Did you know that one out of every four weddings is a destination wedding? According to Group Travel, that works out to 350,000 destinations every year.
So where are all these blissful folks getting married?
The Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii. Those spots are the top three locations for destination weddings outside the continental US. Meaning chances are high that you’re going to be flying to your wedding.
So how on earth do you pack a wedding dress on a plane? Or pack a wedding dress in a carry on suitcase?
The short answer: There are a number of options. I’ll show you how.
The Right Way to Pack a Wedding Dress
First off, please — pretty, pretty, pretty please — don’t pack a wedding dress in your checked luggage.
During my research for this article, I read successful accounts of brides doing just that.
But how far would your heart drop if your airline lost your luggage?
SITA reports that 23.1 million bags were lost in 2015. That’s 6.53 bags mishandled (i.e. lost) per thousand passengers.
You really don’t want your checked bag to be one of those 6.53 unfortunate bags wandering some unknown airport’s subterranean dark depths, whimpering your name, seeking with misty eyes a sunny beach and empty white chairs waiting for a bride. A bride hat might come down the aisle in a wonky looking white bed sheet. I’d argue to never check a bag, because when do you want your bag to be lost? Certainly not right before your wedding.
Please. Don’t put your wedding dress in your checked luggage.
Pack your wedding dress in your carry on and keep it close by your side.
Secondly, check with the airlines that you’re flying to see what help they can give you in traveling with your wedding dress.
Emma Taylor of M2Woman says:
“Most airlines will do what they can to help you get your dress to your destination with minimal wrinkles. Of corse, while they will do all they can sometimes there simply is not room to hang it or no on-board closet. If this is the case, speak nicely with the people around you and lay it over everyone’s carry on luggage in the overhead. No one is going to mind!”
Destination Weddings’ forum participates agree:
“We called the airline ahead of time to give them a warning we would be carrying on a wedding dress. Once my mom got on the plane, she went to a flight attendant and told them she needed to put the dress in the coat closet. She had no problems on the flight there or the flight back with the dress. It was a little wrinkled from the trip, but the resort pressed it for me before the wedding day and it looked perfect.”
5 Options for Packing a Wedding Dress
1. Vacuum Bag
If your wedding dress folds down and isn’t made of super delicate material, consider using a vacuum ziplock bag like those made by SpaceSaver.
This is how blogger, Kach Medina of Two Monkeys Travel Group, traveled with her wedding dress when she got married on her round-the-world trip with her now-husband.
Kach said, “When I arrived in the UK, I had it pressed professionally.”
2. Professionally Folded & Packed
Get your wedding dress company to professionally fold and pack your wedding dress.
This is how Emma Taylor of M2Woman recommend packing your wedding dress:
“Get the dress company to pack it, which is something they are experts at after doing this so often. Then you can pop it up in the carry on without a care in the world.”
3. Garment Bag
Carefully fold and pack your wedding dress into a garment bag. These thick bags are made for transporting easily-wrinkled clothes through the rigors of flight travel.
Once onboard the plane, ask the flight attendants if there’s an available section to hang your dress. If there isn’t a section, most often flight attendants will let you hang your wedding dress in their closet.
Worst case scenario, lay your garment bag flat across the other luggage in the overhead compartment.
4. In a Carry On
Get a hard-backed carry on to prohibit anyone from stuffing their bags above your bag in the overhead bin. Choose something made from waterproof material to avoid any possible leakage from wet items in other bags, or rain on your travel day.
The Outbreaker 45 will hold your wedding dress and allow you to carry it safely on your back. We know you don’t want to let it out of arms reach! The zippered pouches along the side are the perfect place to tuck those other very important items, like heirloom jewelry, the garter, rings, headpiece, and special lingerie.
If you’re packing your wedding dress in a carry on, check out the section below on how to fold it. Use tissue paper between each fold when folding your dress.
5. Travel Box
Get a carry on sized box specially designed for your wedding dress. Some come with acid-free tissue paper to cocoon your wedding dress in comfort during its long travels.
Check out this box from Dress in a Box or this one from Wedding Gown Specialists.
To figure out what size box you need, Dress in a Box suggests laying your dress out on a bed and folding it into three, length-wise. Measure the boxed shape your dress makes to figure out what size of box you’ll need.
How to Fold & Pack a Wedding Dress
1. Vacuum Bag
One Wedding Bee forum user did a trial run with a vacuum bag and tri-fold gown-sized garment bag. Here’s what she did for her tulle wedding dress:
- Bought a gown-sized hanging vacuum bag
- Used a tri-fold carry-on garment bag by Wally Bags
- Put her wedding dress inside the cloth garment bag from the dress shop
- Put her wedding dress in the vacuum bag
- Sucked all the air out of the bag
- Put the vacuum bag inside the Wally bag
- Folded the Wally bag up
- Measured it to make sure it could fit as a carry-on
- Stored it for 15 hours (her projected length of travel time)
Upon opening it up, her wedding dress sprang back to life.
Full disclosure: There were some wrinkles.
2. Garment Bag
Get a full-length garment bag. Most wedding dress stores will provide one when you take your gown home. We recommend getting a tougher one for a longer flight.
Seattle fashion designer, Luly Yang, gives you a step-by-step guide on how to pack your wedding dress into a garment bag.
- Keep your gown on the hangar and pull the hook through the garment bag’s top opening. Keep the train and skirt outside of the bag.
- Hang the gown facing you with the top half inside the bag.
- Take the dress’ bottom left and right sides and fold them into the center in a trifold. Note: sheath dresses may not need this step.
- Keep the two sides of the skirt folded and roll the train from the bottom until it is short enough to place in the bottom of the bag.
- Lace and other textured fabrics are less likely to show wrinkles. If you’re careful about how you fold and roll the train, there will be a lot less wrinkling and touch-up pressing needed upon arrival.
- Zip closed the garment bag. Guide the zipper up to the top as you zip, with your middle finger behind the zipper. This protects any delicate beading, tulle or lace on your wedding gown from catching and ripping in the zipper.
- Lay the garment bag on a flat surface, and carefully roll it into a loose trifold.
Congrats, you’ve just packed your wedding dress. Now you can store it in the overhead bin. Make sure nothing heavy gets put on top of your dress in the bin or it’ll get wrinkled.
3. Carry On
Back to Luly Yang on how to pack your wedding dress in a carry on suitcase. (Hey, she knows her stuff!)
- Remove your gown from the hangar and turn it inside out. This protects the dress’ outside in case anything spills inside of your suitcase. Tip: If you’re able, I always recommend giving your dress its own suitcase to keep it far away from toiletries, shoes and anything else that could crush or stain your dress.
- Lay it on a flat surface like a bed, or a clean, carpeted floor.
- Fold the two sides of the skirt in at the fullest part of the skirt and loosely roll the dress from bottom to top, keeping as much air between the layers and folds of the dress. This prevents wrinkling.
- Place the rolled dress in a large plastic dry cleaning bag to protect it from dirt and spills. Tip: Tie off or tape the ends of the bag, creating an air pocket around the dress. This air cushion minimizes wrinkles.
- Place the dress in your suitcase.
Pro Advice on Traveling With Your Wedding Dress
Call the Airline Ahead of Time
Check to see what guidelines your airline has about traveling with your wedding dress. Or just give them a head’s up that you’re traveling with your wedding dress and inquire about the availability of a closet onboard where you could hang your dress.
Check into Dress Care at Destination
Your hotel or resort could have on-site wedding dress care — like steaming or pressing — available. Check and see.
If your resort is well-known for destination weddings, those services could be free.
Be Prepared: Pack in a Carry On
Don’t let the fate of your wedding dress — and wedding — lie in the hands of underpaid, underappreciated baggage handlers and uncertain airline baggage software.
Pack your wedding dress and any wedding day essentials in your carry on. Double brownie points if you pack for your destination wedding entirely in a carry on.
Label All Your Bags with Your Name
Clearly label your carry on with your name, email, phone number and address for both your home and destination.
That way, if something happens to your bag transporting your wedding dress — like accidentally grabbing another bride’s garment bag on your flight or forgetting your bag on the plane — your wedding dress can quickly be returned to you.
Unpack Dress Immediately Upon Arrival
When you arrive at your resort or hotel, unpack your wedding dress and hang it up to let the travel wrinkles shake loose.
Essential Packing List for Wedding Dress Travel
These things should be in your carry on bag and personal item. Don’t risk the heartbreak of missing some of the most important items for your big day due to a bag loss!
- Travel-sized steamer to gently steam any wrinkles from your wedding dress (put a sock over the steamer head to avoid water droplets on your dress)
- Wedding day shoes
- Wedding day makeup
- Wedding day jewelry like heirlooms and other irreplaceable jewelry
- Wedding night’s intimate apparel ::cough cough::
- Any other must-have outfits for your wedding day (i.e. bikini for any snorkling or swimming planned)
- The groom’s suit or tux (Here’s how to pack a suit in a carry on bag)
- The groom’s shoes
- The wedding rings
- Marriage certificate
Your destination wedding will a once in a lifetime day. Conquer the last to-do item on your list by figuring out how to pack your wedding dress:
- Pack your wedding dress in a carry on
- Go with a vacuum bag, garment bag, or gently folding your wedding dress
- Pack a travel sized steamer (or check with your destination on their dress steaming service
- In your carry on, pack irreplaceable jewelry, marriage certificate, veil, and anything vitally important for the big day
- Pause to make memories and enjoy your wedding
Image credits: Scott Webb, Sweet Ice Cream Photography