Creating a Micro ‘Capsule Wardrobe’ for Travelling

I’ve noticed that currently, there are a lot of people raving about travelling with only a ‘carry on’ bag. Therefore, I thought I’d write a short blog about my ‘secrets’ for packing light…


Since the beginning of our travels, we’d decided to travel with hand luggage only. Mostly for convenience such as getting through airports speedily & keeping our stuff safe on chicken buses etc; but also for the simple reason, not having to lug heavy bags around with us.

Three years
 on & we’re still happily travelling with our ‘carry on’ bags.

Many people seem shocked when we tell them that we can survive with hand luggage only (especially women). However, its quite easy with a bit of planning!

As friends & family know, I trained as a Style Consultant many years ago. Therefore I have used the concept of a ‘capsule wardrobe’ combined with my personal experience of ‘travelling light’ to detail the ‘secrets’ below.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe? It is a limited collection of interchangeable pieces that create perfect outfits for your shape, colouring and lifestyle.

Secret 1 = Colour
The first secret, is to think about colour.
How many times have you tried to pick an outfit from your wardrobe to say ‘nope, that doesn’t go with that’ or ‘I haven’t got anything to wear with that’?

* Co-ordinating colours
Pick a co-ordinating colour scheme where each item of clothing goes with the other.
For me, it was easy, I wanted to take my silk reversable skirt (2 items in one). It is a blend of yellow, gold, orange, peach, coral, red & pinks (analogous colours – that are next to each other on the color wheel).


* Refine colours with your key pieces
I also wanted to take a pair of Palazzo Trousers; more functional in hot climates for evenings with tons of mozzies, than the dress I packed last time. The pair I bought, were navy with coral & pink flowers with a hint of tan pattern.
Therefore I reduced the choice of colours for the tops I would take, to coral & pinks only to be sure they went with both the trousers & reversable skirt.

* Neutrals
Be sure to pack plenty of neutral colours as these go with all items. I packed a pair neutral trousers & 2 x shorts (in browns) & a cardi (tan/brown) for cooler places.

With the colour scheme chosen, I knew at least everything would go together colour wise.

Secret 2 = Style
As part of my previous style training, I’d worked with my tutor, to understand my own body shape & what styles of clothing suit my figure best.
I also know my personal style preferences, a mixture of ‘casual’ & ‘classic’.
By choosing clothes according to the style that best suits you, you won’t end up with that item that you ‘hate’, left at the bottom of your rucksack!

I usually take 4-5 tops with me, I prefer v neck (but always include at least 1 round or collared item or a scarf to protect my neck from the sun).

Secret 3 = Fabric

Some quick secrets about fabric:

keep them to a minimum in your travel capsule wardrobe, unless you love the ‘clashing mismatch’ style.
If packing patterned items, ensure they are either all for the top half, or all for the bottom half.
By keeping all my tops block colour (no pattern), I can be confident that they will match with my skirt & trousers which are patterned & hence be inter-changeable.

Fabric Weight & Durability
Whilst everything might fit in your carry on bag, it can still weigh a ton! When buying clothing, think about how much it weighs. Lightweight, cool, breathable but durable are key for hot climates!
Secret 4 = Functionality
What type of person are you? sporty, fashion conscious or a beach bum & what will your trip involve?

Your capsule wardrobe needs to reflect this: pointless packing party clothes, if you’re going trekking. Think about clothing that can double up functions!

For instance, I wanted a pair of shorts that would be decent enough to walk around in, but could double up for swimming & running. I chose a pair of board shorts in plain brown!

I also wanted to go running whilst I was away, but rather than take my running kit, I wanted to have a T Shirt that was also ‘every day’ wear (or could even be smartened up for evenings). I found an amazing quick dry, wicking, sports T shirt in Decathlon (in the required colour scheme of course).

Some additional Secrets

So you have your capsule wardrobe? Here are some other packing secrets to think about, to fine tune your backpack contents…

When you are travelling with hand luggage only, your clothes will be worn & washed more frequently. Therefore durability needs to be taken into account not only for hiking & activities etc, but how it stands up in the wash!

Quick drying
With fewer items, you’re washing them more often. Therefore how quickly they dry is a big deciding factor!

Handy Items
This time I packed a large silk scarf in a champagne colour. It was a bargain buy in a charity shop. I literally bought it a couple of days before I travelled to protect my neck (as I’d decided not to take a collared shirt). However, it has been invaluable to smarten up outfits after I found Ways to wear a pashmina on YouTube.

Secret 5 = Vacuum Bags
These are my final (not so) secret: zip lock bags that you squeeze all of the air out & voila… half the packing size!

Now this is often the big one for us girls & especially for me having been the ‘Queen of Shoes’ in my previous life.
For our trip to Asia, I resolved myself to taking only two pairs!
In Central America, I had taken a lightweight pair of trainers, but these were hardly used for trekking, used at the gym on a couple of occasions & then finally worn in the torrential rain, they became a stinky bulk in my backpack for the remainder of the journey (despite sending them to laundry twice).
This time I wanted a hardy pair of waterproof walking sandals (I might even try running in them). I looked at Keens, Tevas & Merrells. I nearly bought a pair of Merrells but saw a pair on the Karrimor website. They looked almost identical, with Vibram soles, I thought I’d give them a go (in coral colour too). I can honestly say they are the most comfortable walking shoes ever!
For my second pair I’ve taken a pair of bead & crystal flip flops that can pass as going out shoes. We seldom go anywhere with a dress code, so they have been perfect (the Vertigo Bar in Bangkok was an exception & they were rejected).
If you want something classier, I bought a pair of satin folding ballet pumps before I left. They are lightweight & are so small they can fit in your pockets (they are still at home waiting for somewhere special to wear them to).

So hopefully this has helped you decide on your carry on ‘micro capsule wardrobe’. In mine: 4 ‘tops’ & 5 ‘bottoms’ give me a total of 20 outfits. Plenty to ensure I have a good rotation, plus space in my bag to add my bikini & sarong (plus a couple more tops as a bit of a treat if I want to).

Final: Micro Wardrobe – Central America

Below are the items in mine, which illustrate the notes above.

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Including some handy items: Arm protectors (sun/mozzies), silk scarf & quick dry vest top

Updated: Micro Wardrobe – Asia

After the last trip, I fancied a bit more colour in my wardrobe for our next adventure. This time I went with the same concept (but even less items): 4 T Shirts, 2 skirts, 1 pair trousers & a pair of walking shorts. I packed a comfy pair of walking sandals, a pair of smart flip flops & a cardigan.

This time I upgraded my reversible skirt to a green & pink reversible skirt by Seasalt (giving me 2 looks for the price of one) & a great multi coloured skirt from Thailand (+ a couple of scarves).

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Micro Wardrobe for Eastern Europe in January -10′

So is it possible for colder climates? What if I wanted to take an even smaller bag as confused over cabin allowance?

Same Principles apply:

  1. Whether 7 months or a week – I always work on a maximum 7 days of outfits, so this was perfect for our 7 day trip
  2. Choose your colour scheme: this time, I choose the colours from my scarf & gloves
  3. Ensure you wear your bulky items on the plane where possible
  4. Layer lots of thinner material items, rather than pack lots of bulky knits
  5. Vacuum bags are my best friend
  6. If you are staying in a hotel or apartment like us, remember you can always wash items overnight. Therefore I packed two of my trusty quick dry tops (longs sleeve)
  7. For us girls, it is often our cosmetics/beauty products that take up room. Remember to buy samples or smaller versions & as you know, I always avoid taking liquids!

Here it is:

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  1. That’s brill Dawn, I need to take a leaf out of your book. I can’t go away for longer than a few days without a suitcase! You’ll have to come on a shopping trip with me, or tell me what websites to visit. Very impressive 🙂

  2. I love your micro wardrobe and how you show different combinations. I have travelled quite a bit but am a terrible packer, always packing the wrong things… Now that I am going on my first backpacking trip I will follow your packing advise. Only thing – I need to take running stuff! Thanks for a great blog! 😀

    • Hi Anna glad you liked the article. I took a lightweight pair of trainers & a sports bra on our first trip for running. Everything else doubled up (shorts/running vest). Good luck with the packing & don’t forget, you can always buy things ‘on the road’ if you need them.

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