The Essential Vacation Packing List: A Template for Carry On Travel

Laura Lopuch

With the cold weather, that burning feeling in your belly has returned:

The need to escape the doldrums of winter and get away for a change of scenery.

The desire to escape is a normal feeling, and getting away is often rejuvenating. In fact, I just returned from a weekend getaway to Las Vegas with my new Setout and now I am ready to take on the world. 

Feeling the need to get away for a weekend (or maybe a week, or two)?

Grab your travel backpack and let’s get packing. 

Read on for a crash course in how to pack for a winter getaway, with vacation packing lists and tips galore. Shall we dive in?

Packing List Basics

A good vacation packing list, for up to a two week trip, includes the following essentials:

  • 2-3 tops (t-shirts or long-sleeve, depending on the weather)
  • 2-3 base core layers (aka tank-tops that you can layer with other tops)
  • 2 bottoms: jeans, pants, skirts, shorts… you get the picture
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 5 pairs of underwear (psst, secret to packing light is doing laundry on the road)
  • 1 pair of pjs
  •  2 bras
  • Any medical must-haves: medication, prescription eye glasses, etc. 
  • Jacket: weight + water-resistance level are dependent on your destination

And, dust off your hands, ’cause that’s it.

Looking for a printable vacation packing list? Look no further, we’ll email you one!


Everything else is an extra. I’m serious. Once you’ve got these items, anything else you throw into your carry on backpack is gravy. 

When you’re packing these items, make sure the colors play well with each other. Plan on layering clothing depending on the day’s weather.

Going someplace warm? Pack tops and bottoms that are light and airy. A cold destination needs a scarf, hat, as well as warmer tops and bottoms. Think merino wool and long sleeve instead of light cotton tanks and maxi skirts.

Or, Go With a Capsule Wardrobe

Instead of packing those basics, you could opt for a capsule wardrobe.

What the heck is a capsule wardrobe?

Simply put: a capsule wardrobe is a collection of basic, functional clothing that will not go out of style. Each item should be versatile and compatible with the rest of the wardrobe.

Think of the staples that you reach for again, and again. 

An ideal capsule wardrobe is comprised of a small number of high-quality items. Not the cheap clothes you buy for $20 and need to replace in a week. We’re talking about clothes that wear well and last years.

These clothes will go with you on most trips. 

When planning your capsule wardrobe, pick one color to act as your base color (or canvas) and add another, brighter, color for accents.

For example, if black is your base color, rose pink might be your accent color. Or, go with navy as your base color and royal purple as your accent color.

What your capsule wardrobe should include:

  • 3-5 pairs of underwear
  • Ladies –> 2 normal bras + 2 workout bras: one to wear and one to wash
  • 2 professional shirts or dresses (if need to look pro on the road)
  • 2-4 less professional but still snazzy shirts: for nice dinners out on the town
  • 1 black dress for fancy-shmansy dinners
  • 2 workout outfits
  • 2-3 everyday shirts for layering
  • 1 scarf
  • 2-3 pairs of pants
  • Optional: leggings or tights
  • 2 shorter bottom-half pieces (i.e. shorts, capris, or skirts)
  • Accessories galore: TBD by your personal style

Choose your vacation packing list from your capsule wardrobe and you can’t go wrong.

How to Pack: Formal-Wear for Parties or a Wedding

Packing for a winter wedding, or trip, or a fancy party is hard. You’re packing for two different types of trips in one bag: 1) relaxed travel and 2) gotta-look-amazing travel. 

The Outbreaker is perfect for this type of combo-trip. Thanks to its plethora of interior organizational pockets, and plenty of room, you can pack those extras and all your bases will be covered. 

  • Capsule wardrobe of two to three extra outfits 
  • 1-2 pants, skirts, capris, jeans, or shorts
  • 1-3 shirts
  • 1-2 evening outfits: TBD depending on your destination’s level of fanciness
  • Party outfit and accouterments
  • Guys: Belts, socks, handkerchiefs, shoes
  • Ladies: Jewelry, shoes, undergarments, makeup & hair accessories
  • 3-5 undergarments
  • 3-5 pair of socks
  • Easy footwear for occasions beyond the reception
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletries
  • Handbag (if applicable)
  • Make-up & hair accessories
  • Gift for the happy couple:  ship your gift ahead of time, or go with an elegant card + gift card
  • Phones/cameras/chargers/batteries/memory cards

Going Cruising or Overseas ?

If you’re traveling internationally, on a cruise or otherwise, add these essential items to your vacation packing list:

  • Necessary meds
  • Passport & visas
  • Vaccinations
  • Medical information
  • Copies of your passport
  • Power converters
  • Small first aid kit

How to Pack: Warm Destination 

Hitting up a beach to soak up some much-needed rays and chase away the winter blues? In addition to your packing basics (or capsule wardrobe), be sure to pack:

What to Pack: Cold Destination 

Imagine standing in front of a sparkling white backdrop of virgin snow on top of a mountain… just before skiing down it, blissfully solo (or with a partner). 

If you love winter, forget about the beach, head for the snow and a hot chocolate after a good day of carving the runs.

You’ll want to pack

  • Gloves, hat & scarf
  • Boots & coat
  • Sunscreen
  • Thick body lotion to prevent chapped skin
  • Warm layers: go for long sleeved, merino wool variety
  • Extra socks

How to Pack: Avoid Wrinkles

If you’re not a fan of breaking out the iron while on vacation — and risking streaking rust from a rarely-used hotel iron across your clothes — opt for low-maintenance clothing

Pack wrinkle resistent fabrics:

  • Jersey
  • Wool
  • Lyocell (aka Tencel)
  • Cashmere
  • Knits
  • Spandex, lycra or elastane
  • Technical clothing made from synthetic materials

Then, choose a wrinkle-free packing method:

  • Bundle wrapping
  • Rolling
  • Using Eagle Creek Folders for those hard-to-pack items (like collared shirts and suits)

If, in spite of your best efforts, you wind up at your destination with a carry on full of wrinkled clothing, try this:

Hang up your clothes in the bathroom, immediately upon arrival, so that the steam from the shower helps the wrinkles fall out. Or, spritz lightly with water and stretch the fabric before hanging the clothes to dry (hopefully) wrinkle free.

How to Pack for Europe in The Winter

Taking advantage of off-season ticket prices and traveling to Europe for a winter vacation is a great idea. If you want to blend in, don’t forget that those Europeans are classy dressers. Staring at your closet, if you’re starting to feel a little out of your element, fear not. We’ve got you covered with this capsule wardrobe packing list, specifically for Europe.

The short version:

  • 2 comfy, casual tops
  • 2 dress-up-or-down tops
  • 4 bottoms of your choice (pants, skirts, etc.)
  • 1 “nicer” outfit
  • 2 warm layers (preferably lightweight)
  • 1-2 exercise outfits
  • Sleepwear
  • 5-7 pairs of quick dry underwear
  • 2-3 bras (sports bra & everyday)
  • 5-7 pairs of socks: merino wool
  • Swimwear and cover up
  • 1 jacket (ideally waterproof)
  • 1 sweater or fleece
  • 1 thick, deliciously warm scarf
  • Hat—for cold or warm weather
  • Gloves
  • Thermals/long underwear
  • Sunglasses

A maximum of three pairs of shoes belong in your capsule wardrobe. Kudos if you can pare it down to two. Wear one, pack one.

  • 1 pair of winter-friendly boots
  • 1 pair of “nice” shoes (flats, booties, fancy sandals, etc.)
  • 1 pair of exercise shoes


No matter where you’re headed for a getaway this winter — beach bumming or ski bumming — include your packing list basics (or capsule wardrobe), then add in extras depending on your destination’s weather. 

Pack it all in a carry on backpack and avoid bagage fees and wasted time. 

Instead, spend your time sunning by a calming ocean, bombing through fresh powder, or exploring Berlin’s stunning modern and historic hybrid Wilheimkirche. 

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