Elopement vs Intimate (or Micro) Wedding vs Traditional Wedding

When it comes to getting married, there are several options to choose from, ranging from elopement to micro weddings (aka small-intimate weddings) to traditional weddings. Each type of wedding has its own unique advantages, and choosing the right one depends on your personality, preferences, and budget. Here's a breakdown of the three types of weddings to help you decide which one is best for you.

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Updated March 14, 2024

An elopement used to be this thing where you run away with your lover and get married in secrecy. But things have changed! Now, it's a private and intimate ceremony between two people, usually held in a secluded location like a mountain, beach, or forest, and perhaps you've told all of your friends and family that you're going to do it. It's very possible to keep it's original meaning to heart and run away to Vegas and get married by Elvis, but these days, it pretty much just means "getting married without an audience". That might not sound as romantic of an answer as you were looking for...but keep reading! I promise not to disappoint.

Venice, Italy Elopement

What is an elopement?

Why would you elope?

I am very pro-elopement. To be fair, I'm pro-any type of getting married. But eloping in particular has a very different vibe to having a big wedding. You get to see so many more raw moments, so much more emotion, and people are truly just their authentic-selves. You are a slightly different person when you're surrounded by friends, and a different person around family, at work, on the street. But you get to be the "you" that you are when you're with your partner in private. That's the real "you", the "you" that feels like you don't have to wear a mask, or be brave, or act like you need to show off. That's why you're marrying each other, so you can both be "you's" together.

So, to answer the question of "why" you should elope; if you want to really be your most authentic "you", and marry your partner's most authentic "them", eloping is the way to go. There's nothing to hold back here, it's just the two of you constantly reminding each other of why you chose each other to spend the rest of your lives with.

Who is eloping for?

There is no one who shouldn't be able to get eloped, it's always a personal preference. I understand that there are certain parents or cultures that might be against it, but you have the power to push through these barriers. And if you find it particularly hard, I'm sending some elopement-vibes your way. Let's connect, so I can help you gain more confidence in your decisions!

Eloping is for those who want that super authentic ceremony, and also for introverts, people who don't like public speaking, people who don't like revealing emotions in public, or people who don't like being around crowds.

Where can you elope?

In a way, anywhere! It depends on how symbolic or official you want it. For it to be official, you still need to get those papers signed, of course. But you might choose to do that separately from the day, where you really celebrate each other. Let me give you two examples:

If you're eloping locally, you can choose to hire an officiant and take them to the location that you've chosen to say your vows. Then they can marry you on that spot. Or, you can do all the paperwork first, then go to the location of your choice to say your vows almost completely in privacy (assuming you hire a photographer).

If you're eloping abroad, I highly recommend doing the paperwork at home and, if you wish, having a celebrant there to symbolically marry you. Then you can, say, come to the Dolomites and elope with just the two of you. Check out this extensive resource on How to Elope in the Italian Dolomites.

People choose to elope in the mountains, on a tropical beach, in a bustling city, a pristine forest... it's really up to you. The top 10 elopement destinations in Europe are in Italy, Iceland, France, and some of the Greek Islands.

Can I have guests at my elopement?

You can, yes, but if you start inviting people then it starts becoming more of an "intimate" or "micro" wedding. The name doesn't matter, because you do whatever it is that you want to do! What's the threshold for elopement vs micro wedding? There's no official number, it's more a gut feeling. My gut feeling tells me that when you get to 10 people, you've got yourself a micro wedding.

What would I do for my elopement?

Anything you want, I have compiled a shortlist of activities for you to do during your elopement (or wedding). Since it's just the two of you, and maybe a few guests, you have so many options here. Contact me for an extensive guide on what to do for your day, and some example itineraries! I will give you some options here as well, though.

  • You can say your vows on a mountain top with a ride in a helicopter, then go rock climbing,
  • You can do a hut-to-hut hike in the mountains. Day 1 is focused on getting to the first hut and writing your vows, day 2 is your elopement during sunrise and a sunset photo session, day 3 is making your way back down
  • You can sip on [enter your favourite beach drink here] while basking in sunlight on a serene, tropical beach, then say your vows to the rhythm of the ocean, and go for a sunset "trash the dress" swim to beat the heat of the day
  • You can say your vows at the Eiffel Tower during sunrise, then just spend the day walking around Paris! Then do sunset photos at my favourite sunset spot, plus some blue-hour photos as the light begins to dim.

The options are endless! Just open your mind and imagine your BEST DAY EVER- and make it this. Do that thing.

But aren't elopements just for people on a budget?

No! They can be for anyone. They absolutely can be for those who are on a tight budget and want to get married in a way they can afford. But it's also for those who had a high budget, wanted all the luxury, but didn't want the stress that comes with it. Or, as mentioned above, they just don't want to celebrate with a huge group, or don't like speaking in public. 

But think about the possibilities... if you took that budget you had for your wedding, and put it all towards your elopement, there is so much more you could do. You could get that helicopter, hire a private chef, ski/snowboard in the Alps, stay in some luxury hotels, have that Michelin star meal. A wedding budget can get you really far! And why not take hold of this once in a lifetime opportunity? TREAT YO-SELF, because you deserve it.

How do I start planning my elopement?

There are a few ways to go about this. First step, is to figure out approximately where you want to elope. Then, you can either narrow it down, or if you hire the right photographer/planner, they can help you figure out a specific location. Hiring a professional can give you so much clarity and relieve so much stress, so I recommend at least chatting with a few photographers/planners if you're wondering where exactly to elope. If you're still unsure, you can learn more about which vendors to hire for your elopement here.

Milan, Italy elopement

Lago di Braies, Italy Elopement

What if I want to elope, but also want to celebrate with my friends and family?

You have two options here. You can have an intimate micro wedding (see below), or you can go elope with the two of you, then have a party/reception when you get back. Then, you have the benefit of not having to speak in front of everyone (aside from a brief thank you) but still celebrating with those closest to you,

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An intimate (aka micro) wedding is just a small version of a more traditional-sized wedding. For it to be considered intimate, the guest-list should be 30 people or less, though everyone's definition of "intimate" can be a bit different. With less people at your wedding, you've got the flexibility of an elopement and less social pressure over inviting people.

You can find an example of the picture perfect Intimate Micro Wedding along the Alafi coast in Positano, Italy.

Positano, Italy intimate wedding (find gallery and love story here)

What is an intimate or micro wedding?

Why would you have an intimate wedding?

If you truly wanted your closest friends and family to be present for what will be the most epic time of your life, but either don't want anyone else there or don't have the budget for it, then an intimate wedding is the solution. It can also be the "compromise" between a couple, when one wants to elope and the other wants a big party. 

Who is an intimate wedding for?

An intimate wedding is for anyone who simply does not want a big wedding. You might not want to spend the money on so many people you hardly talk to, you might feel more comfortable in smaller crowds, or you might see the value of the time you can spend with the ones you want to truly want to.

If you have a big wedding, you might end up spending the evening with someone you don't want to chat with. That one drunk uncle you have, for example. As hard as you try to escape, politeness perseveres, and instead of partying with your friends, you're stuck catching up with "uncle Bob". 

Solution: invite less people and make it an intimate event!

Where can you have an intimate wedding?

Most places in the world will have venues that accommodate intimate weddings. This can be especially interesting for those doing destination weddings, because you can often accommodate everyone in that venue for a couple nights. 

In Italy, you can rent out entire villas around Lake Como for instance to host your intimate ceremony. In France, you can have your micro wedding in a château around Paris. Everywhere has their own version, and often times you can find the on AirBnb.

Airbnb sometimes doesn't allow intimate weddings, due to guests partying too hard and leaving too much cleanup behind. So wherever you do have your wedding, just make sure you know the rules and what's expected of you upon departure.

What would I do for my intimate wedding?

Anything you want, just as with an elopement. You might feel slightly more restricted due to having some people to please, but for the most part, these people are ones who love you the most and will let you have your freedom. Plus, you've just given them an amazing excuse to go on vacation, so trust me when I say they will be fine. 

Again, I have a list of best examples on what to do for your intimate wedding, but here are some alterations of the above examples, so they fit for an intimate wedding:

  • You can say your vows on a mountain top with a ride in a helicopter, then go celebrate with your family and friends at the villa you rented in Alpe di Siusi
  • You can do a sunset hike to a beautiful location to say your vows, then the next day have another symbolic ceremony for your friends to attend. During the ceremony, you can choose to say your vows again or just keep them between the two of you.
  • You can sip on [enter your favourite beach drink here] while getting ready with your friends at your beachfront venue, then say your vows to the rhythm of the ocean surrounded by those you love, and go for a sunset "trash the dress" swim to beat the heat of the day
  • You can say your vows and have a "proper" ceremony and reception at a château close to Paris. Then do all your photos the next day, at the Eiffel Tower during sunrise, walking around Paris, and sunset photos at my favourite sunset spot.

The options are still endless! Just make sure your photographer (and videographer) are there to document your whole journey.

How do I start planning my intimate wedding?

Very similar to above, the first step is figuring out where you want to have your intimate wedding. Your photographer can still help you out a lot here, but a planner might be better for fine-tuning the details. They will hire all the vendors for you, make sure payments are made to the right people on time, and ensure a smooth day. Whether you need/want a planner depends on you as a person, and how many people you will be inviting. 

Once you've figured out where, then you need to figure out when and start sending out those "save the date" cards! Create a guest list based on how close to your heart these people are, and how often you try to see them. That can help lower the guests list. And don't be stuck on "I'll be in trouble if I don't invite so-and-so", because that's just not what it's about.

Paris, France intimate wedding

Tuscany, Italy intimate wedding

My guess is that a traditional wedding doesn't need much explaining. It's a "normal" wedding to whatever culture it is that you have. Normally, it's quite a lot of people, and you're going to have a killer party to end the day.

Cannes, France wedding

What is a traditional wedding?

Why would you have a traditional wedding?

I'm going to make something clear first; when I say "traditional", I don't necessarily mean at a church or a temple. I just mean a big wedding, the kind people expect you to have.

A traditional wedding is for you if you really want to have that big party! Especially if you love being the center of attention, this is the perfect excuse for it. You're going to be surrounded by all the greatest people in your life, and they all get to celebrate you for this one day! 

Who is a traditional wedding for?

A big wedding is for anyone who wants to spoil their guests and treat everyone to a party to remember. Perhaps you're just in it for the party, or maybe you really want to share those intimate moments between you and your spouse-to-be with the world. It doesn't matter what reasons you have for wanting a big wedding, if you know it's for you, then go do it! 

Where can you have a traditional wedding?

Even if you're inviting 200 people, you can still have your wedding anywhere. Close to home is the easiest way to get the largest attendance, but having a destination wedding might help you cull the guest list if you need to.

There will certainly be many venues around your area, and you will definitely need a venue for a large amount of people. If you go abroad, you can find venues anywhere. There are some amazing châteaux around Paris (France) and villas around Lake Como (Italy) that will be large enough to accommodate everyone, though it won't be cheap. But if budget isn't an issue, then definitely look into places like Villa Ephrussi along the French Riviera, Château Fleur du Ciel in Sèvremont, and Villa D'Este on Lake Como.

What would I do for my traditional wedding?

You can still really do whatever you want for your big wedding. I mean, it might be more standard where you get ready, have a ceremony, and a reception, but if you want to do things a bit less traditionally, you can. I will list some alternate timelines here:

  • Sticking to a more traditional route, you can do the ceremony and reception, then the next day go out with your photographer and have a full day photo session though the streets of Paris, the valleys of Lauterbrunnen, or hiking around a pristine glacial lake.
  • You can do a sunset hike to a beautiful location to say your vows, then have your full wedding when you get back
  • You can have your ceremony, then take a helicopter with your photographer to a mountain peak for a photo session, then come back for dinner and cake

You won't have as much flexibility with your day, but you can still do things as traditionally or as wild as you want. This is your day, so make sure you're spending it the way you want to!

How do I start planning my wedding?

I highly recommend hiring a planner for a big wedding. The stress of planning is so high, and in the end you will truly see the value that your planner brings.

Step one, figure out when and where you want to have your wedding. If you want it abroad, then hire a planner local to the area, or someone who is from abroad, but specialized in that area. 

Hiring local vendors is also very nice, as they will know the best locations and be able to provide you with a seamless service. That being said, there are a lot of vendors who work abroad and perhaps have experience in the area you are looking into. Here you can find a list of which vendors you should hire to plan your special day.

Vancouver Island, BC wedding

Vancouver, BC wedding

Choosing the right type of wedding depends on your personality, preferences, and budget. Elopements are perfect for couples who value privacy and want a low-key wedding. Micro weddings are ideal for couples who want a more intimate wedding experience with their closest family and friends. Traditional weddings are ideal for couples who want a grand party and memorable wedding experience. No matter what type of wedding you choose, make sure it reflects your personality and style and creates a memorable experience for you and your partner.

As a wedding & elopement photographer, I am very happy to share my years of expertise with you and give you more tips and tricks to help you make your intimate elopement, micro or traditional wedding come true.

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