Wondering what to pack for vacation? Here’s how to plan a travel capsule wardrobe, with packing tips for Europe and other summer vacation destinations! Affiliate links are included below.
Alex and I just got back from a 3 week trip to Europe, where we toted 1 1/2 year old Larson around to Italy, Croatia and Spain. We went for the food, the views, and time with friends and family. But what so many of you have been asking after seeing our photos is something we didn’t expect: Tell us how to pack a travel capsule wardrobe! This was a surprise to us, because we’re food bloggers! So this article is outside our typical healthy recipes. But you asked–and we did learn a lot of helpful tips from our packing list for Europe! So what to pack for two or three weeks in Europe? The three of us traveled to Europe for 3 weeks with just 2 suitcases! Here are our secrets to the best travel capsule wardrobe and packing tips for Europe (including the best comfortable and stylish walking shoes)! Links in the Packing List section below.
Bring enough to wear each outfit two to three times.
The top tip we learned from seasoned travelers about a travel capsule wardrobe: only bring enough clothes to wear each outfit two to three times. What, two to three times each? YES. Our goal was to travel light since we’d be visiting several places and much of our luggage space (we used Samsonite hardside luggage) was taken up by kid stuff. So for 3 weeks in Europe, that’s outfits for just 7 days! We stayed mainly in Airbnbs, so we were able to do laundry when necessary. If you stay in hotels, my parents (who are world travelers) wash things by hand in sinks, or sometimes there is an afternoon in a laundromat.
For us, it helped that it was summer so most of our clothes were on the small side, not bulky sweaters like in cooler weather. As a woman, my main clothing pieces were: 5 dresses, 1 maxi skirt, 3 shirts, and 2 pairs of shorts. I mixed and matched these throughout the trip — scroll down to “My packing list” for links to exactly what I packed!
Determine your style & colors.
Before you start building a capsule wardrobe for any destination, determine: what’s your vibe? The vibe of your travel capsule wardrobe depends on both your personal style and the location you’re traveling to. What to wear in Europe in the summer? Honestly, my first thought was the movie Under the Tuscan Sun and Diane Lane’s gorgeous vintage dresses. So, I decided to stick with a sundress theme with dresses and skirts that were vaguely vintage-inspired. My own personal style is pretty feminine, so I feel most comfortable in a sundress. Perhaps you have a more casual personal style: and that’s perfectly ok! The style in Italy and Spain is a bit dressier so what I chose fit right in. However, do make sure that you’re location appropriate. We took a trip to Alaska a few years ago, and you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in a sundress there! It was flannels and boots all the way.
Next, consider a color theme. This is only important because it allows you to mix and match pieces and bring less clothing overall. In my everyday wear I generally stick to neutrals: white, black, grays, and neutral blues. But for a summer vacation to Europe, I added a few splashes of color to my neutrals inspired by the Mediterranean: bright blue, yellow, and orange red. Every piece of clothing I brought fit into this color schema, which made it easy to mix and match! Now, how to find these pieces…?
Buy just a few new pieces.
Confession: Alex buys pretty much everything I wear. Eeek, I said it! Yes, my husband buys all my clothes online. This happened out of convenience, because I’m a terribly slow shopper. I have a hard time finding things and a harder time making up my mind. Alex happens to be amazing and efficient at Google searching and finding anything online. So, we’ve resorted to Alex picking out and buying all my clothes. It just works better that way! Over the years we’re changing to buying higher quality pieces that are a bit more expensive but that I love and can wear for several years. No more Target runs for shirts that fall apart in a few months! While my individual pieces may be a bit more expensive, the size of my wardrobe has been significantly reduced over the last few years.
Important: DO NOT feel like you have to go out and buy an entirely new wardrobe! Quite a few of the pieces that were part of my travel capsule wardrobe were pieces I’ve owned for years.
Some online shopping tips
Now, Alex has been asked by my friends for YEARS what his tricks are for online shopping for clothes! Since I didn’t know myself, I asked Alex for his secrets to online clothes shopping. Here are Alex’s best online shopping tips for a travel capsule wardrobe:
- Sign up for email newsletters from online stores; they’ll often email about sales as much as 40 to 60% off.
- Don’t buy too much at once, since it can be overwhelming to return things when you have a lot of pieces.
- Shop at sites that have easy returns (either free or cheap, like $5).
- When you’re browsing for clothes online, use the filter and sort features to narrow to the size and colors you’re looking for.
- Only keep things that you absolutely love and want to wear all the time. Just because it looks great, don’t keep a shirt you’ll only wear once or twice.
Find stylish walking shoes for travel.
One of the most important things I wanted to find for my travel capsule wardrobe was stylish walking shoes for travel. Since we’d be walking many miles per day, I wanted to find comfortable walking shoes for Europe that also didn’t scream Tourist! Alex scoured the internet in search of the perfect stylish walking shoes for travel, and found a brand called Naot. It’s based out of Israel and they’re all about comfort and style. Alex picked this Naot Pixie stylish wedge sandal for me, and when I put it on, it truly felt like I was walking on air! And they held up: I wore these sandals walking XXX miles through Europe and never did my feet get tired. Some days we did 25,000 and the Naot Pixie still kept up. Aside from flip flops, this was the only pair of shoes I brought. Since it’s a stylish walking shoe, it worked for dinner as well!
Find it: Naot Pixie Wedge Sandal
Find your best packable sun hat.
Here is my best tip for ladies for looking good with no effort on vacation: wear a sun hat and sunglasses. I know, it sounds deceptively simple. But honestly, you don’t have to do your hair or have your eyes open in photos! Not only does it block out the sun and keep you cooler, a sun hat is the perfect accessory to any outfit. Win, win, win! The best packable sun hat we could find was this one, and as you can see from these photos, I wore it just about 24/7. This covered up my beach hair and the days I didn’t shower! Most days I preferred to be out adventuring instead of spending time doing my hair.
Find a durable purse / bag.
Another thing I wore just about every day was my purse / handbag. I’ve never been good at finding a bag I liked, but I think I finally found one in this Madewell carryall. It’s made of leather so it’s super durable, but it’s stylish at the same time. I prefer having a large bag so I can carry lots of things, and found this bag was the right size for me. I use it in everyday life not just vacation, and it truly goes with any outfit style.
Find it: Madewell Zip-Top Transport Carryall
Bring a steamer.
Living out of a suitcase for three weeks is no fun. As you’d expect, things get pretty wrinkly. My parents are expert world travelers and much of what they buy is fabric that doesn’t wrinkle. A few of our clothes were less wrinkly material, but it made my head spin to try to find pieces all in wrinkle-free material. SO, we got a travel steamer! We LOVED it until we fried our steamer due to the European voltage. Alex has since found a travel steamer with worldwide voltage, so we’d recommend this one. For the remainder of our trip, we made do with Airbnb irons, which also did the trick: so this is optional. But we found it to be helpful (also, we’re terrible at ironing)!
My packing list for a travel capsule wardrobe
With those tips in mind, here is my travel capsule wardrobe for Europe in list form. Again, caveats are that this is for women only (sorry!) and summer specific. (Are you interested in what Alex and Larson packed? Let us know.) What to pack for two or three weeks in Europe will obviously differ from different countries and seasons that you’re travelling in, but hopefully this can help to give you a starting point. For the pieces that I had existing or were not available, we’ve provided some look alikes!
**For a few updated looks, see our NEW What to Wear in Arizona
- White Button-Down Dress (similar, similar)
- Blue Polka Dot Antonia Wrap Dress or Sézane polka dot dress
- Yellow Mango Tie Back Mini Dress — look alike
- Navy Blue Dress
- White Wrap Dress
1 Maxi Skirt:
- Gray maxi skirt — look alike
- Yellow top
- Striped blouse
- Black and white striped New Perfect Fit tee shirt — look alike
- And 1 long sleeve that I only wore on the plane (it was hot!)
- Madewell Jean Shorts
- Yellow Shorts (similar, similar)
- And 1 pair of jeans that I only wore on the plane
- Naot Pixie Sandal
- Madewell Zip-Top Transport Carryall
- Red one piece swimsuit (similar)
- 2 other swimsuits (they’re small!)
- Lanzom Women Beach Sun Hat (Fedora style)
- Underwear and bras: I took enough for 9 days and did laundry a few times
- Travel Smart by Conair Pro Portable Garment Steamer
- Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside 28″ Luggage
- Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside 24″ Luggage
P.S. This was our first big trip with the Samsonite hardside luggage and we loved it! The big one was large enough to fit Larson’s crib and the smaller one held all of our clothes. Plus, there’s something nice about the hardside luggage protecting all of your stuff and not getting beat up. We’d definitely recommend it.
More travel posts
Here are more posts from our trip to Italy, Croatia and Spain!
- Spain Travel Guide
- Sibenik Croatia: A Charming Coastal Town
- Tellaro: Italy’s Best Kept Secret
- Where to Visit in Italy, Croatia & Spain
- 8 Secrets: How to Take Better Pictures on Vacation
- Traveling with a Toddler: Travel Beds, Packing List, & Tips!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.