The Ladies’ Guide to Building a Travel Wardrobe

Woman at the Airport, Dunheger Travel Blog


Fashionable femmes may think they need to check multiple bags to look great on vacation. Fortunately, capsule wardrobes have become all the rage for even those who don’t travel often, so if you’re a jetsetting clothes horse, it’s easier than ever to indulge both your great sense of taste and the benefits of traveling light. Follow these tips to build your perfect travel wardrobe.

Pack pieces you love

Resist the urge to buy new things just for your trip, especially if they’re travel-specific like convertible pants or quick-dry shirts. You’ll be rocking the same basic pieces week after week, so make sure those basics are things you actually enjoy wearing. Your favorite pair of jeans, that dressy top you can’t wait to break out on the weekends, the casual sundress you’ve held on to for years – these are all things that have a place on your packing list.

Choose versatile items

That being said, you’ll need to do a little more careful planning to maximize your outfit choices. Pack at least a few versatile pieces that can easily dress up or down. Consider keeping your clothing simple and using accessories to change up your look. Selecting a single color palette and only packing one or two patterned items will ensure that everything goes together. Five tops and five bottoms that all mix and match well add up to 25 options. Throw in a lightweight cardigan for layering that could go with any outfit and those choices double.

Go easy on the shoes

For some women, this might be the hardest step of all, but it’ll be worth it when you don’t have to carry all that extra wait. Three or four pairs of shoes is the absolute most you’ll really need, depending on what you’ll be doing during your trip. That includes a pair of sturdy sneakers or boots for hikers and a pair of sandals or flip-flops for warm days and beach trips. A pair of metallic Tieks are comfortable enough to walk around sightseeing and nice enough to wear out to dinner, but if you can’t possibly part with your favorite pair of high heels, go ahead and throw those in.

Prepare to do laundry

If you’re traveling for just a few days, go ahead and pack a different outfit for each day. But if your adventure is going to last longer than a week, you should plan on doing laundry. Many hotels and hostels offer laundry service, or have facilities onsite. You could also seek out a host on Airbnb or Couchsurfing and do laundry in their home. Worst case scenario, you can pack a travel-size detergent and hand wash items in the sink as needed. It’s a small sacrifice to make for the major payoffs of traveling light.

As an example…

I rarely if ever insert myself into the posts I write for Dunheger, but feel I must in this case as I fit over 250 outfits into a single carry-on bag! I travel with five tops, five bottoms, a lightweight cardigan, three dresses, three pairs of shoes, and two pieces of outerwear. The tops include two t-shirts, two tank tops, and one long sleeve tee. The bottoms include one pair of jeans, one pair of convertible pants, one pair of shorts, one pair of leggings, and a maxi skirt. I wear my bulkiest items in transit to save space in my bag, and use compression sacks to squeeze everything else in. The difference between some of my outfits may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a shift between wearing a tank top and shorts with sandals at the beach, and throwing on a cardigan and sneakers for a hike, or swapping those shorts out for a cute skirt when it’s time to hit the bars.