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How to Pack a Travel Wardrobe That Takes You From Day to Night

Precision packing is a true art form. We all know packing for vacation can be stressful. You want to have options for everything on (and off) your agenda, but you don’t want to overpack and overwhelm yourself. Luckily, there’s a formula that makes packing a breeze–no matter where you’re headed.

Enter the travel capsule wardrobe: your key to balancing practicality with style options to fit your entire itinerary, thanks to versatile pieces that transform seamlessly from outfit to outfit. Of course, how you’ll curate this depends on where you’re headed and what kind of vacation you’re taking, which is where we come in. Ahead, see our guide to building the ideal travel capsule wardrobe for six vacation types, complete with insights from two fashion experts.

On the Road Again

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If your road trip finally made it out of the group chat (congrats! ), the next step is deciding what outfits you want to wear on your grand adventure. If you’ve ever spent hours sitting in the car, you know comfort is key, but that doesn’t mean style is out of the question. Grab your favorite pair of dad sneakers and pair them with either a matching set or a full-body onesie and oversized jacket (see a few standout options here)–you’ll be enviably cozy while emanating chic athleisure vibes. “I love dressing up, but you will never catch me in tight denim or a restricting top during a road trip,” Lopez tells us.

Oceanside Style

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Packing for a tropical vacation is slightly easier than a winter getaway, as swimsuits and lightweight dresses take up less space than a puffer coat and snow boots. Still, if you’re looking to simplify your packing list, focus on different accessories to change each look. Whether you love a good pair of sunglasses, abucket hat (we rounded up a few standout options to wear in the sun), a belt, or jewelry, accessorizing goes a long way.

For a beach getaway, the best travel capsule wardrobe comprises pieces that take you from poolside to dinner with ease. A linen shirt (check out a few of our favorites here) doubles as a coverup and looks great tucked into jeans with sandals, while a one-piece bathing suit–a poolside staple–also works as a bodysuit when paired with a miniskirt. “There is no need to pack a ton of extra tops or styling pieces when your swimsuits can be used as a top, bodysuit, undergarments, or layered under a sheer dress,” says fashion stylist Audree Kate Lopez.

If you only want to pack one handbag, you can’t go wrong with a basket bag to fit all your necessities. “A beach tote can be used during the day at the pool/beach to carry essentials, towels, a book, etc., but can also be used as a carry-on personal item on the plane,” Lopez tells us.

Max Elevation

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Packing for a mountain getaway may seem daunting, but we have the ultimate outfit formula to stay warm on the slopes and feel chic as you head straight to the lodge for an apres-ski hot chocolate. The key to packing for a winter vacation is base layers. “You need to layer up in the mountains, so opt for fleece pullovers and warm hats, plus cute and cozy pieces you can mix and match throughout your stay,” says Shopbop fashion director Caroline Maguire.

For a ski trip or other winter travel, you’ll obviously need practical outerwear like a down jacket and snow boots but don’t forget to put thought into your base layers to maximize your style options. A turtleneck bodysuit (see a few of our favorite bodysuits) layers well under winter gear, plus you can elevate it for nighttime with chic trousers and a cardigan. As for pants, we love the below moto puffer style by Alo, as it works overtime as both regular cargo pants and a ski option.

Take On the City

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The key to versatile and stylish packing for a city trip is channeling quiet luxury, proving the trend’s staying power yet again. Think Sofia Richie Grainger’s style, including tailored basics and understated accessories. Rather than packing five different bags, choose a style with straps that you can adapt between shoulder and crossbody styles, like the below option from Brandon Blackwood. Pack a comfortable pair of black booties (the lower the heels, the better, since you’ll be doing a lot of walking). “Avoid uncomfortable ‘trendy’ shoes and pack items that you can wear pretty much all day without needing to go back to the hotel and change,” Lopez tells us. A good pair of leather boots–like any of these–can go with any look.

Lastly, a city travel capsule wardrobe is best with a good coat and blazer to style with any outfit. Then you’ll be able to swap out basics like a white tee, jeans, and a little black dress to create a range of sophisticated ensembles to fit everything on your agenda.

High Seas Fashion

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When you’re about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime, what do you pack? While you’ll probably be soaking up a lot of sun on a cruise, it’s important to remember that after the sun sets, it can get pretty chilly. Thus, a lightweight cardigan (we love these cashmere options) will be your go-to from day to night when you need an extra layer. Additionally, a lightweight matching set like the one below from Abercrombie is an ideal option for packing light amid changing temps, as you can wear it together or separately to create a whole range of looks. “Pack easy day-to-night styles–things you can lounge in during the day by the pool or on [an] island, and then dress up easily for dinner and a show,” Maguire advises.

One with Nature

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Whether you’re an outdoorsy type who loves camping or prefer the glamping experience, you’ll want to be prepared to face the elements, and you can absolutely do so in style. A raincoat or windbreaker (ideally a two-in-one jacket) is a necessity, and these days, the market truly has all-weather pieces to fit every taste–the below water-resistant parka from Toteme is a sophisticated, versatile option. You’ll also need a good pair of sneakers for hiking, and it’s a bonus if they’re also waterproof.

“I am a glamper myself and love it,” Maguire tells us. “You’ll need layers for a camping trip. Go for an oversized flannel button-up and your favorite pair of denim–even overalls could be fun here.” Look for moisture-wicking items for practicality and layer them with trend-forward pieces like a plaid flannel shacket.

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