Capsule Wardrobe: From Over-Packing to Packing like a Pro

I have been an over-packer my entire life, until last year!  I challenged myself to only carry-on my luggage for a two and a half week trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland last summer- and I crushed it!  During this particular vacation we stayed in nine different locations in England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Knowing how much moving around we would be doing, I did not want to be lugging around my full-sized suitcase up and down narrow staircases and down cobblestone roads.  I made this mistake the previous summer on our trip to France, where we stayed in four different locations and I had my suitcase slam-packed with half my wardrobe and too many shoes – the story of every over-packer ever. This vacation was going to be different. To attain my goal, I watched several packing videos, read other blog posts, and most importantly learned to (and adhere to) pack a capsule wardrobe. 

There are so many benefits to only bringing a carry-on, especially when you plan to be doing a lot of city hopping. Here are a few of the benefits:

  1. You can skip the check-in process at the airport by simply checking-in on your airline app, and head straight to security.
  2. No need to pay those baggage fees.
  3. It is so much easier to navigate public transportation or fit into small taxis.
  4. No need to wait to collect your bags once you land- head straight to your first excursion- or hotel to nap!

Capsule Wardrobe Preparation:

The first thing I want to be sure of when packing is the weather. When traveling, I like to be prepared for all types of weather, this was especially important when traveling to the UK where they experience all four seasons in one day- we experienced this first hand! When considering your clothing options, you want to include items that will match with a variety of other items in your suitcase, will not wrinkle, are comfortable (and fit!), and can be worn multiple times without a wash. When considering packing a capsule wardrobe, it is also important to know if you will have access to a washer/dryer or laundromat at your accommodations. We like to stay in Airbnbs on our longer vacations and have often had these appliances, if your accommodations do not have a washer and dryer it may be a good idea to take time half way through your trip to stop by a laundromat or get laundry service at a hotel. Another thing to consider when packing is the culture that you will be visiting. Short dresses and tank tops, exercise clothes, graphic tees, and flip flops may be acceptable in the U.S., however may not be at your destination.

When we planned our trip to France, I wanted us to blend in with the locals, so I made Andrew buy some shirts that were plain and simple, since most of his shirts have graphics of The Notorious B.I.G., Life is Good (he may be a 40-soccer dad inside), or stains and holes. On our first morning in Paris he wore is Life is Good shirt with a Gorilla playing drums to breakfast, and our adorable waiter was making fun of him and I could not get enough of it! “I told you so!” could not come out of my mouth soon enough; a few nights later at our wine tasting, in outfits I selected, we were complimented on how Parisian we looked. Tracy, two points; Andrew, 0 points.

Right now I will be following the same formula I used for the UK as I prepare for our upcoming trip to Italy and Spain. The weather will be pretty similar, lows in the 50-60s and highs in the low 70s. Perfect sight-seeing weather in my opinion- unless going to a tropical paradise, then much warmer is preferred.

Capsule Wardrobe: Things to Pack

My go-to color scheme is grey, white, and blue, with a couple pieces with splashes of color.

Tops

  • Dress- I always pack one dress that is versatile that I can casually wear during the day and dress it by at night with a belt, flats, and little scarf.
  • Three Sleeveless Tops that can be worn alone or under a sweater
  • A Long-sleeve moisture wicking top for hiking (or thermal if cold)
  • Two sweaters
  • Two shirts
  • Two tank tops
  • Flannel
  • all tops should match all the bottoms

Bottoms

  • Skinny Blue Jeans
  • Skinny Black Jeans
  • Boyfriend Jeans (these are good for really cold days for layering with thermals)
  • Linen Pants (black or blue)
  • Columbia base-layer thermals (can be worn under bf jeans if it is really cold)
  • Yoga Pants
  • Sweatpants that can be for hiking or pajamas

Shoes

The most important pair of shoes to pack should be extremely comfortable – if you only pack or wear one pair of shoes make sure it is your favorite comfy sneakers. Here are my go-to shoes:

  • Converse Sneakers for sight-seeing
  • Strappy Sandals
  • Toms or Flats
  • As needed:
    • Snow boots- My Columbia cold-weather boots with Omni-Heat technology are one of my favorite pairs of shoes I own. I have worn them hiking and on extremely long walks, and my feet have never been cold.
    • Rain boots- I have a great pair of Sperry’s that are small enough to not stick out as rain-boots and can easily be worn with shorts or dresses.

Pajamas

You can get away with wearing your pajamas multiple times. If your trip is a week or less, one set should work. If you are traveling longer, maybe pack two sets or plan to wash halfway through your trip. I also like to bring versatile clothes that I can wear during the day and that can be also worn at night- just in case spills and tears happen. The pajamas I typically pack are a pair of sleep shorts, loose fitting tank top, tee shirt, and sweatpants.

Socks and Underwear

Depending on your access to a washer and dryer, you can pack enough for a little over half your trip, and do laundry in the middle of your trip, or since these are small items you can pack enough for everyday just in case. pack some cozy socks for the plane and chilly nights. An article of clothing I have recently come to love are bralettes. I typically only wear exercise bras and bralettes on vacation- they are super comfy and take up virtually no space in your bag!

Outerwear

  • Sweaters (no matter what the weather is, I always bring at least two cardigans: 1 white/ivory and 1 complimentary color)
  • Warm Jacket if needed
  • Rain Jacket if needed
  • Wind Breaker if needed

Miscellaneous depending on your destination

  • Swimsuit (number depends on the activities, but no more than 2 should suffice)
  • If needed: gloves, scarves, beanies/hats, belt
  • Gym clothes: bra, top, bottoms
  • Snow or Snorkel Gear

Accessories and Toiletries

I use my Ultimate Packing list to make sure I do not forget anything. When I began traveling several times a year, I purchased duplicates of all of my toiletries and everyday items (comb, toothbrush, makeup, etc.) for convenience. Now my toiletry kit and liquid bag are always packed and ready to go.

Top Tips:

  1. Start packing early, do not wait until the night before.
  2. Lay out everything you want to bring…and put some items back!
  3. Use packing cubes, these things are life changing!  You can choose to pack by item (tops in one, bottoms in another) or by day (outfits that go together for the first part of your trip for example).
  4. Roll your clothes- I have seen other methods, but rolling and organizing in packing cubes has been the most successful for me.
  5. Practice packing a capsule wardrobe and plan your outfits based on your activities. If you will be hiking everyday, then you will not need dresses or heels; if your destination is 80 degrees then you won’t need that second and third jacket- keep it simple.
  6. Limit your shoes…are you really going to wear those heels? Probably not. 

Travel Outfits:

On short flights I usually wear jeans, a sleeveless top, a sweater, and my converse. On longer flights a get a bit more comfy. I wear yoga pants, a loose tank top, flannel shirt, sneakers, and pack a jacket/sweater that can double as a pillow. For more inspiration check out my Packing Tips and Capsule Wardrobe board on Pinterest.

I know it seems daunting to think about only taking a carry-on bag, but it is super practical and you will not want to go back- I know I won’t! So what do you usually do for luggage? Do you check your luggage every time? Have you ever packed a capsule wardrobe?

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