It’s not only the high cost of a wedding—with national averages around $30K—but the high stress, high stakes, and high expectations that deter some couples from throwing a large-scale event. Although a wedding is meant to celebrate the beautiful start to a lifelong union, it can sometimes become the source of tension between families and the couple as they try to please everyone instead of focusing on why they got engaged in the first place. Whether for these reasons or simply a desire to wed in an ultra-intimate setting, some couples choose to elope instead of having a traditional wedding.
Traditionally, an elopement is a secret marriage ceremony a couple holds without their friends' and families' knowledge, often in a spontaneous fashion. These days, things can be a bit less hurried and secretive—and, unless it's a quick trip to city hall, can involve planning, budgeting, and even some guests, like parents or friends to serve as witnesses. It's still very common, however, for couples to stick with tradition and bask in the moment just the two of them (plus an officiant) at a place that's symbolic of their love.
With often just a photographer to snap a few shots, these nine couples didn’t just go to the courthouse to get hitched, but found exciting, adventurous ways to ring in the first minutes of their lives together. Here, they share their super-sweet, inspiring stories that might make you throw that wedding-planning binder out the window and book a plane ticket ASAP.
Katya and Christopher
Where They Eloped: Park City, Utah
When Katya d’Angelo and Christopher Triolo decided to take those steps toward the altar, they felt uninspired by their location. No place in Boston held a special place in their hearts, and they wanted to avoid the expense and stress of a big wedding, so they set their sights on a low-key, more intimate ceremony. They instantly thought of Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, where Katya used to work as a baker at a lodge and where Christopher was a ski instructor. It was during those snowy months six years prior that they first met.
“All along we had been half-joking about eloping to Deer Valley when it dawned on us that we should,” Katya says. Five weeks later, they found themselves on a chair lift heading toward the top of Bald Mountain to say "I do." The night before the ceremony, they stayed at an Airbnb, then splurged on the five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge after the wedding. The best money they spent? Hiring a photographer to capture their super-small but perfect-for-them nuptials, says Katya.
Victoria and Chris
Where They Eloped: Joshua Tree, California
Victoria Abraham and Chris Malone met in 2013 at Park Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts while they were both graduate students at Harvard University. They had their first official date a few months later, and have been inseparable ever since, Victoria says. When Chris proposed to Victoria, they were watching the sun set over the New York City skyline at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. In keeping with the theme, they booked their wedding for August 2020 at the Gramercy Park Hotel, overlooking the famously private park in one of the city's most stylish neighborhoods. However, 2020 had other plans for them. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cancel their celestial disco party wedding in NYC, they traveled cross-country for an intimate California elopement in a national park.
"We had spent a magical month hiking and exploring in Joshua Tree earlier in the summer, and once we realized that we would not be able to get married in Manhattan with our loved ones, we decided to go back to Joshua Tree to elope with our family by our side," explains Victoria. They planned the event in just five weeks and pared down the guest list from 100 to six. Victoria even bought a new wedding dress to better fit the desert elopement vibe. When checking out Joshua Tree National Park to find the perfect place to wed, the couple stumbled upon two Joshua trees that formed a perfect arch, where they held the ceremony. In the end, the couple didn't miss their original wedding plans: "I think the most important thing is to really drill down into what is important to you and your partner and why, and then plan an event that reflects and captures you as a couple that you can truly enjoy," says Victoria.
Jessica and Laurence
Where They Eloped: Aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 ocean liner in the North Atlantic Ocean
They say love knows no bounds, that it endures through the good and the bad, the ugly and the lovely—or, in the case of travel blogger Jessica Norah and her now-husband travel photographer Laurence Norah, across the miles. When they were planning their wedding, Jessica, who's American, was living in California, and Laurence, who's English, was residing in France. This made deciding on a wedding location that much more difficult: “We lived in separate countries and our friends and family were split across three continents—North America, Africa, and Europe. Any destination we chose was going to be a compromise in terms of who would be able to attend,” Jessica says.
So, they asked themselves, why not jump over the broom while crossing the Atlantic Ocean? “I had always wanted to do a transatlantic cruise, and since we were already moving to the UK, it was a convenient yet elegant wedding venue,” Jessica explains. As a nod to their promise to put one another first, they made it official halfway between their two countries on an eight-day cruise. “We were married by the ship captain, Captain Kevin Oprey, and members of the crew served as our witnesses. We had a short but touching service, and it was a wonderful experience for us,” Jessica recalled. “We even got to ring the ship's noontime whistle after the ceremony, and were also invited to dine with the Captain during one evening of the cruise and got lots of ‘congratulations’ from the other passengers during our cruise.”
McKinzie and Morgan
Where They Eloped: Ouray, Colorado
After building their lives together for six years, McKinzie Pack and Morgan Pack were overwhelmed by the idea of planning an over-the-top, big wedding. Instead, they wanted to choose a destination that held special meaning to them, and kept coming back to a small town in Colorado that’s nicknamed the "Switzerland of America": Ouray. It was this gold-mining town that dates back to the late 1800s that captured their attention when they traveled from their home state of Texas to explore Colorado for a vacation the previous year. The decision was easy, so she packed up her wedding whites and he, his gray suit, and they headed to Ouray to follow their hearts together. Who did they invite? No one—just the photographer to capture their once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Serena and Marvin
Where They Eloped: Moab, Utah
Washington, D.C. couple Serena Hampton and Marvin Yates, Jr. had originally planned for a 150-guest wedding in Virginia on September 6, 2020. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they knew they'd have to change their plans. Instead of postponing, they decided to elope in Utah at Dead Horse Point State Park with an intimate group of 11 guests. They chose the park for its breathtaking views, unique rock formations, and lack of tourists. Adamant about sealing the deal on their original date, they planned the elopement in just three months.
They preserved some elements of their original wedding, like the flowers, but with the new venue, the couple chose details that would complement the landscape. Serena ditched her white wedding gown for an emerald green dress (her favorite color) while Marvin wore a matching green tux. Serena's father got licensed in Utah so he could officiate the ceremony, during which the couple exchanged their own vows—one of their favorite memories of the day. After the ceremony, everyone returned to the Airbnb where they stayed for an outdoor reception and a dinner of local food. “We wanted our guests to have a great experience, especially after agreeing to share this moment during a global pandemic," Serena says.
Carrie and Kurt
Where They Eloped: Essex, Vermont
As much as your wedding is about the start of your marriage, sacred vows, and happy tears, for many couples, it’s also a time of immense stress. For Carrie Paetow and Kurt Anderson, the cost itself and the difficulty of managing expectations from family members was enough to inspire them to elope. But they didn’t just want to head to the courthouse—they wanted to pick a location for their "I dos" that felt right for their party-of-two. After researching numerous states, they landed on Vermont, a state neither of them had been before they met one another, making it filled with sweet memories. “Turns out it's an amazing place to get married! The state doesn't require witnesses and it's pretty small, so it was easy to get to the airport and find where to get our marriage license,” Carrie says.
They landed on Essex Resort & Spa, where they took culinary classes and allowed the on-site wedding planner to take care of the details. And when they woke up on their wedding day, Carrie says fresh snow had just fallen the night before. “The whole day was about us," she remembers. "We didn't have to worry about pleasing anyone but ourselves. It was so romantic to just have the day to ourselves. I feel like we could really enjoy each other without stress and really focus on the vows we were making to each other. So many women get caught up in planning the wedding they forget that marriage is a lifetime commitment." After they made it official, they traveled to Montreal, Maine, and then back to Vermont, before settling into their lives in Minneapolis.
Vanessa and Steve
Where They Eloped: Worthing Beach, Barbados
Early in their relationship, when travel writer Vanessa Rivers was in the getting-to-know-you stage with Steve Gregornik, he took her to Barbados to stay at his friend’s house for a weekend. In the backyard is Worthing Beach, a stretch of sand Vanessa calls the "most picturesque coastline" she’s ever seen. “Steve and I fell asleep on the beach one afternoon, in the shade of a palm tree, with our feet in the soft, white sand and the sound of waves crashing at our heels,” she remembers.
When they got engaged, they reflected on that moment and decided they wanted their wedding to be just about the two of them and the love they share. “That’s why we decided to get married in this very spot. We had no guests, our friends were our witnesses, and their son was our ring bearer. It turned out to be everything I ever wanted and more, and will always be the best day of my life,” Vanessa says.
Bianca and Christopher
Where They Eloped: Bagan, Myanmar
When Bianca Gandolfo and Christopher Arriola decided to elope, they were living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and trying to plan a ceremony in Bagan, Myanmar. In fact, they only started planning two weeks before their wedding day, forcing them to hustle to get everything together, especially traditional wedding necessities like wedding bands and clothes for the ceremony.
“Our travel agent in Myanmar became our wedding planner, and she did a really great job putting it all together last-minute. Not everything went according to plan, I even lost half my eyebrow in a mishap with the makeup artist,” Bianca says. “But with that, there were a lot of cool surprises, like when our wedding planner dressed us up in traditional Myanmar clothing and paraded us around Bagan. It was a unique adventure that we hope to continue for the rest of our lives.”
While they were thankful for the opportunity to have a ceremony built for two without the chaos of a large affair, they’re planning a celebration for their friends and family on their wedding anniversary when their nomadic legs take them back home—for a while, anyway.
Jamie and James
Where They Eloped: North Bend, Washington
The choice to elope was simple for Jamie and James Storm: They wanted the day on their own terms. But more important than having the freedom to plan and execute the ceremony that spoke to their sentiments as a couple, they also knew a big wedding wouldn’t allow them to tune-in to their adventurous spirits. They wanted the day to feel less like a blur and more like 24 hours full of unexpected moments during which they could focus only on one another.
Though they originally planned to get married among the Redwoods in Big Sur, California, fire and landslides left the area unreachable, so they switched gears to Washington state. Here, they had their legal "I dos" in the courtyard of Willow’s Lodge at 8 a.m. on an unusually sunny day, then changed into their hiking gear to climb the nearby Rattlesnake Ridge with their witnesses—their photographer and videographer—tagging along.
“Once we had nearly reached the top, we snuck behind some trees where we dressed in our wedding attire. Once at the top of Rattlesnake Ridge, we enjoyed the fresh air and breathtaking view. We held hands, reflected on our journey that day, and as a couple, dreamt about the years to come, but most importantly we were present in the moment, with each other, with no distractions,” Jamie recalls. “We hiked all the way back down while still in our wedding attire, our phenomenal photographer capturing stunning images the whole way. At the bottom of the mountain is the lake where there are old tree stumps out in the middle of the water. My husband and I wadded in hip-high extremely cold water to make it out to one of the stumps where our favorite wedding image was captured! We had done it. We did it our way.”