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 some people just won’t be invited because of your smaller guest list. Or some variation thereof.  Also, it’s tough to gauge what expectations family and friends have until you start the conversation. 

You don’t know what expectations people have until you talk to them about your wedding.

family crossing creek in forest on wedding day

Practical Advice on Eloping with Family

You’re already motivated to explore the outdoors and elope for your wedding day. That’s an easy decision, right? It’s such an amazing experience for our couples, and we’re excited both of you agree on a simpler wedding day exploring these stunning landscapes! The struggle for most couples is the practical steps it takes to plan an elopement with family. Who do you include? How do you include them? What does an adventurous day with family even look like?

bride and groom kissing near edge of canyon

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? Are you bringing your dogs as guests?
  • 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. 

Talk to Your Family About Eloping

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 or 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 for loved ones to understand when they can actually see it, whether that’s on Instagram or a blog post.

bride and groom eloping with ceremony in national park

How to Collaborate with Family

Your close family and friends want to be there and help you celebrate! And when you’re planning on hiking, having a non-traditional ceremony, and adding a lot of adventure–how do family members get involved?

Whether it’s a grandmother who can’t travel or a brother who just had a baby with his partner–sometimes there are people who you want to include but simply can’t.

Incorporate people back home who can’t attend

The easiest thing to do is to debut your elopement short-film with loved ones after your elopement! Of course, you can do it virtually or in-person. But your family will feel involved if they can actually see parts of your ceremony, your vows, and the experiences you had throughout the day. Your elopement film is the gift of a lifetime for you personally to remember your wedding day. However, it also might be the most meaningful way to include family who can’t attend. We’ve also seen people do this with their photo galleries.

A casual reception back home is another way to bridge the gap between a wedding and an elopement. This lets you do something traditional and still involve all of your special people in a local setting. It takes the stress away from planning more into your elopement day, and lets you more easily separate family events from exploring the outdoors.

And lastly, include your closest loved ones in the planning process. Even if your parents are not attending, they can still help you find the perfect Airbnb, look at different hikes, pick a dress or suit, and so much more. Involving them in this part of the process can be incredibly meaningful. Even if they are attending. Maybe your sister or best friend is dying to be more involved–this is a great way to do it!

Ways to Include Family: 

  • Host a reception back in your hometown before or after the event. 
  • Share and debut your elopement short-film and photos after you elope.
  • 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. 
bride and groom hiking along trail

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?
friends hiking together near waterfall for elopement

How Family & Friends Affect Your Day

Your loved ones 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. 

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. 

family on beach during elopement ceremony

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. 

toasting champagne with family in forest

Where to Host Your Ceremony

There are plenty of options for where you can host your elopement ceremony. What works best really depends on your family and how you decide to plan your day.

Host Your Ceremony at an Airbnb

This is the easiest option for most couples. This means having a private space that’s actually designated for your ceremony. While you can host a ceremony out on the trail, it’s a public space and everyone is welcome to explore. So an Airbnb keeps things more intimate. Also, it allows you to have more decor options, run back inside if you forget something, and keeps your family comfortable. We’ve seen Airbnbs with private beaches, cabins surrounded by lush rainforest, and many other locations that are incredibly beautiful for a ceremony.

Tips on Hosting An Airbnb Ceremony:
  • Be upfront with the Airbnb host with your plans. Some Airbnbs or Vrbos don’t allow any kind of wedding events.
  • Pay attention to the number of bathrooms! Some cabins in remote places might only have one bathroom for everyone to share.
  • Look at the parking situation. Does it have a huge driveway with lots of room for cars? Does the host say you can only have 4 cars at most?
  • Does the property have an open space for a ceremony? Some properties have tons of beautiful space to work with while others don’t.
  • If you’re a local, you could potentially ask to go out and see the property before booking to make sure it’s a good fit.

Host Your Ceremony on a Short Hike

If your family is comfortable with some hiking, you can definitely look to find a suitable ceremony location on the trail. We have an email we send out to our couples to help their families be prepared for hitting the trail. So if your family is ready to hike, we can help you find a suitable location. To keep things more intimate, you’ll want to avoid weekends and to try and host your ceremony in the early morning hours before most hikers are on the trail.

ceremony with couple eloping with family

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. 

signing marriage certificate in forest