What Does Elope Mean in 2021?—And How Do I Start Planning Mine?


What Does Elope Mean? | And How to Plan Yours

Just to clear the air, elopements no longer mean running away to a cheap wedding in secret. So what does elope mean? Hint: it ain’t your grandmother’s definition.

Des, here!! A traveling elopement photographer coming to say that’s what your online dictionary may say, but words change as culture changes. So we’re gonna clue you in on, “what does elope mean?” Also, I bet you’ve been hearing a lot about elopements lately. They are kind of a big deal, nowadays, ya know? It used to be a word people only said in whispers, but now you’re more likely hearing (or seeing posts online) about couples being proud to elope! Ecstatic! And over the moon! As elopement photographers and guides, we see more and more couples are looking to create a day that really reflects who they are, their interests, and their commitment to one another so they elope to do just that. Truthfully, though, it’s all a little confusing. Every elopement looks different, so what really is an elopement? Let’s learn what does elope mean by starting with what they are not.

What does elope mean? Well elopements are not:

  • Elopements are not running away

    In olden days and simpler times, folks madly in love would “run away” so they could get married quickly and cheaply (and sometimes secretly). They were running away from problems, unsupportive family, the police (lol at old movies), whoever or whatever was in their way! They were a lot of times motivated by fear and difficult circumstances. However today’s elopements are more like running to something. Couples are running towards their vision of a perfectly crafted and highly personalized elopement experience. Instead of running away from problems, eloping couples are being proactive to take those problems head on. And you can do that too with just a little help! Elopements solve so many problems that the traditional wedding, unsupportive family, or budget may create. Couples are instead running towards intimacy, joy, adventure, and celebration. And wow, it’s amazing to watch so many couples at sunset on their elopement day soaking in the joy that is 100% theirs, not anyone else’s. So when learning what does elope mean, get ready to throw out the narrative that it’s cowardly or inconsiderate.

  • Elopements are not “cheap”

    Now hear me say, elopements are definitely a less expensive alternative to a grand wedding, but they themselves are not cheap. It is more of reassigning where your wedding budget goes. In a traditional wedding, the average American couple will pay $33,000 for a venue, an officiant, a cake, florals, a caterer, a DJ, their attire, and so many details that are not directed intentionally at creating a wedding day that they will remember. Grand weddings can often become a $30,000 show where guests dress up, laugh with one another, drink from the open bar, see the bride and groom for 2-3 minutes, eat their expensive meal, dance a bit, and leave. Sadly, wedding guests remember more of the wedding than the bride and groom. So elopements allow the bride and groom to take that $30,000 (or however much of it they choose) and plan an ah-mazing adventurous elopement that the couple will remember. Instead of paying $10,000 for a venue, the bride and groom may reassign that portion of their former wedding budget to a day full of outdoor activities in a national park and have some venue budget left over. They might want to skydive! Or take a glacier helicopter tour! They may take the floral budget and reassign that to staying in the most amazingly stunning tiny tree house tucked away from the crowds. Elopements are not cheap. They can be less expensive than a traditional wedding, but they truly give the couple freedom to use their budget in ways that are more meaningful and in ways they will truly remember. As we discover what does elope mean, we’ll see that eloping could mean a great financial decision for you and your future spouse.

  • Elopements are not just for the courthouse

    Hmmm… So many people think of running down to the courthouse as an elopement, but the beauty of an elopement is that the couple can decide where they want to elope. Couples who tend to elope are a little more out of the box thinkers. So what does elope mean? It means couples are generally more adventurous and are willing to give typical wedding standards and traditions the boot, so elopements allow these couples to ditch the venue all their friends got married at (though the venue is gorgeous) and opt instead for the top of a cliff, an alpine forest, maybe even underwater! Elopements give you the real ability to choose the location of their ceremony. Some couples may really desire to marry at a courthouse, and an elopement gives them that freedom. However, elopements also give couples the freedom to elope at an epic outdoor location, many of which found in national parks, forests, or monuments.

  • Elopements are not forgetting about your dearly loved family

    Some couples think, “but if I elope, isn’t that a big slap in the face to my family who can’t be there?” Some couples feel as though eloping might be selfish. I’m here to tell you nothing can be further from the truth. Those family members and friends that you super value—ya know, the ones who love you for the way for you are—truthfully, will be so grateful to see you celebrate your commitment to one another in a way that is memorable and unique to you. And plot twist: you can bring them with you! Since elopements are typically more adventurous, a couple may not choose to bring more than 10 people up the side of the mountain to watch them exchange vows, but they may decide those they value most can be given the privilege of being with them. Elopements give you the ability to choose who is (or is not) in attendance. Even most couples who decide to elope with only them and a photographer/officiant find meaningful ways to include family members in their elopement experience. You can plan a celebration party (kind of like a reception) when they come home. You may hire an amazing videographer and play the ceremony at your next holiday gathering! Eloping gives you the freedom and creativity to include family however you choose for your elopement day. And lastly as we discover what does elope mean,

  • Elopements are not stale, impersonal vendor productions

    That’s if you have the right vendors. A lot of couples will search for elopement packages online and find some pretty cookie-cutter packages offering a location, photographer, officiant, florals, hair & makeup, and whatever else you may need for a whopping few hundred dollars. This is not what an elopement is. An elopement is not a stale and impersonal process where a company may give you zero customization options. The right vendors will highly personalize your experience. They will know you, your story, some fun quirks, your interests, and your greater “why” in eloping so you can have an elopement experience that is unique and incredibly meaningful. The right vendors will bend over backwards to see that your elopement is centered around you and gives you an adventurous day full of joy while they help you truly discover what does elope mean. Elopements are crafted so couples can have more say on their wedding day, not less. Finding elopements vendors who are personable, relational, skilled, trained, educated, experienced, and real people with real stories are who you want to hire for your wedding day. Not productions that can fit your elopement in at 3:00 PM. You deserve more than that, and we are so glad to be able to provide meaningfully personalized experiences for our couples with our elopement packages.

Now that we’ve got all the negative out there, let’s look at the real explanation of what does elope mean!!

Elopements are:

  • Elopements are meaningful.

    One huge reason so many couples are opting to elope instead of having a traditional wedding is due to the impending cloud of insignificance that can follow grand wedding details around. Sounds harsh, right? But let’s think through it. How many details go into a grand wedding? If you’ve started trying to plan one, you know sooooo many details go into planning—save the dates, invitations, the date, the venue, the flowers, the colors, the seating charts, the menues, the favors, the stationary, the timeline, really I’m just getting overwhelmed thinking about it… and that’s not even all of it. But elopements seek to simplify the process so the details can be meaningful. If your boo got you gerber daisies the first time they got you flowers, guess what? You can have those flowers on your elopement day! With zero judgement and zero stress. No one is going to be there to judgmentally peer at your bridal bouquet as if you made the wrong decision. What about those really fun first looks you see from big wedding photos? Those are amazing and special, but what if it’s more meaningful for you to see each other in your wedding garb at your local airbnb outside a national park, because that’s the place you first realized you were actually in love with this person? Elopements give you the power to make every. single. detail. specific to you and your partner. No one defines what is meaningful and important on that day—only you know what can make your day most meaningful, and elopements give you the ability to create the day in that way. So as we discover what does elope mean really… we’ll find that eloping means having more meaningful decisions and ways to make the day yours.

  • Elopements are authentic.

    What does elope mean in reference to self-acceptance and self-love? Do you love crowds? Do you love that feeling of knowing everyone is watching you with some pretty big expectations? Most people don’t. Big weddings can put a lot of pressure on brides and grooms to perform emotionally and socially. A lot of times couples feel pressured and coerced to react emotionally when they see so-and-so they haven’t seen in forever. Brides are pressured to cry, and grooms are pressured to romance the bride publicly with words, actions, and who knows what. But what if you hate that? Elopements give couples the ability to take off the mask of people-pleasing and bare their beautiful faces to one another only.

    Instead of stiff reception hugs, you could have mountain-side snuggles knowing no one is peering in to judge your actions. Elopements gives couples space to be authentic. What if instead of crying during your vows you want to do secret hand shake because that’s your thing? You can do that! What if freezing together on top of a glacier sounds way more “you” than awkwardly standing in a maroon-carpeted church auditorium? Then your elopement can give you that.

    On your wedding day, you want to be the most authentically you that you will ever be because of the significance of the day. If you are going to commit your life to another person, you need the freedom to be who you truly are without the pressure to perform. You’ll find freedom as we look into what does elope mean.

  • Elopements are creative.

    If you were to sit down and write down what you remember from the last 5 weddings you went to, how much of the wedding ceremony would be the same? Odds are you could tell me what unifying element the couple did, some of the wording of their vows, the location might be similar, maybe they had BBQ like a lot of others. But what if I told you elopements give you the freedom to create a drastically different wedding day and ceremony than anyone else in the world? What if I told you your elopement story would be truly yours and that no one else could copy it? Because that’s what elopements can offer you—creativity.

    Instead of a wedding day timeline full of fitting into a getting ready schedule, pictures, ceremony, and reception, you can dare to dream and create a day that is wildly different, because you deserve to be different! Instead of trying to squeeze in a donut run before pictures begin on a busy traditional wedding day, how about making your own blueberry pancakes together before dawn to fuel your hike up to your ceremony spot? Instead of creating room in the schedule for Aunt Martha to be late for pictures, you created room in your schedule to stop on the side of the trail up to your mountain top to play leap frog in a meadow together? Instead of stopping your day to take a selfie with that girl from high school you didn’t really want to invite, you and your boo got to take a selfie with a moose (from a safe distance of course!)?! Elopements give you the ability to really dream and dream big about how to invite personalized creativity and flexibility to your wedding day experience.


Maybe your head is spinning from determining what does elope mean. Maybe that was a lot. We think it can be simplified into this definition to help:

elopement : a meaningful, authentic, and creative wedding experience designed by couples seeking to exist purely as themselves on their wedding day without stress and with intimacy & adventure

That’s our definition of elopement, but we know there are varying opinions. The good news is this definition is broad enough and intentional enough for you to communicate with others when asked, “why on earth would you elope?!” Maybe they’ll even need a simpler answer as to what does elope mean too! They’ll have many questions, but you can always come back to this—”We want to elope because it’s meaningful, authentic, and a creative way to start our lives together.”

Oooooo but one last thing that is superrrrr subjective and up to you—and a question we get asked alot—”who is invited to an elopement?”

In our experience of planning, photographing, and officiating elopements, we have found that the maximum number invited to your elopement to keep it truly meaningful, authentic, and creative is 25 guests. And truly the sweet spot for guest count is around 10. It can be so difficult to declutter a guest list to a big wedding, but we find it is so much easier for our couples who determine who gets to be there for their big day when the number is smaller. Some would say a true elopement involves zero guests, and for some couples, that’s what they need. We encourage as many (or as few) guests as the couple wants with the extreme caution that going over 25 becomes vastly too large to sustain intimacy. A Glacier National Park elopement is perfect for any of the above guests counts, and we’d be stoked to introduce you to that possiblity for your wedding day!

Does that sound like something you’re interested in? If so, HECK YES LET’S DO THIS! As your elopement photographers, guides, and officiants, we would love to walk you through the process of crafting a meaningful, authentic, and creative wedding experience that allows you to exist as purely as yourself on your wedding day. Hit contact, and we will chat with you soon. And don’t forget—you deserve a wedding day that is meaningful, authentic, and creative filled with intimacy and adventure.

In fact, as you’re discovering what does elope mean, here are some more resources to help you brainstorm!

Should I Elope | In case your  mind isn’t made up just yet and you’d like some expert advice from real eloping couples.

How Much Does It Cost to Elope | Because it’s an important question to consider!

How To Elope | So you can have an all-inclusive guide and checklist to eloping legally!

Hey, it’s us!

We’re Des & Dan! Husband & wife elopement photographers, planners, and officiants! We help couples like you create elopement days full of meaningful details, authentic moments, and creative experiences because we believe you deserve a wedding day where you are truly heard—a wedding day you can truly remember.

We’d love to help in any way you can, so check out our other free planning resources or send us an email by hitting contact! We’d love to hop on the phone and see what you’re envisioning for your elopement day.

You deserve this.

Des & Dan


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