A Week in a Carry-On: Planning Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe

planning a travel capsule wardrobe
As mentioned in the Intro to this series, my last 2 international trips were to Paris via Iceland and to London via Vermont. In each trip, the separate destinations required different wardrobes. Yet, I was able to pack for 7+ days for 2 destinations in a single carry on (plus personal item) each time. Here’s how.


This method of packing requires planning out a mini capsule wardrobe…a travel capsule, if you will. A capsule wardrobe is essentially a defined set of versatile, staple pieces that capture your style. It typically clocks in at around 30 items…some people believe that those 30 items should last a season (3 months) before you switch things up, but the most classic definition is that those 30 pieces should last you for years with few changes here and there. Regardless, the point is paring down to a focused set of cohesive pieces.


The travel capsule wardrobe builds off of these basic tenets, but applies them to a week, rather than a season or year. A travel capsule wardrobe requires a bit of planning, but after you do it a time or two, it’ll become second nature. In fact, you already have to do this to some extent for any trip you pack for, so you should have a little practice. In this case, though, you do a bit more tetris-ing to figure out how to get more out of less. Less pieces, that is…because the number of days you are gone DOES NOT equal the same number of pairs of pants or shirts you need. Let’s get started…

example travel capsule wardrobe

Shop My Capsule:
Row 1: Tank 1 | Tank 2 | Tank 3
Row 2: Grey Cardi | Striped Casual Button Up | Chambray
Row 3: Skinny Denim | Classic Trench | Wunder Unders
Row 4: Travel Sweatshirt | Leg Warmers | Roomy Purse | Walking Boots | Convertible Scarf

Figure out how many pieces you’ll need.

For a trip that is 6-8 days, you will likely need 10-13 pieces for your travel capsule wardrobe:

  • 1 coat / jacket*
  • 1 scarf – the lululemon vinyasa scarf is all you’ll ever need. get it in black or grey, and thank me later.
  • 2 sweaters (cardigans)*
  • 1-2 button-ups that can be worn as a stand-alone shirt or as a lighter cards
  • 3-4 shirts
  • 2-3 bottoms (2 pairs of leggings, 1 pair of jeans or 1 pair leggings, 1 pair jeans, 1 “nice” thing such as a skirt / dress / dressier pants)
  • 1-2 pairs of shoes
*Layers are the name of the game. We’re going to go with the toughest case here – colder temperatures – because that typically requires more pieces. 


You can already see how many potential outfits we have here! But in order to make the most of it, you have to…

Pick a palette.

All pieces need to coordinate with each other. For example, each shirt should be able to be paired with any bottom and any “topper” (sweater or button up). Patterns are totally okay – you don’t have to go with all solids. That said, they all need to be within the same color palette. If you have a loud or unique piece that only works with one other item, best to leave that at home…it’s not versatile enough. Keep the statement pieces to a unique necklace, earrings, or bold makeup.


Outline your outfits based on your itinerary.

Your itinerary doesn’t have to be completely set – I know that part of the beauty of travel is spontaneity. BUT…you likely have a general idea of what you are going to do during your time there. Ask yourself: are you walking around all day? Sightseeing in urban vs natural locations? Have an idea of what you’re going to do for dinner? You’ll know what days you need something more comfortable vs what days you want to be more fashionable or put together. Literally write out the days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…), a summary of that day’s agenda next to the day (“Explore the city” vs “Walking through Castles” vs “Bus Tour,” etc.), and then start constructing your outfits taking into consideration the activity and outside vs inside. If it helps, physically get your clothes out of the closet, and lay them out together to see how they look and if the amount makes sense.


What you initially wrote down isn’t set in stone! Make adjustments as you need to while planning. It really doesn’t take that much longer up front (you’d be going through your closet trying to think along these lines anyways), but it saves LOADS of time when you are actually traveling. I usually save the picture of my outline as a favorite, then consult it each morning as I get ready. I literally don’t have to think about my clothes AT ALL.


Now that we have your outfits figured out, you’re going to need to figure out how to fit in your toiletries and your extras (accessories, other incidentals), and then put it all together. Stay tuned for part 2 in the series!


Want to take the planning up a notch and figure out how to pre-plan some space for souvenirs or purchases along the way? I’ve got some pro tips for the ultimate minimalist packers!


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