Building a Capsule Wardrobe: Long Term Travel

Minimalism, versatility and multi-functional pieces are key in this 7 Step Guide to building a capsule wardrobe for long term travel

When I travel I find my priorities shift – I don’t care if I wear the same thing over and over because I’m too busy to even notice I’ve worn that shirt three times that week. It’s when I slow down and settle for a while I find I start getting tired of the clothes I own and feel like I need a change but still all I have is my backpack. Having said that, I do love living with less, having a small capsule wardrobe makes getting ready, packing and unpacking so much easier and I don’t feel like I’m constantly ‘loosing’ things amongst all of my other possessions. Except my phone, no matter how little I own I will still misplace my phone fifty times a day. I find having fewer possession and also the inability to carry many possessions freeing.

I actually don’t like the idea of a capsule wardrobe – I find it too planned and colour co-ordinated and I feel it doesn’t accommodate for the variety of situations that a travel wardrobe requires. On the road we also don’t have the ability to store seasonal wear – I do however admire the versatility and thought that goes into each piece and the idea that your collection should give you as many options as possible.

When I pack for a long trip, I pack the same for a week as I would a year – I start off with seven days worth of ‘everyday’ clothing and then add to this any necessary activity clothing. I give myself a specific number of days intentionally to help me refrain from over-packing – if I’ve already decided that a week’s worth is plenty, it’s much easier to ration with myself that I don’t need to pack that extra shirt because I’ve already agreed that five is enough. The idea of this seven days is that it serves as a multi-functional base – something that will cover you in any situation yet also giving you as many options as possible. When travelling to a new place I never know what I’m going to end up wearing and I find my style changes as I travel, meaning I can never really know what’s best to pack. My intention is never to stick solely with this seven days, but instead to give me room to add and swap out a few pieces as I realise what I wear the most. I generally end up around the ten day mark – any more than this and I find I end up favouring certain items and other pieces get left at the bottom of my bag anyways.

To help you start building towards your minimal travel wardrobe that gives you maximum wearability, I’ve put together this 8 Step Guide as part of my How To Pack for Long Term Travel series.

Minimalism, versatility and multi-functional pieces are key in this 7 Step Guide to building a capsule wardrobe for long term travel

Step 1 : Consider your Destination

Consider your destination and climate, but only the first three months – plans change and so do you, you don’t want to be lugging around pieces you know you won’t need for months and maybe end up never needing. Instead I recommend swapping items out as your needs change and to give you plenty of room to store what you do wear.

Step 2 : How much to pack?

I choose to pack seven day’s worth of everyday clothing but for you the ideal amount might be less or more. Decide on a specific number of days that you want to pack for and stick to it – If you don’t decide now before you start selecting pieces, it’ll be easier to wiggle in that extra pair of shorts – a slippery slope towards over-packing. For this guide though we will be working with a week’s worth but obviously alter this to suit your number.

Step 3 : Everyday Wear

Write down in numbers, not specific pieces, what you consider a comfortable week’s worth of clothes to be in these categories. For example:

Tops x 5

Bottoms x 3

Dresses x 2

Outer wear x 2

Shoes x 2

Underwear x 7

Socks x 2

Bras x 3

Step 4 : Activity Wear

Consider other activities, write down a list of things you will be doing. Now think, realistically, how often you will be doing each activity? Now consider how much clothing you will practically need. For example:

Smarter outfits x 2

Sleep wear x 3

Gym gear x 1

Beach wear: Bikini x 3, beach cover up x 2


Step 5 : Select Specific Pieces

Are you happy with your list and the numbers next to each item?

Now select specific pieces from your wardrobe and assign them to your categories – if possible it can help if you physically take these items out and put them together so you can visually see everything. Take your time but stick to the number you originally gave each category.

Step 6 : Versatility

You’ve selected your pieces – now consider the versatility of each item. The purpose of this step isn’t to reduce what you pack but instead to give yourself more options.

A few ideas:

– Shirts: A collared long-sleeved shirt can we worn buttoned up for smarter situations, over a bikini as a beach cover up or over a tank top in more casual situations for warmth.

– Beach / Bed wear: Instead of packing a sarong as a beach cover up, consider selecting long shirts that can also be worn as casual wear and even in bed.

– Work clothes: If you plan to work while you’re away, try and select clothes you would wear outside of work.

– Outerwear: Instead of two jumpers, pack one warmer jumper and a lightweight cardigan that could be worn both everyday but also in smarter situations.

– Swimwear: Carry multiple shapes that can also be worn as a bra in casual situations – instead of a strapless bra I carry a bikini that has a removable strap. And guys – consider choosing swimmers that can be worn as everyday shorts.

Minimalism, versatility and multi-functional pieces are key in this 7 Step Guide to building a capsule wardrobe for long term travel

Step 7: Jewellery / Accessories / Bags

Consider your collection as a whole and your style now. Accessories can be a great way to style outfits up but if you’re not the jewellery wearing type now – don’t bother packing any.

Hats and scarves are a good alternative to carrying chunkier layers for warmth but are also easy to pick up along the way as you need them.

When packing bags, take the same points into consideration – can you use it in multiple scenarios?

Only choose items in this category that suit your current style and multiple items in your collection.

Step 8: Packing

Stick to your list when packing! Don’t panic pack extras at the last minute – if you’ve followed these steps you should now have a well thought out collection of versatile clothes so there’s no need to stress! Pop each item into your bag, tick off items as you go and voila. Bon voyage!

Want more packing tips?

A Minimalist Backpack

Minimalism & Travel: Organising Your Backpack

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