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How to Pack Less for Vacation: Creating a Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

See recent posts by Courtney Elko

When you have kids, the amount of stuff you think you to need to pack for a trip can quickly add up. But less is more—especially on vacations—and you can easily pack less by creating a capsule wardrobe for travel.

What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe for travel is a collection of basic clothing that can easily be mixed and matched. A capsule wardrobe also makes life easier once you’ve reached your destination. There’s less decision making about what to wear and more time spent enjoying the actual vacation!

man sorts through clothes closet; Courtesy of AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

Tips for Creating a Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

  1. Keep it Simple: Your kids (and maybe you, too) already have the capsule wardrobe idea down—you just don’t know it yet! Kids wear the same thing all the time, and that’s the basic concept of the capsule wardrobe. Whatever shirt is on top of the pile, that’s what gets worn. It’s when kids have too many options that dressing for the day becomes an argument. Keep it simple by limiting the options and sticking to solid colors and breathable fabrics.
  2. Opt for Function and Compatibility: Each item in your capsule wardrobe should have more than one function or be compatible with other items in the collection. A mix and match travel wardrobe is key.
  3. Choose Quality Over Quantity: You want to choose quality fabrics that will last, work in warm and cooler climates, and won’t wrinkle. Sure, you might spend a bit more on a quality pair of multifuntional pants, but if you can wear them to the aquarium during the day and out to dinner later at night, it’s worth the expense and extra room in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  4. Choose a Color Palette: If you look in your closet, you’ll likely already see some similarities in color. Choose a color you normally lean toward. Then build around that color with neutrals in gray, white, black and denim for your travel capsule wardrobe. Staying in the same color palette allows for easy mixing and matching of outfits. Leave the patterns at home. They’re harder to pair with other items and end up wasting precious suitcase space. Let your kids choose one or two colors that don’t clash with each other, and then incorporate the neutral colored items. For a capsule wardrobe for kids, try to avoid white and stick with grays, blacks and denims as neutral colors. We all know that white shirt or dress will only last a few hours before a stain appears!
  5. Pack Layers: Layering clothes is key on any trip. A long sleeve shirt, along with a lightweight cardigan sweater, will save more space in your suitcase and allow for a variety of outfit options, versus an oversized bulky sweater you may only wear once.
  6. Do Laundry: Pack a week’s worth of clothing, and if you need to, do laundry. Most vacation rentals and hotels offer laundry facilities and it’s one less chore you’ll have to do when you get home!

Related: How to Return From a Family Vacation Feeling Relaxed

Capsule wardrobe list; Courtesy of maicasaa/Shutterstock

The Capsule Wardrobe Formula for All 

  • 4 casual short sleeve shirts (if traveling to a warm climate)
  • 3 nice shirts
  • 3 bottoms (includes shorts, jeans, pants or skirts)
  • 1 long sleeved shirt (if traveling to a warm climate)
  • 1 lightweight jacket
  • 1 cardigan or lightweight sweater
  • 2 casual dresses
  • 2 swimsuits and 2 swimsuit cover ups
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 3 bras
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 hat based on climate
  • 2 colorful, lightweight or sheer scarfs
  • 1 pair of casual every day walking shoes
  • 1 pair of flip flops or water shoes
  • 1 pair of nicer shoes for evenings


Amazon travel capsule wardrobe; Courtesy of Amazon

Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Women

For a woman’s travel capsule wardrobe we recommend quality T-shirts or blouses, and tank tops and camisoles from brands like Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Gap and Lululemon. Non-distressed dark wash jeans are great to include because they can be worn casual or dressed up with heels or sandals. White casual sneakers are a classic to include in a capsule wardrobe for women because they match with everything and offer more comfort than a basic flat when you are exploring a city. A black cardigan or lightweight sweater will pair with anything and can be casual or dressed up with a chunky necklace or colorful scarf.

For a casual dress, choose a solid color made of soft cotton so it doesn’t wrinkle. You can go bold with a colorful dress and match it with a neutral cardigan, sweater, or blouse, or you could go with a neutral color dress and accessorize with a colorful scarf. We like versatile dresses like this one that can be worn day or night.

Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Men; Courtesy of Amazon

Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Men

A quality T-shirt can go a long way in a travel capsule wardrobe for men. It can be worn on its own or layered under a button-down shirt or lightweight sweater. Leave your favorite band T-shirt at home and instead opt for a neutral color from a brand like American Apparel or Banana Republic. Stick with your favorite style and fit for the jeans you pack. Don’t experiment with jeans while traveling. Pack what works for you on an every day basis. Athletic shorts from brands like Nike can do double duty as swim trunks or pajamasChino pants or neutral color shorts from brands like J. Crew, Gap and Banana Republic are also good choices that can easily go from day to night.

Baby Capsule Wardrobe for Travel; Courtesy of Amazon

Baby Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

Throw in a few extra outfits for babies, because diaper blow outs! Messes are inevitable with babies and their clothing is teeny tiny anyway, so definitely take a few additional onesies and outfits just in case. We recommend nine onesies, two dresses, five tops and seven bottoms, eight pairs of socks, one lightweight or heavy jacket depending on climate, two swimsuits, swim diapers, two hats, one sweater or cardigan and seven sleepers.

Toddler Capsule Wardrobe for Travel; Courtesy of Amazon

Toddler Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

For toddlers, we also recommend adding a few additional options because of messes and accidents. Like babies, toddler clothes also take up little room in a suitcase so make sure your girl or boy capsule wardrobe is comfortable and cool. In addition to the number of items listed in the Capsule Wardrobe Formula, we recommend extra tops, bottoms, dresses and socks for toddlers. Four swimsuits because sunscreen and sand get everywhere for toddlers, swim diapers and three rash guards or swim shirts. Plus, four pairs of pajamas since potty training through the night can be difficult.

Tween Capsule Wardrobe for Travel; Courtesy of Amazon

Tween Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

A capsule wardrobe for tweens is a fashionable balance between big kids and teens. Tweens can quickly grow out of quality items so still look for quality fabrics (especially if you can hand them down to younger siblings) but consider the fact that your tween’s capsule wardrobe from summer vacation may not fit again in the fall. For tweens we recommend brands like Old Navy and Gap, which offer quality but at a lesser cost. Gap even offers it’s own Tween Shop where tween girls can mix and match pale neutral colors, like a pale pink short sleeve shirt with a pair of denim shorts.

Teen Capsule Wardrobe for Travel; Courtesy of Amazon

Teen Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

Your teen will likely want to pack for him or herself. So give them the guidelines and have them stick to a color palette and the designated number of items in the Capsule Wardrobe Formula above. Have your teen show you the outfits they have put together BEFORE they shove it all in a suitcase and hope that it zips. A classic dark wash denim is good to include for teen boys and girls, along with a black or gray collared shirt for boys and a black or white cardigan or lightweight sweater for girls.

Men’s/Dad’s Chill Beach Outfit for Summer

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Women’s/Mom’s Chill Beach Outfit for Summer

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