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You can make gazebo look in the package directory for models using the package.xml. In the below example, you can put your models into <your/package/directory>/models/ and use them from the world file without copying them into the default gazebo model directory

<export>
    <gazebo_ros gazebo_model_path="${prefix}/models"/>
    <gazebo_ros gazebo_media_path="${prefix}/models"/>
</export>

Here {prefix} is evaluated to the package path

In the world file, now you can do this

<geometry>
    <mesh><uri>model://your_mesh.dae</uri></mesh>
</geometry>