Whenever I start packing for a trip (usually several hours beforehand), I spend most of my time agonizing over what clothes to bring. It takes me a while to think about where I am going, what the demands are, what the climate is like, and so forth. It’s a bit silly that I can’t seem to do this any faster.
And, usually once I get there, I realize that I forgot something. Most often I can live without it, but sometimes I’ve had to make quick purchases. Oops.
Even though I have my summer capsule wardrobe still in rotation, sometimes our needs during travel are pretty different from our needs at home. I have no problem making exceptions for travel, in case anyone’s wondering. After all, capsules are created for convenience and simplicity, not suffering.
This list is not comprehensive– it’s just a method of thinking about what you’ll need to wear. For example, undergarments are not included; I hope I need not remind you to bring those…
Before I go on to my 10 essential items, I should share about how I went about putting this together. I ask myself 4 questions every time I start packing, and then I go about filling this list.
4 questions to ask when you’re packing:
1) What do the locals wear?
I think this is a better question than “what’s the weather?” Some regions of the world are hot and humid, but few people wear shorts. And if I’m doing anything beyond what the typical tourist does, I’ll want to blend in. Most of the time I would suggest leaving those crop tops at home!
2) What activities will I be involved in?
If you’re familiar with the itinerary, make a list of every activity you might be involved in. Will you be rafting down a river? Attending a religious ceremony? Working on a farm? All of the above?
3) How long can I go before doing laundry?
A trip that is more than a week long might require more clothing, but it depends on your access to laundry machines. Bringing enough clothes to wear and soil can mean packing a large suitcase, and you’ll probably want to wear certain pieces more than once. Try bringing lots of pieces that work well together; if one is soiled, you can still wear the rest.
4) What did I wear over and over again last time I traveled?
This question can surprise us. We might have realized the last time we traveled, we wore the same pair of sandals over and over again to the point of a horrible sandal tan (but happy feet). Bring those sandals! They obviously do their job well.
So, once you’ve answered these questions, you can move on to the list. Make it yours; adapt it to your purposes and situations. Figuring out how to pack and what to put in your travel wardrobe can be daunting, but practice makes perfect!
My 10 Travel Wardrobe Essentials
1) Comfortable walking shoes
I mean, shoes you can walk for hours in. Travel often has us walking much more than usual, so semi-comfortable flats just won’t do. Find shoes that were made to make your feet feel like heaven and to keep your back from hurting. I shop at Footwear, Etc. for this.
2) Basic wrinkle-free tees
These soft knits are absolutely fantastic. You can find them anywhere– from Target to Nordstrom– and they are great for a variety of occasions. Plus, they’re comfortable! Comfort goes a long way on the road.
3) A watch and minimal jewelry
If you don’t wear a watch normally, you might want to bring one! Being able to tell time quickly (and without having to whip out your expensive smart phone) is a huge bonus.
And, if you choose to wear jewelry, choose understated pieces. No need to draw more attention to yourself!
4) Maxi skirts and maxi dresses
I lived in these when I was working in the Caribbean. They are cooler (and more comfortable) than pants, and they keep everything covered. And, they can be dressed up or down!
5) Cardigans and coverups
I’ve found cardigans to be my most-worn clothes on almost every trip. They’re perfect for layering in cold weather, or using to cover my shoulders when necessary. There’s no need to bring many of them; one or two is fine!
Also, I’ve left “warm outerwear” off of this list because if you’re going somewhere cold, I assume you won’t forget your jacket!
6) Stretchy black leggings
Boy do I love my stretchy leggings! These are versatile and I love them for the plane ride as well. Black is also great for hiding any stains; choose high-quality yoga or workout pants if you want them to last a while without a wash too!
7) A pair (or two) of sunglasses
I wear sunglasses everyday when I drive, but sometimes I forget to bring them with me! Sunglasses are an absolute must when you’re wandering around outside all day. If you own two pairs, bring them both– in case you misplace one.
8) The throw-everything-in bag
You know the bag I’m talking about. The one that will hold your camera, a sandwich, and possibly a sweater too. It’s ideal if this bag is very light on its own, though, since you’ll be carrying it around quite a bit.
9) Comfortable, culture-appropriate shorts
If you’re going to wear shorts on this trip, make sure that they fit you well and are appropriate for where you’re headed. Many cultures around the world just do not wear shorts. I don’t know why, because I love shorts, but I also hate drawing attention to myself as a tourist. So if I’m not sure about the local culture, I’ll only pack one or two pairs– even if the weather is warm.
10) Versatile dressy pieces
Some people choose not to dress up at all on vacation, while others dress up everyday. I’m an advocate for a reasonable via media, and of course it depends on the destination. I don’t like to be caught without anything dressy, however, just in case I’m invited to an event on short notice. If I feel that my maxi dress won’t cut it, I’ll bring a blouse and skirt just in case.