Travel Capsule Wardrobe | 5-4-3-2-1 Packing

How to Create the Ultimate Travel Capsule Wardrobe

What is a Travel Capsule Wardrobe?

The basic idea is that you pack a selection of high-quality staples that are made up of neutral colors; versatile items that can be mixed and matched in different ways. When determining your collection of basic clothing to pack, important things to consider are the weather forecast, if you will have any formal occasions, and the types of activities you will be doing on your upcoming trip.

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    Steps to Create Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe

    Step 1. Do a Little Research

    Weather at your Destination:

    Hot weather will call for entirely different clothing items than chilly fall days or snowy days. Make sure you have an idea of what to expect when you arrive at your destination.

    Know Your Season:

    Similarly, different seasons mean different choices. A summer vacation to the beach or lake will clearly have a different packing list than an autumn trip to New York. Your color scheme will be different, the weight and style of your clothes will be different, your shoes will be different based on the season.


    A vacation will require different packing than a business trip, and a trip to the mountains will require different items from a trip to the beach. Know, or at least have an idea of, the type of activities you will do on your trip so you can choose appropriate clothes for your plans.

    Cultural norms:

    It’s important to respect cultural norms in different locations and countries. Oftentimes religious sites will require a headcover or for women, covered shoulders. Make sure to be prepared!

    How Long is the trip?

    For a week trip or more you will really need to make sure your outfits mix and match, and for the longer trips you will want to find a way to incorporate laundry. Even on weekend trips I pack 5-4-3-2-1, and on those trips I find I have way more than enough.

    How long does it take to get there?

    Especially if you have a long flight, your travel outfit matters. You want to look nice and be comfortable at the same time. And here is the trick. 5-4-3-2-1 packing is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. For a longer trip I will add a travel day outfit that is not in the 5-4-3-2-1 capsule, but matches it. I like to wash my travel clothes when the trip is long. By adding in a travel day outfit I don’t have to do laundry right away. And, once I do get some laundry done, I have extra pieces to work in to the outfits!

    Step 2: Choose a Neutral Color Palette and versatile pieces

    We often choose clothes that are made up of darker neutral colors. Your wardrobe can be mixed and matched, and a little spill cannot be seen so easily. You will also want to pick quality pieces that that are versatile enough to be worn in different situations and weather as need be.

    PRO TIP: For a long trip, you will need to do laundry. You will want to make sure that you will be able to find laundry facilities so you can keep your clothing fresh and clean during the trip.

    Step 3: Add in Color and Accent Pieces

    This will help to add a pop of color and fun into your travel capsule wardrobe. Keep in mind, you want your accent pieces to go with most of your base wardrobe so you have that many more outfit choices!

    Colorful pieces, prints, metallics or a colorful silk scarf are all great statement pieces for your travel wardrobe.

    Step 4: Be Ready to Layer

    Depending on the temperature at your destination during your trip, you will want to pack items that can easily be layered together. Even on a cool summer night, an extra layer of a lightweight sweater can be important! Merino wool is an excellent fabric for layering. It keeps you warm without being too bulky.

    PRO TIP: If you are traveling in cooler months, an outer jacket or sweater should be included as part of your travel capsule wardrobe. This is especially important if you will be visiting a place with unpredictable weather!

    Step 5: Choose 3 Pairs of Shoes MAX!

    This should be a mix of versatile shoes and shoes that serve specific purposes. Your 3 pairs can be all the same type of shoe, but more likely you will want to vary them for the types of activities you have planned.

    Mix it up to include white sneakers for comfort, a trendy flat for day-to-day activities, and a little wedge for dressier occasions. Or walking shoes, ballet flats and flip flops. It’s up to you and your trip. In the fall I love to add in ankle boots into the mix.

    PRO TIP: Since you are trying to pack light, try shoes can be worn without socks! This will help save room in your suitcase.

    Step 6: Accessorize to Dress Up or Down

    Jewelry is a great way to add some style to your outfits, but also consider scarves or belts that can be worn with different outfits to dress them up or down. Accessories are a traveler’s best friend! They help you look put together without having to pack many outfit choices.

    PRO TIP: When wearing jewelry, think about metals that go with all of your outfits.

    Step 7: Always consider bringing a swimsuit

    A bathing suit is especially useful if you are planning to do some water activities during your trip. Even if you are not going to a beach, we often bring a suit in case we find an irresistible spa.

    Bringing it All Together: 5-4-3-2-1 Packing

    At, we love to use the 5-4-3-2-1 packing method. This system to create your travel capsule wardrobe helps you curate a mix and match wardrobe for your whole trip. You will pack light and be ready for all the weather and activities of your trip.

    It is CRITICAL that you choose a color palette that consists primarily of neutral colors. This way works well for all the pieces, and once you do, this combination will create so many outfits you would not believe it!

    With a little planning, your next trip will have a completely versatile travel capsule wardrobe that will get you to your destination and out exploring adventuring…

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      Before you read on for the specifics, you can download a free printable of our 5-4-3-2-1 Travel Capsule Wardrobe Packing Guide right here!

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      Tops: These will include tees, nice tops, sweaters and even light jackets that will be used in outfits. If you are going with a darker them, pieces that can layer such as a black tee, black cardigan or another dark color cardigan would be nice.


      Bottoms: These will includes pants, skirts, shorts and skorts. I always like to bring a versatile maxi skirt, a pair of pants that can we dressed up and down. In the fall I love a good pair of jeans, usually dark wash.


      Pairs of Shoes- comfortable and appropriate to your activities



      Bags, a crossbody bag is always one of my two

      Hats, a straw hat for the summer and a cozy hat for the winter. Plus, I always carry a baseball hat.

      Necklaces & earrings. one for dressing up, one for dressing down


      Jacket for warmth

      Cover up

      Pair of sunglasses

      Be Flexible

      I am somewhat flexible with a couple of the clothing types. Dresses for example, for warmer weather I will pack 3: 1 maxi, 1 sundress or casual dress, and 1 that can be dressed up. For cold weather it is entirely dependent on where and when, but I usually bring 2 as I don’t usually need that extra dress.

      Swimsuits are another example: For beach vacations I will pack 2. And, I always consider packing at least 1 swimsuit. Even in the winter… you never know when you will encounter an irresistible spa!

      Scarves can vary as well. For beach and warm weather vacations I will pack 1. Cooler weather vacations I will pack 2 for variety in my outfits.


      This list is intended to only cover clothes and outfits, but we do have info on toiletries in another post. Check it out here! → Your Must Have List of Carry-On Toiletries

      The Necessities Beyond the Travel Capsule Wardrobe

      Make sure to bring the basics in a compression packing cube:

      • PJs
      • Undies
      • Socks
      • Bras
      • Shapewear
      • Workout clothes
      • Layering tank tops

      Example Travel Capsule Wardrobe

      For the purpose of having an example for this post, I will be demonstrating how I build my own Travel Capsule Wardrobe using this packing method with a recent trip my family took to visit my husband’s parents and brother’s family in Portugal.

      We go every summer for 2-3 weeks and our family there always comments on how crazy it is that we are able to pack for the whole trip in a carry-on! For the purpose of this post, I am going to use that trip as an example and then provide some variations for different climates, etc.

      Step-by-Step Planning for this Capsule


      • Portugal: Funchal (7 Days), Porto Santo (5 days), Lisbon/Cascais (2 days)

      Length of Trip:

      • 17 Days Including Travel Days.

      Weather Forecast/Climate:

      • Summery during the day, evenings can be cool. We may encounter rain if we go up in the hills of Madeira. But mostly plan for warm weather with layers in case it gets cool.


      • Madeira: Meals out with family and friends (nothing too fancy), pool time, potential hiking (nothing too tough – running shoes are fine for the hikes we do), walking, yoga, boating with friends, exploring the island
      • Porto Santo: Beach, beach, and more beach, visit downtown for ice cream, casual dinners out
      • Cascais/Lisbon: Exploring the area, one fancier dinner with friends

      Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe and 5-4-3-2-1 Packing, making it work.

      No matter the length of your trip, you should aim to pack a travel capsule wardrobe! To be one step ahead when packing for your next adventure consider these tips and tools to help you efficiently pack for your trip. Good luck! And have fun exploring in style.

      With a little planning, your next trip will have a completely versatile travel capsule wardrobe that will get you to your destination and out exploring adventuring…

      Grab our planning guide above and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter with all the latest tips and tricks for packing light!

      Frequently Asked Questions: Travel Capsule Wardrobe

      How many clothes should be in a capsule wardrobe?

      The amount of clothing you choose to pack is totally up to you and your needs. At She Packs Lite we use the 5-4-3-2-1 Travel Capsule Wardrobe. Scroll up to see the description and method.

      When deciding, how long you’ll be gone and what activities will be on your agenda, as well as the weather you are facing will be important.

      Are capsule wardrobes boring?

      No! travel capsule wardrobes can be for everyone. In fact, so many people get creative with the concept and it becomes a fun challenge to see how many outfits they can get from their capsule wardrobe.

      Where can I buy a capsule wardrobe?

      You can build your own capsule wardrobe, but there are also many brands that already have it completed for you. You can find some great pre-made travel capsule wardrobes on Amazon or at Banana Republic.

      We hope you found this blog post about packing the perfect travel capsule wardrobe helpful! Please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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      1. Hello – I stumbled upon your website and it’s awesome. I do wonder if it’s possible, for us to be able to click on the example capsule wardrobe and see it expanded. It’s very difficult to see the article of clothing you are showing. Or maybe it’s my old eyes 🙁 Thank you!

        1. Hi!
          Thanks so much for your note. I totally get the old eyes thing and thank you for the reminder that I need to make sure people can actually see the images. I just changed how they are on the page. I think the change will work, but I blog from a large screen desktop Mac so would love to hear if it works on your set up. I am also happy to send you a pdf the wardrobe via email if that is easier.
          Happy holidays! Anne

      2. I have a question for winter clothing, layering, shoes etc. we plan to go to Barcelona in Feb. I love all of the ideas you have posted but a little lost for winter. We live in NE USA and wear sweatshirts and jeans and heavy jackets. Can you offer some suggestions?

        Thankyou so much!

      3. We are going to Italy for 16 days in June and love your packing list for Portugal. Would you be willing to send it in pdf possibly with shopping links?

        1. Sorry it took me a minute to respond – actually got a concussion in Feb and it knocked me out!
          I can definitely send the pdf. With respect to shopping links, the trick is that some of those items are past seasons and therefore no longer available. Let me see if I can find similar items.

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