So you’ve made the exciting decision to elope! Maybe you’ve been drawn in by the gorgeous posts you’ve seen on instagram of couples standing on cliffs over looking the ocean with dresses flowing in the wind, or wandering through a grove of giant redwoods like something out of a fairytale. Maybe the thought of a big traditional wedding and all its excess and expense didn’t align with your values. We get it! To us, the intimacy of eloping distills everything that getting married should be about, without any of the noise that comes with weddings as we know them.
But the thought of getting married without your closest friends family there to celebrate with is unthinkable. You’re torn. How is it possible to include your loved ones in this most special of days without sacrificing all the things that drew you to eloping in the first place? Prior to specializing in elopements, we photographed hundreds of big wedding days, and we get how special it can be getting to celebrate with your loved ones.
Don’t fret, there are so many ways to incorporate your loved ones into your elopement adventures, while still enjoying an authentic, care-free day.
Be Intentional with Your Guest List
The first step to planning an elopement day with guests is to establish how many people you’re looking to bring along. Figuring out the size of your guest list will help to narrow down what your options for the day will include. If getting married in a national park is your goal, many of the parks have limits on how large the ceremonies can be. Usually this is between 10-30 people total, including an officiant, photographers and of course, the happy couple. It’s very important to consult with the rules and regulations put in place by the park prior to establishing a guest list, especially if you have a certain place in mind.
The process of cutting down your list can be a painful and arduous process. It’s certainly a common pain point we hear couples talk about during their planning process. The honest advice we suggest, would be to think about if everyone on your hypothetical guest list 100% supports your decision to elope. Would they be 100% willing to participate in your plans for the day? On a day that is all about celebrating your love for one another in the most personal and authentic way you know how, feeling like the people around you don’t support that can feel especially hurtful. If someone you’re thinking of inviting will add stress to your day, it’s probably best not to, despite your love for them.
Fortunately, if the restrictions placed by your dream location are more than you’re willing or able to cut down, there are alternatives that can include your loved ones in the day while retaining the spirit and intention behind why you’re choosing to elope in the first place…
Achieving Balance on Your Wedding Day
What if you’re bringing a larger number of guests, or seriously crave some alone time along the way? How will you be able to create a timeline with the best of both worlds?
Have a Private Ceremony Alone and Celebrate with Guests After
If you love the idea of an intimate and private wedding experience in only the company of your partner, but don’t want to exclude your circle of closest loved ones, perhaps splitting the day into separate parts might be the best option for you. You and your boo can start the day with a sunrise hike and join your families afterwards for a picnic lunch, a nice meal at a local restaurant, or even a small reception with the traditions you want to carry over from the classic big weddings we’ve come to know. Alternatively, your private time together could simply include an intimate sharing of vows to one another, while reserving the rest of the ceremony a time later in the day with family and friends.
We’ve found that splitting the day into separate parts has been a great solution to preserve the intimacy of the elopement experience for couples who feel inclined to also include guests in their day.
Consider Having the Ceremony at a Private Venue or Home
If your dream location is more restrictive with their guest counts, have a ceremony at another site that can accommodate a larger gathering. There are some amazing small venues and beautiful rental homes within close proximity to our national parks. This also helps you have a perfectly crafted ceremony without the possibility of disrupting other travelers. You can always proceed to the spot you had in mind for portraits, picnics, a toast, or any other activities you have in mind.
Elopement Day Activities You Can Share with Your Guests
When freed from the constraints of a traditional wedding, there’s truly no limit to what’s possible to include in your day to give it that personal twist that’s uniquely yours. This is really the area to let your mind run free and do some deep soul searching to find the things that encapsulate the special things about your relationship. We encourage you to think long and hard, embrace your weirdness, and come up with a day like no other.
That being said, if you’re planning on including guests, it’s important to consider their capabilities and comfort level when choosing your activities and locations. Will everyone you invite be down for what you have planned? If grandpa and grandma are coming along, a ceremony location near a parking lot would obviously be more optimal than 4 miles down a rocky trail. Are you planning on going to a restaurant afterwards and does that restaurant fit the dietary restrictions of everyone in your party? Many of these things are common sense considerations but it’s important to remember that this day, one that’s all about crafting your optimal comfort zone, might be outside the comfort zone of others.
If you’re feeling like you could use a little spark of inspiration to get you started, here’s a few awesome ways we’ve seen couples share their elopement days.
- Enjoy a delicious meal together! You can hire a caterer to provide this, make some homemade treats and pack them as a picnic, go to a local restaurant, or even hire a private chef to make a meal for you and your guests on site!
- Surround yourself with nature and embark on a hike together.
- Rent a few kayaks or canoes and spend some time on the water paddling with your guests.
- Bring everyone back for a casual celebration at a rental home.
- Play yard games, have a campfire, lounge around or party in any way you know how! (When booking an Airbnb, Vrbo, or any other accommodation, it’s important to look for any restrictions that listing has on gatherings and parties. Many have a strict “no partying” policy)
Choosing to elope doesn’t mean having to throw away every big wedding tradition! There are plenty of ways to incorporate the classics into your day.
- Cut your wedding cake together! Whether its a big wedding cake, cupcakes, a tiramisu, or a blueberry cobbler, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the ceremonial cutting of dessert with your new life partner and serving all your guests.
- Bring in some live music! Some couples choose to hire a musician to play a selection of songs that are meaningful to them, and some of our more musically gifted couples even played guitar or sang a song for their partner. Something as simple as a softly played guitar can bring an extra layer of magic and ambiance to your ceremony or reception and elevate all the special moments within.
- Include a couple special dances or toasts. This is an opportunity to share a special moment with any of your guests that are especially meaningful to you. No one’s there requiring you to have the traditional mother/son or father/daughter dance, and if you’d rather share a song dancing with your best friend there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Elopements are all about taking what you like from the old ways and throwing out the rest, and this is the perfect example of that.
Bringing along your closest loved ones can truly elevate your wedding experience, so never feel like your decision to elope has to be riddled with compromise. Bring them along and enjoy your perfect intimate adventure together. Looking for more inspiration for planning an elopement with guests?