I travel a lot and without realizing it, I created an increasingly popular travel capsule wardrobe. A travel capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of travel clothing that always go together and can be used on multiple trips. Travel capsule wardrobes are also noted for pieces that are easy to wash, do not wrinkle and work in multiple climates.
Why a capsule wardrobe? It’s about simplicity, space & time. Over the years I have evolved from a backpacker backpack 50+ liters, to a carry-on roller to a 35 liter Minaal pack. While I still use the roller bag for domestic travel, I prefer my Minaal backpack for anything overseas namely because it small, comfortable, fits my laptop and forces me to be smart about how I pack.
I can fit only 2 medium sized packing cubes into my bag plus a small cube for toiletries, 1 flip flop and 1 running shoe. I have easily traveled for 3 months with only this bag.
Since real estate in a Minaal is a limited, I have streamlined my packing to just essential pieces that have worked from Italy to Sweden to Croatia to Iceland. There are several very important rules I followed in order to create my travel capsule wardrobe. While I am on the extreme side of packing light, these rules are applicable to anyone who wants to bring less but still look great only using a carry-on roller suitcase. Not listed below but is a given rule, only pack clothing you love to wear. Just because you are traveling to Paris, doesn’t mean you are suddenly going to like wearing a beret.
Rules for the Ultimate Travel Capsule Wardrobe
Create a color scheme and build on top of it. This is a simple idea and the most important. Everything you pack must work with everything else. The pants must go with every top, the tops must go with all your bottoms and the shoes must go with everything. So, when you pull out something to wear you are guaranteed it will work. This doesn’t mean you can’t have patterns or stripes but means you will always have a very pulled together look. Personally, I love dark grays, blacks & stripes. It seems you can never go wrong with this combination of colors and patterns.
You do not need a new outfit for each day. We have all been guilty of planning several outfits for each day and end up bringing a suitcase large enough for a dead body. You can easily get multiple uses out of each piece. Calculate the number of days for your trip and do some math for packing:
- 1 shirt = 2 days
- 1 pant = 3 days
- 1 short = 3 days
- 1 skirt = 2 days
- 1 dress = 2 days
Embrace dark colors. Dark colors like black or navy present the most polished look and hide dirt very well. Plus, the darker clothes you wear, the more often you will be mistaken for a local.
Invest in quick drying clothes. Packing light means having to sometimes wash your clothes while on the road. I wear dark microfiber shirts (runners shirts) as bases most of the time. They wash & dry quickly and essentially guard the rest of my clothes against sweat. These are great pieces when you are spending an entire day sightseeing in hot weather. Plus, manufacturers are making athletic gear very fashionable now and a well placed necklace or scarf will disguise their athletic origin.
Keep it to 3 shoes or less. I know this is hardest principal. Truth is, we don’t need that many shoes. Depending where you are going, it’s impractical to pack high heels or wedge sandals (have you walked on cobblestone streets in heels). In a hot climate, a cute pair of sandals will work for nights, flip flops for the day and some form or athletic shoe or ballet flat for all other times. Personally, I always pack tennis shoes as running is the one thing I do wherever I go plus, many tennis shoes are super fashionable and look hip with skirts & shorts.
Bring a big ass scarf. I am big on utility. This piece is the ultimate in utility. It acts as a shoulder/head covering, shawl, blanket, pillow, towel, sarong and I have used it as a privacy screen on overnight trains. Whenever you can create new ways to use anything in your suitcase, you have packed a winning piece.
Accessories are king. These little workhorses breath life into plain outfits. A gorgeous chunky necklace for a night look, a bright belt to jazz up all black or a colorful scarf (see big ass scarf) are all terrific pieces to bring. I occasionally use a suede hip belt bag that I bought in Istanbul for some of my trips. It’s a very stylish way to have everything I need for sightseeing while keeping weight off my shoulders & back.
Here is my Travel Capsule Wardrobe
I recently went to Iceland for 6 days. I went there for the Reykjavik marathon and the temperature was between 55 and 65. I needed clothing for sightseeing, hiking, running & going out at night. This packing list is pretty indicative of what I pack for Spring/Summer trips.
- On Top
- (3) microfiber short sleeve tops including the one for marathon (black, dark gray)
- (1) microfiber long sleeve top (gray)
- (1) thin cotton long sleeve with hoodie (white, navy stripes)
- (1) blue jean jacket
- (1) chambray button up (light blue)
- (1) flannel button up (red/blue)
- (1) thin scarf (purple/white)
- On Bottom
- (1) running short
- (1) yoga pant (blue stripes)
- (1) skinny jean (green)
- (1) tennis shoes (black)
- (1) flip flop
- (1) ankle boots (light gray)
All the clothes worked perfectly together, even mixing the stripes worked for Iceland. The blue jean jacket was perfect for the day but even a black blazer could have worked. The ankle boots worked with my bottoms and dressed me up for the night. I did not bring a dress but easily could have and worn some gray or black tights with the boots.
If creating an entire travel capsule wardrobe is daunting try doing one for a weekend trip and see how few items you can bring and play with the mix and match. Packing light is an art and very liberating once you have achieved a small bag with everything you will need. Good luck with your capsule and leave a comment if you have further questions.