- The very FIRST thing you should always do: Check the forecast. This is the basis for your whole trip – you’ve got to know what sort of weather your dressing for. You will want to pack for your highest highs and your lowest lows.
- Whats the Location? Does it call for a particular style or vibe? For Paris, I tried to keep it preppy and classic. For a beach vacation I might recommend keeping a bohemian/island feel in mind. Try to come up with a “Location Mood” to keep in mind when picking your pieces.
- How many days are you going? – include airport time! You will see why in the next step.
- What are you wearing to the airport? – I always pick this out first, just to get it out of the way. I usually pick something comfortable that I will wear on both the trip there AND the trip back. This is usually the sole purpose for this outfit – I dont include it when I’m considering my mini-collection (it doesn’t have to fit in your carry-on). Make sure to include a scarf/sweater of some sort in case you get cold, and shoes that are easy to get on and off through security.
- What shoes did you pick out for your airport outfit? – WRITE those in the shoe category, they are now a part of your mini collection.
- What is the Main Event of your trip? I know, you are going to do SO MANY fun things. But pick one event – night at the theatre, those expensive dinner reservations, that concert, the wedding, etc. – to be the MAIN event of the trip. This is your exception outfit. It can be a stand-alone look that doesn’t have to mix or match with anything else in your collection.
- Tops – Now we start with the fun part. Think of how many days you are there and how many tops you will need and write it in the Qty space. Hint – you DONT need one top per day. For my 10 day trip, I took 5 tops – granted I had washer/dryer access in one of the places we stayed. Keep this in mind when your deciding your quantities. Also a good time to refer to your forecast & think about the location vibe I mentioned earlier! Have your tops span in coverage to be prepared both the hottest and coldest predicted weather. Jot down a few tops you know for sure you want to bring, it doesn’t have to be the full quantity you wrote down. Once we get that closet open, things will change a bit.
- Bottoms – Follow the same steps you did for your tops, yet keep your chosen tops in mind, try to make sure each item you chose will match with at least TWO other items. Jot down a couple ideas.
- Dresses – Follow the same steps here as for your tops. If its not a summer vacation, I try to only pack in separates. It provides a little more versatility. However, I am a dress girl so if we are talkin’ beach vacay thats probably ALL you will find in my bag!
- Write down all the things you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT FORGET in the bottom section.
- Shoes – Look over your prospective packing list. You should already have your airport shoes listed here – do they match any other outfits? If not, you might want to reconsider. Write your shoes for your main event. Now fill in one other pair of shoes that matches multiple outfits. Yup, thats only THREE PAIRS of shoes. I left you 4 lines if you absolutely cannot live for a week on only three pairs of shoes. But to graduate for true minimalist status – I highly recommend you try it – one pair of nicer shoes (heels possibly) and two comfy walking shoes. Its so freeing!
- Undergarments – Ok, this is where the less than one per day rule does not apply. Because, well, ew. Here I just make a note of how many bras/undies/socks/etc. I need to throw in my bag. Take a peak at your list and your main event outfit to make sure you dont have any special needs in this department. If so, I recommend adding that to your “Don’t Forget” section.
- Pull out everything on your list and lay it out on the bed or floor. – Nothing has touched that suitcase yet!
- Create a COLOR STORY – Look at your collection so far. Is there a color story naturally forming? If not, can you make one? Pinpoint some of your favorite pieces you have out so far and build a color story around those pieces. You can see in the title image that my color story consisted of mostly neutrals (white, black, grey, chambray/denim, cream) with a few POP colors. I recommend aiming for the same thing. Neutrals are easy to mix and throw on, all you need is a couple bright pieces to keep it fun! I know it seems backwards to start pulling pieces before you have a color story, but for this particular purpose I think it helps to let your color story develop naturally as you are packing based on what you already have.
- What Matches? Aside from your “main event” outfit, you want to make sure that each piece matches at least 2 other pieces if not 3. If something you’ve pulled is just clashing with the other pieces, put it back. Look in your closet – is something jumping out at you that fits with your color story (and your forecast?) – put it in the mix. Everything you choose from here on out should fit with your color story.
- Try things on – in addition to your color story flowing, you want to make sure the silhouettes for all your planned mixing and matching actually work together. This is also a good time to experiment working the shoes you’ve picked out with each outfit, and possibly narrowing down even more.
- Accessories – Once you’ve settled on all your outfit pieces. Choose a small amount accessories that will go with EVERYTHING. One scarf, one statement necklace (aside from a daily pendant), one purse, etc.
- Throw in a Jacket. – If you are going on a super wintery vacation you may want to have two jackets for versatility (one to wear on the plane plus one to pack). But for most vacations one jacket that universally matches will do fine. Consider both color, warmth, and shape when you are picking out your jacket. You want it to look well over any of your outfits.
- Final Overview – with everything laying out on your bed/floor, step back and take a look. Is your color story present? Do you have a lot of outfit mixing and layering opportunities? Is your collection in line with location mood? Have you overdone it on accessories? Do your final edit here, then load up that tiny little suitcase! Congrats! You made it!
Heres a look at how I executed packing for my trip to Paris:
|Clockwise from top left: Tshirt: Asos, Chambray Button-down: Jcrew, Mustard Sweater: Thrifted – Label Unknown, Striped Short-sleeve Sweater: Gap, Long Sleeve T: Stylemint|
|Black Skinny Trousers: Gap, Coral Pencil Skirt: Jcrew, White Denim Skinnies: Levis|
|Converse Leather High-tops, TOMS ballet flats, Jcrew Suede Wedges|
You can very clearly see a simple color story of neutrals with pops of coral & mustard. Each of the bottoms or shoes could go with any of the five tops to create different looks from casual to a night out, and the tops can be layered in different ways depending on what the weather does. I didn’t have a specific “main event” but I knew we might be going out at night so I made sure to include the coral skirt and comfy wedge to dress up any of the tops. If you can fit your “main event” outfit into your collection – great! If not, its totally ok – that’s your free-be remember?
I went with my favorite vintage denim as my jacket. Honestly I ended up being a little under-packed weather wise (I didn’t pay enough attention to my lows!) But since I had a lot of layering options with my tops, I managed fine. I knew it was a gamble for warmth, but the shape and color of this jacket went best with my “mini-collection” over all my other Jackets.
|Beanie: Gap, Glasses: Warby Parker, Scarf: Thrifted – Label Unknown, Necklace & Watch: Vintage,
Purse: Charming Charlie
I really went trim and slim on these. One of everything that matched everything. I also have a mini-backpack not pictured that comes with me on all travels called my “adventure bag” and fits a lot more for longer days walking around. I chose this other purse because although not a direct match color-wise with anything, its a neutral enough leather that it didn’t clash – and cross body bags are always better when traveling. Plus it smashes flat when empty and doesn’t take a lot of space. A leopard print scarf can be considered a neutral and looks good with anything. The beanie was a last minute throw in that I was really glad to have. Refer back to your “location mood” then you are picking out your accessories for help.
Now you are all packed and ready to go! You can use this formula for virtually any trip – even if its just a week back home to see the fam. It honestly just makes packing easier without worries like “what if I get there and I dont have something to match this?” or “I hope I packed the right shoes”.
There are lots of other great resources on this subject, including this great article from Into-mind. And for tackling the same concept in your closet – try the Coletterie’s series Wardrobe Architect!
I’d love to hear what you think of this tutorial – is it helpful? Is it missing something? Let me know in the comments below!
Jill Cornish says
I travel with a rolling carry-on and, usually, nothing more. However, since most of my trips include a business meeting/trade show, I MUST have a suit. So my travel plan is to wear the suit, going and coming, in case “something” happens to the baggage. Once, when I was carrying all the meeting papers in checked baggage, I did not have a carry-on for personal items. The checked bag got lost and I was really, really glad I had that suit to go to the meeting. Oh, one more thing: for me, everything except that suit and my underwear is easily replaceable in a local store – maybe not my taste or perfectly fitting, but wearable. So, underwear (bras) MUST go in the carry-on. I had a business associate who carried nothing but an extra pair of socks – the pro shop at the resort provided his clothes for his stay and he left the purchased clothes for the hospitality staff when he left. Yes, he was wealthy… Thanks for a great tutorial.