When Jennifer Salvage started shopping for a wedding dress, she had only one requirement in mind: It had to fit in a backpack. The New Jersey resident was jetting off to Polynesia for a romantic destination wedding, and she needed something compact and wrinkle-resistant.
After saying "yes" to a gorgeous strapless gown from a local boutique, the bride packed her bags and tied the knot with her love of two years, Jeff Salvage, in a romantic ceremony on Easter Island. Like most brides, Salvage only expected to wear the dress once, but that plan quickly changed.
"On the flight home I was lamenting putting the dress in a closet for life and one of us suggested bringing it on our summer trip to the Alps and China," she told TODAY Style. "The reaction we got when people saw me in the gown and learned we were already married was overwhelmingly positive. We knew we had stumbled on an original lifelong project."
That was the beginning of a beautiful journey that's taken the Salvages to 50 countries in the past 12 years. Each time the couple travels (they average two trips a year), Jennifer dons her wedding gown and her photography-savvy hubby captures her in the most picturesque of settings.
The 48-year-old high school counselor has had some pretty incredible adventures in her wedding gown so far. She's gone dog sledding in Iceland (yep, in a strapless gown) and hiking in Switzerland, for starters.
And she's seen the wonders of Paris, Dublin and Düsseldorf with her dress in tow.
Since getting married in March 2008, the adventurous couple has had 297 wedding dress photo shoots around the world. And Jeff, a 52-year-old professor at Drexel University, says the experience has helped keep their bond strong.
"The project gives us a common goal. As relationships age, it’s easy to silo yourself in your work or other interests. It’s important to have activities that you do together," he told TODAY.
Traveling around the world has also given the Salvages the opportunity to make some lifelong friends in other countries. "The project is most meaningful to me for the relationships it has forged. Not only does it bring Jeff and I closer but we have also made amazing friendships all over the world. I am very grateful," Jennifer said.
At the same time, the photoshoots aren't always a lovey-dovey experience and can come with their own set of challenges.
"Some shoots are fun and engaging in unique ways and it reminds us of the happiness of our wedding day," Jennifer said. "Unfortunately, art can be painful and there are some shoots where neither or either of us are particularly comfortable."
Still, the couple always puts a priority on safety, especially after one incident where Salvage injured herself after a flight instructor dropped her 30 feet while practicing in a sky diving simulator.
"Jennifer broke multiple ribs and had a compression fracture in her back. Ever since that experience, we evaluate what could go wrong before we do any photoshoot," Jeff explained. "We don’t want to be in the news for being foolish!"
The Salvages have published several books about their journey, including a coffee table book with some of the stunning photos they've taken. Naturally, they each have a few favorite shots from over the years.
"The Zero-G Experience was great, not because it’s the best photo, but because Jennifer had so much fun flying around," Salvage said.
Jennifer also listed riding a horse in the water as one of her favorite experiences so far.
To keep her wedding gown in mint condition, Salvage gets it professionally cleaned regularly and uses a backup dress while shooting underwater.
The couple doesn't plan on stopping their project anytime soon and has a mile-long travel bucket list that includes South Africa, the Seychelles and Nepal.
Up next? A trip to Disney World!