What Does “Elope” Mean?

Intimate winter elopement ceremony in Drumheller, Alberta with no guest. Couple is reading their vows in private.

When you think of an elopement – what comes to mind? Is it a couple running off into the sunset without telling anyone? A quick ceremony in a rhinestone-studded Vegas chapel? A scandalous, secret affair?

If that’s the case, you aren’t the only one! The definition of eloping has changed a lot over the past few years, but it seems like not everyone has quite caught up. If you Google “elope definition,” you’ll find dictionary entries that describe secrecy, running away, rushed ceremonies, and quickie marriages. That may be what eloping used to be about, but not anymore! So, what does “elope” mean today? What actually is an elopement?

What is an Elopement?

Eloping is all about being intentional and making sure that your wedding day is about you. While a lot of weddings turn into a big production and a “performance” for everyone else, eloping just means that you’ve decided to focus on what matters to you, and what reflects you two as a couple. It can be anything from a simple backyard ceremony with your closest friends, to an epic adventure across the globe with just the two of you. There’s no one way to elope, and there are no rules when it comes to eloping! 

So often, couples who plan a traditional wedding realize that they don’t really care about centerpieces and monogrammed napkins, and that they don’t want to be agonizing over the guest list and who gets a plus one. Unfortunately, couples often feel pressured, by the wedding industry or by their families, to carry on with the stress of wedding planning, and they end up throwing a party that they don’t even get to enjoy.

Couple relaxing on their elopement day because they chose not to go with all the stress that comes with a big traditional wedding day.

Is Eloping Right for You?

Eloping is a relatively new trend, but as more and more couples are realizing that they don’t have to get caught up in the traditions and expectations, more couples ask the question, “should we elope?” If you’re thinking about it, here are some signs that an elopement might be the right decision.

You Prefer Nature to a Wedding Venue

What does elope mean? It's what this couple chose to do, elope in the mountains with nature as their backdrop.

One of the biggest differences between an elopement and a traditional wedding is the venue. When you plan a big wedding, one of the first things you have to think about is the venue. Is it big enough for all your guests? Is the location accessible enough? Is it in your budget?

If you elope, you can have your ceremony anywhere (well, almost anywhere – some parks have restrictions), and you can get married with nature as your backdrop instead of the walls of a venue. While you will usually need to pay for a permit if you elope on public land, these are typically under $200 – much more affordable than the $20,000 average cost of a wedding venue in Canada!  

If you and your partner love nature and love to explore the great outdoors, an elopement outside might be perfect for you!

You Value Experiences Over Things

Bride and groom choose experiences over things on their wedding day by eloping instead. What is the difference between a wedding and elopement, what does elope really mean?

Traditional weddings seem to be all about who can throw the best party. From flashy decorations to party favors, a lot of the wedding budget goes to things that you’ll never use again. Couples who elope typically value experiences over things. While eloping does tend to be less expensive than a traditional wedding, that is usually a side effect and not the driving factor for couples who choose to elope. When you elope, you get to decide what’s most important to you. Whether that’s travel, photography, or an epic adventure, your money goes to experiences that you’ll never forget.

You Don’t Like to be the Center of Attention

For a lot of couples, the thought of standing at the altar in front of 200 people and professing their love for each other sounds stressful, and downright scary. Whether you’re an introvert or you just have a bit of stage fright, it’s totally fair to want to keep such an intimate moment to yourselves.

Many couples who elope do so because they feel that their wedding day is personal, and that they would prefer to say their vows to each other without the pressure of everyone they know watching.

You Want to Start Your Marriage With an Adventure

What is eloping? It's starting your marriage with an adventure just like this wild couple in the beautiful British Columbia.

If you’re a couple who loves to be outside, to explore, and to adventure, it may not seem natural for your wedding to take place in a stuffy venue. Your wedding day should be a reflection of who you are as a couple – so if saying your vows in a beautiful place and spending the day rock climbing, kayaking, taking a helicopter tour, or hiking sounds more like your style, eloping may make more sense for you.

You Don’t Want to Invite a Ton of Guests

Elopements have no rules. This couple chose to read their vows in private with no one around and use the beautiful desert of Alberta as their backdrop.

Eloping definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t have any guests at all – if you have friends or family who you can’t imagine your big day without, and they’re on board with your plan, inviting them can make the day even more meaningful! However, elopement guest lists are much shorter than wedding guest lists. There is a lot of pressure when it comes to wedding invitations – suddenly it seems like everyone you’ve ever met wants to be included, and the politics of who gets a plus one and who doesn’t can turn ugly. With an elopement, you get to decide who is invited, and if you want to include guests at all.

There’s Some Family Drama

Some people don’t have the best relationships with their families – and if the idea of throwing a wedding and having your family there just stresses you out, there’s no shame in eloping to avoid it. A lot of the wedding day focuses on family – like dad walking the bride down the aisle and parent/child dances, and it’s totally okay if that doesn’t sound like something that would be comfortable, or possible, for you. Eloping is often a great choice for couples who worry that a wedding where the entire family will be together is too much stress.

Wedding Planning Sounds Stressful to You

Weddings are a lot of work – and that’s an understatement! There is so much to worry about, so many logistics to consider, and so many decisions to be made. If thinking about color schemes and china patterns isn’t something you want to spend your time doing, an elopement might be the right choice!

While eloping isn’t totally plan-free, it is significantly less stressful and requires a much less rigid plan. A lot of wedding days are spent running from one place to the other, stressing about having enough time for photos, and worrying about saying hello to every guest. An elopement gives you much more flexibility, so even when things don’t go to plan, you can still have an amazing day!

You Want the Day to be About You Two

What does elope mean? It means making your wedding day about you and focused on what you want. This couple hiked a mountain and took in all the scenery on their elopement day.

When did weddings become about everyone but the couple? It seems like planning a wedding means thinking about what everyone else wants, rather than the two of you. With everything from family pressure, expectations from the big wedding industry, and worrying about keeping your guests fed and entertained, there’s hardly any time for the two of you.

With an elopement, the day is truly about you, and what you want. Because isn’t that what your wedding day should be about?

Ready to Elope?

Liv Hettinga is your elopement photographer based in Alberta ready to guide couples to creating the perfect wedding day and teach you what elope really means.

So, are you sold on eloping? If saying your vows in an epic location, with nature as your witness and a day full of adventures ahead of you sounds like your idea of a great wedding day, reach out! As an adventure elopement photographer, part of my job is guiding couples like you to the perfect wedding day – because elopement planning should be fun, not stressful. If you want to start planning your incredible day, I’m ready when you are!

Elopement Tips





I’m your elopement hype girl and a photographer for the goofball lovers + those who want to make their wedding day an adventure. I’m also the owner of a converted camper van and love exploring the outdoors. You’ll find my heart on this blog. Whether it’s documenting my real life couples or giving my brides + grooms the tips + tricks they need to plan their best elopement, I’ve poured my heart out for you here. 

I'm Liv Hettinga


What Does “Elope” Mean?

  1. I love your definition of eloping! I also that you talk about why someone would want to elope. So many people feel pressure from others around them to have a big wedding when they don’t really want to. So they need to see something like this to help them realize they need to do what they want to do!

  2. Kalie says:

    Gorgeous photos and great information! Really great to see more people eloping in stunning locations like these. Great work!

  3. Will Khoury says:

    Such good info and beautiful photos!!! I love that more people are thinking about how they want their day and not feel pressured to follow what the wedding industry tells them to do.

  4. This is such wonderful information to have available for couples, especially the bit about family stress…I think it can be a difficult thing to admit for some couples that they’d prefer to elope to avoid complicated family stuff. Having that out in the open is so good to see! That banner photo is also stunning and it really should be submitted to wedding magazines! Really great work.

  5. Brogan Resch says:

    Wow! This information was perfect and well said. Your photos are beautiful & I love your tones and attention to details!

  6. Dionne Kraus says:

    Great information! So many people don’t understand the current definition of elopement and you explained it perfectly. Fantastic info and gorgeous photos.

  7. Havilah Heger says:

    Liv! This is SO GOOD. Such a good resource and it shows how much heart & time you’ve put into writing out all of these tips! Also… Stunning images!!

  8. Allison Slater says:

    These are all SUCH amazing explanations of what it means to elope (and beautiful photos). Such a killer blog post, without a doubt.

  9. […] you still have questions about what eloping actually means, check out this post. But, to learn about what goes into an elopement timeline and how to create one that’s perfect […]

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"Liv is extremely talented and great to work with! She gave us enough direction in our shoots to know what to do but still left tons of room for candid, genuine moments. Nothing beats seeing real smiles and laughter in your photos! She was more than willing to collaborate and go for some sillier ideas, and was always super encouraging. She's an incredibly sweet person and we felt very comfortable to be ourselves around her. Liv's talent is beyond just the technical knowledge, she really has an artist eye for beautiful photos. Her editing style is perfect, not too dark or light but still brings personality with the warm tones she adds. I HIGHLY recommend working with Liv!!"

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