A lot of the time, packing light really just means “wearing boring clothing”. And it’s NO FUN. Nobody wants to go on vacation wearing practical walking shoes and plain t-shirts. But nobody wants to lug around a giant suitcase (and pay insane baggage fees) either.
Fortunately, with the right minimalist travel wardrobe, you can have your cake and eat it too. As a recovering overpacker turned carry-on-only traveler, I promise you — you CAN travel light and still look good. You just have to learn to pack smart, too.
Here’s alll my best minimalist packing tips to create the perfect capsule wardrobe for travel!
Minimalist Packing Step 1: Create a Capsule Travel Wardrobe
Basically, you want to bring really versatile clothing that you can mix and match. The idea is that most items can be worn with any combination of other pieces – to create a TON of different outfits from a tiny amount of clothing.
Tips for Creating the Perfect Capsule Travel Wardrobe
Think separate pieces, not outfits.
- Don’t pack “outfit for day 1, outfit for day 2”, etc.
- Consider every item individually and make sure that it’s versatile enough to pair with many of your other pieces, and still look good.
- A few great basics: the perfect denim skirt, a white tee, a chic tan coat, comfy leather booties.
If you’re only going to wear it once, don’t bring it.
- Suitcase space is precious (and limited)! Don’t waste it.
- Make room for a piece that you know you can create multiple outfits with.
Bring neutrals, but throw in some color.
- Neutrals (black, white, tan, denim) will tie your wardrobe together. Bring staples like a black midi dress that can go day to night and layer nicely in cold weather.
- BUT make sure that’s not all you bring.
- Based off your neutral pieces, pick out a couple accent colors (mustard yellow or rust usually match well!). I usually bring a hair wrap (or hat, if it’s cold) and a bright-colored skirt!
Add textured pieces to make your capsule wardrobe more exciting.
- Instead of white denim, bring a cute pair of white eyelet shorts.
- Instead of a plain grey tee, bring a ribbed t-shirt!
- Find neutral pieces with a little extra pizazz like embroidery or lace.
Don’t be afraid of prints!
- Stripes, florals, and leopard print are basically neutrals at this point – they go with EVERYTHING and are way more interesting than a plain t-shirt.
Minimalist Packing Step 2: Choose Small, Lightweight Luggage
Most packing follows a simple rule: however much space you have, it will get filled. For most of us, this means packing a bunch of unnecessary crap “just in case”. The best solution is to just not allow yourself room to go overboard. Pick the smallest bag you can, and then stuff it to the gills.
If you’re not used to minimalist packing, you might not know exactly how small you can go. As a rough guideline, I’d recommend:
- for a week-long trip: a weekender bag // pack 10-15 pieces
- for a two-week trip: a small duffel bag or roller bag // pack 15-20 pieces
- for a month+: a large backpack or large duffel // pack 20-25 pieces
My Go-To Luggage
I’m actually one of those weirdos who travels with a duffel bag rather than a backpack or roller. I don’t like backpacks and find them hard to load/unload. I also don’t like roller bags, because the hardware makes them too heavy — a few more pounds to lift into the overhead bin, and a few less pounds of clothing.
For me the inconvenience of carrying a duffel is 100% worth it, but it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea!
If you’re considering a duffel, I love my trusty Nike gym bag. It only weighs 1.5 pounds and has been to 28 countries with me so far! I also carry a Fjallraven backpack as my personal item – it’s cute, functional, and the zipper still works YEARS later. 10/10.
You Might Also Like to Read: Long-Haul Flight Essentials: Tips for Surviving a Miserable Flight
Minimalist Packing Step 3: Space-Saving Packing Tips
If you want to cram a ton of clothing into a finite space, you’ve got to learn to pack VERY efficiently. And I can tell you from experience, most people have no clue how to pack properly. Packing is an ~art~.
Roll – Don’t Fold – Your Clothes
The most efficient use of space is vacuum-sealing your clothes, but who the f*ck has time or energy for that. The worst is standard folding. The best option is to roll your clothing.
Literally just roll your clothes into little tubes and start cramming them into your bag. If you have sneakers or boots, stuff them with socks, underwear, or other small items to conserve space. Once you’ve packed your first layer of rolled clothes, stack a textbook on them or sit on them to compress them before you add the next layer.
Buy Packing Cubes, and Learn to Play Bag Tetris
Packing cubes are the single most helpful item you can buy if you’re trying to pack light. They help you compress your clothing and squish out extra air, but more importantly they help you organize!! I put all my tops in one cube, all my bottoms in another, dresses in another, and have a bag with bras, underwear, socks, and swimwear.
These things are a game changer and I honestly can’t imagine how I traveled without them. I haven’t had to dig around in my bag to find what I’m looking for in years.
Here’s a couple basic travel outfits I put together on my 3-month trip to Europe last summer. I survived 3 months with nothing but my Nike duffel bag!
Minimalist Packing Step 4: Choose the Right Accessories
Pick Your Shoes Wisely (Hint: You Don’t Need Heels)
I rarely recommend bringing more than two pairs of shoes, unless you are planning on doing some HEAVY-DUTY exercise or have a formal event (like a wedding) to attend. I’d say for 90% of my trips, my favorite comfy white sneakers and classy leather sandals (I wear them EVERYWHERE, they are indestructible. Need to be broken in though!) have been more than enough.
If you’re considering bringing heels, please just think really hard about if you actually need them. Heels are impractical, but they’re also heavy. That’s a lot of real estate in your baggage for what will probably amount to one or two wears (if that).
I carried around a pair of heels for three months last summer, and I didn’t wear them a single time!! Never again.
Bring Extra Accessories
The only time overpacking is good is when it comes to accessories. A capsule travel wardrobe can turn stale without the right extras to step it up – these pieces can make or break your outfits! Bring some amazing statement earrings, cute head wraps, scarves, floppy hats – you name it.
I also suggest bringing two purses if you’re going on a long trip. I only brought one bag for my 12-week Europe trip last summer. And by the end I was SO SICK of carrying the same stupid purse all the time. I hated that it was in all my photos, and I thought it made all my outfits look less unique.
Next time I’ll bring two lightweight bags – one black, one neutral – to add some variety.
Minimalist Packing Step 5: Bring Lightweight Fabrics
Many guides tell you to shy away from silks and other lightweight, delicate, wrinkly fabrics, because they’re “not practical” for travel. That is bad, dumb advice. A natural steamer for your fashionable, wrinkly silk shirts exists, and it’s called a hot shower.
Every morning on the road I pick out my clothes, take them into the shower with me, and emerge with a nice, wrinkle-free, maybe slightly damp (lol) outfit. It works like a charm.
This tip is what saved my life when I backpacked Europe last summer. I was there for 12 weeks with just a tiny duffel bag – but I had 25 shirts with me! All in a variety of nice, silky, lightweight fabrics. They took up literally no space in my suitcase, and added literally no weight.
If you’re going on a really long trip and can’t imagine only packing 10-20 pieces of clothing, go light. You’ll be surprised how much space you save!
Sample Travel Capsule Wardrobe
Here’s what I’d typically pack for a 2-to-4 week trip! You can create a TON more outfit combinations than you’d expect with this very basic 21-piece capsule wardrobe.
- 8x tops (2x neutral tees, graphic tee, 2x neutral silk tanks, 2x colorful off-shoulder tops, 1x crop)
- 2x skirts (denim mini, knee-length silk)
- 1x pair jeans
- 1x pair track pants (to wear on the plane + lounge around)
- 1x jumpsuit/romper
- 1x sweater/sweatshirt
- 3x dresses (one plain, one patterned, one strappy silky throw-on)
- 2x shoes (white sneakers, leather sandals)
- 1x bag (neutral leather crossbody, either black or nude)
- 1x floppy hat
As an example, take one of the neutral tops – say, a white tee. You could pair it with the track pants and sneakers for a casual look — or layer it under (or over) the strappy dress, tuck it into the denim skirt, knot it over the silk skirt — or wear it with jeans, sandals, and the floppy hat for a cute, laid-back outfit. That’s 5 different outfit combos already, and we’ve only styled one top!
I hope these minimalist packing tips helped you guys to create the PERFECT capsule travel wardrobe!!! Let me know if you found this post helpful, and don’t forget to PIN below 🙂