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Get Outside the Wedding Box: 4 unique wedding alternatives, and 30+ ideas to inspire!

washington-elopement-photographer-san-juans-elopement-8
washington-elopement-photographer-san-juans-elopement-8

If the idea of a traditional wedding doesn’t feel quite right, then this one’s for you. There are many reasons that you might have decided to explore wedding alternatives. Perhaps you have decided to ditch the traditional wedding and elope instead because:

  • You’re overwhelmed by the thought of throwing a big party for 100+ people.
  • You are a natural people pleaser, and find yourself consumed by worry about how your guests will enjoy your wedding day (more than you will enjoy it)
  • You want to reduce waste or keep costs lower
  • You’re worried about complicated family dynamics and you’d rather skip the drama.

 

The list could go on, but I’m going to guess that ultimately, the biggest reason you are considering wedding alternatives is because you want a day that actually feels like YOU.

I promise I’m not a wedding hater. Quite the contrary actually. I believe the day you marry your best friend is so incredibly special and that it deserves an experience that is equally as special, and as unique as you are. It should be a reflection of you, not a back-to-back timeline of traditions determined by the wedding industry. My ultimate goal is to be a giver of options, a giver of permission, and a dream enabler.

So let’s get outside of the wedding box, shall we? Here are four different  wedding alternatives, and 30+ ideas to help you envision your dream wedding experience.

Wedding alternative #1 - Go for a ‘Just Us’ Adventure

If you are really wanting to throw the idea of a traditional wedding on its head, and do something totally different and unique to you, then a ‘just us’ adventure might be just the thing. This one might resonate for different reasons. Maybe it’s easier to un-invite all the guests rather than narrowing it down to a select few. Or maybe you and your partner are a bit more introverted and prefer a day that is calmer and more intimate, as opposed to a big party for other people. What better way to celebrate you and the rest of your life adventure together – than being together, just the two of you, on an adventure somewhere epic or super special? If this sounds good to you then maybe a “Just Us” wedding alternative is for you. 

couple reads vows at gold creek pond elopement

wedding alternative #2 - Include close friends & family in the whole experience

When you close your eyes and envision the day you get married, and think about the parts that make you most excited, are your closest friends there cheering you on? Or perhaps your immediate family is there to celebrate with you? Awesome – me too! If you can’t imagine getting married without your people, then don’t! Design a day that they can fully be a part of too! A wedding alternative that includes your people may be just what you need!

*Pro-tip – Keep the guest list small-ish. After all, you’re reading this because you are looking for something a little different, and by its very nature, lots of people = throwing a big party (for lots of people). This can then easily snowball into having a day that is rushed, caters to other people’s expectations,  is not somewhere you have always dreamt of, and is back to back with activities that don’t feel like you. Now we are back to where we started, looking for a unique wedding alternative.

wedding alternative #3 - Have a ‘Just Us’ wedding experience AND include your favorite people (You don’t have to choose!)

It doesn’t have to be guests OR no guests. It can be both! It really starts with envisioning your dream day and then crafting this day based on your vision. Do you imagine sharing your vows in private, but also want to share time with your people, or maybe you really want to go for a solo adventure and savor time just the two of you? You can do both! You can have your own private vow ceremony, and then you can join friends and family for portraits and an afterparty. You could also share your own private vows and then join for a 2nd ceremony with friends and family where you share the same vows or something totally different. You could even have a multi-day celebration! One day completely for you to savor together,  and the next day to party with friends and family! Or, maybe you’ll elope just the two of you and then party with friends and family a few months later.  This is the beauty of eloping – there is no ‘right’ way to do it! Does this sound awesome to you? Then use this wedding alternative structure!

wedding alternative #4 - Plan a micro (smaller) wedding

If a traditional wedding sounds fun, but just a little overwhelming, or impersonal, then why not just reduce the guest list a bit? Also known as an Intimate Wedding, a micro wedding is a wedding like any other, but with fewer guests. There are many definitions out there, but I considered it to be a micro wedding if the guest count is under 50. It really comes down to what’s important to you.

Maybe your family is pretty low-stress and loads of fun, and you love some of the more traditional elements of renting out a venue and having a kickass party. Then awesome – you can totally just have a wedding that is smaller!  Smaller naturally means more intimate, more time with the people that mean the most to you, and more time with each other. And remember, just because you are having a wedding, doesn’t mean you still have to have the more traditional elements. Trade a caterer for a food truck, trade toasts for a gratitude circle, trade dancing for lawn games. Make it YOU.

There you have it – Four overall outside-of-the-box wedding alternative structure ideas to help you plan a wedding day that feels like YOU. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dig into lots of juicy ideas. No matter what structure you are thinking best fits your vision- whether you want a ‘Just Us’ elopement, a small group of friends and family, a bit of both, or to have a smaller micro wedding – all these ideas can be mixed and matched and help serve as inspiration as you dream up your day!

A happy couple on their elopement day

30+ ideas to inspire you’re alternative wedding plans

Have a two in one destination elopement/honeymoon

If travel is a part of your life together, and you’re craving a wedding experience that feels epic and adventurous, then a destination elopement might just be for you. And BONUS – the honeymoon begins before you even say I do.

  • Elope over the fjords of Norway
  • On a sailboat off the Amalfi Coast of Italy
  • In a misty forest, or on the rocky beaches of Washington’s Olympic Coast
  • In a castle in the Scottish Highlands
  • Floating high above the temples of Myanmar
  • In the cloud forest of Costa Rica

 

X Great for a ‘Just Us’ elopement. It’s just the two of you, so you have the ultimate freedom to get married how or wherever the heck you want.

X Great for an ‘Include small group of friends and family’ experience. If you have a small group and they are up for a little adventure.

X Great for ‘BOTH ‘Just Us’ + ‘Small group of friends and family’. Ultimately you’re on vacation. You can pick and choose experiences for just the two of you and also with loved ones.

X OK for a Micro Wedding. But then it pretty much becomes a destination wedding which can pose many challenges – financial, logistical, limited location options, higher stress,  limited guest ability, etc.

Go for a local adventure

Adventures don’t have to mean traveling across the world. There are loads of ways you can adventure right in your own backyard. Bonus points if you live in the Pacific Northwest, a diverse natural paradise of snow-capped mountains, emerald green forests, rugged coastline, waterfalls, rivers, and alpine lakes. Not to mention loads of outdoor adventures and cozy little stop-overs! Whether it be a special location or a bucket list one, favorite activity or something you’ve always wanted to try, cozy or exhilarating, or both – there is no shortage of local adventures you can enjoy on your uniquely YOU elopement day. Here are just a few ideas among endless possibilities:

 

  • Soar above the world in a hot air balloon
  • Take a hele-tour mountain-hopping and say your vows on top of the world
  • Go white water rafting, kayaking, or paddle boarding
  • Go horseback riding through the forest, or along the beach
  • Hike to the base of an awe-inspiring waterfall
  • Ski,  snowshoe, or ride a snow-mobile through a wintry wonderland
  • Take a seaplane to the San Juans, or to a glacial lake off the beaten path
  • Go for a 4×4 adventure and picnic over a breathtaking vista
  • Go for a hike and elope at or nearby a National Park

 

X Great for a ‘Just Us’ elopement. It’s just the two of you, so you have the ultimate freedom to get married how or wherever the heck you want.

X Good for an ‘Include small group of friends and family’ experience. If you have a small group and they are up for a little adventure. Options will be limited. You will need to select activities that accommodate your group size, such as hiking.

X Great for BOTH ‘Just Us’ + ‘Small group of friends and family’. Spend one day on a big adventure and the next celebrating with family, or break your day up.

X Bad for a Micro Wedding. A micro wedding will require a venue, and a more traditional party style to accommodate guests.

Make it cozy

You’re eloping because you dreamt of a day that is slow and intentional, a day you will remember because you were truly present for it. Does your vision include a slow time together somewhere cozy? Maybe you’ll travel halfway across the world, or maybe just a few hours somewhere in your neck of the woods. But regardless of where, here are some fun ways to keep it cozy and connected, slow and intentional.

 

  • Rent a little cabin in the woods
  • Soak in a hot tub together, or better yet, a hot spring
  • Have a private chef-prepared candlelight dinner
  • Pack a thermos of hot toddy and go stargazing
  • Play board games
  • Stop into a little Scottish pub after an epic waterfall hike in the Highlands
  • Relax in front of the fire together

 

X Great for a ‘Just Us’ elopement. It’s just the two of you, cozy up!

X Good for an ‘Include small group of friends and family’ experience. Nothing better than a cozy experience with a small group of loved ones. 

X Great for ‘BOTH ‘Just Us’ + ‘Small group of friends and family’   Yep!

X Bad for a Micro Wedding. Most of these activities don’t work at scale with a larger group.

Keep it simple and special

Simple doesn’t mean less special. Sometimes simple is the most special. Over the course of your life adventure together, you’ve already made so many special memories – places and activities that are YOU. You’ve collected your favorite hang-outs, local haunts, and corners of town. If simple sounds more special to you – then do that! Eloping is not about hiking mountains or that insta perfect shot that shows how cool you are. Nope – it’s about real authentic connection, being in the moment, and bringing it back to what’s important – YOU, the things you love to do and your story together. Here are some of my favorite ways to keep it simply special:

  • Get ready together in your home
  • Have a first look at your favorite coffee shop
  • Explore your favorite neighborhood, and bar hop along the way
  • Share a sunset first dance on a rooftop or your favorite Cityline vista
  • Elope at City Hall and then go for a toast at a nearby brewery
  • Elope in yours, your parents, your grandparents, or a close friend’s yard. 
  • Bust out the tunes and play lawn games
 

X Great for a ‘Just Us’ elopement. 

X Good for an’ Include small group of friends and family’ experience

X Great for ‘BOTH ‘Just Us’ + ‘Small group of friends and family’  

X Good for a Micro Wedding.

Celebrate with good food and drink

  • Dine in the forest under a canopy of trees and hanging lights 
  • Rent food trucks – a pie truck, a taco truck, or why not both?!
  • Have a beautifully styled and prepared charcuterie board and champagne picnic 
  • Grab some burgers and shakes as you wander through town
  • Rent out a restaurant or brewery
  • Party at the Airbnb, perhaps with a private chef-prepared dinner on the patio 
  • Private tour and dinner at a winery (and make your own wine to commemorate the occasion!)
  • Smores and dinner around the campfire
  • I could keep going!
 

X Great for a ‘Just Us’ elopement

X Good for an ‘Include small group of friends and family’ experience 

X Great for BOTH ‘Just Us’ + ‘Small group of friends and family’ experience

X Great for a Micro Wedding

Good food and drink are ALWAYS a good idea!

So there you have it, four wedding alternatives to structure your day and 30+ ideas to help you bring it to life. Ultimately remember this one rule. It is super duper important, and that’s that THERE ARE NO RULES. It’s really all about designing a day that checks all of YOUR boxes so that the final outcome is a wedding day that feels authentic to YOU. After all, you are celebrating the beginning of the rest of your life adventure together. It’s your day. Do it your way!

 

portrait of elopement photographer on the beach with driftwood

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Hey there, I'm Jess

I’m your Wedding and Elopement photographer, but i’m also your dream enabler, permission grantor, and co-conspirator. I’m here for you, holding your hand, and helping you to craft an outside the box wedding experience that is unique, intentional and true to you and your life adventure together.

Washington & Oregon Weddings & Elopements

Packages starting at $2,800 – Contact for full pricing and all locations. All packages include:

  • Local to Seattle? Let’s grab a beer! Otherwise we begin with a get to know you questionnaire and phone/video chat. My connection to you is what allows me to weave together and tell your unique story.
  • 40+ page Exclusive Planning Guide 
  • Unlimited calls and planning guidance
  • Custom location recommendations (for elopements)
  • Timeline planning
  • Fully-edited high-resolution images delivered in a beautifully curated gallery
  • Creative editing that brings your story to life
  • My travel is included – I fly free

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Jess Albonico

Jess Albonico

Seattle + PNW Wedding Photographer, helping couples ditch the rulebook and have a wedding day as epic and unique as there life adventure together.

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