The Hack That Will Solve All Your Overpacking Woes

Create your own travel capsule wardrobe with this easy formula from wardrobe expert Wendy Mak.

The Hack That Will Solve All Your Overpacking Woes

Follow these packing tips to pare down your travel wardrobe.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Packing. Unless you’re a platinum-level business traveler, deciding what to bring is usually a headache. How many times have you stuffed your suitcase, only to wear half of what you bring? That’s why we were fascinated to learn that Wendy Mak, creator of the capsule wardrobe and author of the book The Capsule Wardrobe: 1,000 Outfits From 30 Pieces, also has a travel-packing philosophy. Here, she shares her tips on how to lighten your load and focus on what really matters: traveling.

OK, so the original idea of a capsule wardrobe is 30 pieces = 1,000 outfits. How does that translate to the suitcase?

“The great thing about a travel capsule wardrobe is that you can make it as large or as compact as you wish. The formula is simple: Multiply the number of tops with the number of bottoms you plan to bring and that’s the number of outfits you’ll be able to create, as long as every top coordinates with every bottom. That’s the key.

“As an example, you could literally travel with nothing more than six tops and four bottoms and that will give you 24 great outfits, as long as all 10 pieces work together. If you add two or three jackets that you can layer on top, you’ll be able to create even more options.

“To work out the number of outfits I’ll realistically need to get through a holiday, I start by thinking about how many nights I’ll be away, and then I consider things like access to Laundromats. Then I think about how many of those outfits need to be formal or whether I’m just kicking about on the beach with just a handful of casual nights out.”

Say you’re about to head out on a trip to a warm-weather place. How do you decide what to bring?

“As a general rule of thumb, if I’m going away for a seven-night beach holiday, I’d pack two to three pieces of swimwear (so that they have time to dry in between), a pair of shorts and a couple of skirts, four tops that match all my shorts and skirts, and a dress in case I go somewhere special. This will usually get me through the whole holiday as I can create at least 13 outfits from these eight pieces. If it’s a place that gets a bit cooler at night, I may throw in a light sweater or pants, and maybe a couple of beach cover-ups.”

What if you’re going to a place with unpredictable weather?

“Layers are key. Light layers, such as a long-sleeved tee and a long-line cardigan or sweater, make it easy to adapt quickly to weather changes. Look for pieces in light, thin fabrics, which give you the ability to layer without looking bulky.”

Shoes are the toughest thing for me to pare down. How many shoes do you recommend packing?

“I love shoes, so I understand your dilemma. The reality, though, is that we rarely wear every pair we bring. If you’re going for a holiday where you’ll be doing a healthy amount of sightseeing and going out to dinner, I’d plan to bring one really good pair of walking shoes, a slightly dressier pair of flat shoes that you can wear to casual drinks, and a pair of heels or wedges for more formal nights out. For a beach holiday, I’d bring a pair of flat sandals for daytime, a pair of beach shoes (rubber thongs or similar), and a pair of wedge sandals for nights out.”

How frequently do you travel?

“With my work, I’m usually on a plane, going away for a few days, every fortnight. I’ve definitely mastered the art of packing everything I need into a carry-on so I can avoid waiting for my luggage.”

What did you bring on your last trip?

“I actually just got back yesterday from a two-night business trip. I packed two dresses in iron-free fabrics for work, a pair of nude heels that matched both dresses, casual pants and a little knit for dinners, a pair of flat shoes, and some pajamas.”

Are you a roller or a folder?

“I’m definitely a folder. It keeps the creases to a minimum. Unless it’s things like my smalls, socks, or swimmers, in which case I roll them up and stuff them into every open crevice of my suitcase.”

What kind of suitcase do you use?

“I use a super-light, four-wheeled hard case. I have two sizes ready to go, a small one for quick, short trips that I can carry on, and a larger one meant for longer trips, which I do check. Because I always use my capsule wardrobe philosophy, I often find I have a bit of spare space in my suitcases—except for one recent trip to New York where I went a bit wild while shopping and had to be super-creative about packing everything so I could take it all home.”

How has the travel capsule wardrobe changed the way you travel?

“A travel capsule wardrobe makes it fast and easy to pack, which makes it easier to get through airports as I don’t (usually) need to check any baggage. Traveling light means you spend less time worrying about what to bring and can literally halve your current packing time. This leaves more time to focus on the fun aspects of your trip.”

Wendy Mak is an Australian-based professional fashion stylist and style blogger at who brings the fun back to fashion for those stuck in a style rut. Wendy dispenses easy-to-follow, practical advice—all with a healthy dose of humor. She believes that cluttered closets create cluttered lives; her book The Capsule Wardrobe: 1,000 Outfits From 30 Pieces is available from Skyhorse Publishing,,, and in bookstores.

>> Next: The Home Edit’s Top Packing Tips for Organizing Your Suitcase

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at Afar, where she produces the Unpacked by Afar podcast and hosts Afar’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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