My Minimalist Traveling Wardrobe

posted by Andrea | 06/28/2012

Earlier this week I mentioned that we are taking a road trip for Dave’s brother’s wedding… and listed off all the STUFF we had to pack to accommodate Nora — kids! However, I thought I would also share a few of my personal tips for packing an extremely minimalist traveling wardrobe.

While I do always like to be prepared for any situation, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I’m the type of person who only takes a carry-on when I fly and like to pack the absolute minimum whenever I travel :)

I guess I just don’t like lugging around heavy bags, I don’t like doing loads of laundry when I get home, and I’m perfectly content to mix-and-match the same pieces over and over again — after all, I’m never going to see most of the people I meet on our trip again anyway!

While I don’t have any strict “rules” about packing, here are 6 tips I try to follow:

1. Try everything on first.

There is no sense packing something that doesn’t fit. Plus, if you’re packing for a warm destination in the middle of winter, you might want to quickly try on your summer items to make sure they fit.

2. Only bring practical, comfortable clothing.

I won’t wear something if it’s not comfy, so why waste space with uncomfortable clothing or shoes. Obviously, there might be a special occasion that requires a less-than-practical outfit (like a wedding) but for the most part, I stick to really comfortable, practical clothes when I travel (and while I’m home too).

3. Pack layers.

I’ll often pack a handful of tank tops and then just layer them with different shirts/cardigans/etc. This is especially helpful if you don’t know what the weather is supposed to be like… or if you’re traveling to Michigan where it can be 80 and sunny one day and then 50 and cloudy the next :)

4. Pack coordinating colors.

OK, so this might sound a bit compulsive to some of you, but I almost always try to pack coordinating colors so I can easily mix-and-match all my tops with all my bottoms. My color-palette of choice is usually black/grey/khaki/white.

Not only do I save a bunch of time wondering if a certain outfit looks good together; I also save tons of space in my suitcase because I only need to pack black shoes/sandals/socks/belt/etc.

5. Go easy on accessories.

Again, no one really cares what you look like on vacation (at least I don’t!) so I personally don’t feel the need to be fully accessorized while I travel. I’ll often wear one pair of earrings the entire trip and skip necklaces, braclettes, and watches entirely.

I also try to bring as few pairs of shoes as possible — usually one pair of comfy walking shoes, one pair of flip-flops, and one pair of shoes that could be worn with pants/dress/skirt.

6. Use sample-size products. 

One of my favorite uses for my freebie sample-size products is to save space while traveling. If I’m going to a hotel, I actually won’t bring any shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc. because I know I can just use the stuff in the hotel (and I could care less how nice it is).

I pack the bare minimum when it comes to toiletries, makeup, hair products etc. and use as many samples-size products as I can find.

Here’s my color-coordinated 5-day minimalist wardrobe:

  • Formal dress and shoes to wear to the wedding (these will not be worn any other day and they aren’t in the picture above)
  • Casual striped dress for rehearsal dinner and then again for church on Sunday
  • Comfy black yoga capris and athletic shorts for the time in the car
  • Black/white, pin-striped shorts
  • Khaki capris
  • 3 tank tops (black, white, grey)
  • 3 t-shirts (black, grey, pink)
  • Cute white ruffled top — for a family picture on Saturday
  • Black hoodie in case it’s cool outside
  • Two pairs of earrings, bathing suit, undies, and a shoulder bag for my purse
  • Toiletries

That’s it. Everything matches with everything else and I can fit it all in one {very} small bag.

Now obviously, different trips require different clothes. But since our vacation is pretty much centered around a wedding and we aren’t planning lots of excursions (beach, theme park, etc.),  I can easily get away with wearing the same thing multiple times if necessary.

Also, I will say that this is my very FIRST vacation with a baby — so we’ll see if she makes me re-think my minimalist wardrobe due to spit-up, drool, etc!

What are your tips for traveling light?

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16 comments

  1. Cheryl

    06/28/2012

    Taking clothes that are not cotton, but made of a poly or nylon blend, is great because they wrinkle less and dry quickly … So if the baby gets ya with spit up, you can wash it in the sink at the hotel and hang it up…dry by morning! You can use shampoo as detergent. We travel a LOT, and this with packing light. I also pack all mix and match items!

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  2. Laurel

    06/28/2012

    I love your practical and unvain (is that a word?!) attitude like when you say you don’t care how good the hotel’s toiletries are or that you don’t have to accessorize everything. I feel the same way, but often feel like I’m in the minority. I think your packing list sounds just right. It’s kids that are hard to pack for, I think. I would love to see what you packed for Nora. Also, I can’t wait to see the dress you are wearing to the wedding. Have fun!

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  3. STH

    06/28/2012

    I’m a big believer in packing light, too; my boyfriend and I went to Europe for three weeks a couple of years ago and we only brought one smallish suitcase plus a tote bag. I’ve found that it pays to bring clothes that are comfortable, but not super casual, as they’re more versatile. If you bring only t-shirts and cargo shorts, you’ll have to bring something for going to a nice restaurant, for example. On our trip to Europe, I brought a couple of pairs of capris and a pair of lightweight black knit pants and several knit tops that were a bit nicer than t-shirts. I never bring jeans, as they’re bulky and take forever to dry. Lightweight knits can be washed in the sink and dry overnight and they fold up into nothing. I brought a little bottle of laundry detergent and a clothesline and that allowed us to bring a lot less clothing than we otherwise would have.

    Enjoy your trip! We’re headed to Portland, OR, for the weekend so that my cycling-obsessed honey can do a 200k bike ride there.

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  4. STH

    06/28/2012

    Oh, and here’s a link to the traveling light guru: http://www.onebag.com/

    I don’t follow all his advice, but I did get some good ideas from the site and bought a couple of helpful products that he recommends.

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  5. Endless Baby

    06/28/2012

    One travel tip I have is to keep the most important things with you at all times (in a handbag preferably) – passport, wallet, eye glasses, contact lenses, id, etc. this should never be packed away for those that do check luggage. Whether its a plain trip or car ride I always pack some pre-made healthy snacks (granola bars, piece of fruit) while I will have to stop for gas and buy something to eat for really long drives it helps cut the expense down on extra snacks.

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  6. STH

    06/28/2012

    That’s a good idea, Endless Baby; I also keep prescription medicines with me in case my luggage is lost. And snacks, definitely.

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  7. Nicole Whitehal

    06/28/2012

    You are so much better than me. I care a little too much about what I look like on vacation it seems because I rarely {if ever} pack light. I’m always brining a regular amount of makeup, regular size toiletries and clothes for any occasion whether all of therm are interchangeable or now. I need to take notes.

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  8. Stel

    06/28/2012

    Sounds like my type op packing (well, it took me a while to get there).
    We regularly go down to the sea, to the inlaws, and there’s always a breeze and you can have any type of weather. So what I learnt to pack is (for each person):
    1. 1 jean and jacket
    2. 1 trackssuit type thingey
    3. Tshirts + number of days +2
    4. Shorts + numbers of days (that will be capri’s for me too)
    5. 1 Long sleeved T and/or drimac
    6. Crocs, slipslops, ballet flats, Converse

    Minimum makeup, usually just moisturizer and sunscreen.
    Remember a small emergency kit for Nora! My sis gave me a nice semi-hard shell toiletry bag from Ikea, and I always have something for pain, fever, and mucus in there, as well as plasters, something for stings, dehidration, disinfecting and a thermometer.

    Enjoy the trip!

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  9. Debbie

    06/28/2012

    I also follow most of the tips you shared when I pack. I also roll everything in the suitcase, which helps me pack in more (my husband and I share a suitcase we travel). We’ve also been able to fit everything for us and our 2 kids (1 in diapers) into one larger suitcase (had to check it, but it was worth it since we had other baby gear to bring with us on the plane). I generally follow the rules of mixing and matching outfits, even for the kids, although I almost learned the hard way to bring more than one extra outfit for my baby on the plane with us since he decided that flying was a great laxative for him!

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  10. Kathy

    06/29/2012

    Great tips! We brought out two year old twins to Disney World for a week earlier in the year (first time traveling on a plane with them). For each of the days we spent in Orlando, I packed a Ziplock bag with their complete outfits for the day (shirt, underwear, socks, pants, accessories, etc.). I then labeled the Ziplock bags for each day of the week we’d be there. Each morning, I grabbed a bag from the suitcase and dressed the kids without having to rummage through drawers or the suitcase. I also packed a Ziplock bag with their own personal toiletries and left it on the bathroom counter (medicine, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.). This saved our souls in the mornings and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling with kids.

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  11. Chris

    06/29/2012

    What about extra clothes for you when the baby has accidents, spit ups, etc., I also went to a wedding and had to wear the same thing to church b/c of my baby :(

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  12. Library Momma

    06/30/2012

    Andrea, could you do a post on your wardrobe in general? We just moved and we have a lot less closet/wardrobe storage space, and despite getting rid of things I just can’t make it all fit. I keep rethinking my wardrobe and trying to purge. I would love to know what yours looks like and what you think if essential, like how much you should have of something, do you do classic pieces, etc. Also, what do you do with Nora’s clothes when she has outgrown them?
    Thank you!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I’ll keep this idea in mind for the future — it would be a good blog post!

    [Reply]

  13. Organizing: Home & away edition | Smart Living Blog

    07/17/2012

    [...] Andrea Dekker has a helpful post on packing a “minimalist” wardrobe, complete with photos of everything she packed for a 5-day wedding trip. Her top tips: Try things on first, pack layers of clothing, and stick to a black/grey/khaki/white color palette so you’ll get maximum outfits from minimal pieces. Oh, and be sure to check out the reader comments at the end of this post, including a link to the guru of traveling light. (Simple Organized Living) [...]

  14. Jennifer

    07/19/2012

    Great tips. We’re headed on vacation in a few weeks and I’ll put these tips to good use. I’ll keep you posted on how they worked out!

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  15. Shannon

    10/26/2013

    Hi Andrea! Do you do your regular oil cleansing routine when you travel? If so, what kind of a container do you put the oil in?

    [Reply]

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