Spring is in the air which means that it’s that time again to start thinking about packing for vacations. These days, many of us prefer to travel with just a carry on sized bag. Not only does that make things simpler at the airport, it helps to keep bag check fees at bay. In order to make your travel work with just one bag, you have to learn how to pack light.
As women, this is a hard concept to live by. We start out with good intentions…..but then we start thinking “well what if we do this or what if we do that” and before long you are sitting on your suitcase to get it closed.
Does anybody remember a line of kids clothes called Garanimals? Each item came with an animal tag. All the giraffes could be mixed together to create cute outfits, or the lions, etc. For a kid with no style like me, it was genius. That premise is kind of how I like to think about the capsule wardrobe that I create when I pack for a trip. The pieces change slightly depending on the season, but the overall concept stays the same.
- Select pieces that you can wear and wear again
- Make sure items will pack well and wont wrinkle easily
- Items should be compact and not take up the whole suitcase
- Pick a complimentary color pallet that will mix and match well together
- Choose items that can be dressed up or down
- Think about utility and function
- Bring accessories that can give an already worn outfit a new look
Pants & Dresses
Let’s start with a universal bottom layer that can go with a lot of different tops.
Dark Wash Jeans – Jeans are great for travel because they usually do well with being worn more than once. You can also dress them up or down depending on the top you pair with them. Skinny jeans go great with flats, tennis shoes or boots. You can also switch to capri length if your travel is in summer or early fall.
White Capri Length Pants – These literally scream Summer! They go with virtually any top. Throw on a navy and white pullover sweater for an evening walk on the beach or a colorful tank top or t-shirt for a day out exploring. These go great with flats, sandals or tennis shoes.
Black Pants, Leggings or Shorts – I love a good pair of solid black leggings. They are great for active days and super comfy for travel days. You may prefer to sub in black slacks or shorts depending on your taste, planned activities or the weather. Black pants are super universal and can be paired with just about anything. It is also easy to dress them up or keep them casual.
Black Dress – I have a simple black cotton sleeveless swing dress that is perfect for travel. It takes up very little space in my suitcase and doesn’t wrinkle easily. I can throw on sandals, flats or tennis shoes with it depending on what we are doing. It’s easy to dress it up with a sweater, scarf or some jewelry for an outfit nice enough for an evening out.
Think Layering! Start with a white t-shirt and add a colorful cardigan or blouse over it or add a solid cardigan, jacket or blouse over a printed tank or tee.
Button Down Blouse – Whether it be cotton, silk or chambray, a button down blouse can be a very versatile piece in your travel wardrobe. Wear it by itself or over a tank top or t-shirt. Pair a silky blouse with black pants, sandals and some jewelry for an evening out. Choose your fabric and sleeve length depending on the season.
Colorful Tank tops – They are a perfect base for layering and take up very little room when you are packing. I can easily fit 4 or 5 into my smallest packing cube along with a few other items.
White T-shirt – Nothing says universal base layer like a simple white t-shirt. You can wear it alone or under a button down top or sweater. Be sure to choose a breathable fabric in the warmer months.
Cardigan – I have a few light weight, elbow length cardigans that I can choose from which are great over a tank top when we travel in the summer. Another solid choice would be a black button up cardigan that can be paired with most tops when a dressier look is desired. A summer cardigan is also great to throw over a sleeveless top if you are exploring churches in Europe where bare shoulders are not allowed.
Pair solid tanks and tees with printed sweaters or blouses & match printed tanks and tees with solid sweaters or blouses.
Be careful ladies….this is where we can really lose control over our packing! It’s so easy to get carried away thinking we need to pack every pair of cute shoes we own. Don’t do it!!! Believe me when I say that if you go overboard packing shoes, when you get home and unpack you will realize you only wore a few of them anyway.
Black Sandals or Comfortable Heels – That is an or my friends not an and! (Yes, I’m talking to you over packers). If you aren’t attending fancy dinners or events, skip the heels, save the room in your bag and go for a nice pair of sandals. Black sandals can also go easily from day to night outfits. When it’s not sandal weather, you could substitute a pair of black ankle boots instead.
Flats – A pair of simple black or tan flats can go with almost any outfit, they don’t take up much space in your bag and are usually pretty comfortable.
Comfortable Walking Shoes – I recommend tennis shoes, canvas slide ons or other shoes with good support. When I travel, I find walking is a great way to explore. I often log 3 to 5 miles in a day. It’s critical to have a solid pair of shoes that don’t leave me with blisters or achy legs at the end of the day.
Accessories & Utility Items
Sunglasses – Always pack sunglasses, it’s sunny even in the winter!
Swimsuit – I usually pack at least 1 swimsuit with a cover up and rubber flip flops. Even if you wont be going to the beach, you still might want to hit the pool or hot tub at your hotel. If I will be at the beach, I limit my swimsuits to 2, one to wear while the other is drying.
Hat – In the warm months, I pack either a bucket hat or sun hat to help keep my pale skin from burning. If I will be hiking, I might switch it up for a baseball style hat to help keep the sun out of my eyes.
Simple and Versatile Jewelry – Be selective when you pick out the jewelry you will be packing. Choose items that will go with several of the outfits you are packing.
Printed Scarves – A printed scarf can add a bit of color or pizzazz to a plain tank or t-shirt. Adding a scarf can also change the look for a top that you have already worn. They don’t take up much space in your bag, so you can bring a couple. Roll them with your tank tops in your smallest packing cube.
All Weather Jacket – You can never predict the weather! Just in case it gets windy or rainy, I like to pack an all weather jacket. I prefer one with a hood that is at least somewhat waterproof. How heavy of a jacket I choose depends on the season. I like to pack my heavier lined jacket in early spring or late fall and bring a much lighter style in warmer months. If I am flying, I try to wear my jacket on my travel days to save space in my bag. It’s also a good idea to bring a very small travel umbrella.
Just a Few Packing Tips
One trick I have found is that packing is easier when I utilize packing cubes. They are great space savers, super organized and slide right into hotel drawers. I also roll a lot of my clothes to keep the wrinkles at bay and save additional space. Limit bulky items (or consider vacuum packing them) when possible because they take up a lot of real estate in your bag.
The packing cubes depicted above all fit into one carry on bag. The first cube on the left has a divider and pockets inside. I use it to pack all my undergarments and socks. The largest cube has rolled leggings, sweaters and bulkier tops. The middle cube contains rolled tank tops, tees and scarves. The smallest cube has 1 or 2 swimsuits, a cover up and rubber flip flops for making my way to the beach or pool.
If you are on the fence about an item when you are packing, ask yourself if it will mix and match with the other pieces you have selected or if it has utility and function. If you still feel the item has merit, set it aside until you see how much space you have left at the end of your packing. If you still end up with too much for your bag, you will need to vote something off the island!
I was raised by one of the greatest over-packers I have ever met. She once filled the entire back end of a mini van and still had to leave things behind. Thankfully she doesn’t fly unless necessary, because she would never get everything she NEEDS into a carry on bag!
It has been a real challenge for me to learn how to pare down what I pack when I travel and still have everything that I need. But I have gotten better and better at it with time and practice. Having a packing formula is a great place to start.
You can do it!!
Other Helpful Posts on Packing
- Preparing & Packing
- Packing Fun
- Travelon Crossbody Bag
- These are a few of my Favorite Things: Travel Gear
- Packing for a Trip
- Packing Shoes