Packing Light: How to Create a 15-Piece Travel Wardrobe

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Packing light - travel capsule wardrobe

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m totally ready for the semester to end. With less than a month of classes remaining here in Texas (because who counts Thanksgiving week?), my thoughts have shifted to my winter break vacation plans.

I recently made a goal to visit 50 new cities during my four years of college, so I’m not counting any place I’ve stepped foot in before my freshman year. I’m in the low thirties right now (and I only count it if I actually left the airport/train station and spent at least 30 minutes there), so I’m looking forward to doing some more traveling! But as any suave traveler knows, one of the biggest hurdles is figuring out what to pack and what to leave behind.

Prior to last summer, I could not have picked out a single occasion where I didn’t pack the night before. I called it my “procrastination packing” method and was so sure that I was doing it right. And yet for some unfathomable reason, I always ended up with too many clothes! I would always pack my stuff in a small suitcase or a backpack to minimize this risk, so how on earth was I still bringing along pointless items?

Woman going backpacking

I figured it out in June, when my friend and I discussed what we were bringing on our backpacking trip through Europe. A 30-day trip out of a backpack. We didn’t just cut it down to the essentials – we brought the essentials that we would want to wear and that matched with each other.

For example, I brought a favorite pair of skinny jeans, assuming I would wear them the majority of the week. And because jeans go with practically everything, they were the perfect pick. I also started packing days in advance, which allowed me to repeat this evaluation process with all the items I was planning to bring and ensured that I could create at least three different outfits with each piece.

I felt like I had gotten the formula right, so I tested it out on my one-week trip to California this summer. I brought twelve pieces of clothing with me. And I loved my outfits! I was comfortable and happy because the pieces were ones I loved and because I could mix-and-match depending on my mood. I also had room to go shopping and bring back new clothes, which is always a plus.

This inspired me to start planning early and make a travel capsule wardrobe that I could bring on any trips over Thanksgiving and winter break. For this post, I’ve put together a 15-piece travel wardrobe that can be used to create a bunch of chic fall/winter vacation looks. Scroll down to see all 15 pieces:

What to Pack:

Travel capsule

Product Information (all under $100!): Trench Coat – H&M, Hooded Jacket – Blackfive, Chunky Sweater – Blackfive, Long Tee – Abercrombie & Fitch, Leggings – New Look, Jeans – Blackfive, Chambray Shirt – American Eagle,  Short Sleeve Blouse – H&M, Short Tee – Athleta, Dress – Abercrombie & Fitch, Sneakers – Adidas, Flats – ModCloth, Booties – ModCloth, Satchel – ModCloth, Infinity Scarf – Nordstrom

So, why 15 pieces?

Fifteen was just a rough guideline based on my previous trips and what typically fits in a carry-on bag or large backpack. If you want to pack more, or are taking a longer trip, go for it! If the weather is more stable where you’re traveling, you might be able to cut back even more.

Also, I’m not the biggest shoe person (gasp!) so I know most people will bring more than just three pairs. And to be honest, I’d probably even throw in an extra scarf and pair of boots. I tried to vary between lightweight and heavy pieces that can be layered, with a few pieces designed for extremely cold and reasonably warm days.

Those pieces seem kind of boring…

They’re basics! I believe that your travel clothing should be functional and cute, but easy to mix-and-match. Notice I didn’t include any jewelry or accessories. That’s because you can have fun there and spruce up each outfit with some color and personality! You can also mix up your palette so that your pieces aren’t so neutral.

Additionally, I think you should bring one nice dress that perhaps doesn’t match any of your other pieces if you know you’ll be going out or attending an event.

Does it actually work?

It depends on what you pack, but this method worked for me twice and I intend to try it again this winter. To show you how these pieces could overlap, here are four sample looks:

Sample travel outfits

If you’re taking a trip within the next few months, consider packing light and in advance (or at least making a little checklist) to save space and not have to check in any bags! It also feels good to have interchangeable clothes and not worry if you spill sauce on that one pair of jeans that you brought to match that one shirt.

This packing method also tests your existing wardrobe; you’ll discover how versatile your pieces are and whether or not you should invest in new basics.

What do you usually pack?

Do you have any travel plans this winter, and if so, what are you planning to bring? Do you load up on clothes just in case or do you try to pare down? Get the conversation going in the comments!

12 thoughts on “Packing Light: How to Create a 15-Piece Travel Wardrobe”

  1. First-time commenter here! This is such an incredibly useful post! I always tend to over pack (what if I need something?!) and I always intend to minimise my suitcase but bring too much anyway. I also tend to pack last minute, usually the night or day before a trip. Besides that, I love shoes and lingerie so it’s always difficult for me to narrow down my shoes and underwear. Next time I have a trip I’m definitely going to refer to this list and try to make my own capsule wardrobe! Thanks!

  2. Hi!

    Love this post!
    Could you possibly make one for traveling during the spring/summer? I always find myself going on long weekend trips with my friends but never know what essential basics to pack!

    Thanks, x

  3. Thank you for this post! I will be spending Thanksgiving week in Seattle, so this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I will be definitely be using these tips when I pack 🙂

  4. Just found your sight! Love your ideas. Don’t forget to leave out one top and substitute 2 lightweight scarves, 2 belts and 2 costume jewelry necklaces. These accessories can transform and stretch your “core” pieces of clothing. They take up very little room in bag but provide many different fashion looks.

  5. Totally love the clothes you chose. I’ve done a 10-week trip to Asia and Europe and it’s completely doable with only a carry-on. That said, what you chose won’t work as well if you plan to travel overseas and want to blend in. Europeans and Asians don’t dress like that. That’s not a criticism; I just want to mention it in case you don’t want to emit tons of nonverbal signals that scream “I’m an American tourist!” 🙂

  6. I love this article! I recently have been thinking of creating a capsule wardrobe for myself so this is perfect timing!! I also agree with Valentina could you please make a Part 2 of this for the summer months? That would really help me:)

  7. I love this website! This post is going to be so helpful to me, because I’m going to California on February. Do you mind helping me out? If you say yes, I’ll be eternaly grateful. Please. (PS: I’m from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)


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