Elopement vs. Wedding: What’s the Difference?

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6 min read Dec 4, 2019

No matter if you decide to elope, have a more traditional wedding, or something in between, remember that there is no “right” option

Should you have a wedding or elopement? For some, it’s a no-brainer. For others, it’s a tough choice. Between the overall experience, the difference in cost, and family and societal expectations, there are several things to consider when deciding if you want to have an elopement or a wedding.

On top of that, there are several different kinds of weddings and elopements. An elopement can be super intimate, where it’s just you, your lover, and your vendors in a beautiful place. An elopement can also be you, your lover, your vendors, and a few special guests. At Simply Eloped, we still consider it an elopement if you have 20 guests or less.

You can also plan an adventurous elopement, which is great for couples seeking a unique, outdoorsy experience.

A wedding has guests. It can be a small wedding with 30 guests or a big wedding with 300 guests. While there are several differences between an elopement and a wedding, the main difference is guests. Let’s dive into that more below.

Elopement vs. Wedding: The Differences

There are various factors that differentiate a wedding from an elopement. Understanding the unique elements of each ceremony can help you decide what will be best for your special day.


This is one of the biggest contrasts between a traditional wedding and an elopement ceremony. Most traditional weddings have a guest list of 50 to 200+ guests, while an elopement is 20 guests or less. A microwedding is 20-50 guests.

When you have a wedding with more than 20 guests, which includes a huge family member from both sides, friends, and relatives, you will need to have some structural things in place. It requires having more of a schedule for your day and having things in place like a venue that can hold that many people, transportation, and entertainment for your guests.

An elopement has 20 or fewer guests or no guests at all. This essentially means you can do whatever you want. If you only have 4 guests, you could get married in a beautiful mountain meadow with your guests standing around you. You won’t need chairs or any special venues. It’s much more free-flowing.

While both have advantages, ultimately, choosing how many guests you’d like to celebrate with you on your big day will help shape whether you’re looking at an elopement, an intimate ceremony, or a more traditional wedding.

Planning Time

Traditional weddings generally involve more wedding planning time than an elopement, and having a higher guest count is a big factor. Creating seating charts and schedules, organizing dinner for a crowd of people, and selecting the right entertainment are all things that couples typically oversee in a traditional wedding, but may appear on a much smaller scale for an elopement — or not even appear at all.

An elopement can be planned in a matter of days — sometimes in a matter of hours. Depending on your date, wedding venue choice, and guest count, you could spend less than 24 hours planning your elopement. You could also go all out and spend a whole year planning a destination elopement. It’s all up to you.


An elopement wedding, or a micro wedding, can happen almost anywhere you can think of — for the most part. Exquisite mountain tops, quaint local parks, historic landmarks, gorgeous beaches are just a handful of spots where an adventure elopement can occur. You can choose a place that is meaningful to you and your partner, like where you had your first date or a special vacation you took. You could also plan to go somewhere completely new and incorporate a sense of discovery into your elopement day. Whether you want a Hawaiian beach wedding ceremony or a romantic exchange of vows with the Chicago skyline behind you, your options open up quite a bit when you’re getting married without guests. This usually appeals to couples who prefer intimate weddings.

Traditional weddings need more structure. You need chairs for guests, something to keep them entertained, and decor for the venue. Speaking of venues, your options are generally more limited to places that can handle the needs of the ceremony. You also will likely be having a reception, so you have to choose a venue that can handle both events.


The other big difference between a traditional wedding and an elopement is the price. Weddings can be crazy expensive — the average wedding in the U.S. is over $33k! Generally, you can expect to pay $150 to $200 per person. That includes the venue, decor, food, drinks, and entertainment. If you have always dreamed of having a big party with all your favorite people, to celebrate you and your partner’s love, a wedding is probably the right choice for you. That is what you are paying for after all — to celebrate with your loved ones.

Elopement ceremonies, on the other hand, are typically less expensive. The average Simply Eloped ceremony costs $900.  You simply have fewer people and structure to deal with. That does not mean that you are getting less from your celebration. Elopements can be deeply personal and breathtakingly beautiful — not to mention you can totally party afterward!

Let’s plan your stress-free elopement. Start today!



Larger venues for weddings typically have rules. Sometimes the same is true with vendors. These can be things like limits on how late you can play music, what day of the week you can get married, what time of the day certain events need to take place. It’s not a bad thing, but if you don’t want to be limited with what you can do with your day, eloping is probably a better choice for you.

When you elope, you can pretty much do whatever you want. So long as you aren’t damaging a natural area or trespassing, you can basically go wherever, whenever you want. This gives you the opportunity to make things really personal. Whether you go to a special place or work personal elements into your elopement, you have the freedom to customize your ceremony.

Eloping vs. Wedding: The Similarities

Although the two ceremonies are different, there are some factors that overlap. Both are extremely important moments in life and should be treated as such!

Planning ahead

Both traditional weddings and elopement ceremonies call for some same basic planning ahead. Both ceremonies require an officiant to marry you, and a legally binding marriage license. To confirm the requirements for acquiring a marriage license, you can call up the local county clerk for more details specific to your location.

Most elopements take a few weeks to a few months to plan but can be even faster than that. Most traditional weddings are going to need at least a few months to plan, if not a year or more.

Family and Friends

No matter which ceremony you choose, a big traditional wedding or eloping, the people closest to you will want to be a part of it. They can be a physical part of your day, such as attending your wedding or reception, or they can celebrate more remotely, depending on you and your partner’s preferences. You can send them personalized elopement announcements, or ask for their input on ceremony or honeymoon locations.

Whether you’re having a hundred guests or are doing something privately, you can always find a place in both types of ceremonies for your loved ones. While a traditional wedding is more straightforward when it comes to including your family and friends, if you choose to elope you can always host a celebration back home with those close to you. Get everyone together to share a video of your wedding day or even FaceTime those you love as you recite your vows.


The biggest and most important parallel between weddings and elopements is the love shared between the couple during their special day. Whether you want to be surrounded by every person you love in your life in an elaborate ceremony and grandiose wedding experience, or just be there with you and your partner, your wedding is about how you want to commemorate your day and make it memorable with your loved one. And whatever way you want to express your love on that day is going to be perfect for you.

No matter if you decide to elope, have a more traditional wedding, or something in between, remember that there is no “right” option. The choice between eloping vs wedding is a decision that you and your partner get to make, and if you keep your love at the top of your priority list, there’s no way you can go wrong. If you decide you want an intimate ceremony, check out our all-inclusive elopement packages to learn more.

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Written by Tori Ward

Victoria Ward is a writer at Simply Eloped as well as a Keats Marginalia scholar and Storyfort finalist for her fiction and creative nonfiction. When she is not writing about elopements, she writes grants for her research and non-profit work.