Travel style: How to plan cute outfits for vacation in a carry-on

travel light_how to pack cute outfits for vacation trips

I’ve been getting a lot of questions on what to pack for travel, so wanted to share my “formula” for planning outfits while on the road! I’d follow the same train of thought for planning a capsule wardrobe, for those of you who’ve asked about that. In this post I’ve shared examples of pieces that can be re-styled and stretched into outfits for over 10 days – I can fit all of the above into my carry-on with room left over, which I usually fill with extra items just in case!


Packing Palette // Start by choosing a color palette for your travel outfits, including 2-3 neutrals, and if desired, 1-2 accent colors. Try to pack within this scheme, adding printed pieces in similar color families for interest. Planning and visualizing your wardrobe in categories (tops, bottoms, outer layers, shoes, bag) will make it super easy to mix-and-match the pieces…just choose one from each category to make a complete outfit!
how to pack light for vacation travel outfits

Foundation Pieces – Bottoms // I usually start with bottoms, looking for my most comfortable and wrinkle-resistant bottoms that will work for the destination climate. Dark blue and black jeans are a safe bet, as well as navy ankle pants for a dressier look (love my BR sloan pants for travel!). Maxi skirts don’t get much love on “what to pack” lists but they are my favorite. Your legs are covered up but can still breathe, plus maxi skirts can be easily dressed up or down. Mine’s from ASOS petites (I closed up the leg slit a bit with safety pins).

Foundation Pieces – Tops & Dresses // A slouchy tee and striped shirt are wardrobe workhorses, as you guys have seen on this blog! I also like to add a “fun” top with an interesting detail or two, that can be worn either tucked in or untucked. Mixing a few fashion-forward pieces in a suitcase full of basics will prevent simple outfits from feeling drab. This off-shoulder top with bell sleeves has been perfect for dressing up my basics.

I’m a dress lover through and through, so I always pack a few with me personally…lace, prints, fit & flare, etc. If I had to just recommend one type for travel, it would be a stretchy knit swing dress for max comfort & versatility.

how to pack for vacation jackets layers

Outer Layers // This will vary based on where and when you’re traveling, but you can never be too prepared for fluctuating weather. For mid-spring, I packed a denim jacket, an oversized cardigan (I cut off the tassels), and a patterned scarf that can double as a wrap. Other outer layers I love for travel include knit blazers, my moto jacket and draped trench.

how to pack for vacation travel shoes accessories bags

Accessories – Shoes // Figure out how much walking you’ll be doing on the trip, and plan shoes accordingly! Colors like cognac brown, tan, or blush are usually versatile and flattering against bare legs. I rely a lot on my Nike Free sneakers (runs half size small) and BP blush pointy flats both pictured above – the flats I’ve mentioned are comfy for me but have no support, so size up if you want to add cushioned insoles.

Accessories – Bags // Being hands-free is important when sightseeing, so you can enjoy all those ice cream cones and take hundreds of photos. I like to bring at least a roomy tote (good for the airport, shopping, beach, etc), a medium cross-body bag for general use, and a dressier clutch bag that’s also convertible with a strap.

Other (not pictured, but don’t forget these!): sunglasses, jewelry, toiletries, undergarments, PJs

casual travel outfit ideas what to pack for europe

Here’s some examples of these pieces mixed & matched to create several outfits! Most of them are very practical for sightseeing, but I’ve noted a few for certain scenarios. As another tip, if I have time while packing, I’ll roughly lay out the possible outfit pairings and take a quick photo on my phone of each set. That way while on the road, I can just wake up and look through the “catalogue” of outfits on my phone and quickly choose one best suited for the day’s activities.

sightseeing vacation outfits what to pack for asia

Below are two of my favorite pairings…giving me some outfit ideas for the rest of this week!

how to plan stylish travel outfits for vacation

Lastly, here’s some past travel posts where I’m wearing variations of the above outfits:

what to pack for trips_extrapetite hong kong

stylish travel outfits airport st yle_boston
Both outfit details in this post 

Whew…I hope you guys enjoyed this post! How do you approach packing for long trips? What are some of your must-bring clothing, shoes or accessories?


70 thoughts on “Travel style: How to plan cute outfits for vacation in a carry-on

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Just manually via Photoshop

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    It's a stock image from H&M; scarf that is old, unfortunately!

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    I usually just wear my regular wireless bra under this off shoulder top and slide the straps off my shoulders. I know that won't work for ladies who need actual support in the bust, though!

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    They are stock images from old items I found in a Google search – the scarf is old H&M; and I don't have a brand for the striped tee, unfortunately!

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for the heads up

  • Jean May 22, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    It's an H&M; stock photo but old, unfortunately

  • Sharan Kaur May 23, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Awesome tips! I'm going to India (taking a direct 14 hour flight!) in August and dressing comfortable is key!

  • Jen May 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    I would love to get the Bric's suitcase in the very pretty cream but I'm worried that it will get dirty and it won't look nice after awhile. Do you find that it is hard to keep clean? Do you only bring it on or have you ever checked it? There is one called olive that looks almost black and I am trying to decide between that one and the cream one.

  • Cindy K May 24, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Hi Jean, I've been following you for a few years now and love how your style has evolved to be more refined and sophisticated. You mentioned planning a capsule wardrobe in this post and I thought you might have done a post on it but I couldn't find it in the search. Can you share the tips on starting one? Thanks!

  • Anonymous May 24, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Quick question: do you sometimes include heeled shoes in the bag? I've had trips where I needed at least one pair for an event/outing, but they're usually the heaviest items to pack. Thanks! -Val

  • Petite&Minimal May 25, 2016 at 5:26 am

    Great tips! May I ask which bag do you use to bring your SLR camera? So far I found only the sporty bag with wide padded straps is the easiest for the shoulders, but they don't look that good…any tips on this? Thanks!

    Annie | Petite&Minimal;

  • Stevie Jewel May 26, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Your thoughts on packing neutrals with color accents so perfectly describes how to create chic outfits for travel! From someone who travels quite a bit, I found this tidbit to be excellent advice!

  • Annibella June 7, 2016 at 1:35 am

    I love this post & have been stalking back & forth. I need help packing for a 15 day hot weather trip in August. Summer waredrobes are usually colorful so makinf the color palette even more difficult to pick & assuming i cant do laundry. The summer weather will require more change of daily tops/bottoms. Help!

  • Anonymous June 10, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Jean! Love this post! Could you do one for summer outfits? Or perhaps how you might pack your carry on when traveling to locations with very different climates on the same trip? I.e–hot/humid to cool/rainy? Thank you! 🙂

  • Anonymous July 8, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    What do you do if you spill something on yourself when traveling? I'm sure Hong Kong has great cleaning services where you can send your clothes out to be washed, but what if you're traveling where that isn't an option? How do you stay clean? 🙂

  • Suzi July 10, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Suzi July 10, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Just in case you are still reading this post…I ordered the Bric suitcase over the 4th wknd (add'l 25% off on top of the sale) in the cream color. I also debated about the lighter color, and I typically prefer darker colors for traveling. The luggage was delivered yesterday BUT in the olive color. I was really disappointed at first but once I saw the olive I still loved it. As you stated, it looks black and in person it's a softer black looking color and I love it. Regardless of color, I would not check this bag. Seems to be very well made and it looks exactly in person as it does online. Am going to see if NM would maybe give me an extra discount since I am not charging them shipping costs to return their error 😉 Hope this helps. I wanted to respond since I had the same questions but decided to buy it without knowing (and since it was on extra sale for the holiday wknd).

  • AG18 January 5, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    I love your blog and your exquisite style! I like to travel light, and this post was very helpful. My question is, how do you come up with the palette of colors to build your outfits?
    Thanks, and keep up the wonderful job you do with your blog! All the best this new year 2017!

  • AG18 January 5, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I love your blog and your exquisite style! I like to travel light and this post was very helpful. How do you choose the palette of colors to build your outfits?
    Thank you, and keep up the wonderful job you do with your blog. My best wishes for a wonderful and happy 2017!

  • Serena Liu February 20, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    This is very impressive and helpful. Thanks so much for sharing! What do you recommend when traveling to potentially rainy/cold places? My boyfriend and I are traveling to Rome and Amalfi coast in March and while I'm trying to channel your light traveling and fashion forward style, I'm having a really hard time trying to pack light and comfortable in preparation for the rain/cold. Any tips would be appreciated! Thank you!

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