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How to Pack for a Special Event in the Middle of a Trip

pack for special event during trip

Special events in the middle of a bigger trip can make your packing list a bit more difficult. Maybe a friend or family member is getting married overseas, maybe you’re even in the wedding, and suddenly you have to figure out how to pack a fancy outfit (or several outfits) in with your bathing suits and casual travel clothes.

Luckily there are ways around having to pack a bigger suitcase. Here’s our advice for how to pack for a special event in the middle of a trip.

Know the Dress Code

First, be very clear about the dress code for the special event. Do you need to wear a ball gown or is it a “no jeans” situation? Understanding the dress code will help you pack appropriately and as minimally as possible. Don’t go any dressier than you need to be because that will add to the amount of stuff you pack.

Check with friends or relatives before you travel to see what they are planning to wear, too. That can help you feel more confident with your one clothing option instead of packing several and choosing one while there.

Chrysalis Cardi as one-shoulder dress
Caroline wearing the Chrysalis Cardi as one-shoulder dress at a wedding in North Carolina

Pack Versatile Clothes

Pack items you can dress up or down. Stick to solid color basics you can wear out on your normal travels that can also be dressed up for the special event. Pack a little black dress. Something like the Chrysalis Cardi (you know… the scarf, cardigan, and dress in one!) works very well for this type of situation, and Caroline has even worn hers to a wedding on the road!

Simple Shoes:

In terms of shoes, a simple pair of flats should work in both situations, so there’s no need to pack multiple pairs. If you’re a heels kind of gal, just make sure you plan to use those heels outside of your special event to get their full worth. (Still, we like the idea of something more practical if you can manage.)

Dress Up With Jewelry:

Jewelry is by far the best way to dress up your outfit since it doesn’t take up much space in your bag. Even the simplest outfit can go from casual to dressy with the right accessories (statement necklace, chunky ring, and flashy belt, for example).

Rework Basic Pieces:

Even if the special event is several days, you don’t necessarily need several completely different outfits. No one will notice if you wear the same black skirt a couple of times, especially if you change things up with a different shirt and different jewelry. Plus, you’re traveling, and people tend to be pretty understanding that you won’t have the convenience of your closet from back home.

If You Have to Pack It

Reduce Other Items:

Sometimes there’s no other option but for you to pack your fancy outfit. In that case, you may need to reduce the other items in your bag to make sure you have enough room. Leave behind one or two shirts, for example, and commit to fewer toiletries. Leaving out just a few items should make enough room for your special event clothes.

Choose the Right Fabrics:

If you have a choice in what you wear for the special event, find something that packs up small. Shop for items made from fabrics that pack well, and hopefully ones that don’t wrinkle. Even if you’re going to a black tie event, you can wear a sleek gown instead of a puffy ball gown.

Ditch the Outfit After:

You also have to decide if the outfit is worth hanging onto after the event. I was once in a friend’s wedding in Malta, so I had a bridesmaid dress to wear. I knew this was not a dress I would ever wear again. Obviously I had room for it in my backpack, but I knew I’d be happier lightening my load rather than carrying around a dress I didn’t even like. If you feel the same, consider donating your outfit so you can free up space for the rest of your trip.

pack for a special event
At my friend’s wedding in Malta in the dress I ditched

Buy it there

Is the event being held in a location where you could buy something to wear when you arrive? You could get there a couple days ahead of time and go shopping so you’re not carrying around a fancy dress for weeks or months. This might be a good time to check out the second-hand stores so you won’t feel bad about ditching the outfit after the event.

At the end of my round the world trip, I had a wedding to attend, but I didn’t want to carry nice clothes with me for five months leading up to that. So I went to a second-hand shop when I arrived and bought black pants and a cute top for about $15. But I just as easily could’ve gone to the mall and bought something new if I wanted to.

pack for a special event
Posing by the airplane ice sculpture at a friend’s wedding

Get your friends to help

You might know other people going to the same event who are coming from home. Ask around, someone is probably willing to help out by packing your outfit and bringing it to you at the event (as long as it doesn’t put them over the limits of course). This is especially helpful if you’re a bridesmaid and have a specific dress you have to wear. Consider buying your friend a little souvenir from your trip as a thank you.

If you don’t have to wear a specific outfit like a bridesmaid dress, see if you can borrow clothes from a friend. Someone else who is a similar size as you can pack an extra dress, and maybe even shoes, that you can wear to the event.

Have you ever had to pack for a special event in the middle of a trip?

how to pack for special event during trip

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Jolene says

    I just had to do this for study abroad. There are a couple of places we are going that we will have to dress up for. I bought a Ralph Lauren dress before I left and it is a surprisingly nice fabric. It was shoved in my suitcase for two weeks and it didn’t wrinkle at all. It didn’t take up too much space so I think it was worth it.

  2. MiaNaja says

    I attended a wedding in Italy and had ordered a dress to wear as I am plus sized and its pretty hard for women 18W 20W and up to find attractive dressy clothes in Europe. So some things I recommend is having someone returning early bring it back, ship it back or order a dress you would wear more than once. Within the United States, the Priority mail flat rate boxes are my best friends. I send home calendars, tablecloths, placemats, souvenirs, anything that is paper, I even squeezed Indian Blankets in them after visiting NM.

  3. emr says

    One way to look fancier: makeup (if that’s your thing). By bringing a bright lipstick, or getting a free makeover at a cosmetics counter before an event, you can look much fancier in a plain black dress than you would have originally anticipated.

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