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Difference Between a Wedding and Eloping: Which is Right for You?

Lately, the word “elopement” has been thrown around a lot as an alternative to having a wedding. And you may find yourself wondering: What exactly is the difference between a wedding and an elopement?

A wedding is typically more of a production than an elopement, with more guests, a higher cost, and a longer planning time. An elopement is a private affair with only the couple, officiant, and 1-2 witnesses. Although historically performed in secret, the modern couple generally shares their elopement plans.

You may be wondering which one is right for you. For many introverts and for and people who like to avoid being in the spotlight, the idea of having an elopement is extremely refreshing. An elopement is also an excellent choice for couples looking to save money, reduce stress, and get married on a faster timeline.

Scroll down below and you’ll find an easy-to-follow chart of the biggest differences between a wedding, an elopement, and a microwedding (the three most common types of weddings) and some help for how to choose which one is best for you and your partner!

Something In-Between: What about a microwedding? Is it the same as an elopement?

An elopement and a microwedding are both small in terms of guest count, but they are not the same. You can think of a microwedding as something in between a typical wedding and an elopement. Guest counts for these three types of weddings look something like this:

  • SMALLEST: Elopement (only a handful of people present – generally just the couple, the officiant, a witness or two, and perhaps a few vendors)
  • IN-BETWEEN: Microwedding (between 30-50 guests)
  • BIGGEST: Wedding (a typical wedding has between 50-200 guests or more)

Both elopements and microweddings became extremely popular starting in 2020 when most larger weddings got postponed or cancelled. And the trend doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon as more couples look for ways to get married while keeping costs (and stress) to a minimum.

I’m personally planning something between an elopement and a microwedding for my own wedding with about 25 guests — My partner and I wanted to keep our costs as low as possible and that meant a lower guest count (and some other cuts too!) but it’s perfect for us. I hope my research in this article can help you make the right decision too 🙂

Differences between a Wedding, an Elopement (and a Microwedding)

Let’s break down the differences in the table below, so you can easily see which might be more appealing for you and your partner. As you read through the chart, think about what stands out to you — Is cost most important? Location? Is it important to you to have everyone you know and love present? In the next section, we’ll look at how to choose which type of wedding is right for you.

GUESTSTypically between 50-200 (sometimes more) guestsJust the couple, 1-2 witnesses, and an officiantTypically between 20-50 guests
TOTAL COST$20,000 – $30,000 on averageFrom $50 (the price of a marriage license in some states) to $15,000 (the upper limit of high-end elopements)May cost anywhere from $3,000 – $20,000 (with the guest count being one of the biggest variables)
VENUE/LOCATIONUsually take place in hotels, museums, historical sites, and event hallsTend to take place outside in a scenic location, in a small chapel in Las Vegas, or simply at the town hallOften take place outdoors, such as in a park, on a beach, or in a backyard.
PLANNING TIMEOften take 1-2 years to plan, in order to reserve the desired venue and vendors Often planned in a few hours, days, or at most 3-6 monthsOften planned in about 6 months to 1 year
ATTIREThe average amount of money spent on a wedding dress for a typical wedding is about $1,600. Often couples also have well-planned out wedding party attire for their bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girl, etc.For many couples who are heading to quickly get married at the courthouse, a simple suit and short white dress will suffice. But more and more, couples are having elaborate elopements with more money spent on attire. With usually no wedding party to plan for, the couple needs only to focus on their own attire, which may be similar to a typical larger wedding or something a bit more casual if the venue/location is a beach or backyard.
PHOTOGRAPHY$2,600 on averageMay cost just as much or more for “elopement photography” if you want the adventure-style elopement aesthetic that has become popular $2,600 on average (not much is different in terms of photography for capturing a microwedding)
FOOD AND DRINKS$70/per guest for food; and $2,300 for an open bar on averageMay not need to pay for food and alcohol — Elopements don’t have a reception afterward per se. Some couples go to dinner afterward and just pay the cost of a meal for two at a nice restaurant.If you’re having a backyard wedding, you have a higher likelihood of saving money on food and alcohol because of a smaller guest count, and because of the flexibility to choose your own vendors
RECEPTION$10,500 for the venue; $3,700 for a band or $1,200 for a DJ on average

(plus food, alcohol, wedding favors, and other miscellaneous items)
$0 (elopement ceremonies generally don’t have a reception)The venue could be free if you’re holding it in a backyard; and with a smaller guest count, you may choose to “DJ” your own wedding with pre-made playlists which would also be almost $0
CEREMONY Huge range of possibilities but often a larger crowd expects a bit of a “show” meaning a full processional and recessional with a wedding party and a ceremony that may include a welcome, readings, a unity ceremony, an exchange of rings, and vows.

A larger crowd also means that microphone and speaker equipment is likely necessary.
Often either very intimate and romantic because of the low guest count, or quick and easy peasy at the courthouseOften very personal and intimate affairs with the couple getting married in front of just their very nearest and dearest
HONEYMOON$5,000 on average, usually takes place after the wedding Sometimes an elopement is also the honeymoon, all rolled into one! Many couples choose a vacation-like location where everything takes place together — the wedding and the honeymoon.Couples may choose to have a honeymoon just like they would for a more typical wedding, but they may have MORE money in their budget to put toward a nice honeymoon since the cost of the wedding will be lower
Source for some figures

Takeaways: The 3 Biggest Differences Between a Wedding and an Elopement

So how do you choose? When looking at the table above and trying to make a decision about which type of wedding to have, your decision will likely hinge on these 3 major differences between a wedding and eloping:


A wedding is generally going to cost a lot more than eloping, because a wedding is usually followed by a reception with guests that need to be fed, watered, and entertained! In almost all cases, unless you happen to have the fanciest elopement ever (maybe with a very good photographer and videographer in a remote tropical location), having an elopement will save you a LOT of money.

Elopements don’t require most of the big-budget expenses of a wedding: the venue, food and drinks, DJ/band… not to mention the many little details that add up in cost (invitations, centerpieces, wedding favors, etc.).

There are all kinds of calculators out there to help you determine how much you should spend on your wedding based on your income. Take that into consideration — paying for a wedding outside of your means is only going to cause you unnecessary stress. Speaking of…


It’s generally accepted that planning a wedding is sometimes stressful (for some people, it’s very stressful) and that it requires a lot of time to plan (for many couples, it takes 2 years or more). Planning all of those details for the ceremony and reception can take up hours of your time after work and on the weekend. Some people say that planning their wedding actually does feel like a part-time job for a while!

In comparison, an elopement is usually quite simple to plan. The elements are stripped down to the basics and so the whole thing generally doesn’t take that much time to put together. Because there are fewer details to plan and people to entertain, they tend to be less stressful as well.


And finally, one of the most important differences to consider is the guest count, with an elopement of course having far fewer guests than a typical wedding. If you’re more of an introvert or just a private person, an elopement may feel more comfortable to you and authentic to who you are.

Weddings are more of a “show” with the guests as your audience. You are doing something as a couple, but you simultaneously have a crowd of people to think about and care for. At an elopement, you need only consider the desires of you and your fiancé on your wedding day. Of course, if you cannot imagine celebrating your marriage without your loved ones present, then a more typical wedding might be preferable!


You might have noticed looking at the chart above that similarities between a wedding and an elopement are most likely to be attire and photography.

Many couples having an elopement still want to look beautiful, and so still opt for the clothes, hair, and make-up that we might see at a typical bigger wedding.

Many couples also still want photography, and there is in fact an entire industry of more “adventurous” photographers that will go with couples to a mountaintop destination or something similar to capture really gorgeous, unusual shots that wouldn’t really be possible at a more typical wedding.

QUIZ: How to Choose Between Having a Wedding or an Elopement

To choose whether or not to elope, get together with your fiancé and ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Are you enthusiastic about having a wedding?
  2. How much money are you comfortable paying for a wedding?
  3. Is having this event in front of your friends and family important to you?
  4. Who are the people that you would need to have at your wedding for you to be happy?
  5. If you were to elope tomorrow, how do you imagine it playing out? What do you envision?
  6. If you were to get married tomorrow in front of 100 people, how do you envision it? How do you feel when you think about it?
  7. Do you imagine a dance floor and music at your wedding?
  8. Have you always imagined having some of the “typical” reception elements of a wedding, such as a first dance, dad-daughter dance, cake cutting, etc.?
  9. Is it important to you to have a wedding party (bridesmaids and groomsmen)?
  10. How would your family members react to your decision to elope? How do you feel about that?
  11. If you were to elope, would you like to have a virtual element to your ceremony (such as a Zoom or live) so that people could attend from afar?
  12. How do you imagine your wedding photography to look like?
  13. Do you imagine your ceremony quiet and private or do you picture many people watching you?
  14. What appeals to you about a large wedding?
  15. What appeals to you about eloping?
  16. Do you feel anxious about planning a wedding? If so, why?
  17. Do you feel like you just want to be married and “get it over with” already?
  18. Do you feel exhausted or excited about discussing wedding planning?
  19. Imagine you eloped last year and you’re married right now. How do you feel? Do you have regrets?
  20. Imagine you got married last year and you’re married now. How do you feel? Do you have regrets?

These questions are designed to spark conversation between you and your partner before you spend the time, money, and energy on any big decision. There may be plenty of wedding-related thoughts that either of you hasn’t voiced out loud, even though you think you’ve made it clear! Our partners sometimes need to hear things more clearly (or more than once) and in a respectful way.

Don’t hold back. Be kind but be honest about what you want in a wedding day. In the best case scenario, the two of you will have the same vision, or close to it. Of course, that’s not usually how things work out. Oftentimes, one partner wants something smaller and cheaper and one partner wants to spend more on a more grand, typical kind of wedding.

To avoid getting into arguments (especially over money — not a great way to start your marriage), consider making a compromise — in the form of a microwedding!


Historically, eloping used to be a way for couples to get married in secret without the approval of their families. They would sneak away to be married quickly before their families could object or stop them. There may still be an element of this to modern elopements in that eloping couples are escaping some of the more stifling expectations of cost and tradition.

For couples who want to bypass all of the unwanted comments and unavoidable stressors of some of their family members, eloping is often the answer.

Eloping also speaks to introverted couples who get to avoid the social pressures of a typical wedding — both the planning of it and the talking about it (not to mention dress try-ons and all of that) AND the actual wedding itself which puts the couple front and center all day long.


If you’re really stuck on whether to have a wedding or an elopement, a good compromise might be to go with a microwedding (bigger than an elopement but smaller than a typical wedding). You can cut down on the costs of having a larger wedding, but still have more guests than you would at a simple elopement. This is actually the route that my partner and I chose, and I feel great about it!


Brittany is a writer and teacher in Vancouver, Canada. She started the website Wayfaring Weddings as a way to share her research on affordable, eco-friendly, and less stressful approaches to wedding planning.