Build Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe In 6 Easy Steps

Travelling with a travel capsule wardrobe is one of the best strategies to keep your trip within budget without sacrificing the chance to express yourself with fashion. 

How many times have you had to buy extra things before a trip to complete a look, and in the end, you end up spending on clothes for travel just as much as the trip itself? 

By building a capsule wardrobe for travel, you can achieve a more streamlined, more affordable and hassle-free trip. Once you’ve got the basics of creating one, you can change it up to suit all kinds of trips - a capsule wardrobe for island-hopping, for national park hiking, and many more!

Travel Capsule Wardrobe - Your Key To Hassle-free Travel

Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

Travel light but in style with a travel capsule wardrobe. Photo by mary_markevich -

Experienced globetrotters have probably heard of the phrase, but as a newbie, you’re asking, “What on earth is a travel capsule wardrobe?”

What's A Travel Capsule Wardrobe?

Well, let’s break it down this way. Capsule means something big and plenty made small and compact but still functional. Travel wardrobe means clothing items you’re going to be wearing during your trip.

A travel capsule wardrobe is a compact collection of essential clothing items you need for your holiday that are versatile enough to be mixed and matched with one another to create various outfits.

  • A curated selection of 10-12 core pieces you love
  • Top and bottoms that can be mixed and matched
  • Focus more on versatility and quality
  • But still fits you well and comfortable
  • Cohesive, neutral colour palette and style.

A white T-shirt with leggings is great for an exciting outdoor activity, such as a day hike. The same T-shirt with a skirt is then the perfect combo for a fun visit to the local museum the next day.

People often advise you to pack your fears when you pack gear for solo backpacking. But it’s all about packing what you’ll only be using for carry-on travel. Will that extra pair of jeans in a deeper shade of blue truly a make-or-break factor for your whole trip? If not, you can leave it at home. 

What Is The Point Of A Capsule Wardrobe?

Besides ensuring you look the part with as few items as possible, there are various reasons why you should conspire making one for yourself. Build one now if:

  • You want to spend less time on deciding what to wear and more time on exploring
  • You want to get more value out of your items by wearing them more
  • You wish to avoid impulse clothing purchases on the go
  • You love mindful consumption and reduce clothing waste
  • You enjoy wearing a variety of outfits all along with less clutter and easy organisation.
Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

Spice things up a bit, and you’ll get a new style. Photo by mary_markevich -

What Doesn't Count In A Capsule Wardrobe?

Simply put, shoes, outwear, and clothing count. While others items such as socks, underwear, and pyjamas, don't count towards the core pieces in a capsule wardrobe.

The inclusion of accessories like jewellery, bags, hats, and scarves can vary. Some people choose not to count these as part of their capsule for more freedom in outfit accessorising, while others set a separate limit to keep their wardrobe minimal.

Similarly, formal wear sometimes isn’t labelled as core pieces. But when you do it right, you will get outfits that are suitable for both streetwear and formal occasions.

Nevertheless, the number of items in a travel capsule wardrobe should be somewhere between 10-12, but no more than 15 pieces.

How To Plan A Travel Capsule Wardrobe In 6 Easy Steps

It sounds more complicated than it is. But building a capsule wardrobe for your trip is very easy with these 4 steps. The great thing is you can personalise and customise all the steps according to the purpose of your trip.

  • Think Of Your Needs And Destination
        • Pick your styles
        • Pick what’s comfortable for you
        • Consider the destination’s weather, activities, and cultural elements
  • Stick To A Versatile Colour Palette
        • Start with neutral colours then add some pop
  • Pick Out What’s Versatile And Quality
        • Choose quality fabrics and multi-functional pieces
        • Layers, layers, layers
  • Stick To The Rules
        • Use 54321 or 333 packing method
        • Pack for only a week
  • Pack Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe
        • Roll instead of fold
        • Use packing cubes.
  • Choose The Right Backpack
      • Go carry-on only
      • Choose 30-40L backpacks.

    Step 1 - Think Of Your Needs And Destination

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    Choose what suits you and what you are going to do best.

    Don’t just grab the first essential clothing items you see. Just because it’s versatile doesn’t mean it’s going to be appropriate for your trip. Assessing where you will be going and what activities you will do will help you bring what’s best for your travel plan. It’s also easier to build a wardrobe based on these factors.

    • Know your styles: Kim Appelt, a personal stylist, said on Business Insider that you should consider your personal style and where you are travelling. Try to match the vibes of the places while choosing pieces that are comfortable for you and meet your needs.
    • Consider the weather: researching the climate and weather patterns of the destination gives you an idea of what to bring and which materials to choose. For example, avoid wearing thick denim when going to a rainy area. It takes forever to dry, and a wet patch can feel much more uncomfortable than wet cotton. 
    • Consider the activities: Make a list of all the activities and events you’re planning to do. This way, you can see how many outfits you have to prepare and whether you’ll need any specific type of clothing. 
    • Cultural differences and dress code: Some religious places require modest clothing to enter. Do your research and see if you can find clothes that work with multiple dress codes.

    By considering these factors, you can make a big list of every outfit or item you need for your trip. But right now the list is still long and not yet a travel capsule wardrobe. Here’s how to narrow it down.

    Step 2 - Stick To A Versatile Colour Palette

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    Choose versatile colours to easily mix and match outfits. Photo by July P -

    Black, white, and grey are the best colours for travel clothes since they are the easiest to mix and match. They go well together as well as alone. To add some flair to your outfit (if you like), throw in some items in another colour to act as an accent piece.

    For example, a white T-shirt and black pants with a red scarf. The great thing about this colour trio is that even if your accent item is in an unusual colour, it’d still seem intentional. 

    If you’re not a fan of black, white and grey, here are a few other mix-and-match formulas to try out:

    • Pick one colour but in many different shades, from light to dark
    • Go for a contrasting palette: it’s a little tricky to get right, especially if you’re not well-versed in styling clothes.
    • Find a theme, such as pastels or earth tones. You can find examples on sites like Pinterest.

    Try them on or lay them out before packing to see if the colours work together. And remember to prioritise functionality over colour. 

    Unless your trip is related to fashion, don’t stress out over things that don’t match or the shade of one item is a little off. Most of the time, you won’t pay attention to that anyway. And people don’t notice unless you point it out.

    Step 3 - Pick Out What’s Versatile And Quality

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    Start building your capsule wardrobe with the most versatile piece you have. Photo by Mediamodifier on Unsplash.

    Now that you’ve had all the coloured items you want, it’s time to narrow the list down even more by choosing versatile items. By versatile, we mean items that can be dressed up or down to create multiple outfits and layered up. 

    It’s hard to find an item to start with, so our advice is to start with tops. Pick out a shirt that you know you wear a lot. Majorly, people often go for a white T-shirt. So, let’s use that as an example.

    A white T-shirt that is not too cropped or baggy can be worn with many pairs of bottoms, either tucked in or untucked. Then you pick out a pair of jeans or regular pants that look good with that shirt, and voila, that's your first outfit.

    Then from there, keep mixing and matching pieces from items you have picked and see how many outfits you can put together. Here are a few examples:

    • A white t-shirt and classic blue jeans is one outfit. To make it formal, throw on a blazer (opt for relaxed and versatile design). To make it perfect for a night out, replace jeans with shorts or a skirt. 
    • The same pair of jeans you have picked out for the white tee can be worn with a black tank top. And that black tank top can be styled with the same shorts or skirt you choose for the white tee. 
    • The black tank top can be layered up with a blazer as well. 

    That’s how you pick the basic items. The only thing left to do is to pick out items for activities such as swimming or sports.

    Step 4 - Stick To The Rules

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    A functional travel capsule wardrobe doesn’t need many pieces. Photo by Maya Kruchancova -

    There are two ways to pack and build a travel capsule wardrobe: the 54321 and 333 methods. Let’s take a look at how they can streamline everything so you can bring only what you need (no “just in case” item).

    The 54321 packing method requires you to pack (5) tops, (4) bottoms, (3) shoes / (3) dresses, (2) bags, and (1) destination-specific item (e.g. swimsuit). However, you don’t always have to stick to the tee. You can modify it to your liking/needs. Feel free to throw in 2-3 items you can’t live without.

    There are various variants of this 54321 travel capsule wardrobe. For instance, here is one of our versions:

    • 4 tops
    • 1 jacket
    • 3 bottom (pants/skirts)
    • 1 dress
    • 3 versatile accessories (sarong, bandana, sunglasses, etc.)
    • 2 bags (one carry-on and one day bag)
    • 1 pair of shoes


    • 6 Socks
    • 6 Underwear
    • 6 Bras.

    Here are other ways you can refer to:

    • Travel to places with variable weather: 4 tops, 1 jacket, 4 bottoms, 3 versatile accessories (such as sunglasses, scarf and a sarong), 2 layers, 1 pair of shoes.
    • Going to the beach: 4 tops, 1 coverup, 3 bottoms, 1 flip-flop, 3 accessories (towel/poncho, sunglasses, sunscreen), 2 swimsuits (if you love dipping in the sea, otherwise swap out for one bottom), 1 beach bag.
    • On a winter trip: 5 tops (thermal base layer, long-sleeved shirts, sweater, puffy jacket), 5 bottoms (convertible pants, thermal legging, jean), 3 pairs of shoes, 2 accessories (hat and/or scarf), 1 water-resistant backpack.
    • Short weekend getaways: (omitting the 5 for light travel), 4 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 jacket.

    Next, we have the 333 packing method: you bring 3 pieces of tops, 3 pieces of bottoms, and 3 pairs of shoes to top it all off. Sounds simple enough? Because it is. For instance, here’s how your travel capsule wardrobe would look like:

    Tops (3)

    • 1 Neutral Base Layer
    • 1 Versatile Blouse/Shirt
    • 1 Statement Top

    Bottoms (3)

    • 1 Dark Wash Jeans
    • 1 Comfortable Pants
    • 1 Convertible Pants/Shorts

    Shoes (3)

    • 1 trainer
    • 1 sandals/flats
    • 1 evening shoe


    • 6 Socks
    • 6 Underwear
    • 6 Bras
    • Outerwear
    • Accessories
    • A day bag.

    But that’s not all, here’s another packing rule for your travel capsule wardrobe: bring only a week’s worth of clothes, no matter how long your trip is (not one, not two, but up to 3 months and more).

    The only catch is you have to do your laundry weekly, but it’s not bad considering you are travelling light, don’t have to worry about picking clothes, or lugging around your whole wardrobe. If laundry access is limited where you are, choose items that can be easily hand-washed.

    Step 5 - Pack Your Travel Capsule Wardrobe



    Packing your capsule wardrobe smartly can save you space, money and time.

    A travel capsule wardrobe is not just about reducing the number of clothes you bring on your trip, it also means you need to pack it efficiently enough to fit in your backpack.

    A t-shirt looks light and simple enough to pack. But if you keep laying one item flat on top of another, soon enough it will grow into a big stack full of clothes taking up all the space.

    So, to keep it truly “capsule”, here’s how to pack your clothes in space-saving ways:

    • Roll, don’t fold: rolling your clothes helps you squeeze them tighter against one another as well as reducing wrinkles. You can lay rolled clothes horizontally and/or vertically depending on the space you have.
    • Use packing cubes: packing cubes help you keep all things organised and separate from other items. You don’t have to worry about your clothes leaning or getting messed up with other stuff while you’re on the move.
    • Vacuum seal bulkier items such as jackets and coats. 

    Step 6 - Choose The Right Backpack

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    What to store all your travel capsule wardrobe essentials.

    A travel capsule wardrobe is all about keeping things versatile. It applies to backpacks as well. By investing in a backpack that is good both as a travel companion and an accessory, you save money and space.

    Furthermore, most travel capsule wardrobes are also designed to fit a carry-on. Not only would that shorten your travel packing list in half, but it also saves you money later on. You don’t have to drag a heavy backpack or suitcase to the airport and then end up having to pay a fee for oversized and overweight baggage. 

    More clothes equals more bags. If you don’t have enough bags to pack, then you have to buy one. Instead of spending money on that, you can just plan a good travel capsule wardrobe and carry less.

    CabinZero’s classic backpack line is spacious with a quick-access pocket and mesh compartment to keep your items organised and secure during the trip. From 28L to 44L, CabinZero’s classic backpacks are good for all sorts of trips. And they can comfortably fit packing cubes.

    How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe For Winter?

    Yes, you can create a travel capsule wardrobe for all seasons. Layering is the keyword. As always, you’ll need to have about three layers to escape the cold.

    Most of the time, you will only need one or two thick, warm winter coats as outerwear. Opt for fleece-lined leggings and simple long-sleeve tops like a black turtleneck for the additional layers. They are the innermost layer and can be the foundation for other pieces to go on top, such as a soft cardigan, hoodie and sweater.

    Scarves and gloves are pieces that can be in bright or unique colours to add some spice to your outfits if your main pieces are in neutral or monochromatic shades. They can be used to keep warm as well as accessorising. This way, you don’t have to worry about bringing other small and unnecessary items such as an extra necklace or bracelet.

    FAQs - Travel Capsule Wardrobe

    Curating essential pieces for your travel capsule wardrobe is not easy, especially when you have to consider the many factors  of travelling such as weather, culture and length. Here are some frequently asked questions answered to help you build your travel capsule wardrobe like a pro.

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    Remember to match the vibes of the place. Photo by Alena Ozerova -

    1. What Are The Best Colours For Travel Clothes?

    Black and white are the two most versatile colours. You can mix and match them with themselves or with any other colour you love.

    The con is that white requires a bit of maintenance, so it’s not generally recommended for trips with a lot of outdoor activities where you have to get down and dirty. Black is heat absorbent, so it’s not ideal to wear full black in hot destinations.

    If you’re travelling somewhere with cool weather and you don’t do any adventurous activities, black and white are the best for a travel capsule wardrobe. 

    Here are some other suggestions if you are not a fan of those two colours:

    • Neutral colours such as beige, grey, and navy are great for all age and gender. They are also less likely to show dirt.
    • Earth tones and natural colours such as olive green, khaki, or forest green are also good choices. Many travel accessories and gear come in these shades as well.

    Keep in mind that while having a comprehensive colour scheme is good, it’s not at all that important. The key is that you enjoy your travel to your heart’s content. One shirt doesn’t exactly match? It’s totally okay! Comfort and functionality should always come first.

    2. How To Build A Travel Capsule Wardrobe From Scratch?

    The four steps explained above are a great guideline on how to build your travel capsule wardrobe from scratch. Here’s a recap: 

    First, think of your destination and activities. This helps you plan what types of clothing you should bring. 

    Then pick a colour for your wardrobe if you have too many choices to choose from. Make sure you choose colours that are versatile and suitable for the weather and the activities.

    Next, putting together outfits. This step is a bit tricky, but a good way to start is with a top, for example a white t-shirt. Then see how many bottoms you can match with the shirt. Then take one of those bottoms and continue to mix with another shirt. You can keep track of your outfit choices by taking pictures of them.

    The last step is to figure out what’s the best way to pack them. For clothes, we recommend the rolling method and using packing cubes.

    Travel Capsule Wardrobe - CabinZero

    Travel capsule wardrobe is about wearing what’s right for you. Photo by seligaa -

    3. What Is The Ideal Number Of Clothes For A Capsule Wardrobe?

    The number varies depending on the length of your trip. Generally, a capsule wardrobe should have 10-15 pieces of clothing for a 4-7 day trip.

    • Tops: 4-6 (opt for basic ones such as plain crew neck or v-neck t-shirts and simple button-down)
    • Bottoms: 3-4 pieces (jeans, pants, and skirts or shorts)
    • Dresses/jumpsuits (optional): 1-2 pieces
    • Outerwear: 1-2 pieces (opt for jacket with versatile design. You can also use a button-down as an outerwear to layer on top of a t-shirt)
    • Shoes: 1-3 pairs (if you’re not doing any specific activities such as hiking, you can comfortably travel with just 1 pair of white sneakers or slip-ons)
    • Accessories (optional) but it’s best to keep things limited.

    The key to building a good travel capsule wardrobe is to be as versatile as you can. Don’t be afraid to keep on mixing up outfits to see if you can reduce even more clothing pieces. 

    4. What Is The 5-4-3-2-1 Packing Rule?

    5-4-3-2-1 packing rule is a packing technique to keep your baggage light but functional while packing. It works for all kinds of trips and is easy to personalise to fit your itinerary. Here’s how it works:

    • 5 pairs of underwear
    • 4 tops
    • 3 bottoms
    • 2 pairs of shoes
    • 1 hat

    This helps you streamline your packing process and avoid bringing unnecessary items. 

    Streamline Your Trip With A Travel Capsule Wardrobe

    A travel capsule wardrobe is going to save you from the nightmare of overpacking your bags with clothes you discover later that you don’t even need. It can help you avoid bringing a crazy pile of clothes that don’t match (and don’t even make sense).

    Don’t stress out over clothes before or during your trip. Keep it simple, comfortable and functional. If you find this helpful, don’t forget to leave a comment or reach out to us via social media. 

    Nguyen Tran Gia Khanh

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