Capsule Wardrobe

Craft Your Travel Capsule


It happens all too often that you see people sweating, out of breath, lugging huge suitcases around the airport. Or crying at security because their bags are oversize and overweight, only to be turned around to head back to the dreaded check-in desk. If you are one of these over-packers, or perhaps want to try traveling lighter, I’ve got the solution. It’s called The Travel Capsule.

I’ve only recently put a name to this practice. It turns out that every time I went on an adventure, without even knowing it, I was creating a small version of a capsule wardrobe. And to be honest, I’ve done my fair share of packing. This year alone I’ve jetted off to Italy twice, Amsterdam, Paris, Puerta Vallarta, Spain, in addition to multiple cities in the states. I’ve traveled in many different weather conditions and done all manner of packing and planning. One might say that I’m on my way to becoming something of a packing expert. And as authorities tend to do, I’ve come to a conclusion: the two most important things to consider in packing a travel capsule are color palette and fabric.


I start packing by choosing items that fit into a neutral color palette. White and black are my typical go-to’s, but navy, white, denim, and camel are all great foundational neutrals. Once I have my base chosen, I add a pop of color or some pattern. The location and season often dictate what this accent color will be. For example, Southern Italy in the summer, or Paris at Christmas. Travel_Capsule_Color_PaletteThe key to the color palette is that it allows you to easily mix and match to make completely new outfits. You’ll feel like you have more to choose from simply because you are able to effortlessly swap items. As an added bonus, the color palette system lends itself to producing great photos. And let’s be honest, if you looked fabulous on vacation, and didn’t post it to Insta… did the vacation happen at all?


As you’re selecting the pieces based on color, be sure to consider the fabric of your clothing. Focus on the weight and the ease of care. My Travel Capsule is typically composed of mid to lightweight clothing. A warm day in Southern Italy can grow cool and windy as the sun goes down. A cotton, oversized cardigan or wrap is easily thrown over a sundress in this situation and does double duty as a cozy cover up on the flight home. The best fabrics for layering are cotton, chambray, linen, and knits made of modal and viscose. These materials are breathable in hot temps, but provide warmth when layered on top of one another. You should also consider the ease of care when deciding what to pack. Avoid fabrics that wrinkle easily and require dry cleaning or special care, like linen and silk. I often wear the same shirt three different days on a trip and simply wash it in a sink full of soap. You can even bring a small amount of detergent in a travel shampoo bottle. Here’s how I do it:

  • Add the soap or detergent to the sink, fill it with cool water (not hot!).
  • Gently swish your items around for about 5 minutes.
  • With the clothes still in the sink, drain the dirty, soapy water and refill to rinse. Rinse until the water runs clean and no soap remains in the clothes.
  • Gently squeeze the excess water from the clothes and place on a hotel towel. Roll the items up in the towel to absorb the water.
  • Hang the items to dry on a hanger or over the shower rod. Or leave on a dry towel if the item is knit.

If you think you’re above washing your clothes in the sink, I say quit being high maintenance. Americans tend to over wash clothes anyway, let those pheromones stick around for another wear or two– it’s the European way!

The next time you find yourself getting ready for a trip, combat the desire to bring everything you could possibly need and instead, start thinking about how you can repurpose one piece of clothing for multiple activities. Remember, if you cannot use an item more than twice, do not bring it. You’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is living with a little less on vacation. Pick a color palette, consider your fabrics, and choose a few gorgeous, simple pieces to mix together. You’ll have more time to sip wine, stuff your face with pizza or oysters or whatever local delicacy you desire and get on with your vacation.

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Alexandria Nolan is a freelance writer and author of novels. She is also a yoga teacher and avid traveler whose wanderlust keeps her and her husband searching for the next amazing thing. Read more about Alexandria’s travels on her blog.