In 2019, a study by OnePoll in conjunction with Trunk Club, revealed 65% of American vacationers found packing difficult and 62% of respondents said that they overpack. If this is you, don’t worry, you’re in good hands. Keep reading for my simple, carry-on friendly, travel capsule wardrobe formula.
For more travel packing tips and advice, see these posts:
How to Pack a Suitcase – The Ultimate Guide
18 Travel Essentials to Pack Every Time You Leave Home – 2022 Update
Hard Working Travel Wardrobe Essentials – Key Pieces for Frequent Explorers
6 Travel Makeup Tips for Simple & Stylish Globetrotting
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Before we start, I have five foundation rules when it comes to packing for any destination, for any amount of time.
- Choose a colour palette and stick to it, because you want everything to mix and match as much as possible. This will reduce the overall volume you need to pack.
- Select natural fabrics as much as possible, because they are breathable and therefore need washing less often—think cotton, linen, silk, wool, cashmere, alpaca and more. The only exception is for rainwear, swimwear and items you need to be waterproof which will tend to be nylon, polyester or some other synthetic.
- If you want to be a true carry-on connoisseur you need to pack for a one-week block maximum, and be prepared to wash and re-wear for subsequent weeks. This means you’ll need to throw in some laundry soap, or at pinch you can use the shampoo or bar soap in your hotel room.
- Research your destination and ensure you have an idea of the local culture and etiquette so you don’t turn up looking out of place; or worse, offensive to the people of your host destination.
- Check the weather, check the weather, check the weather! If you’re planning well in advance, look at climate charts to see what is typical for the time of year you are travelling. Then as your trip gets closer, look at the actual weather forecast.
The 3-2-1 travel capsule wardrobe formula
Let me break down the travel capsule wardrobe formula with a little more detail using two different examples, one for summer and one for winter. Both examples are for city breaks or urban travel. If you were going to say a National Park for a hiking holiday, then of course your would choose different garments but follow the same basic formula. Here we go…
Summer travel capsule wardrobe
Three tops – I like to mix it up with one long sleeve, one short sleeve and one tank to give me options for varying weather or layering the pieces together if need be. All your tops need to work with all your bottoms. (Items pictured are a Grana silk tank, Camixa linen button-up and thrifted light cotton knit).
Two bottoms – Remember we are packing for a seven-day block only, so if all three tops can be mixed and matched with your two bottoms, you have six days-worth of outfits already. I like to have one long and one short bottom. (Examples pictured are a pair of cotton ankle pants and pair of Grana silk shorts.
Two shoes – You can usually get by on just two pairs, a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a pair of dressy sandals/wedges for the evening but depending on your destination and/or activities you may need flip flops or a pair of water shoes. (Shoes pictured by Vans, Aleader and Sseko)
Two bags – A casual day bag such as small backpack or tote, and a clutch or evening bag. (Leather tote by Kate Spade and Anya Hindmarsh clutch thrifted through TheRealReal)
One dress or jumpsuit – A one-piece outfit that you can take from day to evening by changing up your accessories – shoes, bag and jewellery. (Dress pictured above is Marc by Marc Jacobs thrifted through Thredup)
One swimsuit, coverup, sunglasses and hat – Select one swimsuit and a sarong or coverup, along with one pair of sunglasses and a hat. (Swimsuit pictured from Jets by Jessika Allen and coverup which can double as a light dress is by Strand Australia)
Unlimited – Underwear, socks and small accessories such as jewellery, sunglasses and lightweight scarves are unlimited but remember you are only packing for 7-days.
Winter travel capsule wardrobe formula
Three tops – Two lighter, long sleeve tops for layering in silk or cotton, and one heavier/warmer piece in alpaca, cashmere or wool. (Tops pictured were thrifted through Thredup)
Two bottoms – Usually a pair of jeans and a pair of tailored wool trousers that can be dressed up or down. (Jeans above by Patagonia and wool trousers by Everlane)
Two pairs of shoes – Two pairs of shoes are generally sufficient—a comfortable pair of walking shoes and something more dressy for the evening. Depending on your destination and/or activities you may need heavier boots. (Images above are Sorrel snow boots and Everlane ankle boots)
Two scarves – Sure you getaway with just a single scarf. However, they are such a simple, lightweight and warm way to change up an outfit, why not allow yourself a second. Maybe one neutral and another in a bold alternative to add a pop of colour to an otherwise monochrome outfit.
One dress and leggings – Again, choose a dress that can be transformed from casual to dressy with accessories – shoes, bag and jewellery. A sweater dress made of warm material is ideal. (Wool dress pictured by COS and leggings by Icebreaker)
One outerwear piece, hat, gloves and bag – Choose a single warm coat that you can wear over everything else you’ve packed. It may be cropped for milder climates or knee-length for lower temperatures. A warm hat and gloves are essential for cold climate destinations. (Items pictured include Patagonia jacket, Landsend gloves and Kangool beret)
One bag – You will need at least a day bag such as small backpack or tote, and possibly a small evening bag or cross-body for dressier occasions. (Bag pictured is a Rebecca Minkoff backpack)
Underwear and small accessories – including thermal base layer and jewellery are unlimited but remember you only need to pack for a 7-day timeframe.
Try to pack from your wardrobe first because those items are likely to be tried and tested—you never want to pack a brand-new bra or pair of shoes, believe me! If you don’t have the right items already, consider shopping one of these sustainable sources for your travel capsule.
For more packing inspiration and guides for specific destinations, see these travel packing articles. Feel free to drop any questions or additional advice below in the comments.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,