The stress and chaos of planning a huge wedding isn’t for everyone. There’s no doubt that large weddings put brides and grooms under enormous pressure – emotionally, financially and socially. That’s why many couples opt to elope in private, rather than having a wedding.
Eloping is a way of tying the knot without a hundred eyes staring you down. It avoids many of the main costs associated with getting married, such as feeding many guests and hiring a party venue. And best of all, elopements are simple and easy to organise.
If you’re on the fence as to whether or not you should elope, this guide will help. We’ll explain what eloping actually means, and discuss the various pros and cons of getting married this way. By the end, you’ll know whether eloping is right for you.
What Does It Mean to Elope?
The word elope literally means to run away, and not come back. But in the context of marriage, eloping means something slightly different.
Historically, eloping meant running away to get married in secret, often without the blessing (or knowledge) of the couple’s parents. Elopements were hastily organised, and often conducted on a whim. But that’s not really what’s meant in the modern sense of the word.
Nowadays, an elopement merely refers to a small, private wedding, without many (or any) guests. Many elopements happen in a registry office, or else on a beach or somewhere remote. There’s no venue hire, wedding breakfast, toasts, or reception – just a short and sweet ceremony.
Does Eloping Have to Be a Secret?
Most people who elope choose to go away, either to a different part of the U.K. or to a different country. Many couples treat themselves to a tropical holiday, get married while abroad, and then have their honeymoon straight away.
However, that doesn’t mean that the elopement has to be kept secret. It’s completely up to you how many people you tell, and when.
Many couples choose to tell their friends and family that they’ll be eloping in advance. This way, they can gauge people’s reactions, and prepare their loved ones emotionally for the fact that they won’t be a part of the day. But if you’d prefer, you can reveal it as a surprise afterwards.
How Many Guests Can You Have at an Elopement?
Traditionally, you don’t have any guests at all when you elope. It’s just the bride and groom, the officiant or celebrant (the person actually marrying you), and two witnesses. In the U.K., having two witnesses to the marriage is a legal requirement.
These witnesses don’t have to be people you know – any two people will do, even strangers passing by the registry office (as long as they’re willing to sign the marriage certificate).
However, you are free to have guests at your elopement if you wish. Some couples bring their immediate families and best friends along with them, for example. But if you choose to have more than 15-20 guests, it sort of defeats the point of eloping – at that point, it’s just a small wedding.
Why Should You Elope?
So, why do people elope, and why should you consider it? There are five main benefits to eloping rather than having a traditional wedding.
Avoid Wedding Planning Stress
If you elope, you don’t have to worry about organising a guest list, sending out wedding invitations, sorting and chasing up RSVPs, or making a seating plan. There are no bridesmaid’s dresses or groomsmen’s suits to shop for. You don’t have to worry about finding a caterer, DJ, or band, hiring tablecloths or centrepieces, keeping kids entertained, or dealing with drunken family members.
Almost all of the stress of wedding planning is completely erased. It’s just you, your other half, and a quiet but beautiful wedding ceremony. Bliss!
The two biggest expenses of a traditional wedding are the venue hire fee, and the catering budget. Wedding venue hire is often thousands of pounds, and 3-course wedding breakfasts can cost up to £100 per head.
If you elope, you don’t need to feed anyone. You don’t need to hire a venue - you can get married on a beach, in a registry office, a chapel, or a park. Though there may be a small fee, it’s nothing like hiring a traditional venue. You don’t even need decorations or flowers, if you don’t want them!
The money you save can be used for other things, such your honeymoon, the wedding dress of your dreams, or a professional photographer.
Get Married Anywhere You Like
Speaking of wedding venues, when you elope, you can get married anywhere you’d like. There’s no need to worry about venue capacity restrictions, or whether your guests will be able to get there – as there aren’t any guests at all!
You can get married anywhere that has a marriage license. The sky is your limit. Disneyland? The Eiffel tower? Under a waterfall? A glacier in Norway? The choice is yours.
Spend Quality Time with Your Partner
Speak to anyone who’s had a ‘traditional’ wedding, and they’ll tell you: for a day that’s supposed to be all about you and your partner, you really don’t get to spend much time with one another.
From rushing around getting ready in the morning, to socialising with all of your guests, listening to speeches and dancing with all of your loved ones, there’s not much quality time to be had. But if you elope, you have the entire day to spend with each other, one-on-one. Nothing could be more romantic!
Have a Drama-Free Wedding Day
The beauty of not having any guests to please, food to serve, or vendors to organise is that there’s far less chance of anything going wrong when you elope.
There are no narcissistic family members that cause drama, or want to make the day about them. There are no work colleagues to get drunk and start fights. Nobody can run late and disrupt the day’s schedule, and no kids are there to start screaming while you’re saying your vows. If you’re looking for a stress- and drama-free wedding, an elopement is up your street.
And what’s more, you can still have a party with your friends and family when you get back, if you wish to!
Disadvantages of Eloping
Unfortunately, there are downsides to everything, including eloping. Before you make your decision, take some time to consider the disadvantages of having a ‘proper’ wedding. Then, you can decide whether the pros outweigh the cons for you – after all, it’s a personal choice.
You May Cause Upset or Offence
How important would attending your wedding be to your loved ones? You might find that if you elope, and essentially deny your family and friends from sharing in your celebration, you’ll break some hearts. Some fathers, for example, dream of walking their little girl down the aisle – and they may be distraught if denied that opportunity.
Of course, you can have guests at an elopement – but you can’t have many. If you invite some family members but not others, you may cause offence or hurt feelings. You do not ‘owe’ anyone a wedding, but that won’t stop people from getting upset or annoyed.
You Will Face Judgement
Being judged by others is, sadly, a part of life. Whether this is (or isn’t) a big deal for you will depend on how sensitive you are, and how much you care about others’ opinions. But one thing’s for sure: when you tell people you’ve eloped (or are planning to elope), you will get some funny looks, criticism, and unsolicited opinions. For no reason, really, other than the fact that it’s unusual.
Of course, if eloping is something that you really want to do, you shouldn’t deny yourself the opportunity purely based on what others will think. But you should brace yourself for the comments!
Less Opportunity for Extravagance
If you’ve always dreamed of a big, fairy-tale wedding, it’s not really possible when eloping. Though you can have the poufy ball gown and the romantic photographs, there is so much extravagance that you will miss out on if you don’t have lots of guests. The toasts and speeches, the wedding party, dancing the night away with your friends and family – none of that really happens if you elope.
Of course, you may not care about any of that. But if you do, carefully consider whether eloping is what you truly want. Otherwise, you may regret it.
Missing Friends and Family
You only get married once (or at least, that’s what most people hope for). Your wedding will, therefore, be one of the most important days of your entire life. Do you really want to celebrate it without your friends and family beside you?
Weddings are a great opportunity to have a family reunion, connect with old friends that you haven’t seen in a while, and create lifelong memories with all of your most important people. This is something you’ll miss out on if you elope.
No Wedding Gifts
Finally – and this is quite a materialistic downside, but worth mentioning all the same – there are no wedding gifts when you elope. You don’t get to make a gift registry, and you miss out on all the excitement on opening your presents when you get home.
Of course, the upside is that you won’t be spending any money on feeding or hosting guests – so you can always just buy yourselves some gifts instead!