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Packing List for Women: Travel Fashion Without a Wardrobe Revamp

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Standing at the baggage carousel, I shifted my weight. The machine spit out bags at random intervals. Each time the rubber curtain moved, dividing the interior machine from the belt, I held my breath.

Perhaps my bag would be the next lucky one spinning from the machine’s dark mouth.

One by one, the crowd surrounding me hauled their bags from the conveyer belt until it was only me and three others still waiting, anxiously watching the conveyor belt. It kept churning out empty air with a straggler bag occasionally popping loose, its the owner sighing in relief. My watch said I’d already missed two trains headed downtown.

As silly as it seems, I felt like the last kid selected for a softball team. The kid that couldn’t hit a ball to save her life. All because of a bag filled with stuff that I believed would make or break my trip.

Finally, my black suitcase broke free of the rubber curtain. Hauling it off the conveyer belt, on my way out to catch the next train, I intentionally hit it on a few sharp corners.

I hate waiting. For anything. That’s why I now pack in a carry on.

When the plane lands, I simply pull my bag down from overhead storage, sling it over my shoulder, and catch the first train. Forget about waiting.

To make that possible, I mined my existing closet for clothes to fit my new carry on lifestyle. Just because you’re a woman, that doesn’t mean you have to overpack. Have you ever wanted to pack as light as any man, still look good, and not have to buy a new wardrobe?

By the end of the guide, you’ll have a selection of clothes to mix and match which complement each other and will pack lightly for your next trip, in your carry on.

Examine Your Closet

Chances are you wear the same favorite clothes over and over, with some variations on pants or jackets. These are the clothes you want to take on your next trip.

Identify Favorites

Here are two strategies for figuring out which are your favorite (most worn) pieces of clothing:

  1. Move your entire wardrobe into an empty closet. Over a couple months, move only the clothes you wear back into your main closet. Congrats, your favorite clothes, those you most often wear, have now been identified.
  2. Rotate your hangers so the hooks face you, rather than facing the closet’s back wall. Over a couple months, as you wear your clothes, switch the hangers of the worn items so that they face the correct direction. After a few months, you’ll have a good visual of exactly which clothes you regularly wear and which ones just take up space in your closet.

Identify Double Duty Items

What does double-duty mean? These are clothes that you can layer, easily wash, and which complement each other.

Layering

Cliche, but true: layering clothes is the simplest way of dressing appropriately for any type of weather. Peel off a layer when it’s too hot, or add a cardigan when you’re cold. Ball up the clothing to see how small it can become when you pack it.

Types of clothes that layer well:

  • Tank tops
  • Light cotton shirts in any style of neck line
  • Cotton or merino wool cardigans
  • Collared button down shirts
  • Leggings or heavy tights (to layer under a dress or jeans if super cold)
  • Jersey dresses that wrinkles shake out of

Having a hard time deciphering which of your shirts will layer and not feel bulky? Here are some brands I’ve found work well:

Next up, check the tags to cull out any high-maintenance clothes that need to be dry cleaned, ironed, or wrinkle easily. Typically, a patterned button-down shirt will hide wrinkles better than a solid color.

Also, try to select shirts with rayon or polyester in them to help them keep their shape after multiple wearings.

Make sure the fabric can take a beating. To me, that means no white, as I’m the girl who manages to get food stains on any white clothing. Your clothes need to hide the rigors of travel and make you look good. Chances are you’ve already figured out which clothes do that just from living your daily life.

Base Layers: Neutral Colors

Your tank tops and cotton shirts will be pulling heavy duty, so, you need them to flatter your other clothes. When packing, select shirts in colors that compliment each other.

For example, my closet has lots of blue t-shirts, so I typically pack black and pink tank tops. I know the two colors look good together. And, if needed, I can wear the black tank top on its own.

Max Your Accessories

Adding in a scarf (which can ward off chilly winds), or a statement necklace, can change an entire outfit’s look from casual to dressy. Best part is these small accessories don’t take up tons of space in your bag.

And if you’re like my friend — her entire outfit is built around her jewelry — you can wear almost the same outfit every day, but make it look totally different based on your accessories. Get creative!

Basic Accessories To Pack:

  • Brightly colored scarf
  • Necklace: Chunky fashion one, or something more delicate
  • Earrings: Dangly, studs, or hoops
  • Bracelets: Thin bangles, chunky
  • Belts: Skinny, leather, or colorful
  • Hats: These can take up more space so I would only go with one

Put It Together

By now you should have a pile of clothes that do several things:

  • Play well with each other, in similar or complimentary colors
  • Can easily be layered without feeling too bulky
  • Can be dressed up or down with your accessories
  • Wash well and hide stains
  • Make you feel good

Congratulations, you’ve now pared your closet down to a choice selection of your own clothes to bring on your next trip! When you pack for your next trip, pack from this selection and pick clothes — short sleeve or long sleeve — depending on your destination’s weather.

packing list for women

Sample Packing List

Just for you, here’s a sample of what I pack for a trip:

  • Two Old Navy tank tops in black and blue
  • Three cotton t-shirts (short sleeve or three-quarter length) in black, blue, or navy from Everlane, Target, or J.Crew
  • Long sleeve cardigan from Victoria’s Secret in green
  • Flowery scarf with pink, blue, and green accents
  • Two necklaces: One delicate and St. Christopher’s medal
  • Three pairs of earrings: Siamond (or CZ) studs, silver dangly, and silver hoops
  • One pair of Lucky Jeans (wear them — don’t pack)
  • Blue and white J.Crew collared shirt in long sleeve length
  • Optional – Black jersey dress for a nice dinner out
  • Lightweight, wind-resistant jacket like FlyLow Gear’s Vixen jacket (strap to your bag’s outside for easy access on a chilly flight)
  • Sometimes I pack a baseball hat if I’m going to a game, or driving at night (the brim shields my eyes from passing vehicles’ headlights)
  • If it’s a colder destination, I throw in a long sleeve cardigan or wear a blazer underneath my jacket on the plane

Pack It

Let’s be honest: I hate folding and ironing clothes almost as much as I hate waiting.

What I’ve found works best for my clothes is rolling them. With this method, you can see all shirts at a glance, use minimal space, and you can pull out shirts without messing up the general organization of your bag.

packing light

Packing like this is much easier with a bag that unzips from the top, like the Outbreaker, than a normal hiking backpack that opens only from the top.

TL;DR

As a woman, you can pack in a carry on and still look good; without buying a new wardrobe for your trip. Remember to select items of clothing that layer well, compliment each other, and easily wash. Skip high-maintenance clothing that needs to be dry cleaned or ironed.

Here’s how:

  • Examine your closet
  • Identify your favorite clothes
  • Pick clothes in your favorite clothes that mix and match well and wash easily
  • Pack your bag using those clothes you’ve just identified
  • Use accessories (think: scarves, jewelry) to juice up outfits

Using these tips, you’ll travel with several outfits from a few select items that you already own and make you feel amazing.

Image Credit: Rosalind Chang, Stocksnap

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon Whitney January 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

Great tips! I’m all about the jersey dresses. They are easy and look fancy when you need them too. I also like to bring “workout clothes.” They’re designed to wick sweat and be comfortable. They come in all kinds of great colors and patterns too.

Reply

LauraLopuch January 27, 2015 at 6:00 am

Shannon, agreed, those jersey dresses are awesome! Great idea on the workout clothes.

Reply

LadyLightTravel January 24, 2015 at 10:25 am

I’ve waited a few days before posting this, as I wanted to see if the tone of this article bothered me later as much as when I first read it. I’m really bothered by the “just because you’re a girl” mentality, as if being female was a 2nd class citizenship that couldn’t possibly meet the higher travel standards of men. I’m also bothered that traveling lightly is seen as “packing like a man”. When I pack, I pack like a woman. I bring my dress, I bring my lotions, I bring my jewelry. Many times I pack lighter than my male counterparts. In some ways we women have an advantage, as we are usually smaller than men, which means our clothing and shoes take up less space and weight. In short, light travel is neither male nor female. Each sex has different challenges to overcome. Both can travel lightly.

I agree with you about shopping your closet for travel outfits. It’s the best way to know that your clothing fits you and you like it. The Vivienne Files has a lot of great information on building up a capsule wardrobe of core pieces that you can mix and match for outfits. From there it is very easy to pull out a few pieces for a travel capsule. The best part of having a capsule wardrobe at home? You buy less clothing, which leaves more money for travel.

Reply

LauraLopuch January 27, 2015 at 6:14 am

Hi LadyLight, thanks for your comment and for sharing your feelings about my post! I definitely didn’t mean to imply that being a girl is a second class citizenship or anything of the sort.

What I was trying to say is it’s much easier for guys to pack because their wardrobe is more limited than ours. For example, my husband throws three shirts and a pair of shorts into his bag and he’s set. But for us girls, we like to look good. And we have tons and tons of clothing options to wade through to meet that goal: do I pick a dress, skirt, shorts, or capris to wear today? And if I pick a skirt, which shirt do I wear? And then, which shoes work best with that? It can be overwhelming trying to pack for those everyday scenarios.

Plus, there’s an absurd idea (that’s heavily peddled by the movies) that girls have to bring three suitcases with them when they travel. I wanted to show that we girls can also pack lightly. Without spending a lot of money. On that note, what are your fav packing-lightly tips, other than using a capsule wardrobe?

Agreed on how shopping your wardrobe leaves more money for travel!

Reply

LadyLightTravel January 27, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Thanks for your reply, Laurel! I really hate false stereotypes. The best way to fight them is to ignore them and do your own thing. I think many guys might disagree with you on the packing, as their clothing and shoes take up way more space (which means they have to take less).
I have a lot of tips on my own website, but I’ll highlight some here:
The biggest rule is… reduce packaging! Reduce the packaging on you (clothes), on toiletries (decant) on electronics (cords), on packing cubes (zip locks). You will save pounds, not ounces.
Toiletries – as much as possible go for solids. That way you avoid carrying the weight and bulk of water in your product. If you must carry liquids then decant into the smallest possible size. Many times we only need 1/2 to 1 oz of product for a multi-week trip. The 3 oz bottles are far too large! Eyedropper bottles come in the smaller sizes. Decanting liquids is a huge space and weight saver. Do this before your trip and have it on standby.
Electronics – As much as possible, avoid electronics. Most smart phones perform the functions of a computer. If you really need a laptop then save weight and size by buying a USB tablet instead. USB devices are dual voltage. On top of that you can share chargers and cords among devices (except Apple). That means you only have to carry one 2-3 A charger and one micro-USB sync cord. USB devices can also charge off of auto power ports and solar chargers. I have USB powered headlamp, water sterilizer, battery charger, etc. They all share the same sync cord as my tablet.
I rarely use packing cubes as the weight of the material and zipper add to the weight of the bag. I’ll use freezer weight zip locks instead.
Always bring a packable raincoat. Don’t let bad weather upend your trip.
I always bring a filament weight silk long underwear top. That and leggings are my cold weather protection.
Consider bringing jeggings or a spandex-cotton blend jean instead of a true denim jean. These have significantly less bulk and weight than regular jeans. The spandex in the jean reduces the drying time by at least 1/2. They are MUCH more comfortable on an airplane.

Reply

LauraLopuch January 29, 2015 at 7:32 am

Thanks for sharing your tips, LadyLight! I like the ones about decanting your liquids, bringing a packable raincoat (this is something that I should always bring since rainy weather tends to find me!), and the jeggings/cotten-blend jeans. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment — I appreciated hearing your point of view about these topics!

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