If the mere thought of wedding planning, the high costs of the affair, or walking down the aisle in front of many eyes is enough to make you shudder, then the intimacy of an elopement may be right up your alley. And why not? Eloping is becoming a more popular, chic way for couples to express themselves. It can be more romantic, cheaper, and less stressful—not to mention: You can exchange your vows anywhere, which adds the possibility of an adventurous element and a unique bonding experience.
What Is Eloping?
Eloping is a marriage conducted without the knowledge of the couple's family and friends, particularly their parents. Typically, those who elope only have a ceremony and do not host a reception or celebration.
Whether you choose to go halfway around the globe, stay local in your city, or something in between, the limitless destinations are perhaps the most overwhelming (and potentially thrilling) part of eloping. That said, having an elopement doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the traditional elements of a wedding if you don't to. Want to invite a few friends? Go for it! Can't live without a first dance? Get your music ready! No matter when, where, or how you tie the knot, we suggest making your elopement as personal as possible. It is your wedding day, after all.
Don't Wait to Tie the Knot
After undergoing a long-distance relationship for over six years, brides Nicole and Laura planned a traditional wedding for 2021. But, they got tired of waiting to make their love official—so they eloped at Manhattan's High Line instead!
"Whether its distance or a pandemic that’s stopping you from having the wedding of your dreams, Nicole and Laura are a reminder that if you’re feeling impatient there is truly no reason to wait," advises photographer Hector Garcia. "An elopement isn't a downgrade!"
Visit a Dream Destination
"Janice and Will are the ultimate inspiration, both in character and style," shares photographer Jenny Grapatsas of Days Made of Love. For their elopement, this couple made destination the priority, opting to wed in idyllic Santorini, Greece.
"Every detail of our elopement wedding was truly a reflection of us," explains bride Janice. The breathtaking photo is her favorite moment from the day, too, adding, "This image evokes every emotion that we felt that day and it was exactly what I envisioned our day would look like in my dreams."
Head to the Courthouse
When Wendy and Steffen headed to the courthouse for their civil ceremony, photographer Deniz Xenia claims "the two were super excited and Wendy was already close to tears." Not far behind the bride and groom were friends and family there to witness the intimate nuptials.
"In my opinion, elopements are the best decision, especially at corona time. All that counts is the love of two people and can be celebrated very intimately in a very small circle of the family."
Go to a National Park
There's something bohemian chic like the otherworldly terrain of Joshua Tree National Park. With glaring sunbeams and the dryness of the desert that holds a bit of magic, this couple's elopement is proof of this fact.
Walk in the Wilderness
When COVID-19 made healthcare workers Devin and Cody give up their original wedding plans, they decided they didn't want to put their marriage on pause and planned a spontaneous elopement in the Catskills instead. With just their parents and a few close friends, the bride and groom said "I do" in the wilderness as photographer Sam Bufalo captured the day.
"Elopements are some of the most special and unique celebrations I've had the honor to photograph," admits Bufalo. "Because your focus isn't on a venue full of guests, you'll have more financial freedom to splurge on an experience! You can really bring intentionality to the table and make the day completely about your relationship and the next steps you're about to take together."
Find an Epic Backdrop
Another great option? The quiet Sedona desert. Its red-hued rocks elicit a sense of serenity and awe, making it a reverent choice for an intimate elopement.
Surround Yourself With What You Love
When selecting an elopement locale, it's important to choose a destination that means something to you, whether its the site of a favorite shared activity or a place that's close to home. This couple turned to the lush vegetation of Bali’s rainforests for a secluded ceremony surrounded by nature.
Stay at Home
Who says you have to leave the house to say "I do?" Bride Jill and groom Daniel decided to transform their Washington D.C. apartment into a one-of-a-kind wedding venue for their summer elopement. "We bought flowers together the morning of the wedding," shares Jill. "While I was decorating the 'altar,' Daniel made me a small bouquet for the ceremony. He’s so thoughtful!"
Personalize Your Venue
"All of the uncertainty with COVID had made them certain of one thing—how much they wanted to be married, whatever that looked like," explains photographer Lavel Nordin of Lavel Marie Photography of Sam and Zach's New Mexico elopement.
So following Nordin's advice, the couple planned an unforgettable day complete with a first look, two-person cocktail hour, and their dog as a witness! They also made the desert location their own, adding rugs, candles, and vases to personalize their altar and express their style as a couple.
The lesson? A special space can be created anywhere.
Showcase the Setting
“I’ve always loved the Old World feel of the property,” explains bride Erica of her elopement venue in Beverly Hills. The event planner wed fiancé Dustin in the English Gardens of Greystone Mansion—and because the gardens were so grand, they didn't have to deal with ceremony décor and instead let the property make a statement all on its own. She adds, “Luckily, Greystone is so beautiful we didn’t need to bring anything in—we just had to find a shady spot!"
Plan a First Look
During bridal designer Leanne Marshall's elopement in Wyoming, she and her fiancé Rémy opted to do a first look at the same breathtaking location where they would later recite vows.
“Try to remember that it is your day as a couple and that it’s not about trying to impress your friends and family," she advises. "You won’t ever be able to make everyone happy, so keep it true to what you believe in, what you love, and who you are as a couple.”
Make Photos a Priority
Sue and Karyll never hired a photographer for the civil ceremony, arriving instead with a tripod to capture the intimate moment. But when photographer Steph Wahlig, who had just finished a wedding with another client at the same venue, saw the couple alone, she stepped in to capture the ceremony. "It felt so good to give them memories of their wedding ceremony and to give them a gift and pictures that they wouldn’t have had," she explains. "They were so appreciative and it was the highlight of a pretty hard week. I feel so blessed to have met Sue and Karyll!"
That said, Wahlig believes that the "intimacy of celebrating your love story" is what makes elopements so special, saying, "There are no rules to how you celebrate but that when you do, remember that in the end, the only people that matter are the two of you." (Still, we believe photos are a must, even if it's just an iPhone shot!)
Focus on You
"Ambria and Marshon were the sweetest couple. They didn’t let anything get in the way of their moment," says photographer Kymberli B. Darling. The bride and groom planned an elopement at a winery in Georgia and only invited a few guests to witness the nuptials. After the quick ceremony, however, there was a sudden rainstorm. Still, the newlyweds didn't let the change in weather ruin their special day.
Darling adds, "Plans change, bad weather and pandemics happen, but at the end of the day, your new union is all that matters. Remember that your wedding is all about you as a couple."
Bring Your Pets
When country musician Shelley Fairchild and fiancée Deborah were planning their Colorado elopement only one guest made the list: their pup! The couple's border terrier, Mazzy, served as ring bearer and wore a homemade collar designed by Shelley. The adorable dog sat next to the couple as they said their vows and even joined the newlyweds for a post-wedding walk around the venue. “It was just the two of us—and Mazzy, of course!” Shelly remembers.
Invite a Few Friends
Brooklyn-based couple Tyler and Brandy broke elopement norms for their Italian wedding and invited a few friends–four bridesmaids, four groomsmen, their officiant, and photographer Jenny Fu— to witness the wedding. The bridesmaids wore long gowns in coordinating shades while the groomsmen sported black suits. “I got to talk to everyone and enjoy every single conversation," recalls the bride.
Celebrate With Family
"Eloping is the most amazing way to get married," exclaims photographer Rob Dight of Epic Love Photography. He followed groom Dave and bride Morgan to Dunluce Castle in Ireland to capture their vows, which we exchanged in front of the couple's young daughter.
"Their love for each other, their daughter and their parents was so evident and every part of their ceremony overflowed with this love," Dight adds. "My number one tip for couples who are choosing to elope is to plan their most perfect day and not to worry about having to do anything except for that which is meaningful to them."
Record Your Officiant
Who says your officiant has to oversee your wedding in-person? Brides Julie and Kristyl wanted to keep their elopement in Northern Italy private and found a unique way to make their marriage official—by prerecording the ceremony and playing it from atop a mountain!
"They have a friend back in Australia who is a professional officiant, and she recorded herself leading them through the wedding ceremony," reveals photographer Maddie Mae of Adventure Instead. "Even without being there, she did an incredible job of crafting a personalized and incredibly sentimental wedding script." The brides were even prompted when to pause the recording and share their vows.
If a pre-recorded officiant isn't a possibility for you, that's also OK. We still love the idea of recording the proceedings—that way, you can keep the memory close and even share with family and friends afterward if you'd like.
Say "I Do" at Sunset
"This couple is actually from Australia, and this was their first time at Yosemite National Park," shares photographer Seth Sanker of Seth & Co. Photography. "They reached out to me on Instagram and told me this was going to be a part of a road trip for them around the West Coast and they wanted to finish it off with getting married in one of the most beautiful places on the planet."
Thanks to a little detour on the trail leading up to the location, the brides ended up exchanging vows at sunset—which Sanker says was the "perfect light" for wedding photos! (Hello, golden hour.)
Have a First Dance
After Arienne and Kevin's sophisticated Las Vegas elopement, the newlyweds celebrated with a bottle of Champagne and a first dance to Bossa Nova-style music.
With the help of photographer Amy Lee Hybarger and pop-up wedding company Flora Pop, Arienne and Kevin's unique wedding day had all the elements of a traditional wedding minus the guests! As Hybarger puts it, "so romantic and so gorgeous, just like a wedding day was meant to be."
End With a Swim
Gilda and Simone stayed in their hometown of Portofino, Italy for their memorable elopement. After a photoshoot in the streets, cocktails at a café, and a celebratory boat ride, the couple marked their marriage with a dive into the sea. "We had all of the ingredients of a perfect wedding day," says the bride, proving you don't need a conventional reception to close off your wedding day.
Coordinate Your Looks
For their elopement in New Mexico, bride Nicole and groom Caesar both wore bold black ensembles. "Nicole and Caesar wanted a 'just us' wedding experience that really focused on them as a couple and their love story," explains photographer Sarah Gobble of Sarah Lotus Photography. The day began with a hike to a remote slot canyon and ended with dinner and drinks at a bar in town.
"The best advice for a couple planning to elope is to create your wedding day around the things that you both love to do—not just a checklist of traditions that may have no meaning to you," adds Gobble. "Believe me, you want to create a wedding day experience you both want to relive over and over again."
From the bride's black gown to the Eiffel Tower, there is nothing low-key about this elopement—which is why we love it! A Parisian elopement is all classic romance. What else would you expect from the City of Love?
Make It a Surprise
This couple proves that you can host an elopement and a traditional wedding all in one! While Janine and Alex were hosting a wedding weekend in Hawaii, they stole away with just their immediate families for a surprise elopement before their actual ceremony. "We actually ‘eloped’ on our wedding day and had a micro wedding with just our immediate families,” the bride explains.“It was really special to have that moment that I knew was just for us.”
After tying the knot on the island's shores, the headed to the venue's lawn where guests were awaiting another wedding ceremony.
Cut a Cake
While Alyssa and James bucked several wedding traditions for their Italian elopement (no invitations, wedding party, or first dance!), they didn't forget dessert. The couple favored an intimate dinner party over a large wedding, so jetted to Florence with a few friends to tie the knot. At their reception, they cut into two cakes: one tiramisu and one lemon cake, which read “Married AF." "The first thing I told our chef was that I wanted tiramisu instead of lemon cake," adds Alyssa with a laugh. (Another tip? There's no need to compromise when you can both have your cake and eat it too.)
Decorate a Getaway Car
Even if you're reception is for a party of two, don't forget to escape in a getaway car when the night concludes. And take it from Ferdaws and Michael, who did just that during their elopement in Big Sur. After exchanging their vows in a forest of redwood trees, the newlyweds wandered the California coastline and shared dinner for two at a local restaurant. They finished the day in a van adorned with a simple Mr. & Mrs. sign!
Want more elopement ideas? Check out the most common traditions that couples tend to forget, below.