Ultimate Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Europe in the Summer

Published by Deanna Yates on

Ultimate Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Europe in the Summer

Planning a trip to Europe in the summer and wondering what to pack? Check out this real mom's travel capsule wardrobe for how to pack for a summer in Europe with a carry on only. There's even a free packing checklist to download.

Would you be able to travel Europe for the summer with only carry on luggage for your family? Most of my friends and family either think I am crazy or a packing genius as this exactly what my family did this past summer.

I haven’t told this story here much as I talk about most of my travels on another blog – 30DayLocals.com, but I get asked about it all the time so I thought it was time to share.

This past summer, after practically losing my mind at my corporate job and feeling like a complete failure as a mother, wife, and employee, I threw in the towel and we took the summer off to travel.

My husband works freelance as a web developer so he pressed pause on most of his work and we set out to tour Europe. Our stops included Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Italy.

It was an amazing summer, but one question (of the many) we faced before leaving was how do we pack for this trip? We knew we wanted to keep it light as dragging heavy luggage in and out of trains and down cobblestoned streets is no fun. So, I set out to find out everything I could about capsule wardrobes.

What I discovered was that, since we already lived a pretty minimalist lifestyle, packing for an extended trip would not be as difficult as I thought.

I am proud to say we were able to pack all of our clothes and belongings for 4 months in 3 hand luggage bags and 3 personal item bags. Here’s 2/3 of our luggage at the airport in Chicago before takeoff. 

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How Do You Create a Travel Capsule Wardrobe?

The first thing to remember is that you can do laundry along the way so you will only need enough clothes to last for a week. And by clothes I really mean underwear. Everywhere we have travelled, we have been able to find laundry service. However, when we travel for longer periods, we rent Airbnbs so we have more space, a kitchen, and laundry facilities. This makes it easier to travel with less.

Mix and Match

The first rule with capsule wardrobes is that everything must be able to mix and match with your other clothing items. All bottoms must be able to be worn with all tops. It’s also important to have a top layer that can be worn with each item too.

Color Palette

The second rule is to work in a cohesive color palette. This means that you will have one base color and build up from there. Base colors are black, brown, or navy. Then you can work in your neutral pieces. All neutral colors like white, gray, and beige with well with the base colors. Finally you will add in one (or two at most) accent colors.

I love black for my base color and my husband loves blue for his color. I’ll talk about how we worked these together in a minute.

This was our color palette for our summer travel capsule wardrobe.

Think in Modules

The last thing to consider when planning your capsule wardrobe is how many pieces you need and how will they make up your outfits. A good formula for this are clothing modules. A module consists of 1 top layer (long sleeve button-up, blazer, or jacket), 3 tops, and 2 bottoms. Pairing each top with each bottom gives you 6 outfit combinations. Adding the top layer doubles this to 12 outfit combinations.

The beauty is that if you feel this these are not enough options, you can add a second module. By making sure all the pieces coordinate, meaning that you can wear each top with each bottom and top layer, you will expand your wardrobe to 72 different outfits!

Having a hard time getting your head around this? Download the free packing cheatsheet I created

You probably will not need this many options, but it’s amazing to see how quickly the possibilities add up.

How Many Clothes Should I Pack for a 1 Month Trip?

How many clothes you pack for a month long trip depends on a couple of factors. First you need to decide where you are going. If your trip includes places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, or Greece, the weather will be hotter in the summer so you will not need to pack heavy things. I’d still recommend a couple top layers as weather can be unpredictable.

However, if your vacation includes places like Scotland, Denmark, Finland, or Sweden, the weather can be chilly, even in the summer. I found this out the hard way our 10-day trip to Scotland a few years ago in August. Even though the actual temperature said it was in the low 60’s, it was so windy in the highlands that I layered everything in my bag in different combinations for days on end just to not freeze.

If you’re combining locations with different weather, you’ll need to pack more than if you stay within one climate, I would suggest one module for the warmer locations and one module for the cooler locations.

Your clothing will also depend on what activities you plan to do when on vacation. Now that we are traveling as a family, we are more active during the day and tend to turn in earlier at night. That means we need fewer nice clothes for going out and can have more casual site-seeing items in our luggage.

Plus, remember you will wear one outfit combination on the plane so if you go with 2 modules you will only need to pack 1 top layer, 5 tops, 3 bottoms, an extra pair of shoes, a bathing suit, and your bras and underwear.

How Do I Choose Clothes For a Trip?

Great! So you are on-board with the idea of packing 2 modules, but where do you start? I like to start in my own closet. Take a look at your clothes and pick out your favorites.

From there decide on a favorite top with the accent color you love most. You can build your first module around this. If you are packing a second module and you want them to coordinate together, you will build everything around this first piece. If you are okay with your modules being separate, you can build a second module around a different accent color.

Once you have your modules built up around your favorite pieces, you may notice a couple of gaps. Now that you know what you need (1 top layer, 3 tops, and 2 bottoms per module) it is much easier to go shopping to fill in the pieces you need.

One final note on choosing clothes is to pack as few shoes as possible. I recommend keeping your shoe options to 2. The only time I think you should pack a 3rd shoe is if you are planning to spend time at the beach and need a flip flop sandal. Shoes need to be comfortable for walking during the day so I usually pack a street shoe and either a wedge or sandal for a nicer option. Make sure to wear the bigger pair on the airplane so it does not take up precious space in your suitcase.

How Do I Choose Clothes for My Family Vacation?

One of the final considerations I recommend for packing for a family vacation is to coordinate the clothes for everyone in the family so that you all look good together. I know that sounds a bit over the top and I almost feel ridiculous writing it, but I have a sad story of a good family picture that turned bad because of our clothing choices.

Okay, so a few years ago, we went to a housewarming party for a friend. I put no thought into us dressing as a family and thought about each of us looking cute individually. My friend sent us a great picture of the three of us that someone took at the party. BUT…it only looked cute in black and white! Our outfits looked ridiculous together and the colors totally clashed.

If we were going to be spending the summer in Europe, seeing beautiful places, of course we would be taking TONS of pictures. You will take a bunch of pictures on vacation too. One might end up being THE Christmas card picture and you’ll want it to be great. Or maybe, you’ll want to decorate your home with travel photos.

How terrible would it be for your favorite photo to look bad because your outfits clashed? Especially when the fix is so easy. The effortless solution to this problem is to create modules for each family member that look good together. To make it super simple, just choose the same accent color.

In our case, my base color was black, but I had accents of pink and blue. My husband and daughter had a base color of blue with pink and black accents. In the end, it made getting dressed each morning easier for all of us and I knew we would look put together in our pictures no matter where we were or what we were doing.

You never know when the best pictures will be taken and this makes sure you’re prepared with no extra effort.

What did I pack for our 3 month trip to Europe?

My capsule travel wardrobe included the following pieces:

  • 2 pairs of pants (dark jeans and black skinny pants)
  • 2 shorts (denim and black)
  • 3 dresses (coral, black, striped)
  • 4 long layers – one too many (linen button up, denim button up, black cardigan, and beige sweater)
  • 6 short sleeve shirts (white, gray, striped, coral, navy, and black)
  • 3 tank tops (white, gray, and black)
  • 1 bathing suit (black)
  • 2 comfy/workout pants
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 2 sports bras
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 2 scarfs
  • 1 belt
  • 4 pairs of shoes (street shoes, sandals (broke a month in), flip flops, wedges (left behind along the way))
  • Jewelry

We planned to travel for 3 months so I was a bit liberal with my modules.

Looking back, here’s what I would do differently. I would have purchased one sleeveless blouse that I loved and done away with the white and black tank tops as I never wore them on their own. I also would have not packed the black cardigan for summer.

Finally, I only packed the wedges for a blogging conference event, but REALLY did not need them. I actually ended up leaving them behind as the conference was mid-trip and other things won out. The sandals broke a month in and I never replaced them. In hindsight, I should have purchased nicer sandals and not brought the wedges in the first place.

What amazed me was how much I loved living with a capsule wardrobe for the summer! Having a closet with mix and match items makes me feel like the possibilities are endless. Yes, I have my favorite outfits that tend to make it into the rotation more than others, but now that I have seen it’s possible to live for the entire summer with one small suitcase, I am working to build capsule wardrobes for each season.

The freedom of not having to worry about what to wear in the morning was one of the best things of about dressing with a capsule wardrobe. An added bonus was not having to fight with my strong willed daughter about what to wear too. I knew that no matter what she picked it would be cute and comfortable.

How do you normally pack for a family vacation? Would you consider packing travel capsule wardrobe modules and taking carry on luggage only?

And if you enjoyed this (or think it will help other families), I’d love if you’d share it on Pinterest. Let’s spread the word so all mamas can pack easily for their next family vacation!

Planning a trip to Europe in the summer and wondering what to pack? Check out this real mom's travel capsule wardrobe for how to pack for a summer in Europe with a carry on only. There's even a free packing checklist to download.
Planning a family vacation to Europe this summer and not sure what to pack? Check out this real mom's travel capsule wardrobe for how to pack for a summer in Europe with a carry on only. There's even a free packing checklist to download.
Heading to Europe this summer for a family vacation and wondering what to pack? Check out this real mom's travel capsule wardrobe for how to pack for a summer in Europe with a carry on only. There's even a free packing checklist to download.


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