How to Elope With Family in 2024: Planning Advice, Timeline Tips, & More

If you and your partner are struggling to decide whether or not you’d like to invite loved ones to your elopement, then you are in the right place, friend—I’m here to guide you through that decision, and hopefully by the end of this guide, you’ll feel confident whichever way you choose to go. It can be incredibly difficult to navigate the elopement planning process when it comes to inviting, or not inviting guests, and you may find yourself wondering what the “right” way to do it is. Should we elope with family? Do we have to? Can we just invite some family members, but not others? Is it selfish if we just want to elope in private?

Before I go any further, allow me to answer that last question for you: no, it is absolutely not selfish to place your wants and needs above others in any aspect of your life, whether it’s standing up for yourself at your workplace or letting your family members know you’re eloping on your own! My goal with this guide is not to sway you one way or another, but to simply present you with all of your options so that you can make a clear, confident decision that feels right to you—not to your friends, not to your Aunt Margaret, not to that Bride’s magazine article you read two years ago.

A couple and their wedding guests stand with their heads bowed in prayer. There are mountains and a lake behind them. This couple chose to elope with their family.

I also want to share a few ways to ensure your elopement vision isn’t compromised if you do decide to elope with guests, as I often see couples feeling like they need to sacrifice their dreams & desires if they have family tagging along. I hope I can give you the permission you need to stand firm in your unique vision, while also spending time with the people you care about and having time to spend on just yourselves. Without further ado, let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?

Hi, I’m Autumn!

Need help planning your elopement with family?

I help couples create experience focused elopements in the mountains of Idaho. I’ve photographed 75+ elopements and hiked 100’s of miles in Idaho’s backcountry. I’m a Leave No Trace aware photographer and lifelong outdoor adventurer.

How to Include Family Without Compromising Your Vision

First, I want to do what I just mentioned: make sure you know that you can execute your dream elopement even with your family present. If you choose to elope with family, it’s so important that you’re clear on what you want from your day, because it’s incredibly easy to let outside opinions and judgment seep into the planning process and affect your decisions—so let’s make sure you know how to avoid that happening!

Define Your Elopement Vision

Before we can talk about how to include family without compromising your vision, you’ll need, well, your vision! This is a crucial first part of the elopement planning process, and one you’ll want to make time for before inviting loved ones along. 

Find an hour (or multiple hours!) to sit down together and really figure out what you want your elopement to look like—and more importantly, what you want it to feel like. This could look like going out for a dedicated dinner at your favorite restaurant to brainstorm and talk through ideas while you sip on yummy drinks, or it could look like a night in at your home, snuggled up on the couch as you envision your dream day. Make a little date out of it! This is such a fun and exciting part of the process because you have an endless world of opportunities in front of you, so absolutely treat it that way.

A groom leans against an old wood fence. His bride is leaning against him and kissing his cheek. The bride is wearing turquoise cowboy boots and a blue jean jacket over a white lace, knee-length wedding dress. The groom is wearing jeans, a white shirt, and gray vest. This couple eloped in the mountains of Idaho.
A bride leans in to kiss her groom. The bride has henna on her hand. The couple is standing under an umbrella and rain drops can be seen on the groom's black, wool suite. This couple had a family center elopement in the mountains of Idaho.

3 things to think about as your choosing to or not to elope with famly


What are you envisioning for your location? A campground in the middle of the mountains? A mountain top at sunrise/sunset? A small venue in the woods with cozy cabins? A rustic lodge by the water? Close your eyes and tell each other what image pops up for you, and figure out potential locations that would fit what you’re looking for as a couple. This will determine the amount of guests (if any) that you’ll be able to invite along for your ceremony.


When you picture your elopement, what does it feel like? Are you standing directly across from your partner, saying your vows in complete privacy with nobody else around to hear? Are you surrounded by a group of your loved ones, feeling their love and support as you commit to each other? Is it important to you that you’re able to feel relaxed on your elopement day, and that you can go with the flow rather than sticking to a tight schedule?

A bride and groom walk down a pathway toward their ceremony location. The couple is looking at each other and smiling. The groom is carrying a bouquet of flowers. The bride is holding up her dress. The couple's dog is walking beside them. The couple’s family is following in the background. This couple chose to elope with family in Stanley, Idaho.

Figuring out what you want to feel on your elopement day can be a really great way to make sure you aren’t just planning something based on aesthetics or trends you’ve seen over and over on social media—trust me, after years of photographing elopements, I’m all too familiar with how easy that is to do.


The third most important thing to discuss when envisioning your elopement is your budget. At these beginning stages of planning, you don’t necessarily need to go crazy in-depth or get super nitty gritty with the numbers; that can come later, once you’ve decided on your guest list, talked through more about your vision, etc. But having an initial idea of your budget, as well as what you’d like to spend it on, will be very helpful in deciding whether or not you want to (or can afford to) include your family.

A couple walks through a greeting line at the entrance to their reception. The wedding guests are holding up their hands and the couple is walking underneath them. The couple is laughing with their guests. This couple chose to elope with family in a campground in Sun Valley.

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Get Your Priorities Straight

On that same note, part of getting clear on your elopement vision is making sure you’re on the same page about what your priorities are. And by priorities, I mean the parts of your elopement day that you place the most value on; parts that you may be okay spending more money on, or dedicating more time to planning out. It’s completely okay if you have slightly different priorities—that’s why you’re having this conversation! If you go into the planning process with completely different priorities, chances are you’re going to have a hard time agreeing on decisions, no matter how small or large. We want to make sure that you understand each other’s priorities so that you can determine whether or not guests play a role in making those priorities happen.

For example: maybe the two of you decide that your ultimate, top priority is your elopement location. You are absolutely set on one or two locations you love, and that is most important to you above all else—so maybe you end up deciding that you’re okay not inviting guests, since your dream location doesn’t allow for a larger group of people. Or maybe you realize your priority is, in fact, your guest list, and you’re okay having to spend more time to find a location as long as it means you can all be together! There’s no right or wrong here; or I guess I could say that the “right” option is simply what is in alignment with the two of you and your vision.

A couple stands in a green, grassy field with snow capped mountains rising behind them. The bride is wearing a long sleeved, lace wedding dress and holding a bouquet of flowers. The bouquet has white orchids and blush colored roses. The groom is wearing blue jeans, a black vest, and black cowboy hat. The couple is looking in opposite directions. This couple eloped with family in Stanley, Idaho.

Be Upfront About Your Plans

Whether or not you decide to invite people in the end, I really encourage you to be up front about your plans with your loved ones right from the get-go. Let them know what your vision is for your elopement, and what is important to you; set expectations for what your day will look like and be prepared to stay strong to them.

I’ve worked with many couples who have decided to elope without family, and then feel super nervous to tell them, afraid of getting a negative or disappointed reaction. And truthfully, it’s very possible that that may happen if you decide not to invite anyone; as much as I wish everyone was able to respect couples and their own decisions, eloping in private often comes with a little sadness from friends and family who expected an invitation. If that does happen, know that it is not a reflection of you or your decision: even if your family/friends are upset with you at first, you can feel confident that you made the decision that was best for the two of you, and after all, aren’t you the ones who are getting married? This is YOUR day to celebrate, to cherish, to love however you want to love, and hopefully, your family will understand that (whether they do right away, or it takes a little time). 

A couple stands with an officiant during the ceremony. The group is standing in a green, grassy field and there are mountains behind them. This couple chose to elope with a single wedding guest (their officiant).
A couple smiles for the camera with their friend and Idaho officiant. The officiant and groom are holding the bride. The group is standing in a green, grassy field and there are mountains behind them.

How Does Including Family Affect Your Elopement?

Now that you know how to ensure your elopement vision isn’t compromised by inviting family members, let’s talk about ways that your elopement might be impacted if you do decide to invite them. These are not necessarily going to be positive or negative impacts for everyone, just important things to keep in mind that I’ve seen couples go through over the years when bringing family along!

Added Stress + Planning

Typically, inviting loved ones means you will experience some amount of added stress that you wouldn’t if you were eloping in private—it’s unavoidable. The more guests you invite, the more mouths you have to feed, the more bodies you have to transport, the more opinions you invite into your headspace. There’s simply more time spent planning, organizing, and orchestrating an elopement with family than there is for a 2-person elopement, so the more you can prepare your mindset for that in advance, the better! I don’t want you to start planning your day with guests only to be shocked at how much more is added to your to-do list once you invite people.

Three girls twirl in their flower girl dresses at an elopement reception. The dresses have white lace tops and blush colored tulle skirts. The girls are dancing on rugs and there are mountains behind them.

5 ways Eloping with family adds to your planning process

You’ll have to find lodging for everyone

Whether you’re paying for lodging or your guests will be responsible for covering their own costs, you’ll likely be the ones responsible for finding accommodations for everyone. This could be a large Airbnb you stay in with everyone, a room block at a hotel, a campground, a set of cabins in the woods, a lodge, etc.; no matter what type of accommodations you choose, you’ll have to account for a larger group. This may mean that you and your partner stay in one place (such as a honeymoon suite or luxurious Airbnb) while your guests stay somewhere nearby (such as a hotel with more space), and that definitely adds something else to coordinate with everyone.

You’ll have to assist guests with their travel

If you have guests that will be traveling for your elopement, you’ll probably want to help them plan their travel to ensure everyone arrives at the same place, at the right time. Coordinating flights, schedules, etc. can be a lot of work, especially when you already have your own travel to take care of, so make sure you leave time in your planning schedule to do so.

An old dog lays at the feet of his owners during their wedding reception in Sun Valley, Idaho.
You’ll have to coordinate transportation

In addition to traveling to your elopement location, you’ll need to coordinate travel/transportation once everybody has arrived; for example, transportation from where your guests are staying to your venue, or from your hotel to the trailhead you’ll be beginning your hike at. You’ll need to think through every time you or your guests need to get from Point A to Point B, back to Point A, to a new Point C. . . you get the picture—and ensure that everyone always has a way to get around. This may look like renting a couple of cars and carpooling, hiring a van or shuttle of some sort with a driver, or using anybody’s cars who live nearby.

You’ll have to provide some kind of meal(s)

 One of the reasons that big, traditional weddings tend to cost so much is because of the huge amount of mouths to feed! It’s typically expected that couples provide their guests with at least one meal, snacks, and drinks throughout the day, and the math is simple: the more guests you have, the more food/drinks you’ll need, the more money comes out of your wallet. If you’re inviting a large group, you may be limited to certain options that fit within your budget + can serve that many people, such as a catering company; whereas if you have a small group, you can get a little more creative with ideas such as charcuterie boards, picnics, food trucks, meals cooked by a private chef, etc.

Wedding guests throw snow over a bride and groom as they walk down the aisle. Bold Mountain is in the background. This couple eloped with their family in Sun Valley, Idaho.
You’ll have to allocate more of your budget toward guests

Speaking of money that comes out of your wallet, more guests simply means more money spent on other people, and less money spent on you. If you’re okay with this, then that’s great! I love that your guests are so important to you, and it’s really beautiful when couples spend the time and money creating an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. However, if your budget is limited or there are higher priorities you’d like to allocate your money toward, it may be better to stick to a lower guest count so that you have the money to spend as you please, on things such as activities, vendors, meals, etc.

Let’s connect about your elopement with family!

Reach out to schedule a free consultation to learn more about eloping in Idaho.

Loss of Time

In the same vein, the more time you spend with other people, the less time you have to spend on yourselves. When you have family along, you end up giving up a lot of the time that could be spent doing activities just the two of you, creating memories together that you’ll never forget, and having experiences you’ve always dreamed of. For some couples, it’s more important to spend that quality time together; for others, it’s more important to spend that quality time with a group of people they adore. Neither is right or wrong, but it’s something to be aware of as you start to think about your elopement timeline and where you want to allocate your precious time.

A bride and bride hang out with their wedding party. One bride is on the shoulders of a friend and the other bride is tickling her feet. The group is laughing together. One bride is wearing a pink suit with a bolo tie. The other bride is wearing a white dress.

Limited Location Options

Finally—and this is a big one—eloping with family does mean that your location options are substantially more limited. Ceremony location options are endless for 2-person elopements: you could tie the knot at a park, in the mountains, on a trail, or at the beach! You’ll be hard-pressed to find locations that don’t allow any sort of elopement or wedding without guests. However, when you have guests along, your location options reduce significantly: many outdoor ceremony locations, such as national and state parks, have limits on the number of guests allowed, so you may not be able to elope at that mountain top spot with a group of 5 people, because the trail is too narrow. Or that beach area you really wanted to have your ceremony at might only allow 5 people, so you can’t hold your 20-person elopement there. Anything over 20 people will usually be limited to larger parks/designated natural areas and small venues, due to the potential harm to nature that that many people can cause.

A couple stands with their wedding guests on a ridge. There are mountains behind the group. This eloping couple chose a photo location with a small hike.

3 Ways to Structure Your Elopement With Family

So you’re trying to envision what it could look like to have family at your elopement, but you’re wondering. . . how exactly does that work? How do we involve them in different parts of the day? Can we invite them to only the morning portion, and celebrate by ourselves in the evening? Could we have two separate days of festivities so we can spend time with everyone? (Spoiler alert: the answer will most likely always be yes, because I want you to do whatever you want—there are no rules!). I’m going to walk you through three different ways that you can structure your elopement day to include your family, and hopefully one of these options will feel right to you.

1. Have a Ceremony-Centered Elopement

The first way to include your family in your elopement is by meeting up with them for your ceremony—a.k.a. centering your family time around your ceremony. 

Here’s a sample scenario for you! Imagine getting ready for your ceremony early in the morning, spending meaningful time together in your hotel or Airbnb as you prepare for the day ahead and put on your elopement attire. At sunrise, you do a first look and a private vow exchange at a secluded location, giving you the opportunity to say your personal vows with nobody around; without the pressure of an audience. 

The mother of the bride reads a poem during an elopement ceremony.

After taking a few portraits together and exploring the area, you then head off to meet up with your loved ones for your ceremony at a larger location, or even a small venue where everybody can fit. You may choose to repeat your personal vows once more, or keep it simple and follow the traditional vows since you’ve already exchanged your own; you’re surrounded by your family as you officially get married and you get to feel all their support and loving energy! 

A bride and groom stand on the beach of a mountain lake. The couple is looking at each other and smiling. The bride is wearing a white dress and holding a bouquet with pink roses and dahlias. The groom is wearing a dark gray suite. The early morning sunshine is lighting the mountains behind the lake and there is fog rising off the water. This couple chose to elope with family in Stanley, Idaho. They chose to have a sunrise first look and a ceremony with family afterward.

You conclude your festivities with a delicious brunch at a local restaurant, at your Airbnb, or out in nature via an intimate picnic, and get to mingle and converse with your guests during this time. Once your brunch is over and you’re ready to get going to some more private time together, your elopement concludes—and you’ve successfully had a beautiful, meaningful day with time for both you two and the people you love.

If that specific scenario or timeline doesn’t feel quite right, you’re free to rearrange the elements of the day however makes sense for you; maybe after a long, slow morning getting ready together (and cooking breakfast, making coffee, snuggling, etc.), you have an afternoon ceremony with your loved ones. Following your ceremony may be a yummy dinner cooked by a private chef, catered by food trucks, or hosted in a private room at a nearby restaurant. After saying goodbye to everyone, you make your way to a gorgeous viewpoint or trail nearby for sunset photos of just the two of you, and the rest of your night is free for whatever you’d like to do together.

Ready to elope?

Reach out to schedule a free consultation to learn more about eloping in Idaho.

A couple stands holding hands during their sunrise ceremony with family. There are trees and fog behind the couple. This couple chose to have a sunrise ceremony with family and friends in Stanley, Idaho.

2. Have a Split-Day Elopement

Another option is to have a split-day elopement, which is what most of my couples who elope with family end up doing. I define a split-day elopement as an elopement where your activities and photography coverage are split between sunrise and sunset, so that you can get the best lighting and time with both yourselves, and your family!

Picture enjoying the sunrise on your wedding day with a jet boil and your favorite cup of coffee—that alone is already an amazing memory you’ll share together. Head back to your Airbnb to get ready for your wedding day, and then join up with your family later in the day for your ceremony and a beautiful evening dinner together. End your night watching the sunset as you exchange private vows and take stunning couples portraits; talk about a dream day with everything you could ever ask for!

Here are three ways to have a split-day elopement so that you can visualize the possibilities:

It’s completely up to you how you lay out your day, and I’ll be more than happy to provide you with guidance as we plan.

A bride twirls her bride around in a circle. The couple is standing on a ridge with mountains rising behind them. The late evening sun is casting light screams across the mountains. This couple eloped in Stanley, Idaho with their family. This couple chose to spend the evening hiking and taking photos in the mountains.

3. Have a Multi-Day Elopement

The final option I want to present is having a multi-day elopement, or a full weekend elopement rather than just a Saturday or Sunday celebration. I’ve been noticing more and more couples planning weekend elopements with family, and it’s something I am loving—they choose to spend several days hanging out and doing activities on either side of their actual, private elopement day, and it gives them so much time to incorporate everything they want into their timeline.

A bride and groom pose with their family after their Sun Valley, Idaho ceremony. The group has their hands in the air and they are cheering. There are mountains and trees behind the group.

For you, this could look like having an evening ceremony and reception dinner, cooked by a private chef, on the first day. The next day, you get up early with your pups and hike to an alpine lake for private vows as the sun rises, and a series of epic couples portraits in the mountains. Maybe on day three, you have brunch and a mini celebration with your family members, or if they’re not physically in attendance, you could Facetime them so that you get to chat with everyone and share how your elopement has been going!

Here’s one way you could organize a multi-day or weekend elopement:

Day 1: All day hike or jet boat elopement adventure, with private vows and couples portraits at either sunrise or sunset

Day 2: Evening ceremony with family and friends, followed by a laid-back dinner and evening around the campfire at your Airbnb

Alternatively, one day could be spent celebrating with your family at a small wedding venue, and the other could be focused around an adventure for just you two, doing activities you love and making memories with one another.

A bride and groom stand together on a ridge at sunset. There are mountains behind the couple. The room is wearing a sage green suit and the bride is wearing a white dress. This couple elope with family in Sun Valley and then drove to Stanley for an evening hike and private vow exchange in the mountains.

Is Eloping With Family Right For You?

Whew! I know I packed a lot of info and advice into this guide, so I wanted to share one last thing to help you decide whether or not eloping with family is right for you: ultimately, you are the only thing that truly matters on your wedding day. You have the right to invite or not invite whomever you please, and to organize your celebration however you want to. You also have the right to choose to get married completely on your own, and, in fact, I encourage you to if that’s what feels best for you! I hope that you have more clarity now on how to decide whether or not you want to elope with family, and if you do choose to invite family, you know how you’d like to plan your celebration without compromising your vision.

An eloping couple walks through the forest with lanterns illuminating their backpacks and just married sign. This couple eloped in McCall, Idaho.

Where to next?

If you enjoyed reading through this guide, I’d love for you to check out my blog, or browse through a few of my recent favorite resources below that I think will be just as valuable!

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