BY CHAD AND VANESSA, ‘THE OUTLOVERS’: YOUR SMALL WEDDING AND ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM
Many couples can feel torn when throwing around the idea of eloping: they’re excited by the prospect of sharing an incredible adventure together but, at the same time, feel sad that their closest loved ones won’t be there to share it.
Well, good news, you don’t have to choose!
Eloping with family is totally a ‘thing’: you can ABSOLUTELY invite the closest people in your life to share in your day and still have an intimate, special experience. In fact, some of the sweetest, most meaningful elopement days we’ve been involved in have included the couple’s friends and family.
To us, eloping simply means choosing to have a small and intentional couple-centric wedding celebration, rather than throwing a big party for a hundred other people whose needs come before your own. Bringing family and friends to your elopement can, with some careful planning, still check that box!
It’s important to realize, however, that eloping with family IS going to have certain implications, so it’s essential you think it through carefully before sending out those invites!
So, here’s our best advice for eloping with family to make sure you still have the day of YOUR dreams…..
DO decide if you actually want to elope with family. DON’T feel pressured into something that’s not right for you.
This may sound like an obvious first point, but we want to be clear: you don’t HAVE to invite people to your elopement day if you don’t want to. This is YOUR day, YOUR anniversary forevermore, and no one has a ‘right’ to be there. So, if eloping with family isn’t right for you, and you’d rather keep your day completely for yourselves, that’s OK.
There are plenty of other ways to help your loved ones feel involved even if they’re not physically present on your elopement day. For example, you could Facetime them while you’re getting ready and let them share in the excitement, you could ask them to write you letters to read after your ceremony or you could plan a fun party for when you return.
If you’re worried about how your family will react if they’re not invited, you might find this a useful read: Is Eloping Selfish?
However, if you DO feel like eloping with family is the right choice for you, then read on….
DO figure out your guest list early on. DON’T let it snowball out of control.
It’s important that, early on in the planning process, you decide on the maximum number of people who are coming to your elopement and then stick to it. This number is going to impact so many things: the locations that are available to you, the kind of accommodation you choose, the activities that are realistic for you etc.
And, quite honestly, when eloping with family, the smaller the better! We find a group size of no more than 10-15 people is perfect: that way, you can still have the day you’re picturing without it becoming a logistical nightmare.
For most people, this sort of group size might typically include parents, siblings and perhaps one or two closest friends. Obviously this will vary depending on your family dynamic, but please don’t extend the invite to Aunt Sally who you haven’t seen in ten years or you’ll soon find yourself feeling obliged to invite every aunt, uncle and cousin under the sun.
Remember, the whole point of eloping with family is to spend special quality-time with each and every person present, so don’t let that group size explode!
DO consider whether or not to include children. DON’T forget to think about who’s going to look after them if they attend.
This is an important addendum to figuring out your guest list.
Whether it’s your own children, or guests’, inviting children to your family elopement IS going to have an impact on the vibe of your day. That’s absolutely not to say it’s a bad thing, it’s just something to be aware of.
For example, kids – of course – have shorter attention spans than (most) adults so you might want to keep your ceremony short and sweet.
Little ones may need nap times factored into the day and likely aren’t going to party into the night, so you might want to consider more of a daytime celebration with a couple of breaks.
And, if you are bringing your own children to your family elopement, it would be reeeeeeeally nice if someone else might take care of them for part of the day: for example, when you’re having your couple’s portraits taken, or during the ceremony so you can really focus on each other.
That’s what grandparents are for though, right?
DO think about accessibility when choosing your location. DON’T forget to research permits when eloping with family.
Now that you’ve decided on a group size for eloping with your family, you can start looking at locations! This is the really fun part and something that, as your elopement photographers and planning assistants, we love to help you with.
Naturally, eloping with family and friends in tow may mean you have to consider different locations than you might if it were just the two of you.
For example, YOU might be avid hikers, but are THEY? If not, don’t opt for a multi-mile hike that isn’t realistic for everyone: it’ll only end badly, trust us. But, don’t worry: there are plenty of spots that are way more accessible yet still have stunning views, we got ya!
Don’t forget to consider alternative transport modes for getting out to your location if it’s a little off the beaten path.
For example, how about renting Jeeps and off-roading together as a group, or hiring a pro guide to get you all out to your dream spot? Or hiring a private helicopter tour to take you out to a remote location no one’s ever been married at before? Alternative transport opens up so many more possibilities when choosing a location that is suitable for eloping with family. Plus, it’s a whole lot of FUN and really adds to your elopement day vibe.
You’re also going to want to research the necessary permits long before your wedding day. Permit requirements vary massively depending on what land you’re on, how many people are attending, what sort of set-up you’re planning etc. This is something we can support you with, you don’t have to figure it out alone! But, whatever you do, don’t forget about or just ignore permits: doing so could result in you all getting kicked out mid-ceremony, never mind the hefty fines that could follow.
Lastly, we’d really encourage you to consider Leave No Trace principles when you’re choosing your ceremony spot: with a bigger group it’s easier to damage the environment, perhaps without even meaning to. Make sure the terrain is suitable for a larger group to be standing on: for example, in the desert you’re going to want to make sure you’re not stepping on sensitive crypto-soil, and in the mountains you might need to be aware of crushing rare wildflowers.
Leave No Trace is so important to consider if you’re eloping outdoors, you can read more about it here.
DO think about accommodation for your family elopement. DON’T feel like you’re responsible for everyone else’s vacation.
Now that you’ve got your location pinned down, you can start looking for accommodation. Have a think about whether you’d like everyone to stay together or if you’d prefer they stay separately.
There are pros and cons to each, of course.
Renting a big house and staying together can create a really nice ambiance and will provide you with a shared space to celebrate afterwards. However, we all know that not every family can stand being under the same roof for tooooo long. Only you know if it’s a good idea for your particular family dynamic!
If you’re not planning to stay together, it could be nice for you to do a bit of research on the area you’re eloping in and offer up a couple of suggestions of places to stay for your guests.
However, don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to get them all organized: they’re adults and can take care of themselves. Taking on too much yourself is going to end up in your elopement experience becoming just as stressful as planning a big wedding, which is what you’re trying to avoid, right?
DO draw up a realistic timeline. DON’T forget to include some fun activities.
As you get closer and closer to your family elopement day, it’s time to start drawing up a timeline for the day. This is something we love to do for our couples, so that you don’t have to worry about where you have to be and when: you can just relax and enjoy every moment, trusting that we’ll make sure the day flows smoothly.
It’s important to be aware that when you bring guests to your elopement day, everything naturally takes that big longer than you might anticipate. So, be sure to factor in plenty of buffer time so you don’t feel like you’re rushed or running late at any stage. If, for example, you think it’s going to take 30 minutes to get to your ceremony location, give yourself 45 just in case! Your future self will thank you.
When you’re eloping with family, it can be really fun to include some activities in your day. This could be something as simple as putting together a DIY picnic for everyone to enjoy after your ceremony, or something more active like a guided off-roading tour, or checking out a national park together. Actually ‘doing’ something together really helps create long-lasting memories.
Equally, don’t feel like every minute of your day has to be mapped out: it’s lovely to have some down time to just ‘be’ and to all enjoy each other’s company.
If you’d like some inspiration for things to do on your elopement day, you might enjoy checking this out: 80 Epic Elopement Ideas To Make Your Day Special.
DO take some time for yourselves in the day. DON’T feel responsible for everyone else all day long.
This one is REALLY important.
Whenever a couple works with us to create an elopement with family and friends attending, we always, always, always advise them to take at least a small part of the day just for themselves.
Maybe you’d like to get up early and catch sunrise together, just the two of you?
Maybe you’d enjoy sneaking off after your ceremony for a bit of ‘you’ time and pop some bubbles together?
Or, how about a little hike to watch sunset together, as your beautiful day draws to a close around you?
If there’s just too many fun things you want to do in the space of a day, you could even consider a two-day elopement! You could spend one day with all your family and friends, then the other day could be entirely about the two of you. The best of both worlds!
However you choose to factor it in, this alone time is IMPORTANT: this is when the whole world is going to slow down around you and really allow you to soak in all the magic of your day. Honestly? It’s probably going to be when your most special memories are made.
And, don’t worry, your guests will be absolutely fine without you for a bit! Remember, this is not a big, traditional wedding: you don’t need to entertain and worry about your guests every minute of the day.
DO think about food and drink. DON’T feel like you have to cover all the costs alone.
Planning your elopement day food can be a lot of fun! And, trust us, making sure your guests are well fed will ensure that no one gets hangry on you and ruins the fun.
Food is a really important way that we, as humans, celebrate the important events in our lives, so be sure to make it special, whatever that means to YOU.
You’ve got so many great options, from super casual and easy right through to faaaaaancy: charcuterie-style picnics, going out to a restaurant, hiring a private chef to cook for you….
And don’t forget dessert! Maybe you’d like a cake, or cupcakes, or perhaps you’d like to make s’mores over a campfire as your day comes to an end….
It’s up to you whether you want to pay for all of this for your guests or whether you’d like them to pay for some or all of it themselves. Typically, if it’s a more ‘formal’ event that you expect everyone to attend, you’re probably going to cover the costs. Whereas, if you keep it casual and optional, it’s more accepted for people to pay their own way. Just make sure you’re very explicit with people so there’s no confusion.
DO think about how you’d like your ceremony to be structured. DON’T feel like you have to share your vows in front of everyone.
Your ceremony is the absolute heart of your elopement day and it’s really important you give it some serious thought. We share a full Elopement Ceremony Guide with all of our couples which helps them think about the tone they’d like for their ceremony, how they’d like it to be structured and lots of ideas for interesting content such as readings or unity rituals.
When you are eloping with family, you have the opportunity to make your ceremony really special for everyone in attendance. Rather than having them just spectate, it can be so meaningful to actively involve your guests: for example, you could have someone dear to you officiate your ceremony, you could ask someone to share a reading or blessing, you could ask everyone to share their advice on how to forge a successful marriage, you could pass your rings around and ask everyone to bless them before your ring exchange… We have so many great ideas we’d love to share with you!
One thing to think very carefully about is whether or not you’d like to share your personal vows in front of everyone or whether that’s something you’d prefer to keep more private. We often have couples eloping with their family who share traditional vows (the I do’s) in front of their guests as part of their full ceremony, but then take a private moment later in the day to share their personal, handwritten vows with just each other. This gives you space to really speak from the heart without the pressure of everyone watching. It’s often the most emotional part of the whole day!
DO communicate clearly with your guests about what you’d like help with. DON’T get steamrolled into something you don’t want.
Naturally, when you choose to elope with family, you’re going to find that people WANT to get involved, they WANT to help. Ultimately, that’s a really lovely thing – it’s people’s way of showing how much they care – but it can also be frustrating if it feels like they’re pushing you into things that aren’t what you actually want.
You may find that some guests – especially the older ones – are trying to ‘help’ by taking over the planning of more traditional wedding items like your cake, your flowers, and your decor…. When maybe you don’t even want any of those things at all!
Remember, most of your guests will never have been to an elopement before; they’ve never seen a wedding quite like your’s! So, they don’t know HOW to help, they only know they want to.
This is where you need to be very clear on your vision for your elopement day and then clearly communicate to share that vision and to set firm boundaries. Describe in detail to people what you want your day to look like, what you want it to FEEL like, maybe show them any inspiration photos you’ve pulled up. Then, delegate the things you’d like help with, and politely decline assistance with the things you don’t.
Ok, there you have it, all our top tips for eloping with family. Hopefully you’ve found it helpful and are now feeling confident in the fact that you CAN have a beautiful, intimate elopement experience whilst being surrounded by your favorite people.
What it essentially comes down to is this:
You WILL need to make small compromises – a family elopement is never going to play out exactly the same way as a two-person elopement – but as long as you have a clear vision for the day and keep coming back to what you and your partner want from your experience, it has the potential to be absolutely magical!
We would love to create an epic elopement experience for you! We provide planning assistance, photography and officiation for adventure-seeking couples in Colorado, Utah, across the US and worldwide. Get in touch to start brainstorming with us!
Chad & Vanessa, ‘The Outlovers’
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Eloping With Family – The Outlovers
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