Eloping with family or loved ones can be such a powerful experience. Even though you are eloping, your family, loved ones, best friends can still be involved. We’re here to help keep everyone comfortable while still planning an epic adventure elopement!
Almost every elopement we have seen has been unique in some way: including how people choose to include (or not to include) family and friends. It can be pretty complicated. You have to explain to your parent(s) that you’re not getting married locally, and in fact, you’re going halfway across the country (or overseas) and they’re not even invited. Or some variation thereof. Also, it’s tough to gauge what expectations family and friends have until you start the conversation.
Ryan’s Mom for instance, still thought we would throw a traditional party before hosting a wedding back in Kansas where we grew up. And we literally run an elopement photography business. Why would we do something traditional?? Why would we get married in Kansas when we’ve helped couples elope in the most beautiful landscapes in the world?
You don’t know what expectations people have until you talk to them about your wedding.
The ‘You Deserve This’ Caption
You’ll see tons of captions on Instagram and other motivational messages that tell you to take the leap, elope, and give yourself the day you really deserve. And while it’s easy to get excited and find the motivation, we wanted to provide a practical guide to going from excitement to taking action. We imagine a lot of couples are plenty motivated, but they don’t know what steps to take or how to handle family matters.
Write Out Your Dream Elopement
Before you speak to family or friends, sit down together and write out your “must-haves.” Write down answers to the following questions:
- Your wedding day is here. Where are you? Where would you absolutely love to be? It doesn’t have to be overly specific right now. What does the landscape or venue look like? Are you at a cozy cabin? On a 10 mile hike? At a lodge you grew up visiting?
- Who do you both want in attendance? Who are the most significant people in your life that you just couldn’t celebrate without?
- What are some potential stressors you both want to avoid? For example, you don’t want overly complicated plans or details—as that’s just more stress on top of your busy daily life. It’s important to write out the things you don’t want—as much as it is to write out what you do want.
- Are there any hobbies you enjoy together or separately that you’d want to be part of your day? Play guitar, go kayaking, cooking, camping, etc. A lot of traditional wedding activities are…traditional. This is your day, though. So you might as well plan a few things you enjoy doing a ton. For our elopement, Jaclyn will probably do a watercolor painting of the landscape. It’s something she enjoys doing—and it’ll be a special part of our day.
A Foundation for Eloping with Family
The answers to these questions (without the persuasive opinion of others) is a really good foundation to start building your wedding day. It also helps you and your partner get on the same page. You need to have clear expectations of what you both want for your wedding day. If you approach family and friends without clear expectations—it’s super easy for people to overstep or blatantly skip over what you want. It isn’t even fathomable to some parents or friends that you’d want to elope in the Grand Canyon. So if you don’t bring those expectations to the table—nobody else will.
Educate Your Fam
You should provide context for your alternative wedding plans. Again, this might be the first time that a lot of people you tell will have heard of hiking or backpacking for an elopement/wedding. Show them photos on Instagram. Explain to them how much it excites you. And for the super curious, you can even go through online blog posts to get a sense of what elopement days are like. It’s a lot easier to get behind once you see that tons of couples are doing it.
Don’t compromise. Collaborate!
For close family and friends who you want to feel included—involve them! Don’t compromise items from your initial list—instead, add events or ideas to help be more inclusive (without sacrificing that epic hike you have planned).
It is a slippery slope when you start compromising your values and epic plans. It really is best to just assume your list from above—and only add additional plans to help meet the expectations of others. “I can’t budge on that, unfortunately. This is the list of things we agreed we have to have to make us happy. What can we add to this list to make sure you know I love you and that you’re a part of our day?” Always move forward. Always add to the list. If you back step on your location, it’s really easy to back step on well… everything else.
Ways to Include Family:
- Host a reception back in your hometown before or after the event.
- Host a reception in San Francisco after you elope in Yosemite.
- Have your ceremony in a more accessible part of a National Park, while privately exchanging vows at sunrise on an epic hike.
- Have loved ones help pick out the dress, plan the travel itinerary, look through photos together, anything and everything that they could do to be involved in the planning process. It’s super helpful for you—and really meaningful for them.
- Per our couple, Chee and Dane, have a wedding tour! Elope wherever you want, and then make a trip out of visiting family to celebrate at their residence.
Your Loved Ones and Your Adventure
Sure, a 12-mile hike sounds like an amazing thing to do on your wedding day. But you might have friends and family who have significantly less experience in the outdoors. Is anyone afraid of heights? Has everyone been to a National Park? It’s important to be aware of the various experience and comfort levels of the people you plan on inviting.
If you can discover these limitations early on—it helps you collaborate on additional plans. If most people haven’t visited a National Park, or even care to visit or hike, it might be best to elope alone and host a comfortable reception for those you love. There are so many different ways to include people at various experience levels without sacrificing your location, your hike, or any of your other “must-have” ideas.
The goal here is to discover your “must-haves,” educate your loved ones about alternative weddings/elopements (and why you want one!) and then collaborate to make YOUR day include everything from your list while collaborating to help those closest to you feel involved and loved.
Things to Consider for Family:
- Their experience in the outdoors
- Their experience hiking
- Perhaps theirs experience at elevation (if you’re choosing a location at high elevation)
- Will they respect and protect the environment—or do you need to educate them on the etiquette?
How Family & Friends Affect Your Day
First and foremost, we’re never against any intimate amount of people attending your wedding day. These people are flying halfway across the country (or world) to celebrate with you–and that’s a big deal. Family and friends can have a serious emotional impact on your day–making the day a memorable experience for everyone. That being said, when inviting friends and family, they do change the dynamic of your day.
While you’re getting married in the outdoors, family and friends still act as family and friends do at traditional weddings. While we need to be leaving for your epic sunset hike, your Grandma might surprise you with a gift and talk to you for 20 minutes. Your family probably doesn’t know your schedule for the day. They probably don’t know when sunset is and that we have to leave pronto to get those epic shots. It’s nobody’s fault for wanting to chat with you–but if you’re not direct with them–it can really have an impact.
How Do You Act Around Your Loved Ones?
Consider how you act around your close friends. Are you extra goofy? Are you more reserved? If you bring your best friend on a hike with us, even for just bridal and groomal photos–they’ll be talking to you, joking with you–and ultimately, affecting your mood. So if you know your best friend makes you goofy, and that helps you loosen up–we’ll capture those silly moments between you and your significant other.
If that isn’t the mood you’re wanting to express in your photos–it helps to think about how they’ll impact your mood in advance. Personally, we prefer to have as much time alone with just the two of you for photos. That’s where the magic happens for us!
Reading Vows in Front of Your Family or Friends
Another thing to consider when eloping with family: Imagine reading the vows you’ve written, vulnerability and all, in front of the people you want to invite. If it makes you want to cut back on some of your vows or you’d feel uncomfortable–you probably need to reconsider who you’re inviting or give yourself time to get comfortable with that level of vulnerability.
Family and friends can be instrumental to an intimate wedding–but having more than a few people attend definitely changes the dynamic. This should help you better understand the pros/cons of inviting people to be a part of your wedding day.
Traditional Wedding Activities
Some family members will insist that you keep the traditional wedding activities like cake cutting, first dance, and toasts. And while you’re in a venue that isn’t a stunning landscape–you almost need those activities to commemorate your love. Elopements, in turn, focus on creating experiences to commemorate your relationship in a way that speaks to you.
If cutting a cake symbolizes something incredible to you–then it’s a great fit. But if other activities get you more excited–then we think you should do those activities instead. When eloping with family, our approach is always to be deliberate. It’s easiest to convey that you’re celebrating that same meaningful event in a way that gets you more excited–something you’ll remember for years to come.
When Does It Become Too Much?
Ideally, your family will understand. They’ll encourage you to elope because they love you and see that this is what will make you happiest. They’ll fly across the country and venture outdoors to be there for you, while you can positively collaborate on adding just a few special activities. But there is, unfortunately, a tipping point where you add so much to your wedding day to make family happy that you will lose out on hikes, on experiences, and other things that made you decide to elope in a beautiful landscape in the first place.
If you have catering or a dinner reservation at a nearby lodge–and the weather report changes and suddenly your hike with us will be during a downpour and your dinner with family will have a beautiful sunset–you’ll be less likely to change your whole day to get the best outdoor experience. You lose that flexibility that you otherwise might have just the two of you or with a very small group of people.
It also depends on the time of year. If you elope in the summer with ample daylight, we can probably fit in a lot of activities at a lodge to include your family. If you elope in a season with less daylight, you’re going to have less daylight to accomplish everything.
Ways to Help You Get Both:
- Plan your family-related/traditional activities during the worst lighting (noon, after sunset).
- Have as many traditional activities not take place on your actual wedding day. Give up the toast, but make a big ceremonial event out of finding your dress or something you can do back home.
- Plan a more formal reception the next day in a nearby town to do the more traditional activities. You can still get ceremony photos and family formals without having your elopement photographer(s) document the traditional events.
- Be direct with family when you need to leave for hikes and your alone time. People will talk to you for 20 minutes, ask you questions, surprise you with gifts–we’ve seen it all. If you’re shy, let us know, and we can help pull you away from family at the right times.
Ask Your Photographer(s) for Help
Elopement photographers, like us, are always here to help plan out wedding days to be inclusive. We’re your cheerleaders and want to ensure you get everything you want for your dreamy elopement /wedding day. Use your elopement photographer as a resource! They might have ideas for your specific location to ensure everyone is comfortable. We have questionnaires in place that help us provide a great experience for everyone coming along.
I’m Worried About What My Parent(s) Might Think
Preface for this section: The majority of families we have worked with (who attended or supported from afar) have been super supportive, even if they slightly struggled at the start. We have had a few couples who have had family not support the decision—and ultimately not attend their wedding day. This section is aimed at the worst-case scenario that only applies to a small number of couples. However, it is such a struggle for those few couples, that we wanted to discuss it at length.
We’ve heard this before, too. And it usually boils down to two concerns:
- I have no idea how they’ll handle it.
- I know they won’t like my decision.
And this is really, really tough.
If you don’t know—you need to speak your truth and give them the opportunity to support you. That sounds fair, right? It isn’t fair for you to hold back on eloping or doing something alternative—but it’s also not fair if, out of worry, you don’t give them the chance to support you. Whether you elope or not—you and your family need open communication.
This is ultimately a celebration of two people—which can include the various amounts of people who helped build and support that relationship. But what if those two people, in their independent and intelligent opinions, thought that eloping was the best and truest celebration of that relationship? Wouldn’t those same people go on to encourage that relationship they’ve supported from the start?
A lot of the hurt and disagreement stems from expectations held for years. Your parents have always thought it would be a certain way—and now you’re changing it. It’s hard for anyone to emotionally adapt to that.
How You Tell Them
How you tell your parent(s) has a huge impact. Are you an eloquent speaker who can just whip up your feelings in an eloquent way on the spot? Do you need a bullet point list? Do you need to write out a letter? We all differ in how we communicate effectively.
Beyond just the mode of communication—consider the context. Is everyone most comfortable if it’s all of you together? Is it just you and one parent figure? Are you all most comfortable at home? In a mutual space like a coffee shop? Having a comfortable environment with a deliberate and effective message is SUPER helpful.
Sitting alone with your Aunt (mom figure) at a local coffee shop: “(Significant Other’s Name) and I have decided to elope. I love you so much—and I really want to include you in this process. I wrote this letter to best explain what I’m feeling. And we came up with a list of things we need to make this celebration everything we want it to be—and I thought after you read my letter we could look at our list. That way we can see how we can include you on our special day.”
If they’re upset—let them cool off
It can be tempting to over-explain or to start an argument if they immediately disagree. But if they’re upset, you’re usually not fighting against logic—but rather personal expectations. The best thing you can do is empathize with them, and give them time to digest the information. Anything else is probably more harmful than good.
If they can’t support your decision
If after a long while of processing the news, they cannot find a positive way to handle the decision, we recommend:
- Empathize always but stay strong with the plans that speak to your heart.
- Provide them an opportunity to rejoin the conversation, be a part of the day, or celebrate afterward whenever they feel ready.
If you do these two things? Let go of any guilt or worry you’re holding onto. It isn’t yours to carry at this point in the conversation.
Eloping is Worth It
If we can write an entire guide on eloping with family and all the things to consider, you might be asking: is it all worth it? By writing this, we aimed at providing an article that had some helpful sections for everyone. Not all of it is meant to apply for every elopement or intimate wedding. So hopefully not every section applies to you.
However, elopements are still alternative (more accepted and normalized with every passing year, though). So whenever you go against cultural expectations—there will be more questions, more discussions, and more friction (which can be positive).
We come from the Midwest and we were supposed to do a lot of things a certain way. Yet we lived in a van, moved out West, don’t want kids, don’t work 9-5, travel nomadically—and all of that? It gets a lot of questions, discussions, and friction. Sometimes it can be a lot to handle. We almost have to teach people how we live, why we live this way and justify how we’re still hardworking people who have legitimate careers and ambitions (tough stuff).
But at the end of the day—we run this business and travel the world because it speaks to our hearts. And though we’ve lost some people in our lives, we now have a supportive community that we know will always be there for us. And through that courage and deliberate support—we’re able to speak our truth in a world that speaks a very different truth. It’s an opportunity we all deserve: to do what speaks to us, to be who we truly are, to experience the things that bring us joy—and most importantly, to love those who we want to love.
Most of the struggles that you might face in your elopement, we also face for our business and for our lifestyle. We can compromise on a lot of things in life, but we should never compromise on who we are. Time and time again, elopement after elopement—with a perpetual, resounding confidence: we say yes; it is all 100% worth it. We hope this guide helps you feel more confident in eloping with family. And we hope to see you and your loved ones on the trail!