Creating a capsule travel wardrobe is the best way to make packing light easy while still being stylish. You can have the best of both worlds!
When I first started traveling, I was under the impression that “real travelers” (especially budget travelers) weren’t supposed to care about style. What you wore on your travels was all about budget, comfort, practicality, and packing as little as possible. There seemed to be a lot of convoluted travel clothes (you know those transforming items that never really look right?) and not a lot of stylish travel outfits.
Needless to say, any idea of what travelers are “supposed to do” is wrong. There is no right or wrong way to do things! But it took me a few years to realize that I could dress the way I wanted to on the road, pack what I liked, and keep my sense of personal style without sacrificing my preferred travel style.
Even though I began admiring pretty clothes again, and decided the “backpacker wardrobe” wasn’t for me, I still wanted to pack light. I spent a lot of time wondering if it was possible to dress in a way that was both stylish and practical, while also fitting everything into a carry-on suitcase.
My biggest test of this query came earlier in the year during my trip to Portugal. I spent two months away from home with just my carry-on, and I put together a carefully planned capsule travel wardrobe for the occasion.
After trying it out, I can enthusiastically say that it IS possible to turn just a handful of curated clothing items into a plethora of travel outfits, without losing your sense of style.
Capsule Travel Wardrobe
So what is a capsule travel wardrobe? Well, it’s possible you’ve heard of a capsule wardrobe already, as it’s been a popular trend in the slow fashion movement over the last few years. Basically, you curate a small, versatile wardrobe instead of buying endless amounts of clothes. The focus tends to be on high-quality pieces that last a long time, but the main idea is to keep items to a minimum.
You can easily translate this idea to a TRAVEL capsule wardrobe by creating a selection of clothing items you can pack on every trip you take. It might not be your entire wardrobe, but you can keep going back to these pieces when you pack, which is especially helpful if you travel frequently. It takes the stress out of packing if you have a small wardrobe to begin with!
Why you should create a capsule wardrobe for travel:
- Makes packing easier if you travel a lot
- A small wardrobe can be packed into a smaller suitcase to save on baggage fees
- Planning your wardrobe and outfits in advance ensures you’ll have what you need while you’re away
- Pieces in a capsule wardrobe work together, so you can still be stylish while traveling
- You won’t have to go out and buy new clothes every time you go on a trip
I think aiming for 10-15 clothing items and 2-3 pairs of shoes is ideal for this (remember, you can always do laundry while you’re traveling!). Some people might have a stricter definition of what constitutes a “capsule wardrobe” for travel, but my goal is to create something that works for long-term travel just as well as a quick week-long trip.
My goal also includes style, so you don’t feel like you’re losing your personal sense of self just because you’re traveling. This is something I struggled with during my year in New Zealand. I was stuck in that “this is what a backpacker is” mentality, and I didn’t feel quite like myself because I was wearing raggedy t-shirts and ugly shoes (truly the ugliest shoes) every day. As much as “appearances don’t matter,” I think honing your personal style has a lot to do with comfort and confidence.
For this project, I wanted to create a wardrobe for my travels that made me feel comfortable, confident, and like a the adult woman that I am.
Tips for Creating a Stylish Travel Wardrobe
Here are a few tips to get started with creating your own travel wardrobe:
1. Invest in Good Basics
Basics will take you far in any capsule wardrobe. Basics don’t have to be truly BASIC though. Invest in nice solid-colored tops, a high-quality t-shirt, a black dress, really good jeans. These things can be worn over and over again, never go out of style, and if you invest in high-quality pieces, they won’t get worn out either.
2. Find Versatile Clothing Items
A piece of clothing that can only be worn one way, a top that only works with a certain pair of pants, etc…these items aren’t a good use of your suitcase space. Pack tops, pants, dresses, jackets, and shoes that can be worn in multiple ways. For example, a button-down shirt that works as a light cover-up over a tank top in the evening; or a dress that can be worn like a skirt when paired with a top. Sometimes this just means getting creative with how you wear things.
3. Pack Items That All Go Together
If all of your clothing items go together, you’ll have a seemingly infinite amount of outfits to wear while you’re away. 10 items go a long way when you can mix and match every single piece to create different outfits.
4. Stick to a Single Color Palette
If most of your clothes fall within a similar color palette, it will be much easier to mix and match everything and create a cohesive travel wardrobe. I tend to stick to a lot of black with a couple of accent colors that suit me (olive green, light pinks, navy). This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a colorful wardrobe if that’s what you prefer, just make sure your colors work together.
5. Pack Things That Actually Represent Your Style
We often get caught up in buying clothes for travel that we wouldn’t usually wear, because we think we’ll be someone else when we go to another country, or because we think we need to forgo style for practicality. Don’t fall into this trap! You can find practical pieces that are also stylish, and you’ll find yourself actually wanting to wear these things. Always pack for your actual self, not your dream self.
6. Pay Attention to Fabrics
This isn’t a rule I actually stick to at this point, but it’s something to keep in mind as you buy pieces you can pack on every trip for years to come. Fabrics that are wrinkle-free, easy to fold, lightweight, and generally just easy to pack and deal with should be at the top of your shopping list. You don’t want clothes that are going to look awful after being packed away in your suitcase.
Shopping for a Travel Wardrobe
If you want to specifically focus on investing in high-quality pieces, and even eco-friendly pieces, I definitely encourage that. Those are two principles in the minimalist capsule wardrobe world. If you can curate a selection of travel clothes to pack with you for years and years to come, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
However, I know we can’t all afford to invest in pieces like that right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still create a small and well-planned wardrobe to pack for your travels. I mean, most of my wardrobe at the moment comes from places like Target, because I’m not in a financial situation that allows me to invest in those high-quality pieces. So don’t feel bad if you can’t do that right now either.
Start with clothing items you already have, keep track of what you truly love and feel comfortable in, and create a list of 10-15 pieces that cover all your clothing needs while traveling. Then if you find you’d really benefit from specific items, make a plan to purchase those items in the future.
Women’s Travel Capsule Wardrobe Packing List
Which items and how many items you pack for your trip is completely up to you. This packing list won’t work for everyone, but it’s a good place to start if you want to put together a capsule travel wardrobe you can pack in a hurry. This is a mix of what I would pack for a typical trip, based on the kind of traveling I do.
- Good pair of jeans
- High-Quality T-shirt (2 if you wear t-shirts most of the time)
- Black Dress (for dinners, going out, etc.)
- Solid Colored Top
- Long-Sleeve Button-Down Shirt
- Shorts, Skirt, or Another Pair of Pants (whatever works for your style)
- Lightweight Jacket
- Sleeveless Top (2 if you’re going somewhere warm)
- Casual Dress (for daytime or casual dinners)
- Stylish Sneakers (that work well with your daily outfits but are also comfortable for walking)
- Flats or Sandals (something stylish for dinner, but still comfortable for daily wear)
- Booties or Wedges (or a regular pair of heels, but these styles are more comfortable and wearable)
- Small Crossbody Handbag
This packing list is just a basic starting point. These are items you’ll likely need for most trips, but you can customize the list to your own personal needs and style. I can’t stress enough the importance of putting your own style and comfort at the forefront of your packing list, because everyone is comfortable wearing different things while traveling.
My Carry-on Capsule Wardrobe for Travel
I thought it would be helpful to give you a look at my own travel capsule wardrobe, so you can get an idea of what this might look like. Keep in mind that this is purely based on my personal style and what I like to wear. Focus your own travel style on what makes you comfortable.
This is the capsule wardrobe I created for 2 months in Portugal, and I packed it all in a carry-on suitcase. For my main wardrobe, I stuck to less than 15 clothing items, along with 3 pairs of shoes, and some jewelry and accessories. I also had my undergarments, pajamas, & active wear, although they aren’t included in this list. They still fit just fine in my carry-on along with my daily wardrobe.
Keep in mind that this was for a trip where I spent most of my time in the city. However I did have a few active days, and of course travel days.
(*Linking to exact or similar items, when possible)
2 Month Packing List
- Faux Leather Moto Jacket • AE
- Polka Dot Dress
- Floral Dress
- S/S T-shirt Dress
- Black Sheath Dress
- Red Plaid Button Down • AE
- Cuffed Sleeve Tees (Black & Olive Green)
- Light Pink Button Down
- Striped Button Down S/S
- B&W Striped Tanks
- Mid-rise Skinny Jeans (Black & Medium Wash) • Old Navy
- Leopard Print Flats • Target
- Canvas Old Skool Vans (All Black) • Vans
- Black Wedges
I was able to create SO many outfits with this small wardrobe. In 2 months, I never once felt like I didn’t have what I needed, and I never felt like I was wearing the same thing over and over again.
Here are a few of the travel outfits I put together while packing to ensure my clothing items would work together.
Clearly I have a very specific style that makes it pretty easy to pack minimally, but notice that I managed to pack a variety of items, with a pop of color and prints, that were all able to be worn in almost any combination, for any occasion. That’s the goal here!
This is just a small number of outfits, and a lot of my items didn’t make it into photos. But I had so many options!
I hope by showing you my travel wardrobe, I’ve given you a few ideas on how to create your own. My goal is to continue refining my capsule wardrobe for travel in the coming years. This is sort of a first-go for me, and I’d love to invest in higher-quality pieces in the future. But I really felt comfortable and happy with the items I brought.
If you have a capsule wardrobe (for travel or for every day life), I’d love to hear your tips and favorite brands to invest in.
Recommended Packing Items
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