the 12 piece travel wardrobe

So here it is. Perhaps a little boring, but it will get the job done. Everything goes with everything else. I went back and forth on the ivory sweater, decided to throw caution to the wind in the interest of including another lighter colored piece.

Let’s go counter-clockwise from the upper left.


  • 3 silk jersey tees, all 3/4 sleeve (1 black, 1 grey, 1 navy)
  • 1 linen jersey print tee (to add some color and print, layers well over other tees if needed for warmth)
You’re right…that’s only 11.  I’ve left myself a “wild card” piece (or two) To Be Determined upon final pack.


Based on current weather forecasts, I’m doubtful that it’s worth my while to pack a pair of sandals or flats. I toyed with the idea of knee boots, but that felt like overkill.
I may throw in a wild card scarf or two, something brighter for when I’m craving some color and pattern.

Outerwear and bag. Yep, both black. Ultimately, the practicality of darker neutrals (mostly) won out over the notion of more color and light neutrals. The raincoat has a removable wool lining, making it workable for a wider range of temperatures.

Base layers for warmth not shown (and not counted in my dozen items):

Also not shown/counted: underwear, socks and 1 pair pajamas.
All of the clothing items can be hand washed and line dried if necessary. I’m hoping it won’t be necessary for the denim pants, but if we need to we can hunt down a fluff-n-fold service.
Having learned from past experience, I’m not bringing much jewelry. Probably a couple pairs of earrings, a watch, a necklace, a couple of bracelets. C’est tout.
I really recommend this Polyvore On The Floor method for constructing a cohesive travel wardrobe. It’s so helpful to look at your capsule as a whole; each time I’ve done this, I’ve seen at least one piece that I’d planned to include that ultimately didn’t fit (though it may have coordinated well with one or two other items).
One more sleep before we leave!  I’ll show you my Wild Card selection tomorrow.
Do you have a strategy for putting together a travel wardrobe?
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  1. Your choices are quite similar to mine, however I always add a colorful Hermes scarf because I know I will crave color (I also take a variety of colorful lipsticks/pencils). I also must include comfy slippers (gotta have my slippers on strange floors) and a black, heavy cotton knit (or cashmere) zippered hoodie, for when it’s rainy and I want to cover my head. I have fun exploring fabric stores at my destination and have on occasion, bought half-yards of fabric to use as scarves in a pinch. Bon Voyage!

    1. I always pack a pair of Crocs Meleen sandals. Double duty as shower thongs, stylish sandals and they pack very lightly.

  2. I think you did a perfectly edited list! As a chronic over packer all my life, I’m still working on a basic strategy of making sure things mix + match but not to make too many outfits. For me, I would definitely throw in a dress that could be layered with the knits to wear with tights and ankle boots.
    Bon voyage!

  3. I have a strategy now – yours!! Thank you, this is what I’ll be following when I’m packing for my the trip to Europe that I hope to take in the next year. I’m adding this to my travel folder immediately. And noting that I need to find some silk t’s.

  4. For some reason I enjoy seeing you pack blue:).

    And I do the same, but lay things out on a bench kind of a thing in the living room. Otherwise I’d probably walk on my clothes by mistake…

    No flats? I think I’d need some just for my Achilles to get a stretch break.

  5. I look forward to your return to hear how this wardrobe worked for you. Mostly, I want to hear if the light colored cardigan was worn often, or if the light color seemed to risky for travel (as pretty as it is). I find when I travel I tend to reach for what is easiest and most practical. I spent eight days in Oxford in the wintertime with just a small carry on bag, so I understand the travel light concept very well.

  6. Looks like you are ready!! I am going to use this floor method on my next trip…I like the idea of tossing in the leopard accessory!! You are going to have a marvelous time!!

  7. What a great wardrobe that will take you wherever you want to go! If you can hand wash, you will do just fine. I take my clothes that need ironing to a teinturie in Paris and they do a great job. Britain is still not really warm so you will be prepared for whatever. The blues and greys are really good accents for your black. If it is sunny, your ivory cardigan will be just the thing. Bon voyage!

  8. We just got back from Paris and Provence. I was fine in Paris with my darker items but felt a little wintery in Provence as the spring warmup hit. The Paris shop windows are full of light-colored clothing and lots and lots of beige and taupe. I would also suggest a ballet style flat with a quality sole in addition to your booties — I found that changing into a flat worn without socks at the end of the day helped both with the warming days and with tired feet. Have a wonderful time!

  9. Excellent post and brilliant packing! I have exactly 12 items packed with one bright scarf, and into my 11th day of traveling Eastern Europe, allowing me to create a multitude of outfits by simply mixing and matching something different every day, and leaving some space for shopping! Nice post, good advice! Bon Voyage!

  10. Great job! I can’t imagine this would be enough for two weeks but this is coming from someone who over packs every time!
    Very thoughtful packing…..I need to remember this!

  11. One other question (for anyone). Do you decide whether or not to take denim jeans based on which country you are going to, or what time of year? I took no denim to Oxford for example (and it was wintertime), but always take it to Big Sur in the summertime and wear it daily (except for dinner).

  12. This is really perfect for the climate here. you have your bases covered, and the West of Scotland is a very casual place, so you would have to go ot looking for a place to dress up. Well-executed! I’m just sorry I’ll miss it!

  13. My travel wardrobe for a trip to Paris/Provence last May looked very, very similar – just had brighter cardigans and a couple of brighter scarves but yours I think is more elegant! Only other thing that I take (in my “personal item”) is a pair of velour sweats. I change into them on the plane to sleep in and then have a pair to lounge around in at night.
    Can’t wait to see what the “wild card” item is!!!

  14. Oooh exciting and I am impressed by your wardrobe.. if you can do that for 2 weeks I am definitely going to make myself do it for 6 nights away in NY!!! And think you’re right; knee boots would probably not be necessary – the sun is shining a little more now here! Safe travels! S x

  15. For those who have asked, yes this does include what I’ll wear on the plane. I’ve decided that my “wild card” will be a second pair of black slim ponte knit pants. I’ll shop for something colorful once I’m there.

    1. I just received my black, Eileen Fisher “Rock Star” pants from Nordstrom’s yesterday and I totally LOVE them. I was apprehensive about the man-made fabric, but these are a lush, deep black (fabric is Italian, by the way) and are so comfortable and easy to wear. Thanks for the tip. I also love doing some shopping at my destination, so it’s always good to leave room in the carry-on. Have a great time!

  16. My luggage strategy used to be pack everything I need and everything else, too. Now I only bring half of everything else.

    Two pairs of shoes? You are a brave brave woman. Are you planning on shopping?

  17. We pack very similarly even with the same brands. I typically bring two scarves and then buy a few more during my travels. Love everything you’ve packed. Please report back on your satisfaction with your new bag. Have a safe and lovely trip.

  18. I’m going to use this for inspiration when I pack for my own trip to the UK at the beginning of June. I agree with Vicki that you must pack an umbrella! I assume that you will leave a little room for purchases in Paris?

    You will look chic and comfortable and I’m sure you will have a great trip. Enjoy!

  19. Thank you for the inspiration. I am too am packing…………for 3 weeks in eastern Europe. Weather there is fickle too, and I have found that although black/navy may be boring to some, it is easier to deal with. I will be referring to your capsule as I refine my packing.

  20. What a nice look you’ll have! I like the use of navy, I have not been doing navy and lately I am thinking it would be a good choice.

    Don’t forget to check out Gordon’s Wine Bar near the Embankment tube stop!!!

  21. Lovely outfits – we have had a light scattering of snow here in Edinburgh and my DH who is in Lincolnshire just now says they have had hail, torrential rain and bright sunshine all in the space of an hour. So I think your out fits will cover all eventualities.
    Remember to leave room to buy some of our lovely Scottish knitwear and tweeds – Oban has some lovely knitwear shops.

  22. Hi Pseu —

    Seems like it will get the job done and let you feel multi-seasonally appropriate (ah, spring!).

    Just wanted to wish you a wonderful trip.

  23. /as you know, I’ve done carry-on for quite a few years, even for 6 weeks, so it’s not that aspect of this post that impresses me, although I admire your oh-so-organized approach. What strikes me, instead, is how the garments themselves will be so very transformed by your personality and style when you animate them by putting them on. We’ve seen some of these combos in recent posts, where they look so much more . . . well, vivacious . . . than they do here, where they sit, almost ho-hum, waiting for you to give them life.

    Curious, now, to see your wild card piece. . .

  24. Love your choices, accessorizing with color is so much easier than finding colorful or print tops that match all travel pieces. Neutrals work best. We took a British Isles cruise last year and we also bring one carry-on apiece, packing very much as you do. I can appreciate your organization for getting ready. I did not bring denim instead I brought a pair of lined pants, nice for evening wear and windy days and a lined plaid skirt. I also brought 2 different weight knit pants-easy to clean if needed and always hold their shape and look fresh. I brought a cute backpack-so easy to carry my iPad, scarf, umbrella and my purchases. I tucked my small crossover inside the backpack while on the plane. The fingerless mitts are perfect, you’ll be happy to have them. I wore a lined midi length sheath dress on the plane for comfort, which was fine but I’d wear my comfy velour pants next time a long flight to a chilly place.

  25. I just love a bright coat, even a patterned one. It keeps me feeling cheerful and helps my husband spot me in the shops!

  26. LOVE your bag! But it’s a bit out of my price range. If you ever want to sell it, please let me know!

  27. OMG! I am off to London HK (The NY of the East in my view) and Paris in less than a week and I will be taking:

    4 frocks, 1 black jean, 1 navy jean, 3 sleeveless tops, 1 long sleeve top, a black coat a black fur vest, knee high boots, ballet flats and heels. Will take 4 hermes scarves and accessories. Will also take 2 cardies (1 black 1 cream) and a black and white striped blazer. It has KILLED me to get it that small. Everything is neutral. I hate the lot. HK is so hot and Londy so unpredictable has been hard xxx

  28. I love what you’ve done here. The only things I would do differently would be not to take two pairs of shoes/boots that basically replicate each other; I’d suggest instead taking the boots that worked for you (since they are good in rain, which you get a lot of usually in May or Spring in general in that area of the world) but to also take a pair of shoes (not boots) that are comfortable and can adapt to warmer days (since the weather is so changeable that you might easily roast in cashmere *and* boots–my thought is, pick one, unless you tend towards feeling cold, in which case, don’t listen to me, you have to be warm within your clothes). But giving yourself the choice is the key. I’d say, the basic thing I’ve learned after living in Europe for the past three years is to bring yourself a choice of shoes, since, if you’re doing a lot of walking, they will absolutely determine the outcome of your day. At this point, I pretty much only bring Mephistos ever since I found a wonderful pair of boots in the same basic style you’ve shown here, in black, that are fully Goretexed for rain, wind, snow, etc.; and then I have another pair in a different style that do better in nicer weather. In general, though, I think your choices are very practical, especially since if you can wash and dry as you go, I’ve learned that it makes no sense to bring more than you’ve shown here, since I have to carry it all. I am taking what you’ve suggested here to Ireland in September. Thanks very much for thinking this through for everyone!

  29. I love your selections; I would agree with everything you have chosen. One thing I like when layering, is a bright solid tee under a coat or jacket; fuschia or similar pink just makes me feel good. A coordinating scarf would create additional dressing options as well. Tie a bright little scarf on a purse handle for some additional color.

  30. I have done much shopping lately and purchased nearly everything from your 12 piece travel suggestions. Yikes – wait till my Visa bill arrives! I struggle so with packing light, and can really get frustrated. Most of my travel is to visit my children in San Francisco bay area in fall and winter, and daughter in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Your suggestions are just right for me. Please tell me how you best style an outfit using the navy cashmere v neck sweater? Which pants, under layer, jewelry or scarf? I’m confused with this one.

  31. Love your posts on traveling light. To paraphrase Rick “One-Bag-Wonder” Steves, we don’t usually regret packing too little (if we’re caught short, that’s an opportunity for a bit of shopping!) but we often regret packing too much as we haul our heavy stuff up and down stairs, on and off trains, etc. We’re heading to Scotland in June, and I’ll definitely be back for more packing inspiration and ideas.

    1. ElizNash, that’s so true! I remember on our last trip having to haul both my bags (suitcase and “personal item”) up a long staircase at a train station in Tours, and it was no trouble at all. That was a very happy moment. 🙂

  32. D’accord!
    A challenge for someone who is only taking an 8 kg cabin bag for three weeks in the Greek Islands in July – 3 nights in most places and 6 nights in Santorini. I am with someone who rolls everything into little balls to fit things in the case!
    Please tell me how to maintain my style and dignity! No – the answer is not another suitcase or dump the ‘crunch-packer’!

    1. Sunny, think linen and lightweight knits. Linen jersey is also a great fabric. Weather will probably be quite warm, what about a lightweight cotton or linen shift for warm days? Don’t worry about wrinkles, and think soft instead of crisp or tailored. Most important: be sure you have a sturdy pair of sandals that are comfortable for all-day walking, and aren’t too loose on your feet. No one will notice if you wear the same thing on multiple days. Pieces that can be hand laundered are also a plus. You don’t need to take anything fancy; “smart casual” should take you just about anywhere. I love a big linen shirt to wear over just about anything, helps protect from blazing sun and will provide adequate coverage for visiting churches or any other venues with a “modest” dress code. This one from Eileen Fisher was my MVP in Hong Kong last year:

  33. My question is, why don’t you check luggage instead of carrying the suitcase onboard? I probably missed the reason somewhere on your blog. I’m going to Paris and the south of France in June for two weeks. I am bringing all of my very best clothes to wear. I feel that when I travel to Paris and south of France it is the best time for me to look as chic as possible. The question is open to all. Thanks, Marty

    1. Hi Marty, that’s a valid question. I addressed my reasons to travel carry-on only in some detail here last year, but the short version is a) avoiding checked luggage fees and lost luggage, b) the fact that we often travel between destinations by train or other public transportation which is a lot easier to navigate with luggage that’s easy to carry and lift and c) hotel rooms, especially in parts of Europe can be quite small and large bags can eat up a lot of precious space.

  34. My challenge for my European trips is finding the right shoes. I have to wear a thicker soled shoe so I don’t feel every cobblestone. Don’t look as stylish, but my shoes keep a smile on my face! I have yet to find a good shoe designed for both style and function. It is my lifetime quest. Let me know if you see anything worthy!

    1. Hi Wendy, I have a shoe post planned for next Monday and have a few suggestions, so please check back! 🙂

  35. I followed your suggestions on the post for a 12 piece travel wardrobe on a recent five day trip. It worked out fabulously for me as I had many of the Eileen Fisher pieces that were illustrated. I would really appreciate a post on streamlining cosmetics/hair care products.

  36. I’m wondering where you were headed with this wardrobe. I’m going to Europe for the first time (Rome) over the Christmas holiday. (I need to check out your shoes post.) My family and I are pros at sticking to carry-ons. I’m wondering if we will need something a little more dressy than we would normally bring (usually just jeans for my husband). When we take a trip during the winter, I usually pack black, gray, and brown–brown to match my patagonia Tin Shed Rider boots (clunky but waterproof and comfortable).

    1. Hi Rhonda, that was the wardrobe I packed for Scotland, the Lake District and London in late April of 2013. I find London can be a bit more dressy, and if you’re planning any evenings at the theater, nice dinners or tea out, you might want to include pieces that can be dressed up. You can see what I wore to the theater in London this year here (pic in center of collage):

      1. Thanks for your reply. I’m actually going to Rome over the Christmas week, not London. Although my son would love to see an opera while in Rome, I would anticipate that there won’t be any performances that week.

  37. I found throwing in a little pair of those cheapy gloves helps in case it gets cold. (My hands get cold in the house!) They take up no space in suitcase or coat pocket.

  38. I am just back from two and a half weeks in Japan and your advice was perfect. You mentioned once that you don’t take wide-leg pants because they require a different shoe. I didn’t listen, packed my new wide-leg denim, and found they dragged a bit with the flat boots I had. It was warmer than expected and I ended up buying a t-shirt, but it gave me an excuse to check out a Japanese Uniqlo.

  39. Could you suggest a travel wardrobe for men? Specifically to travel to Europe with only carry on luggage. We are flying to Rome in a few weeks, husband, teenage son, and myself. My son is a very fashionable young man. My husband , on the other hand, skews toward typical American: jeans, sports t-shirts, and sneakers. Do the men need another pair of pants? Can they get by with sweaters and long sleeved shirts (like uniqlo heat tech long sleeved t’s)? Thanks for your help!