I am passionate about travel wardrobes. It’s a passion born out of So Many Travel Failures. Shivering with cold as I stood at the Oracle of Delphi, swimming in unstylish pants and a stupid hat as I rode an elephant in Thailand, feet screaming in pain as I retraced the steps of Julius Caesar on the streets of Rome, I have had every inappropriately dressed travel experience you can imagine.
But no more. A little research and a few investments later and I have become a packing ninja.* Whether you are spending 5 weeks in Europe,** or visiting family across the country, a small bag packed with adventure-ready ensembles will make your vacation.
The triumvirate of packing light
Layers – You need a color coordinated mix of pieces that can easily layer. Easier said than done, I know, but take your time and make this a priority.
Laundry – Your clothes need to be tough enough to withstand a hotel laundry service or a washout in the hostel sink. Look for pieces that won’t wrinkle, shrink and can dry relatively quickly.
Love – You better love everything you pack, because you are going to be wearing it over and over and over again.
The following all-purpose capsule can be modified to suit the needs of your destination. If you a touring cities in Europe, pieces need to look sharp. If you are hiking in Costa Rica, pieces need to be tough. If you hate shorts, don’t bring any, take an extra skirt or flowy long pants. Never, ever wear dresses? Pack extra pants and a top.
1. Three or four tops: High quality t-shirts in colors that look great on you work for many occasions. A tunic or floaty boho top are fun.
2. Two or three bottoms: Depending on the location and your preferences, choose from pants, shorts and skirts.
3. One or two dresses: I love dresses for long airplane trips and sightseeing. Solid colors are the most practical for a travel capsule, but if you can’t resist a fantastic print, go for it. You’re on vacation, after all.
4. One fantastically cozy sweater: You will be wearing this with pretty much everything at one point or another, so make sure it is warm, soft and in a good neutral color. Camel or navy are nice, travel-ready neutrals. If you’re headed someplace warm, swap out a sweater for a long sleeved shirt.
5. Two pairs of shoes: Cute sneakers, nicer sandals
6. Good quality cross body bag or backpack: For hands-free sight seeing. I’m not a fan of travel specific bags, but that’s just me.
7. Good-looking raincoat: They pack up small. Just take it.
8. Thin, flexible belt: To add polish to your travel wardrobe. You can belt your sweater around your dress to create a waist and feel less frumpy, or tuck a t-shirt into your shorts and finish with the belt when heading to lunch, the possibilities this little piece brings are endless.
9. Scarf: A lightweight scarf will protect you from the chill of air conditioning, a blazing sun, and the possibility of getting bored with your wardrobe. ****
10. PJs: Something comfy that you can be seen in
11. Activity specific clothing: Swimming? Hiking? Working out? You’ll need to bring the appropriate gear. My Title Nine swimsuit is a two-piece with paddle board shorts on the bottom. I can easily run in the shorts, and the top works as a sports bra.*** Just slip on a tank top and no one knows I’m running in my swimsuit. There are a lot of great trail running shoes that could stand in for your cute sneakers. Be creative about working gear into your regular wardrobe.
Color pallet ideas
In a travel capsule, you really can and should pare down your color choices. Start by choosing one or two neutrals (navy, black, brown, gray, wheat, pink, denim, white) Obviously, lighter colors will show more dirt. You know how much of a dirt magnet you tend to be, choose accordingly. Then pick two more colors that will work with these neutrals. You can also choose another neutral as your color. I like navy and black together, throw in a dash of red and a light neutral like wheat or camel, you are set. Here are some other ideas:
Navy, pink, burgundy and blue
Black, white, teal and fuchsia
Denim, cream, peach and sage
Black, denim, red and white
Dos and Don’t of Travel Packing
Don’t plan for every eventuality: Plan for normal weather and activities. If something comes up, there are clothing stores in other places. My beloved denim jacket was bought from a street vender in Rome for 10 Euro on a particularly cold spring day. If you wind up at Bayreuth, Germany and someone hands you tickets to a Wagner opera, you can run out a buy a nicer dress.
Do give it a trial run: Plan your vacation wardrobe, then trying wearing it in your daily life for a week. You’ll be able to work out glitches this way and make sure everything really works.
Don’t dress like a tourist: Rather, dress like an out of town guest. You won’t, and shouldn’t try to blend in with local populations. Whether you are in Poland or Poulsbo, Washington, no one expects you to know the local vibe. But dressing nicely will signal to folks that you are honored to be in their hometown.
Do buy what you need: Having the right gear for your travels will free you up to focus on your adventure. Great looking sandals in which you can walk for miles don’t come cheap, but neither did your airfare. It makes no sense to invest the time and money into travel, only to be miserable with blistered feet once you get to your destination. And it’s not like you’ll never wear this stuff again. My travel wardrobe is basically the nicer half of my summer wardrobe, and I’m packing the same things to visit family in the midwest this summer that I took to Sedona last summer.
Don’t forget to check the weather: Look at average temperatures for the dates of your trip in the place you are traveling to. Be realistic about what this means. If it’s likely to be 95 degrees and raining every afternoon, you are not going to want a draped jersey dress with ¾ sleeves, no matter how much you love it.
Do consider your fabrics carefully: Linen feels fantastic, but will wrinkle if you look at it funny. Synthetic moisture wicking fabrics are amazing, but they will hold a stench something terrible. Anything shiny will look funny in photographs. Personally I like to travel with cotton blend fabrics, a little bit of stretch to hold off the wrinkles, but I don’t sweat a ton so the wicking isn’t as important to me. I’ve had good luck with fabric made from bamboo, as it feels great and doesn’t wrinkle as badly as straight cotton. You know yourself and your plans. If quick drying fabric is a must, go with synthetics and wash them tenaciously. If the feel of the fabric matters to you, try a cotton blend.
Do save room for a take away: A piece of jewelry or article of clothing that can send you back to your vacation years later is a gem. Just be realistic about what you will wear in your everyday life back home.
Don’t worry about wearing the same thing over and over: Left to our own devises, most of us would wear the same thing over and over if no one noticed. When you are traveling, no one will notice because the only people you’ll be seeing regularly are your travel companions.
Do have a fantastic time! Have any pictures of your favorite travel ensembles? Please send them in and I’ll run them in inspiration.
* Do ninjas check bags? Use a carry on? Actually I’m picturing a backpack.
**Have such a good time, Jenine!
***Yes, I realize this is a lot easier for us A and B cup girls.
**** Check out Maia’s comment below. Here is a link if you want to find that scarf.