Heather in Lisbon Portugal

Packing Clothes For Travel – Keep It Simple

If you’re here and reading this, you are looking for a little “how to” on packing clothes for travel. I personally think packing clothes for travel is one of the hardest parts about travel! I’m not a super fashionable person, and somehow, at 53, I still don’t know how to “dress for my body type.”

I’ve compiled a list of suggestions for packing clothes for travel that work for a variety of locations and temperatures.

These ideas are centered around urban activities in developed areas. If you are headed out to hike mountains, going on a safari or wandering around in the jungle, you will want to consider other options! If you’re packing for carry-on, pack less. If you’re packing for a checked bag, you’ll have more leeway. If you aren’t sure why you should pack for carry-on or if you should aspire to it, I suggest you read my Easy Carry-On Only Packing Guide.

You can adjust this list to your personality and fashion choices. A great resource I’ve found very helpful is following Fashion Travel Girl on Facebook. I get so many great ideas from that group!

I have yet to go on a trip and think, “YES! I packed the perfect mix!” It’s a lot of trial and error.

If you’re packing clothes for carry-on travel, it requires strategy, diligence, patience and a good organization system. I’ll provide some tips for that at the bottom.

Packing Ideas for Bottoms

  • Black cargo joggers: I have this pair from Target that I love. On a recent trip, I was sitting at the airport in Lisbon, Portugal, and the woman next to me was wearing the exact same pair!
  • Jeans: black or dark blue: A good comfortable pair of jeans will go with almost anything and can be dressed up or down.
  • Leggings: Even in Europe, which is known for being a step up in fashion, you will find people wearing leggings. Opt for dressier leggings over athletic brands.
  • Skirt: There are so many cute skirts that can be dressed up or down. A tulle skirt with a moto jacket, a linen skirt with a jean jacket, or a simple cotton/spandex midi skirt paired with almost anything is an easy outfit that works in multiple climates.
  • Shorts: Five years ago, I would have said not to pack shorts when traveling outside the States. In many countries, they just weren’t as common. However, you see them more and more, so if that’s what you are comfortable with, go for it. I would, however, recommend reading up on the location if you’re traveling outside of the U.S. In some countries, you will need your legs covered to enter certain buildings, and in some countries, just being in public requires more modesty.

Packing Ideas for Tops

  • 1–2 nice tops/blouses
  • Lightweight sweater
  • 1–2 tank tops 
  • 1–2 button-down, long-sleeved shirts: I have a white one and a denim one I can layer over a tank or T-shirt.
  • 1–2 nice T-shirts: I like wool T-shirts as they hold their shape and don’t hold odors.

Packing Ideas for Jackets

  • Lightweight rain jacket or trench coat
  • Jean jacket: a classic staple that pairs nicely with everything from joggers to a tulle skirt.
  • Moto jacket: I don’t like to travel with leather — it’s too heavy — but I do have a nice stretchy cotton/spandex moto that travels really well.
  • Wind jacket: I have a packable Cotopaxi windbreaker. If I’m doing any outdoor activities like kayaking, biking, hiking or sailing, I take this along. We also have an amazing packable windbreaker in our shop that packs easily when you want to get away to it all! 

Miscellaneous

  • Four to six pairs of socks: I like wool socks as they dry quickly if washed in the sink; they don’t hold odors like cotton and last much longer. I love Bombas.
  • 2–4 pairs of underwear: I like wool underwear for the same reason I like wool socks.
  • One bralette
  • One bra
  • Bathing suit
  • Scarf: Scarves serve so many purposes. From warm and cozy to light and flowy, they can be fun and functional. In countries with more modest expectations, you might need one to cover your head or shoulders. 
  • Hat: Baseball, beach, beret, whatever kind of hat you prefer, packing one will save you from sun damage that can quickly ruin a trip. We have some fun hats on our website, too! 

Packing Ideas for Shoes

  • Cariuma Salva: I recently bought the Cariuma Salva for a trip to Lisbon and was incredibly impressed. The toe box is almost too narrow, but I walked 52 miles in six days and my feet never hurt, which for me is a minor miracle.
  • Sketchers Slip-in: I finally gave these a try, and they are a game changer. Comfortable to wear for miles and miles and hands-free! This might be my new favorite shoe.
  • Sanuk yoga sling: Can be worn to the pool, to dinner, and walking around town — super versatile and packs easily.
  • Hush Puppy flats: I’m not walking 5 miles in these, but they are comfortable enough to walk a mile or so and create a nice look for dinner.

Bags

This depends a lot on what I’m planning on doing. When I spent 12 days in Ireland, I used all of these. I can run a little lighter if I’m not planning on using my Fuji camera, which requires a larger day bag. I love bags so much I wrote a whole blog just on the bags I carry!

  • Waterproof/theft-proof backpack purse: I love this for during the day when I’m out exploring. It holds my camera, lenses, water bottle, jacket and other little items. Because the main compartment opens to your back, your important stuff can’t be pickpocketed. I also like the fact that it packs flat so it doesn’t take up too much space in my suitcase. The one drawback is because it is on your back, it’s not convenient for quickly stashing items like your phone.
  • Cotopaxi hip pack: I use this in my everyday life. I wear it as a crossbody. It’s big enough to hold my 24 oz water bottle, phone and some odds and ends
  • Eddie Bower Stowaway backpack: Folds up nice and small. This bag is great if I’m planning on hiking or biking — more comfortable than the backpack purse for outdoor activities, also great for running to the grocery for supplies.

Tips for Packing Clothes — Carry-On:

I use compression bags most of the time. I don’t love them, but you can compress some really bulky items down pretty tightly. I add a dryer sheet to the bag. Otherwise, my clothes smell like plastic.

The other option is packing cubes. I like these better, and when I’m not trying to over-pack, I prefer this route. I have different colored ones, and they really help me stay organized! I have not found the compression packing cubes to be that beneficial, and the zippers tend to stick.

Use the 3/3/3/3 method. Three tops, three bottoms, three shoes and three layers. You’ll also see it called the Sudoku method. Just go to Pinterest, and you’ll see a lot of cool ideas!

Packing clothes for any trip can be a struggle. For me, I try to pack lightly — but often fail. At the end of the day, pack the clothes that make you feel good and that are similar enough to your normal wardrobe that you don’t feel like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes!


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