How to Pack a Capsule Travel Wardrobe (Life-Changing)
Pack Like a Minimalist, Dress like a Maximalist.
PS: These tips also apply for building and maintaining a capsule wardrobe year-round.
If you are new to the concept of capsule wardrobes, let me start by saying that I’m a proud outfit-repeater. The pieces I choose are highly reusable. And I tend to do a lot of pre-purchase research. I only buy when a) there’s a need in my closet, b) the item pairs with things I already own, c) is well crafted, and, d) fits my 5’2″ body properly.
And yet, people are often shocked by how modest my closet size is. Truthfully, it takes years to build a capsule wardrobe. But the benefits are endless! Plus, a re-usable, timeless wardrobe frees up my resources (aka money) for more important things, like buying my first house and investing in stocks.
But you don’t need a capsule wardrobe in place per se to utilize its virtues when packing! Practicing the basics of intentional, purposeful outfit pairing is a great way to get your mind “trained” on what to look for if a capsule wardrobe is your end goal.
I’ll admit that I take *a little* satisfaction in the shocked look on acquaintance’s faces when I roll into the airport with my small suitcase. Sure, I may look like a diva. But I don’t pack like one! That’s because I have a super-simple travel wardrobe formula. It makes packing for travel a no-brainer. And today, I’m delighted to share it with you! My step-by-step approach will free you from anxious last-minute packing.
This post contains affiliate links to shops that I use and actively support. Read my Disclaimer to learn more.
My Minimalist Packing Guide Formula
You will find me repeating this exact same packing strategy over and over. My capsule travel wardrobe always includes versatile, reusable basics. Sure, I’ll swap out a sweater and jeans for a bikini and beach pants. Or choose boots over flipflops. But the basic step-by-step formula is always the same:
Step by Step: How to Pack a Capsule Travel Wardrobe
- Create a foundation of mix-and-match separates.
You’ll want these to be neutral coloured, like white, black, navy, deep brown, or beige.
Foundation pieces are tops, pants, jackets, and skirts in solid colours. Though they could be patterned, so long as the pattern is in a neutral colour palette. My foundation packing list is typically 4 tops and 2 bottoms.
- Include one dress or a playsuit. (Optional, but suggested.)
this should be an item that you love to wear, in whatever colour you like. These “one-item” outfits get you out the door quickly.
They should be easy to throw on go, but could also be played up with accessories. Think of a slinky dress that works equally with heels and jewelry or a chunky sweater and flats. A versatile sundress or romper can take you from sightseeing to dinner.
- Three pairs of shoes are ideal.
I always pack two pairs of flats and one pair of heels, or more, depending on the length of my trip. (The pair you wear on the day of travel counts.) But you should adjust this according to your preferences and destination.
At least two pairs should be neutral, but feel free to include a pop of colour with one pair.
- Add in accent pieces.
Accent pieces should pair well with the foundation pieces. For ultimate mix-and-match results, choose accents in a similar or complementary colour family, like marigold and cobalt blue, pink and red, or emerald and baby blue.
- Write it all down.
Taking the time to write out each item will save you anxiety and heartache in the days leading up to your trip.
- BONUS Pro Traveler Tip: Use a Tote Bag and keep a large, lightweight scarf inside.
A time-tested strategy that will never let you down. Tote bags are essential for me when traveling. Keep the items you need on-hand, like passport, lip balm, and phone charger. The scarf tip is a game-changer, read more about why below.
Why the scarf, you may ask? The versatility of a large, gauzy scarf is endless! At a minimum, it keeps me warm, but not over-heating on planes. A billowy scarf has saved me from unexpected drops in temperate and shielded my skin from the beaming sun when I didn’t have sunblock on hand. I always carry one in my travel tote bag, and it never let me down. Plus, lightweight scarves easily fold up and are far less bulky than carrying an extra jacket.
One last small detail: I keep my nail colour neutral. This way, my lacquer won’t clash with any of my outfits. I’m 100% sure this detail doesn’t matter to many people. But I’m sharing my exact steps and thought-process here.
Don’t forget outerwear if you’re travel destination requires it! For the chilly desert nights in Las Vegas, a neutral sweater by Frank & Oak in Oatmeal-beige slipped effortlessly over any outfit. Another great option would have been a camel-coloured trench coat. If you’re looking for timeless, you can’t go wrong with a trench coat.
Luxury Vegan Travel Totes and Handbags
Picking the Right Accessories and Accent Pieces
The majority of the items I pack are neutral colours. These neutrals serve as a “foundation” for 90% of my outfits. Selecting a few accent pieces is the fail-proof way to avoid being bored to death by a capsule travel wardrobe. Making sure they are within the same, or complementary, colour family ensures you can also use multiple accent pieces per outfit.
For example, if I’m packing a cherry-red pencil skirt, I’ll be sure to pack a matching lipstick, shoes, or handbag. For my Las Vegas trip, my colour palette was primarily black and white, with candy red and navy blue “accents” pieces. Because I packed my stunning, golden Stella McCartney purse, I made sure my jewelry was gold-toned too. Voila! Everything was so easy to pair together on the fly.
Bonus points if you can work in an item like this linen skirt from Reformation. It’s technically a “neutral” since it’s black and white, meaning it will play well with most tops. But the pattern makes it a bolder choice when paired with basic, solid-colored tops. Neutral-coloured patterns add whimsy while still being super versatile.
Pair Down Your Makeup
I already mentioned packing a red lipstick if I know I’ll be bringing any red accessories. Which is a good tip! But I also want to share a few other things about makeup.
You can really, really pair down your makeup by planning ahead. I usually bring a warm-toned blush, a cool-tone blush, a bronzer, a nude lipstick, and a warm-tone lipstick. No need for entire face pallets or stuff you rarely use! Stick to just a few things that you know look great on you.
Versatile, Clean, Vegan Makeup that I Love
FREQUENT TRAVELER TIP:
My makeup essentials are always ready to go. I keep them in a small makeup bag at my vanity. Inside I have a lip balm, eyebrow product and spoolie, mascara, a mini skin primer, colour correctors, setting powder, and concealer. When I’m jetting off, I’ll just toss in my blush, bronzer, and lipsticks of choice, plus brushes, and go!
I rarely travel with foundation. But when I do, it’s typically a pressed powder foundation since they’re less fussy than liquids. Though I habe been liking the True Skin Serum Foundation from Ilia, since it applies well with fingertips.
Select the Right Footwear
For footwear, I also kept it pretty neutral. My white and black Veja sneakers were a lifesaver in Las Vegas, where there was an unexpected amount of walking. And I always bring a pair of nude pumps for dinner meetings and more professional events. But your capsule travel wardrobe should be tailored to your needs! Not a heels girl? Don’t bother with ’em!
Sustainable Vegan Kicks for Travel
I highly recommend investing in a pair of Rothy’s recycled-fiber flats for your travel (and every day!) needs. I purchased my pointed-toe flats in light pink, though the post-consumer plastic-waterbottle beauties come in an array of colours.
PS: I have a $20 of Coupon Code for Rothy’s by clicking here! Rothy’s does not do sales. So feel free to use that code if you’d like to save a little money on your Rothy’s shoe investment. One last tip on Rothy’s flats: I recommend sizing up a half size in their pointed flats if you have average to wide width feet. I’m a steady 7.5 in shoes but have slightly wide feet. The size 8 fits me perfectly.
Make a List, Check it Twice
Lastly, but most importantly, I make a list. I literally make a packing list EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. that I travel. I did it for our Las Vegas trip. I do it for 3-day business trips to Dallas. And I already have my (approximate) packing list planned for my honeymoon 5 months from now. Do I sound crazy? Perhaps. Am I as cool as a cumber when I leave for the airport? Always.
Full crazy lady disclosure: In the past, I used a symbol and arrow system to make sure my list items were multi-purpose… but I don’t want to scare you off or think that it’s entirely necessary to take it that far, haha. Just write down your core, neutral-coloured items down, followed by your accent pieces, and footwear. Easy peasy.
FREQUENT TRAVELER TIP:
When it comes to grooming essentials, I always keep a toiletry bag pre-packed. Inside you’ll find minis of my favourite skincare (Hellooo travel samples!) and haircare, plus a small hairbrush and mini lint-roller. I just peek in to make sure none of my supplies are low, and then toss the toiletry bag into my suitcase. Done.
Some Final Thoughts
I cannot stress enough, er, should I say de-stress(?), enough how liberating using the capsule travel wardrobe method and a packing list is. Two days before my trip, I scan my wardrobe packing list and ensure everything is cleaned and ready to go. I hang or fold all the items in one place. Then the day before my trip, I just go to my little “stash” and put everything in my suitcase. My travel essentials, like passport, phone, earbuds, and billowy scarf, go into my trusty tote bag. That’s it. Done.
No last-minute scrambling. No fretting about “what if I need this or that?” It’s just all …ready. And you can start your trip with a clear mind and less anxiety. When “day zero” arrives, I literally stretch out on the couch, scrolling on my phone while my husband scrambles and darts around the house like a panicked ferret. He’ll sometimes pause to stare, beads of sweat dripping down his face, and mutter something like “I don’t know how you do it…”
Wellllll, now you know!
Pin these Capsule Wardrobe Packing tips so you can reference them again at any time.