowned upon by society (you know those tales of rebellious, crazy-in-love couples ditching their responsibilities & running off to the courthouse spontaneously, right?). Nowadays, couples are opting for smaller celebrations, and these types of weddings are becoming wayyy more normalized. Engaged couples are now being more intentional about how they get married, and what type of experience THEY want to prioritize, rather than planning their special day based on societal expectations.
Now, the end result of big weddings and elopements are the same: getting married to and committing yourself to your person! But the experiences are very different, and so are the intentions going into it. Let’s lay out what the differences are of elopements vs. big weddings to help give you a better idea of what separates them!
Elopements Vs. Big Weddings: What’s the Difference?
Big weddings are typically held at a more traditional wedding venue like a church, barn, golf course, hotel, or another type of event space. Couples usually invite a much larger group of people (50-300), and start planning 1-2 years in advance. This makes it a BIG production that takes a ton of energy and effort, which some couples really love!
Because of the large guest count, big weddings tend to have much less privacy for the couple, since there are always people around to mingle with throughout the day. Big weddings also follow a fairly strict timeline the majority of the time in order to keep things running smoothly, and to make sure all the vendors show up on time + that the guests are satisfied.
This is a major theme when it comes to having a big wedding: it’s designed around the guests & how others will experience it.
Elopements (or intimate weddings), on the other hand, are designed to be about the couple & what they want, rather than on the experience of the guests (although you can of COURSE plan an elopement that provides an incredible experience for everyone!). Elopements are often held out in nature instead of a traditional venue, maybe somewhere the couple has never been & really wants to go, or a place that means a lot to them.
The guest count is significantly smaller (usually 5-15 for elopements, 15-30 for intimate weddings), which means the couple gets a lot more privacy throughout the day + time to themselves. Most couples plan elopements anywhere between 2 weeks to 16 months in advance. And the great thing about elopements isi that they don’t need to follow a strict timeline, since there aren’t as many guests to take care of, and the focus is more on letting the day flow naturally than planning out every minute. This leaves much more room to plan activities + fun experiences for everyone to enjoy!
12 Things to Consider
Now that you understand the major differences between elopements & big weddings, here are the biggest factors you should take into consideration when making your decision!
First, think about what you & your partner’s intentions are for your wedding. Like I mentioned before, big weddings are more designed around the guests + their entertainment, and are much more about the production; whereas elopements are meant to intentionally, intimately, and authentically reflect YOU and your relationship.
Instead of planning a fast-paced, often cookie-cutter day; a day created out of pressures from “family obligations” or societal expectations – you’re planning a day focused on you. You have the freedom to do ANYTHING you want, whether that be skydiving, saying your vows on a glacier, riding a Jeep through dramatic desert canyons, or trekking up a mountain peak. Do some reflecting on what the two of you want out of your day, and what would make it most meaningful & special to you!
2. Guest count
Next, you should consider how many people you want to invite, and how many people you absolutely NEED there with you. If you’re planning on having 25+ guests, a big wedding is probably better for you, or if you feel obligated to invite all your cousins, college friends, friends’ significant others, kids, co-workers, etc.
If you’re wanting just the 2 of you or less than around 12 people total, an elopement will fit your vision better. Most parks limit groups to 12 people total, including vendors, to help protect the environment, as land is fragile and having too many people can do irreversible damage! Instead of inviting everyone you know, you could stick to your immediate family, your best friends, and/or your dogs. Keep it to your small group of core people who you truly want to spend your day with, and who will make it the most special day possible!
The location of your celebration is one of the biggest factors to consider when it comes to choosing between an elopement & a big wedding! If you want to have a big wedding, you’ll most likely need to stick to a traditional wedding venue such as a barn, resort, church, country club, or winery. There are definitely some unique wedding venues out there nowadays, but most of them are still inherently the same.
If you want to elope, the world is your oyster – literally, you can go ANYWHERE in the world! Your favorite national park, that mountain top you got engaged on, the beach you grew up going to, or that island you’ve always wanted to visit. . . your options are endless, and you might even be able to find places that no one has ever gotten married at before! If you want to elope in a natural wilderness area, remember that your group needs to be small, since the environment can’t handle large groups and we want to respect the land as much as possible (learn more about how to Leave No Trace with your adventure elopement here!). You should also consider your family when choosing your location: think about where they’ll be able to travel to, how much travel costs will be, how much time they can take off work, etc.
Some couples love having a ton of time to plan out their dream wedding, while some couples want to keep the planning process as minimal as possible: which one are you?
Typically, big weddings are planned a year or more out, whereas elopements are planned less than a year out. I’ve even had couples inquire with me less than a month in advance! While you can totally plan an elopement in this short amount of time, remember that permits may take a while to get if you want to elope in a national park, and you may have to put in a little more work to find vendors who are available. But if you’re down for that and you want to spontaneously make it happen, freaking go for it!
5. Your personality types
In addition to all the practical stuff we’ve been talking about, you should definitely consider your personality types and how those determine what type of wedding will be the best fit for you. Big weddings are great if you love being the center of attention, you thrive in large group settings, and you love planning! Elopements are perfect if you hate being the center of attention, you feel anxious in large group settings, you love quality time with your favorite people, and you don’t love a long planning process. Think through what you both realistically will like/dislike, not what you want to like – e.g. if you really WANT to love being the center of attention on your wedding day but you know that when the day arrives, you’ll wish all the focus wasn’t on you, don’t plan a big wedding!
6. Stress factors
Along those same lines, stress factors are a big part of making the decision to elope vs. have a big wedding. It’s good to think ahead about what could potentially stress you & your partner out about your wedding, so that you can do your best to avoid those scenarios! If you don’t get stressed out by a stricter timeline, needing to make lots of decisions, or needing to coordinate with a lot of people, you’ll do great with a big wedding. On the other hand, elopements are automatically less stressful due to the lower guest count – if you want less coordination, fewer vendors, not as strict of a timeline, and you don’t want to have to make too many decisions, they may be a better fit for ya.
Money obviously plays a huge role in what your wedding day will look like, and what’s possible for you to plan. The average price of big weddings, according to The Knot this year, is $33,930, whereas I typically see eloping couples spend between $10,000-$15,000 for their big day, on average. Eloping doesn’t mean you “don’t want to invest in your wedding” or that you don’t care about it as much – you’re just spending your money in a different way! Elopements usually cost less because you have a much lower guest count (fewer mouths to feed!), you don’t care about giving out favors, you hire fewer vendors, and you don’t have to pay to rent out a venue for the whole day. Decide what your priorities are in your budget and whether a big wedding or an elopement would fit those best!
If you, your partner, or any of your guests have special accessibility needs, it’s super important to consider that when planning your wedding. Traditional wedding venues guarantee parking and usually have ADA-accessible restrooms + easily-accessible spaces, whereas most elopement locations out in nature (especially national parks and wilderness areas) aren’t the easiest to access for those with mobility issues. If you want to elope outdoors, find somewhere that you don’t need to hike to, that has ADA-accessible facilities, and that has terrain that you and all of your guests will be able to move through!
Having support from family is often really important to couples, but unfortunately family can sometimes cause some drama or extra stress that you don’t need on your big day! If you have any potential family drama that could affect your day, if you don’t get along with your families, or there are any other circumstances (such as recent deaths/divorces) that could make it painful for you to have family present, then you can absolutely elope without your family. Big weddings often result in couples feeling pressured to invite everyone, no matter their own personal feelings, but you are totally allowed to ONLY invite the people you truly want there. There are plenty of ways you can still include your family without them actually being there at your elopement – here are a few examples!
This is a simple one: what do you value most when it comes to your wedding? If you value community, and things > experiences, then a big wedding might be for you. If you value privacy + intimacy, and experiences > over things, then go with an elopement!
Big weddings often come with a long list of vendors to hire, including (but not limited to):
- Wedding Planner
- Day of Coordinator
- Photographer + Videographer
- Band / DJ
Elopements, on the other hand, really don’t need to involve that many vendors or that much planning – oftentimes couples will JUST hire a photographer, an officiant, a florist, and somebody to do their hair & makeup! If you want to take it up a notch, you could also hire a private chef to cook for you, a videographer, or vendors for other activities like a helicopter tour or a guided white water rafting experience. Hiring lots of vendors requires a lot of communication + coordination (and money!), so think through what vendors are most important to you, and which ones you NEED versus which ones you could go without or DIY instead.
Finally, consider traditional elements that you may want to incorporate into your wedding. Big weddings often involve a giant dance party, a grand entrance into your reception, first dances, toasts, a cake cutting, garter/bouquet tosses, etc. Elopements can absolutely contain traditional elements if you want, but there’s a lot less pressure/fewer expectations to do so! I have a lot of couples who elope and still have a first dance, and maybe a cake cutting – or you can ditch tradition & do more of what feels like you, such as planning unique activities or enjoying a slow morning getting ready together.
Should You Elope or Have a Big Wedding?
Whew! That was a lot, so let me give you a little recap – a checklist of sorts, if you just want a quick comparison to help you decide whether an elopement or wedding would be a better fit for you.
A big wedding might be best for you if. . .
- You want to have more 30-150+ guests
- You love being the life of the party
- You’ve dreamed of having a big wedding your whole life
- Carrying on centuries of tradition is important to you
- You want to have a coordinator to help make sure your day runs smoothly
- Accessibility for those with mobility needs
- You need enough parking for everyone
- You enjoy lots of social interaction
- You have a large guest list and can’t imagine cutting a single person
An elopement/intimate wedding might be best for you if you. . .
- Want it to be just the two of you
- Want to include less than 12 guests
- Don’t love being the center of attention
- Have family drama you want to avoid
- Value having an intentional and meaningful day
- Want a fun and stress free wedding experience
- Like to go with the flow and embrace life as it comes
- Choose your partner over everything else
- Feel overwhelmed by the idea of planning
- Don’t vibe with big wedding traditions (ie: garter toss, bouquet toss,)
- Love nature and adventure
- Want to save money
Final Elopement Vs. Wedding Tips
Before I wrap up, I have a couple of last tips to give you about choosing between an elopement & a big wedding!
If you want an elopement, but don’t want to cut down your guest size. . .
You can totally have the best of both worlds by splitting up your day! You could:
- Have your ceremony at a venue with your guests, then take adventure portraits just the two of you in nature afterward
- Have a private ceremony in nature, then meet up with family + friends later in the evening
Or you could go all out & make your elopement two days long: you elope just the two of you one day, then you have a larger reception later on to celebrate with your loved ones.
If you want to have your celebration all in one day but you don’t want to have a big wedding (maybe you want to have around 25-50 guests), you can absolutely find a small venue, a large Airbnb, a restaurant, or a city park designed to hold larger groups! There really are options for ANY type of wedding day you want to create – you just have to think outside of the box a little.
Elope in nature responsibly
Last but not least, remember that if you choose to elope in nature, you should read up on park regulations & restrictions in advance, and get the appropriate permits! It’s important to Leave No Trace and minimize the impact that your elopement has on the land, so that you can leave it as gorgeous as you found it. Make sure to check out my Leave No Trace Elopement Guide for further info + tips!
Elopement Photographer Packages + Pricing
Feeling ready to plan the day of your dreams now that you have clarity on what that day will look like?! I would freaking love to help you bring all of your elopement or intimate wedding dreams to life, if that’s the type of day that feels best for you – take a look at my elopement photography packages + pricing below, and make sure to check out my blog for further planning resources and elopement location guides!
Elopement Packages and Pricing for Washington & Oregon
- Full day of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Washington & Oregon
- Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
- Unique and personalized location scouting
- Vendor recommendations
- Permit and marriage license assistance
- Hand-crafted elopement timeline
- Created just-for-you activity list
- Unlimited guides and resources
- 100+ page How to Elope Guidebook
- Optional complimentary officiant service
- Digital online gallery with full resolution image and printing rights
- Sneak peek images within 1 week
- Photographer travel fees covered in Washington & Oregon
Starting at $4,500
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In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.