I’ve had a handful of clients who choose something that that isn’t typical — not yet, at least — but it does make sense to me. These couples either elope or have a very intimate wedding, and then a week or a couple months or even a year later, they hold a larger reception.
But WHY would you want to do that?
Consider this: the average wedding in the United States costs about $34,000, according to a survey from The Knot. That’s a lot of money to be shelling out for food, flowers and entertainment for people you may not even know that well!
Instead, what if you used that money, even HALF or a quarter of that sum, to plan an epic elopement and honeymoon in which you experience things you will remember for a lifetime? Then, later, if you want, you can do something like a backyard BBQ to which you invite all your friends and family. At that celebration you can display photos of your adventure in an album or wall art. Or you can just send everyone cards — “we eloped!” And call it a day.
Let me give you some ideas.
Imagine this. You decide to plan an epic adventure for you and your partner during which time you have an intimate ceremony but mostly it’s just goofing off and having fun. I come along as your professional third wheel to capture the entire thing — from start to finish.
The day might look something like this:
You rent a cute airbnb in the mountains. I meet you there and capture you guys making pancakes and goofing off — like a fun in-home session. After breakfast, y’all get dressed for outdoors, pack a picnic lunch and head off to a swimming hole at the base of a waterfall where you guys swim around and have a good time. After lunch we head back to the airbnb where hair and makeup artists meet you. You get fancy and dress up, and then we hike out to a beautiful overlook where you have an intimate ceremony, including some epic couples’ photos. After your ceremony, you crack champagne on top of the mountain and eat cupcakes. When you get back to your airbnb, a private chef has cooked up a delicious meal for two. You end the night laughing over wine and fancy food. Your first dance is around the campfire. And you have memories to last a lifetime.
The day after your wedding, you spend relaxing in your cabin. The next day you fly out for two weeks of crossing Europe, basking in Costa Rica, or exploring wherever you’d like to go.
Airbnb: $1000 (3 nights)
Hair and Makeup: $500
Fancy Champagne and cupcakes: $100
Two weeks of travel: $5000
Average wedding: $34,000
That $21,100 can be used to:
-Put on a beautiful reception at a later date
-Toward a down-payment on a house
-To travel for even longer
-WHATEVER YOU WANT
Or, here’s another idea for an adventurous day:
You rent a local cottage (most of my ideas start with a great place to stay). And get up super early to head out for a hot air balloon ride for two at sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After the ride, you stop by a local bakery and pick up some treats for breakfast on the way to the river.
You go on a two-hour tube ride down the James River and then head back to the cottage to relax, take a nap and get ready for your ceremony.
Early afternoon you get dressed together and we head up on Skyline Drive where we hop on and off at overlooks to look at the view and take some photos before getting to your ceremony spot where an officiant meets us. You say private vows with a view of the mountain behind you, then either head back to your cottage to eat a catered meal or end the night in a well-reviewed local restaurant.
Honestly, there are SO MANY ways to plan an amazing day for two, and I have lots of ideas. While most of the elopements I shoot are in Virginia, some couples choose to do a destination wedding or elopement somewhere like the Caribbean and bring me along and then have me shoot their local reception when they return home.
But what if the idea of an intimate adventure appeals to you but you can’t imagine celebrating your wedding day without your parents, siblings and best friends? Then bring them!
Here’s what that might look like:
Take the idea above, for example. You book a large vacation rental in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Everyone arrives on a Friday afternoon and you hit up some local breweries or vineyards and eat at a local restaurant for dinner.
The morning of your wedding, you get up and do a sunrise hot air balloon ride for the two of you.
While you are gone your friends and family whip up an awesome brunch or you have it catered and someone runs out to grab it.
After the hot air balloon ride, you come back to the house to eat breakfast and then you all head out to the river for a lazy tube ride down the river.
After tubing you go back to the rental to eat a late lunch, rest and get dressed. You have your ceremony on the property grounds and we take some family photos before heading up to a mountain overlook for some epic sunset photos of the two of you.
You meet back up with your family for a catered dinner at the rental or in town at a local restaurant. After dinner you sit around a fire with beer bought the day before, roasting smores, eating cake and watching the moon come up.
The next day you pack up and head out on a week-long honeymoon in Mexico or British Columbia.
So imagine you eloped and decided to use the money you saved by not doing a traditional wedding to put a down-payment on a house instead. Six months after you purchase your home, you throw a reception. You rent a tent, cater BBQ, buy locally brewed beer, and invite people over to see your new house and celebrate your marriage with you while ogling photos from your epic adventure.
Or the day after your elopement for two, you book a local restaurant and invite 30-40 friends and family members to enjoy top-notch food and a local band.
Or you have a more traditional reception the next year for your one-year anniversary and have a band, dance floor, taco bar, the whole shebang.
The big takeaway: there is no one way to get married. A wedding is a celebration of a marriage. That’s it. So what that celebration looks like is totally up to you. If what has become a “traditional” American wedding doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t do it!! It’s a massive investment and, man, what a shame if you shell out enough money to buy a decent car new off the lot and hate the experience! And that happens far more often than it should.
Whatever your budget is, sit down with one another and consider carefully — what’s important to us? How do we want to use this money? What do we want to remember? And then plan your wedding around that!
The Ultimate Small Wedding Planning Guide and Checklist