Your Guide to Eloping with Family and Friends
Originally Posted in 2019, Updated in November 2022.
I want to start this guide to eloping with family and friends with the following message – there is no right or wrong way to elope! Choosing to elope simply means that you’re making the active choice to break away from the traditions and standards of wedding days and instead crafting an intention-filled experience that aligns with your values and your desires. Some couples choose to have a select number of loved ones (typically 10 or less) in attendance, some choose to only have their day with their partner, and others choose to do a hybrid experience combining both!
Some fun statistics for you – in 2022, 72% of the couples I worked with had an elopement with family and friends present and in 2021, only 40% included loved ones during their day.
You deserve an elopement experience filled with encouragement, so I also want to begin this blog by saying that just because someone is your blood-relative or immediate family does not mean that they “deserve” to be one of the few guests at your wedding. No one is entitled to attend your wedding or elopement. As I mentioned above, a big part of eloping is breaking away from tradition and doing something that feels right – and that includes protecting your energy and including only people who will add to your experience! Many couples’ guest list includes only their chosen family and close-knit group of friends for this exact reason and their experience is more aligned with their values because of it.
Table of Contents for this Guide to Eloping Including Family and Friends:
Part 1: Intimate Elopement Day with Just Your Partner
Part 2: Intimate Elopement Day with Loved Ones Present
Part 3: Best of Both Worlds: Spend Your Elopement with Family and Alone
Part 4: How to Plan a Less-Stressful Micro Wedding
Intimate Elopement Day with Just Your Partner
Take cell phone photos and videos throughout your elopement day
Although I always deliver sneak peeks within 24 hours, a super-easy way to make the people most important to you feel included is to ask your photographer to take behind-the-scenes cell phone photos and videos throughout the day! That way, you can excitedly share some behind-the-scenes of your day with them while you wait for your sneak peek.
Schedule a FaceTime or Zoom call at some point during your day
After Sara and DJ had their first look, they FaceTimed their loved ones to say “hello” and share the excitement with them before venturing out to say their vows. Another option is to take a break mid-day for a meal at your Airbnb after exchanging vows and having a big zoom call! Then everyone can see you dressed up and celebrate with you in a bring-your-own-virtual-drink fashion.
Some couples opt to do a live Zoom call of their wedding ceremony. If this is something you’re considering, definitely coordinate with your elopement photographer to be sure that it’s possible in the area you’re eloping! Frequently in some of the most breathtaking locations in nature and national parks, there might not be service but typically, they can guide you to a location that does.
Ask Your Family and Friends Write Letters
You may have heard of couples writing letters to eachother to read as they get ready on their wedding day – the sentiment for this idea is similar! Something I’ve had countless couples do is ask for their loved ones to write letters of well wishes for them to read together on their elopement day. The beauty of this idea is that it makes it feel like your family and friends were present on your day in spirit and you can read them while doing something like enjoying a picnic!
Some examples of how other couples included this idea:
Eden and Josh had just their parents and siblings present during their elopement day but after dinner, the two of them went out on their back deck and read letters from their family and friends curled up by the fire under a wool blanket.
Morgan and Cameron snuggled up together on the beach after their vows and read letters from their loved ones while sipping on some local beer they got during their stay on the Oregon Coast.
An added bonus of this is that you’ll always have their words and well-wishes written down to remember and read time and time again, which is so special because it’s not often that we write down our feelings like that!
Host A Casual Get-Together Afterwards
Planning to have a super casual, stress-free get-together with your closest family and friends a few months following your elopement day is a fantastic compromise on a big wedding. Think backyard cookout on this one – is it too much to mention the words stress-free again?
Just like I emphasize couples when considering having family present at their elopement, for this experience it’s still so important to only invite people who fill you with joy, even if it is something low-key. No bad vibes allowed when it comes to celebrating your marriage! A great way to have them relive your day as if they were part of it is to dedicate time to play a slideshow of images from your day for everyone to watch together and laugh, cry, etc. You could also create a guest book with photos from your day for guests to sign and write their well-wishes! Now you have an album of photos filled with words from the people you love most – that’s a win-win if I’ve ever heard one.
Tyler and Rahul actually eloped just the two of them, but then their loved ones joined them in Montana for a catered dinner celebration at a large cabin they rented! How special is it to spend your first week married celebrating and exploring in nature with those you love most.
Sign Your Marriage License at Home with Select Loved Ones
When Deanna and Rob arrived home after eloping in Colorado, they had a small ceremony with a few close loved ones where they “made it official” and signed the marriage license. This is something you could also do before or at your casual get-together as a special surprise to your guests! It absolutely doesn’t have to be a formal ceremony, it can be super casual with the two of you in the front of the room with an ordained minister and your witnesses to sign.
Intimate Elopement with Family and Friends
Ask a loved one to officiate your ceremony
Asking a loved one to officiate your ceremony can be one of the most special ways to include someone who means so much to you both. Getting ordained is easy, and free, online through Universal Life Church. There are countless resources online to make officiating their first ceremony a breeze but I highly recommend the book by Sarah Harding titled “The Friends & Family Guide To Officiating An Extraordinary Wedding: How To Make Your First Ceremony The Best Ceremony They’ve Ever Seen” which is available on both paperback and Kindle.
During Michelle and Dan’s ceremony in Grand Teton, both of their fathers took part in conducting the ceremony and it was really special to see what elements each of them brought into their message.
Have loved ones read verses or messages about marriage during your ceremony
Hiring an experienced officiant or ordained minister to conduct your ceremony and then having family members read bible verses or messages about marriage is a special way to involve them even more than just being present for the ceremony. Typically your officiant will have some great methods for doing this if you approach them with this idea!
Have a picnic celebration
After you say your vows and “I dos” with your guests, take some time to have a mini-celebration at your ceremony site or a nearby picnic area. Everyone can celebrate with champagne and you can have cake, cupcakes, donuts, etc. depending on what you’re feeling for your elopement day!
After Anna-Reid and Judd’s ceremony at Maroon Bells, their loved ones gathered at a nearby picnic area they had rented for champagne and cake to celebrate the newly married couple!
Incorporate a nice dinner reception
Following their vows and celebrating with family and close friends, Danielle and Brent had a nice dinner with their loved ones. They were able to reserve a semi-private area at a restaurant near where their elopement took place. This made it super easy for the three of us to sneak away at the end of the evening and do a few more photos around that area around sunset!
Many restaurants in small towns surrounding national parks and scenic areas close early so having a nice dinner in the days before or after your elopement is a great option too, similar to how traditional weddings have rehearsal dinners. This would allow everyone to have a meal to celebrate without having to forego the two of you being able to adventure during the time when the lighting is best for portraits!
Rent a place for everyone to stay together
Find an Airbnb or a group of cabins so everyone can stay in one place and spend time with each other outside of your wedding day! This way, you’re able to plan activities together on non-elopement days such as a group hike, ziplining, a boat tour, etc. to take advantage of being in one place. It also makes it much easier to wrangle everyone.
Spend Your Elopement with Family and Alone – Best of Both Worlds!)
This may be news to some, but just because you invite family to your elopement day does not mean that you have to spend the entire day with them! Jesse and Joey’s adventure elopement with family is a great example of how this looks. They began their day with a private first look followed by a ceremony and picnic reception back at their Airbnb. The middle of their day consisted of exploring the local downtown area and in the evening, the three of us went out for a sunset hike so they could really soak in being married privately as well!
How to Plan a Micro Wedding with Family and Friends
For this section, I’m going to share the experiences of two couples I work with that had a different take on incorporating more guests into their day so that you can better understand the possibilities! I typically categorize elopements as having 20 guests or less and micro weddings as days that have greater than that amount or take place at a more established venue since more coordinating is typically involved.
It’s also worth noting that for many locations in national parks, 30 guests is the maximum number permitted at reservable ceremony sites.
Examples of Micro Weddings I’ve Photographed for Inspiration
Tyler and Paige’s Micro Wedding
We started Tyler and Paige’s day at Amen Ranch. This was a large property they rented located about an hour from the nearby national park where they held a good portion of their 30+ guests stay! Tyler got ready in one of the cabins on the property that he and Paige were staying in and Paige got ready in one of the guest houses. They had a really low-key first look and then walked together to meet their guests in an area of the property that overlooked the lake and mountain views. Following their vows, everyone gathered and had a catered barbeque dinner, cut the cake, and enjoyed themselves both inside and outside of the barn.
For sunset, the three of us went into Glacier National Park so that they could say their handwritten vows privately without the pressures of saying them around all of their guests. We did a little exploring and then when they returned to Amen Ranch, they spend the rest of the evening celebrating with their guests!
Amye and Tyler’s Micro Wedding
Amye and Tyler had a micro-wedding that had so many elopement elements to really align it with the day they had envisioned while still having the people they wanted present there. They started a morning with a sunrise hike alone and then parted ways for the rest of the day as they got ready at the places they were staying. They did a first touch and prayer before their ceremony, had a beautiful ceremony with family and friends, and then had a mini-reception with individual charcuterie boxes, champagne, and cupcakes. During the mini-reception they shared a first dance with each other and their mothers. Their family then sent them off and we spent a couple of hours exploring the rest of the national park and having fun taking photos!
Brittany and Jesse’s Micro Wedding
Brittany and Jesse had a wedding that had many traditional elements and took place at a venue in Colorado Springs. They had about 50 guests travel in for their day from around the country for their celebration at Garden of the Gods resort. On the day of their wedding, they got ready with their closest friends, had a beautiful ceremony with Garden of the Gods in the background, had a delicious dinner, and then danced the night away! The next morning though, we got together at sunrise for epic elopement-style photos in Garden of the Gods park to really showcase their love for adventuring together in beautiful places.
Planning to Elope with Family and Friends?
I hope this post helps you feel empowered to have the elopement experience you want to have – whether that be with your loved ones physically there or supporting you from afar.
An important thing I really want to reiterate is that choosing to elope alone does not mean that you don’t care about your loved ones. It simply means that the kind of day that feels most true to the two of you and the way you want to commit your lives to one another is one where you want to spend your energy solely focusing and connecting with one another in a way that feels right for you and is stress-free.
I’m happy to provide any and all encouragement and support to you throughout your elopement planning process. Fill out my contact form so we can connect and start to really dive into what your true-to-you elopement day can look like.