The Frequent Guest’s Wedding Travel Survival Guide

If there’s one summer vacation we’ve all experienced, it’s got to be the wedding weekend. While a good percentage of travelers take beach trips, road trips or camping trips between June and August, pretty much all of us have spent a summer weekend as a guest at an out-of-town wedding.

Wedding weekends are, in many respects, like other short trips (you pack, you travel, you return home in three days or less), but they have several characteristics most other trips do not. Weddings and wedding-related events operate according to set schedules, usually involve dress codes and bring large groups of people together for short periods of time. These differences make it even more important for wedding guests to plan and execute their travels with caution. One false move and – bam – there’s you arriving to the wedding in flip-flops and wet hair and holding a beat up gift box topped with a bedraggled bow that you tied with your raggedy, un-manicured hands. Not that we’re trying to alarm you or anything.

While we can’t stop the airline from losing your luggage, wrestle the hotel desk clerks for a king bed when you end up with two singles or prevent the bride’s crazy uncle from telling inappropriate jokes at the rehearsal dinner (we actually like it when that happens), we can give you these tried-and-true tips for wedding weekend travel.

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Book your hotel reservations early

At the bride and groom’s request, most hotels offer blocks of rooms at special wedding rates up until about six weeks or a month before the wedding date. Booking early ensures that you receive the discounted rate and guarantees that you’ll be in the same hotel with other people attending the wedding.

Consider booking a vacation package

If the bride and groom suggest a list of hotels that you can’t afford even with the hotel wedding block room rate discount or you’re especially tight on cash, consider booking a packaged deal through an online travel site like Orbitz, Expedia or Travelocity. In some cases, a packaged air + hotel or air + hotel + car deal will save you more than the hotel wedding block room rate discount.

Do your research before renting a car

Transportation (or lack thereof) is a huge factor to consider before embarking on your next wedding weekend adventure. Do you really want to find yourself crouching in formal attire in the back-back of a station wagon pressed up against five other car-less people who also found themselves in need of a ride from the wedding to the reception?

If you’re lucky, the bride and groom will arrange transportation to and from wedding-related events. But more often than not, you’ll be on your own for at least a portion of the weekend festivities. Ask the bride and groom what kind of transportation will be provided for the guests. Additionally, researching the destination city’s public transportation options, the availability of taxis, hotel parking rates and hotel airport shuttles will help you make the right decision.

Map out distances and driving routes in advance

Nothing fuels stress like getting lost in a strange city 10 minutes before the bride hits the aisle. Before you leave home, use an online mapping service to print directions between key places like the hotel and the rehearsal dinner venue, wedding site and reception location.

Organize wedding weekend contacts

Before you leave home, make a list of important phone numbers you’ll need for the weekend. Once you reach your destination, you’ll be happy you have easy access to numbers for old friends, relatives, your hotel, your airline, a few taxi companies and any other services (salons, drugstores, late-night pizza delivery etc.) you might need during your stay.

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Send gifts ahead of time

Save yourself the trouble of lugging a gift to the wedding by sending it ahead of time. If you absolutely have to travel with a wedding gift, remember not to wrap it. Even if airport security personnel don’t unwrap it first (which you can pretty much count on them doing), your wrapping job is sure to get blemished in transit.

Pack formal attire in a carry-on garment bag

True story: earlier this spring, my suitcase experienced a five-day delay over the course of a three-day wedding weekend jaunt to the East Coast. You do the math. Instead of recovering from the Friday night rehearsal dinner party in peace, I spent the afternoon before the wedding rushing around the mall trying to cobble together an outfit in time for the nuptials. Thanks to help from my mom (and her closet), my fashion emergency was downgraded to mere fashion trauma. Had I been a guy heading to a black tie wedding sans tuxedo, things could have been far worse (and more expensive to remedy).

Point being, carry on anything essential for the wedding itself. At a minimum, pack formal attire and dress shoes in a carry-on garment bag.

Use those hotel services

Many travelers skip hotel perks like shoe shines, ironing and concierge services during normal hotel stays. But these offerings can make a big difference on wedding weekends. Why spend an hour hunting down a place to buy shoe polish to cover up a scuff mark when the hotel will perform the task for you while you sleep?

Hang up formal clothes ASAP

The minute you step into your hotel room, hang up formal clothing, dresses and suits. Just do it. For wrinkles in iron-averse fabrics, try using a wrinkle-release spray or hanging the garment in the bathroom while you shower.

Add an extra day to see the sites

If you plan on soaking in the local culture or visiting tourist destinations during your visit, think about adding an extra day to your trip instead of trying to pack excursions in before and after wedding-related activities. Nine times out of ten, you’ll end up with less free time than you anticipated, and, in most cases, you’ll want to spend the moments you do have between scheduled activities catching up with other wedding guests.

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