How to choose your perfect travel wardrobe - Step by step

Weekend trip or a year around the globe. No matter how long you are traveling for bringing the right clothes is extremely important. But choosing the perfect wardrobe can seem an impossible task, so I've put together this guide to help you out.

I am assuming the ultimate goal is to pack the smallest possible volume of clothes, while bringing the most ideal combination of items covering your needs for all occasions.

Alex and I are traveling indefinitely with only a carry on backpack each and I can in all honesty say that I find my wardrobe to be perfect. The only thing I have changed since leaving was throwing out a pair of shorts I didn't wear enough haha.


For a start: please don't get caught up in what is newest or what you like the most. That dress might be brand new and extremely cute but not exactly ideal for your hiking trip.
As a general rule, don’t bring anything that could only be paired with one other item of clothing, or could only be worn on one type of occasion.

Examples: A long top that can be used as a dress, pants that can be rolled up to shorts
or a tube top you can wear as a skirt are multifunctional clothing items.


It is practical to bring clothes that can be worn in layers. In this way you wont need to bring both jackets, thick sweaters, medium thick sweaters and light sweaters.

Examples: You can wear a long sleeved shirt underneath a regular t-shirt,
or you can wear leggings underneath your shorts if you need something in-between hot and cold.


I'm not forgetting about looks here. Ideally everything in you travel wardrobe should match so you can be both practical and look cute at the same time. And yes - you are allowed to skip this section if you don't really care about matching clothes...

When choosing my color scheme I usually follow these steps:

1. Choose a dark primary color

2. Choose a lighter primary color

3. Choose a complimentary color

The idea is that the two primary colors will be the base of your wardrobe, and the complimentary color will be one that is found in patterns on clothing items or in accessories. If you like, the complimentary color can be more wild and bright, as this will make your general look more interesting. Voila, all of your clothes match!


Navy blue – White – Coral

Bordeaux – Beige – Curry

Black – White – Red

Brown – Baby pink – Pink

Army green – Beige – Gold

Deep purple – light green – Navy blue

Brown – Beige – Coral

Of course you might have a few pieces of clothing not living fully up to these demands. The scheme is meant to be a pointer rather than a strict rule. Also adding black is always beneficial. As long as everything goes with everything you’re good.


If you are backpacking or otherwise need to fold your clothes tightly, don’t bring anything made of a fabric that easily gets wrinkled (unless you, like my SO, think that wearing a wrinkly shirt makes you look adventurous).

Examples: Choose light cotton for most clothing and lighter non-wrinkly fabrics like silk or satin for dresses and shirts. Lighter materials also have the advantage of being low weight, drying faster and taking up less space.


You have to consider how you are going to wash your clothes. If you are traveling long term it is a bad idea to choose white as the lighter primary color, as it would have to be washed separately from the darker item. Don’t bring fragile clothing items things that can’t be washed in a washing machine either.

Tip: Make sure that whenever you have a washing machine at hand,
everything can go in there at once.


Step 1: Put items aside that are strictly necessary (ex. dress for wedding, boots for hiking, swimwear, sportswear) you need to reserve space for these before determining your space-weight-budget for the rest.

Step 2: Determine how much space you have left for clothes in your bag when everything else  is packed (read an elaborate post on how to make the ideal choices for absolutely everything you're bringing in my post 'How to fit everything into your carry-on backpack')

Step 3: Keeping the mentioned pointers in mind choose one of each type of clothing item.
             An example could be:
            Dress, Jacket/Sweater, Longs sleeved shirt, T-shirt, Top, Skirt, Shorts, Jeans/Pants.

Having chosen only one (the most ideal one you own according to the practical measures) of each item it is time to fill up your bag, adding the in-betweens (long shorts, button downs and so on) or just more of the same types of items until you are happy that you have at least one item for each 'function'.

Step 4: Add socks, intimates and swimwear if needed. 

In my opinion the bare minimum of clothing a girl can bring is:
2 tops, 1 t-shirt, 1 long sleeved shirt, 1 sweater/jacket, 1 dress, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans/pants, 3 pairs of panties, 3 pairs of socks, 2 bras.


To determine if your travel capsule is optimal, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can (almost) everything be worn together?
  • Can everything be washed together?
  • Will any items wrinkle in my backpack?
  • What will I wear for a nice dinner or fancy cafe?
  • What will I wear for a casual relaxed day?
  • What will I wear for a night out or a party?
  • What will I wear for the beach? (if relevant)
  • What will I wear for hikes or physical exercise? (if relevant)
  • What will I wear if it's really cold out?
  • What will I wear if it's unbearably hot out?

Now, if your little pile of selected clothes contain options for all of the above occasions, looks good together and fits in your backpack then you're all set!

As previously mentioned you can read my in depth post on packing 'How to fit everything into your carry-on backpack' for advice on other things such as electronics and toiletries. You will also find my personal complete packing list in there - Everything in my carry-on backpack for infinite travels.