a person picking clothes from a rack
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Notes on Planning and Packing, Study Hall: Essays On Travel

Your Travel Wardrobe Is In Your Closet. Right Now.

You hear it all the time! Create a capsule wardrobe to be a successful traveler. It makes any potential packer think that they need to order and buy specialty clothes to only use when there’s a suitcase at hand. Not so fast! We, here at Babcia and YiaYia, think that you might be selling yourself and your closet a little short. That’s right, we think you probably have far more than you think to complete the perfect travel wardrobe.


In fact, we think that you probably have clothes that you love to wear that could be the foundation for that super elusive capsule wardrobe that all the rage. But where do you even start? We’ve got some easy steps to help!

a woman in white shirt holding a hanger with dress
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Weed out what won’t pack well.

You already know all of the things in your closet that are high maintenance They wrinkle fast and never wash well. You probably pull them out once or twice a year. They probably won’t pack very well anyway. Additionally, you probably know what kind of weather your head toward so out of season stuff is not part of your packing equation.


Choose a color.

You know the color. It’s your favorite one and you pair it with black and white all the time. Ours is blue. It goes with our complexions and never fails to photograph well. You probably have this color weaving in and out of every rack in your closet anyway.

a girls standing in the closet
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Set out your neutrals.

Black. White. Denim. The gang’s all here! These are the pieces that go with pretty much anything. These wardrobe basics are the foundation to your mix and match packing style.


Edit out the cliche items.

It’s time to do a double take. Is there anything in your potential packing pile that screams tourist? Message tees? Super bold colors that scream “pick my pockets”? Shoes that say “I have no idea how to travel comfortably with style”? Now is the time to edit those items out of your capsule concept.

unrecognizable female in room with clothes collection
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Start to mix and match.

Now that you’ve got yourself focused. It’s time to start pairing items together so that everything you take pulls a double shift. We start with the amount of days from take off to laundry. Do you have seven days until laundry? Then you need 5 bottoms in cool weather and 6 bottoms in hot weather. (Why six? Try sweating all day and then trying to look refreshed for dinner.) Seven days also needs 6-7 tops. There are many people who will give you different numbers but sweat doesn’t lie. Match them together. Make those outfits. Then make sure each top has a different bottom that will make a new look.


Minus one for dresses.

If you like dresses, simply subtract one for every dress you plan to pack. Just remember that every dress you take needs to pack well. It also needs to be useful. Dresses for a rafting trip won’t do you much good but an easy to use maxi dress might be just perfect for evenings in Paris.

woman girl morning clothes
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Weave in the layers.

No matter what the weather, we always pack a wrap, a cardigan, and a scarf. Sounds like overkill? Well, we find that we use every single item every single time. Wraps are perfect as a double for plane blanket or pillow. Cardigans cover up if it gets a little too breezy. Scarves can cover bare shoulders or shorts in a pinch if you need to cover up at a particular site like a church or mosque. The most important thing about these pieces is that they go with every single outfit we bring.


Finish off with three pairs of shoes.

You are definitely going to need walking shoes. These will most likely be your bulkiest shoes and you will most likely wear them on the plane just like us. Additionally, you are going to want a pair of shoes that turns all of your outfits into a smarter look for evening. This may be a pair of flats or sandals. The point is, they elevate your look somehow to give you a little oomph. Lastly, you may want to add in beachy flip flops or a second pair of walkers depending on your needs. The most important thing about any pair of shoes you choose is that they go with every outfit you just made for your travel capsule wardrobe.

person wearing pink nike low top sneakers stepping on stone surrounded by flower
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Take it for a test drive.

Now, weeks before your trip, take all of those picks and pack them up. Zip that suitcase closed and put it in the corner. Try not to open it for three or four days. Then, take it all out and decide if it’s a keeper. We promise you probably only need to change out a few items. You’re ready to make a shopping list of the very few things that may be missing.

a woman wearing a sun hat packing clothes in a suitcase
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We bet you feel a lot better!

We told you! You DO have a lot of items to contribute to a great travel capsule wardrobe. While you may want to add in a few last items, your closet is already full of great pieces to travel with. One last tip: take things that you love but may be expiring soon. If you need to ditch them for a little extra packing space on the way back home, it won’t hurt too much. Happy travels!


Notes on Planning and Packing

The Great Unpacking List

Disclaimer: this post is bit lengthy. It’s not one of those cute “10 things to put on your packing list for your next vacation” posts. Rather, this is a post that gives you the results of the ultimate packing travel test. Our goal as travelers- as global citizens is to always refrain from dragging our entire closet around the world, so what exactly does one really truly need?

What's on YOUR packing list ? Travel needs on your packing list really vary depending on where you go.

I recently returned from a 21 day trip to 3 different continents. One of my greatest challenges was packing my bags for so many different needs. As I drag my bags out of the back of my car, I can’t help but think of what I took that I really, really didn’t use. Don’t get me wrong, I, too, watch videos about how to pack the perfect bag for a 31 month trip to 143 countries and still meet the TSA approved carry on standards.

Truth be told even though I travel a lot, I mean a lot, I have never ever accomplished the carry on bag. I know, you’re ready to give up on me! But, unlike all those other expert packers, I’m plus sized and my clothes truly don’t make the cut. It’s just not my reality.

In fact, I packed over 100 items in addition to a ton of donations for this trip. So what did I really use and what did I really just lug around with me for no reason? Here’s the big packing list, and, more importantly, the bigger unpacking list. Have faith though. I promise I’ve got plenty to share no matter what size suitcase you fill up.

So, what were my travel needs?

24 hours in Dubai (think hot!)

Purpose: extended layover

Dress: casual covered

8 Days in Lusaka, Zambia (think mild, mild weather with chilly nights)

Purpose: volunteer work in schools

Dress: professional work place plus all of those donations!

6 days in Livingstone, Zambia and Chobe, Botswana

Purpose: game drives, Victoria Falls and other activities

Dress: casual for cold mornings and warm days

6 days in Athens, Greece

Purpose: relaxing

Dress: casual ready to lunch and shop

What was the challenge?

The luggage parameters for this trip had a generous three, 50 pound suitcases for check in and a standard 15 pound carry on. The reason for this is because the second leg of my trip was for humanitarian purposes and I was bringing supplies to a local charity.

The recommended packing list:

….was long! The complications of different climates, different tasks, and different cultural expectations meant far more than the average traveler! Additionally, going to sub-Saharan Africa has its own set of challenges. A few of the more specific items on the list include:

  • Bathroom wipes
  • Sweaters for the morning cool
  • Malaria medication
  • A small pharmaceutical kit
  • A raincoat to visit the Falls
  • Laundry Detergent
  • What got packed:

Along with the above, I packed a layover bag for Dubai with my electronics, toiletries, and a change of clothes and my travel papers (barely making the 7kg cutoff!) I also threw in travel bands, the new turtle neck pillow, an eye mask, headphones, a foot rest and compression socks.

My three check in bags- and I am anti carry on! – each maxed out to 22.67 kg a piece; more so because of the donations I was bringing rather than my own things. But I did need to bring a week’s worth of professional clothing, a week’s worth of cool weather clothing, and a week’s worth of summer clothing. Although, taking 150 pounds of stuff, I tried my best to organize things: bag one, all donations, my plan to donate everything including the bag worked out well. Bag two was full of a mix of donations and summer clothes and bag three rounded out my clothing for the rest of my trip. So, did I bring a lot? Yes. But specifically, what wasn’t of use? After unloading about 100 pounds of donations, this is what I figured out.

In the end, what didn’t get used?

So as I drag my bags back into the house after 21 adventurous days, what are my packing regrets? What could I have left off my packing list? I weighed them out of curiosity and all that regret weighed exactly 7kg. That’s a lot of beautiful art and treasures that I could bring home! Here is what didn’t work:

The neck pillow: I’m uncomfortable with or without it, it’s bulky, although I got the new foldable one, I didn’t think it was worth it.

The eye mask: while not that big or heavy, was not that helpful. I did use it but my sunglasses worked just as well. I’ll pass!

Two pair of flats: I brought two pairs of Rothy’s washable flats and I really only used one. Washable flats are totally a good idea with all the work I was doing but I didn’t need two.

5 dresses: I depended on the charity I was working with to guide me on the work clothes I needed but truth be told, I could have just brought the flats and a few nice tops to use with the pants and jeans I already packed. One dress would have been quite enough. As for the rest of my clothes, I did use everything but if I hadn’t brought the professional clothes, I could have focused more on a concise capsule wardrobe.

2 pair of sandals: I brought one pair to walk in and another to go to dinner with. I probably could have chosen better and gotten away with one comfortable pair that looked good with nice clothes. Additionally, I did bring a pair of sneakers that I ditched after my time in the bush, saving lots of room and weight in my luggage.

Pharmaceutical kit: don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if I got sick in a third world country, I’d want all of the things that I’m used to having around. Had I not gone to a third world country, I could have picked anything up at a local pharmacy.

A raincoat: every travel guide I read, every blog I perused, everything that I could find promised me that the one thing I would need in order to view Victoria Falls was a rain coat. Guess what? I never once pulled it out of my bag. Yes, I got a little wet. Yes, I dried off quickly.

A few last lessons:

One travel essential that has always worked for me is a large cloth laundry bag. It helps me separate things (and worked like a packing cube before packing cubes were cool). It’s easy to sort and if you fold your clothes as you put them in, you can’t go wrong.

Speaking of dirty laundry, knowing what the laundry policies are at each hotel, air B and B or lodge you are staying at is important help. For example, our Air B and B in Greece had a stacked washer and dryer, our hotel in Lusaka only charged about a dollar per item for quality laundry service, and our lodge in Botswana included laundry service for everything but your intimates. Knowing your laundry options let’s you plan clothes and time into your schedule more strategically. So, make the inquiries, it’s worth it.

Don’t bring new shoes. The only shoes you want on a trip are ones that you don’t mind ditching if you have to choose between them or a memento. When in doubt, ditch the shoes. Speaking of mementos, be sure to bring a reusable bag that folds up in your purse or day bag. Better yet, make it one of your first purchases! Use it while you shop then put it to good use for your trip home. Wrap dirty shoes in it before you pack, use it for that still a little damp bathing suit, or keep it handy to tote breakables back on the plane.

So that’s it! My un- packing list! Every time I travel, I certainly learn how to bring less. And maybe that idea should be the very thing I put at the top of my list!

We Can Answer…

  • How do I pack for a long trip?
  • How do I decide what to pack for my long trip?
  • How do I pack for more than one place?
  • How can I avoid taking too much when I travel?
  • How can I pack light but still take what I need?