As a fashion editor, an obvious fact about me is that I love clothes—and that I have a lot of it. It’s a fun combination for life but one that has led me to be a chronic over-packer if I’m traveling. I’ve always succumbed to shelling out the extra cash to check a bag exploding with three outfits for every day I’d be gone and lugging my 49.9-pound bag—God knows I always needed to take advantage of every possible ounce—around my destination. Finally, I decided my packing ways needed to evolve. It was time to climb my Everest: packing for a trip with only a carry-on.
The first step to changing my over-packing ways was developing a strategy to packing a carry-on that didn’t make me feel like I was sacrificing style but was also far more minimal than what I was used to. This meant those hot pink pants that I was only going to get one use of on the trip had to be exchanged for a pair that I could wear multiple times and, ideally, in multiple different ways. It finally occurred to me that what I needed was simple: a mini capsule wardrobe formula that I could use every time I travelled.
You already know why we love capsule wardrobes: They’re concise, curated sets of clothes that can be combined in countless different ways for looks that can take you anywhere you might need to go. And when do you need that more than when you travel? I rest my case.
This is the formula that has officially gotten me to a point where I can say that my checked bags have been replaced with just a carry-on. And trust me: If I can do it, anyone can.
When I pack my carry-on, I follow this formula to a T. The result is a mini capsule wardrobe that I can make work for everything my trip will bring me.
The key to making this formula work is ensuring that everything you pack can be mixed and matched together seamlessly. Don’t pick out one outfit and then decide the shirt maybe could work with another pair of pants too. Really consider what pieces you could include that have the versatility to work with the other things you’ve packed. Before I choose what goes into this, I deeply consider every single thing I’ll be doing on my trip (and what the temperatures will be), then choose pieces based on what my days will hold.
- 4 shirts (including a button-up that can be used for layering)
- 2 pairs of pants
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 dress
- 2 bags (a large and small—the large is always a tote I carry with me on the plane)
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- 3 pairs of shoes (a walkable one, fancy one, and casual one)
To go sightseeing
For a day of sightseeing, you want to make sure you’ll be able to walk all day without blisters. Enter: a classic pair of white sneakers. Pair them with a pair of tailored shorts that’ll be breezy and airy all day, a ribbed white tank, and a bag that’s bound to earn you endless compliments.
sunglasses | sneakers | tank (plus) | tailored shorts (plus) | beaded bag
On a date
Traveling with your beau? There’s nothing quite like a destination date (or a date with someone you meet at your destination). Pack a versatile dress like this one that can work not only in all kinds of weather, but for multiple destinations, too. Just dress it up and down with the accessories you pair it with.
beaded bag | twist dress (plus) | sandals | sunglasses
For walking around town
A day of moseying around town and popping into the local spots calls for a casual look. Pair relaxed denim shorts with chic, retro sunnies; a loose-fitting tee, and a straw tote that can fit everything you could possibly need throughout the day. The cherry on top? A pair of Birkenstocks that’ll ensure your feet don’t suffer from getting your steps in.
sunglasses | denim shorts (plus) | t-shirt (plus) | straw tote | birkenstocks
To go out to dinner
Any trip is bound to come with a couple of nice meals, so packing a pair of shoes that work for more elevated circumstances is key. These platform sandals are comfortable enough to walk in, but can also be used to dress up your denim. A versatile blouse is necessary for a vacation, and this corset one is calling our names.
corset top (plus) | necklace | jeans (plus)| beaded bag