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How To Organize Your Travel Wardrobe

It’s an easy mistake to make. I made it for years.
Over packing for travel.
You plan what goes with what, the shoes you need, the special occasion needs, the accessories to take, and before you know it… you’ve got an enormous bag, or two packed for one week away. Then you start on your toiletries, which must go carry one if they’re liquid, and you end up traveling like a Sherpa.

It took one too many a few lost and delayed bags to convince me that flying with carry on, was the quickest, least painful way to travel.Taking a wardrobe of predominantly black clothes has been helpful, but using a Travel Wardrobe Chart also takes the guesswork out of it.

Choose one base color to predominate your travel wardrobe.
Mine was black for this past trip, but yours might be blue, or red, or taupe. Whatever you have key pieces in, can be your base color. For example, I’m organizing my wardrobe for a trip to Mexico in a few weeks and my base will be white and taupe.

Pack mostly unmemorable clothes.
It’s wonderful to own and wear distinctive clothes. I don’t bring them when I travel which allows me to wear things several times and use my accessories to change-up my look. I’m typically an under packer now…unless I’m driving, then all bets are off and I pretty much bring everything.
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Sometimes, like this time, it didn’t matter how many clothes I brought, I ended up undressed.

On my trip to Vancouver last month I packed:

 

 

How to Organize Your Travel Wardrobe
No point in showing the black clothes, so here’s the velvet scarf and suede gloves.

Black Trench coat-2 pair of black cigarette pants

Black skirt

Black tights & black fishnets

Black riding boots

Black pointe knit dress

Black cardigan

2 black V-neck sweaters

Black fedora

Pale gray & pale taupe cashmere V-neck sweaters

2 pair black flats & low heeled black dress shoes

Black jeans-2 black, J Crew knit tops

Gray workout wear…always hopeful I will be motivated to work out

Black workout shoes

Teal velvet scarf and gloves & Teal Pashmina

Black patterned Hermes scarf

3 pair black socks

I started to fill out this packing worksheet but decided it wasn’t necessary… bad decision.

This was one of the tools I used with my clients, to organize their wardrobe for travel, simplify packing and remind them what to wear with what. There’s a link at the bottom of this post to print a blank copy.

I should have finished filling it out…it might have prevented an embarrassing little wardrobe malfunction.

My little mishap happened the morning I was introduced to my husband’s new boss.
We were staying at the Pan Pacific for his business conference. I’d tagged along to visit my daughter and generally relax.

My husband rang the room, told me he was waiting in the lobby with his boss and I should hurry down to meet him. Dressed for a day of shopping with my daughter, I raced out of our room and hopped in the elevator.
I knew I’d have to go back for my umbrella, coat and handbag after this quick diversion, so I just brought my key.

Elevator rides are strange. If there are other people aboard, we all seem to look up, to watch the elevator’s progress… or we look down at the floor.
I looked down.Hmm…when had I bought a black skirt with a lace edge? That would be…n e v e r.
I was wearing my black tights, black boots, black V neck sweater, black slip and was nicely accessorized with my Hermes scarf and pearls. I’d simply neglected to put my black skirt on. Oops!
It’s very easy to justify that black is always chic, practical, slimming, convenient …and it is all of that. If I hadn’t been so anesthetized by all my black, or had been using my packing chart, I might have noticed the missing skirt earlier…perhaps before I left our room.
I doubt his boss even noticed my lack of skirt, but I was distinctly uncomfortable.
              

 

On this trip, everything I packed got worn, some a little less frequently than others, but it all fit into a 19″ wheeler bag and a small hand-held carry on.

My handbag is always packed upright, inside the top of the handheld satchel. That gives me easy access to the contents, and can be considered my “handbag”, if stopped by a snarky flight attendant.

I always wear my hat and largest footwear to travel in. Other hats, get packet upside down in my suitcase, surrounded and filled with soft clothing and scarves.

I’ll show you how I physically organize and pack my bag next week, as I prepare for my holiday to Mexico.

My now Vintage, Hartmann Luggage

Using these wardrobe sheets will allow you to pack less, with more efficiency. Seeing your outfits grouped on paper also gives you a visual aid for easily pairing your separates in creative new ways.

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Ever have your bags not arrive with your flight and immediately need to board a two-week cruise It’s torture so fun to spy your bags, jammed into the back of a speeding car, trying to catch up with you in every European port…just as your cruise ship is departing for the next port of call.

How are your packing skills?
Here’s a link to download a printable , blank worksheet for you to try out the next time you travel.
Just print multiple copies, depending on how long you will be away.

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9 Comments

  1. Faith Shotts-Flikkema
    February 2, 2020 / 7:21 pm

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful, helpful blogs. I’m a new subscriber (the last few weeks) and really enjoy and appreciate your writing.
    This one was spot on. My husband and I went to Italy over the holidays, and I checked my “big” bag, while taking just my cosmetics bag on board. This was the first time in my 14 years of travel that they lost my luggage. It took FOUR days to get it back, and my only life-saving graces were that a) I had my cosmetics bag and b) I was wearing my trench coat. The vast majority of our pictures in Italy feature me in my trench coat, haha. Lesson learned. I’m still working on bringing one memorable outfit while having the rest in a basic color, such as black. I’m a hopeless optimist. Thanks again for your great ideas and writing.

    • Jennifer
      Author
      February 2, 2020 / 9:08 pm

      Ouch, that’s no fun. The good news is you had your medication with you. Trench coats are perennially stylish so I bet you looked chic and cosmopolitan.

  2. J Sund
    January 31, 2020 / 12:13 pm

    Agree with all except the “snarky flight attendant” comment. Can you imagine the amount and size of some passengers bags? Besides, the size situation should be taken care of prior to boarding. Signed, a former 37 year year flight attendant ?

  3. Margaret
    April 30, 2017 / 3:04 pm

    I use a similar chart to lay out my activities during the trip. Then I use Pinterest to select clothing items, styling them in various ways until I have things narrowed down. It really works for someone as visual (and lazy) as I am!

    • Jennifer
      April 30, 2017 / 10:28 pm

      I like visual cues too, Margaret and Pinterest is an amazing source for great ideas.

  4. Oh Jenny, that was so funny. I read it allowed to Mr Him. I still use your chart and day wear is all very interchangeable as a result. I just overpack evening clothes because I don’t know what to expect.

  5. Chrissy
    August 26, 2015 / 1:56 am

    I have something similar and if I am going for more than one week I only complete the sheet for one week so that I can wash and rewear the following week(s). It gives me room in the suitcase for surprise purchases – yes, there are ALWAYS those!

  6. November 18, 2014 / 6:11 am

    Jennifer, first off, thank you for adding this wonderful spread sheet. I’m definitely a carry-on only type of traveling gal and like you, I’ve learned through experience. I’ve also found when I travel this way, it’s quite liberating and free of stress (once in a while it’s so nice to not worry about what to wear for the day with so many choices). I love how you said not to pack memorable clothing.

    • Jennifer
      November 18, 2014 / 9:44 am

      Carry on is the only way to go!

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