3 Weeks 1 Carry-On Suitcase

(Check out the new packing guide for warm weather)

1. Basic Blazer/Jacket

Thumb-Packing-List-1A blazer or jacket in a basic, neutral color (like black), should pair well with all the pieces in your set. A blazer is a classic silhouette which adds variety to your topper options, and can be styled with the sleeves pushed up for a more casual look. If it’s still too formal for your personal tastes, go with a lightweight jacket with a form-flattering cut instead. A cool leather moto-jacket is a fun choice here if that’s more your style.

2. Sweater

Thumb-Packing-List-2Pack a sweater with a different neckline than the majority of your tops, simply for variety’s sake. This also allows you the option to dramatically change the way another top looks when paired over or under the sweater. Choose a basic color that will coordinate with any of the bottoms (read: pants, skirts, etc) as well as the jackets or cardigans (toppers) you bring. Avoid anything itchy, and try to pick one you’ll be able to launder easily.

3. Versatile Blouse

Thumb-Packing-List-3Choose a basic blouse (this one has a pin-dot pattern and an unexpected keyhole in back to dress it up) that will match any of the bottom options you pack. Solid colors work well here, but if you can find a subtle pattern with colors that will tie in several pieces, even better. Keep in mind the more tops you bring with sleeves, the longer your ‘toppers’ can go between washings (read: if your pits are exposed to your blazer, it’s gonna’ get stinky). Other benefits to sleeves: you’ll be more comfortable when you want to skip a topper, but the weather is too cold for a tank; they keep your shoulders protected from your heavy day-pack strap(s); and allow for more bra options.

4. Cardigan – Solid Color

Thumb-Packing-List-4A cardigan with a pop of color is a great way to bring some variety to your packing list. Be sure it can be paired with most of the bottoms and tops you’re bringing, and if you have any strong prints in your set (like the watercolor skirt in this one) using a complimentary cardigan is a great way to tie everything together. I like to pack my cardigan in my day pack (assuming I’m not already wearing it) to allow for layering adjustments as I transition from indoors, to outdoors, to public transportation, etc.

5. Dress

Thumb-Packing-List-5Think of your travel activities before packing your dress. Maxi dresses are a versatile pick that can transition well from day to night, but aren’t structured enough for a work setting. Be conscious of the length with maxi dresses or skirts to have the best shoe pairings. (If your dress is too long for flats, you might end up dragging your hem through the streets.) Like usual, you want to make sure you can wear your dress with most of your topper options, and one or two of your tops, but no need to match it to any of the bottoms. Add tights and/or leggings for warmth as needed.

6. Neutral Topper

Thumb-Packing-List-6Your last topper option should be a true neutral that goes with all your outfits. I chose an ecru cardigan with gold and silver accents, but another great choice would be a tan-colored trench or blazer. Just choose something in a different color than your blazer and cardigan mentioned above. Ideally, you would be able to wear it either under (or over) your blazer for extra warmth. Both my cardigan options have the same neckline and sleeve-length, but, ideally, yours would mix things up for more variety.

7. Patterned Blouse

Thumb-Packing-List-7A patterned blouse that can tie in the colors of a couple pairs of pants will be the perfect choice. Right now stripes are very popular. I love horizontal stripes with a boat-neckline, but my “bustiness” calls for a scoop neck option to keep me from looking too top-heavy. If you’re quite curvy and tend to avoid horizontal stripes, try chevron patterned stripes instead, which can be much more slimming. Also, pairing stripes with a topper (blazer or cardigan) can be a great way to tone down the widening effect of the stripes.

8. Shell/Sleeveless Blouse

Thumb-Packing-List-8A ruffly shell is a great way to add texture to your travel wardrobe. Lightweight, silky fabrics pack into tiny pieces of nothing, but can sometimes get wrinkly in transit. A shell is a great item for fabrics like this, since it will usually be worn under a topper. Plus, ruffles will also disguise wrinkles quite well. As always, be sure it will pair well with all your toppers and bottoms. I don’t need to keep mentioning that, do I?

9. Dressy T-Shirt or Blouse

Thumb-Packing-List-9I leave this up to you as to whether you go with a nice T-shirt or an additional blouse. Either way, try to have this one be a different color than your other tops, while still complimenting your toppers and pants. I decided on going the T-shirt route for the extra comfort, and since it’s long-sleeved, for the extra warmth. Plus this is one of those special tops that allows you to actually wear a comfortable bra. Which, at the end of a long day of traveling, can be the difference between jet-lag-zilla and merely tired.

10. Jeans

Thumb-Packing-List-10Dark wash jeans can be dressed up or down, and sometimes can be mistaken for slacks. (A plus when dining at anti-jean-dress-code restaurants). My silhouette of choice is always slim-fit right now. Slim-fit pants have the benefit of looking great with flat shoes or high heels, without the drawback of dragging in the dirt when you’re wearing those flats. Plus they tuck into boots fairly well. I don’t find skin-tight-to-the-ankle to be quite as universally flattering as a semi-straight fit, but tall, slim girls can pull either off quite nicely.

11. Light-Colored Pants

Thumb-Packing-List-11I love white or winter white pants, and couldn’t resist these buttery-soft chords. Lots of women prefer tan, grey, or khaki colored slacks. To each her own. I usually stick with slim-fit, but cargo pants or boot-cut pants can be great options in a light color as well. Another variation here could be a bold color such as red, yellow, or mint. All are very popular choices, and would look excellent with the tops and topper options above.

12. Skirt

Thumb-Packing-List-12When choosing your skirt, try to keep in mind the style of the dress you’ve already packed. Go for a different silhouette, color(s), texture, and possibly even length. I love maxi skirts, but since I already packed a maxi-dress, I opted for this knee-length number. When worn with tights, the warmth factor is acceptable, assuming I’ll be staying indoors or that the weather is fairly mild. If my trip was business-oriented, I would go with a pencil skirt for more structure.

13. Ponte Pants

Thumb-Packing-List-13Ponte is an amazing fabric blend that holds its shape beautifully. It’s phenomenally wrinkle resistant, and comfortable beyond all reason. Its my go-to option for the travel day itself, since you look put together when you arrive, and still have the sensation of having worn pajama pants all day. Not that I would know how that feels. …Clearly I’ve never done that. *Looks down. Smiles*

Black is my color of choice for this one, since it’s generally the most versatile.

14. Soft Camisole

Thumb-Packing-List-14I say ‘soft’ here, because I generally use this cami for my pajama top during the trip. Keep in mind that, as per the stinky-factor, you probably will only wear it in public immediately following a laundry day. Pick one that has a built-in bra or go for a tank-style top with wider straps so bra straps won’t show. Or just plan to only wear it under a topper so as to not have to worry about straps at all.

15. Nude Camisole

Thumb-Packing-List-15A lacy, skin-toned cami is a great staple for layering, and can be a sexy top option on it’s own. Ballet pink is a flattering shade for most women, and can look more polished than the beigey-tan color often found in the lingerie aisle.


Two honorable mentions in this packing list are the swimsuit, which I used as a black cami twice in the outfit options above; and the leggings. These are to be used as pajama bottoms, or to layer under any outfits for warmth. An alternative to leggings are yoga pants, or other comfy pants that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear in public. We also have the fairly critical winter coat, and I’m assuming you’ve already filled the pockets with a nice warm pair of gloves.

Scarves can completely change an outfit, and are incredibly versatile. Need some extra warmth? Check. Need a pillow? Check. Bad hair day? Swimsuit coverup? On and on this list could go. Plus, they’re very European. What’s not to love about that? Be sure to pick scarves that will pair well with virtually every outfit combination.

For underwear, I usually pack briefs in nude and black, and one thong in each. Choose bras that lay well under all your tops, one nude and one black. A comfortable sports bra is a good idea, as well. I also pack a pair of opaque Reversible SPANX Tights.  They’re black on one side, and when you turn them inside out, you get charcoal grey (or chocolate, depending on which set you buy).

Shoes. So, so critical. In winter, I suggest a pair of ballet flats (I am in love with Cole Haan’s Air Bacaras, which have Nike Air technology for supreme comfort), some comfortable boots with good traction (bonus points if they compliment your purse/day bag), and a good pair of loafers or oxfords. Yes, those are all quite flat! If you’re traveling for business, swap the loafers for one pair of heels. Seriously: one. They should be comfortable, match everything, have good traction, and be light weight, if possible. After you decide on your most appropriate pair of high heels, put them on and wear them to the mall. Walk around for 6 hours (or as long as possible) – no sitting! and then decide if you still want to wear those shoes. You may want to burn them after this exercise, but my point is simple: heels look damn good, but they feel terrible. Some feel worse than others. Avoid those at all costs.

So, what am I forgetting? Is there one wardrobe essential that you couldn’t live without? Or an accessory that changed the way you travel?

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36 Responses to Packing Guide for Cool Weather

  1. Taylor says:

    I would love more of these. I think this doubles as a wonderful wardrobe building guide.

    • Maria says:

      Me too!

    • LadyRED says:

      This is how I’ve built my wardrobe for years!!! Not much guess work in the morning and everything matches!!! I just add different shoes/accessories to update my look for different seasons….it’s the best thing ever and it looks like I have never worn an outfit twice!!! LOL

  2. Taylor says:

    Also, I would love if you could link to some of the sites in which the clothing pieces were purchased.

    • The Emster says:

      Hi Taylor, thanks for your input! I think you’re right, that it’s a good idea to add more links. Until then, most of my clothes are from White House Black Market (www.whitehouseblackmarket.com), including the majority of the clothing items in this post. I shop from them because the clothes are decent quality and designed well for my hourglass proportions. :) However, I think that it’s important to be loyal to the brand(s) that best suits your own shape, taste and budget. Similar items to most of the pieces above will be widely available across many brands. Happy shopping! :)

  3. meg says:

    This was great! I would love a warm weather packing guide like this, too :)

    • The Emster says:

      Thanks, Meg! I’m working on several other lists like this, so I’m glad somebody would want to see them. :) Cheers!

  4. Jessica says:

    This is fantastic! Best posti I’ve seen regarding this topic. I agree with meg and Taylor I can’t wait for more! Love to see the warm weather one, I’m getting ready to pack for an 8 day cruise and need all the help I can get :)

    Thanks for this!

    • The Emster says:

      Hey Jessica! I’ll definitely make a cruise packing guide. One quick note, if you’ve never been on a cruise before, just keep in mind that even if you’re going to a warm destination, the indoor areas of the ship (esp. the dining rooms) will be air conditioned to the point of near refrigeration, so be sure to have a cardigan or other topper to layer for warmth. :) Hope that helps!

  5. Ashley says:

    Thank you for posting this! I hate when people’s advice for packing stops at “make sure you pack to layer.” I’m pretty awful at layering, but this guide makes it easy to know what to look for and pack. I’m going to be living in Europe for 10 months, so this will definitely come in handy! I can’t wait to see what other guides you come up with :)

    incidentally, if you ever get the urge to create a “living abroad” packing guide, I wouldn’t complain ;)

  6. [...] our this Packing List for 3 weeks of travel in one carry-on case. Take it from a perpetual traveller. This is a good [...]

  7. Christina says:

    Love this. Would love to see a similar guide for warm weather travel.

  8. Claudette says:

    Love your post. I’m planning on Italy in the fall for three weeks and your post certainly gives me a good starting point for my carry on

  9. Caroline says:

    Emily, thanks for putting these pieces together so beautifully. I’m middle-aged and (with a few small ‘age’ appropriate changes) I can see this working for my next holiday. Just goes to show good style has no boundaries. Like the others, I’m looking forward to your summer version. Caroline x

  10. Sinead says:

    Excellent post, I’m looking for ideas for a 10 day trip to Japan and packing light will be a necessity. A travel capsule wardrobe for a summer business trip with sight seeing would be very helpfull!

  11. Random Cathy says:

    This is FANTASTIC! I can’t wait to go home and try this. Please, please publish a warm weather version too. (I’m a wanna-be adventure chica!)

  12. Trina says:

    Have any tips for summer travel?

  13. Sarah G says:

    Love this – thank you for sharing! I’m about to pack for a two week trip to Australia and hoping I can do it all in a carry on. :)

  14. Deborah says:

    Love your packing guide!
    I’m going on a 22 day cruise to the Mediterranean in 35 days, need that ‘warm weather’ packing guide!

  15. lily riani says:

    this is great share. i intend to use the pic for my travel blog, i will credit back to you.

  16. Lydia says:

    Thank you for this wonderful guide! I can’t wait to see your spring/summer packing list!

  17. Emily you are a genius – total genius.
    Do you just have the one packing list.
    I’m going on a 12 day cruise , I am a tragic over packer! Any help? Greatly appreciated!

  18. Susan Gray says:

    I’m packing for my friend for a 2 week European vacay in fall 2013. This is a great resource. Thank you…

  19. Rachel says:

    I am packing for a 2 week Alaskan getaway with my husband and love this packing list! What dress is #5? Brand? Thanks!

    • The Emster says:

      Hey Rachel!
      The dress (#5) was from Forever 21 a couple of seasons ago, and they no-longer sell it. You can find a very similar one from Victoria’s Secret, or, for a different maxi dress that’s my current obsession, you can check out this dress from White House Black Market
      I hope that helps a bit. Good luck, and enjoy Alaska! :)

  20. Dee S says:

    Hi Emily! I love your website. Keep up the good work! :)

    Oh, could you please give us some ideas of great, chic walking shoes? I use public transportation when I travel and I tend to walk for hours and hours just to go sightseeing. Comfort is key! Thanks a bunch! :)

    • The Emster says:

      Hey Dee!
      That is a brilliant idea! :) I have a few definite favorites when it comes to shoes, but I’d like to do a little research and see if there are some I haven’t heard of yet. I’ll post it soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

  21. Donna says:

    I am a younger dressing 65yr old women,I live on the Al. Gulf Coast. I am going to Montana in late June and early July ,staying 12 daysI have no idea what to pack. I love boots but thinking maybe to hot.I live in flip flops in summer.I have a few loafer /ballerina type shoes. How many shoes/purses should I take? Big question : when flying , can you have a purse plus a large tote bag that ,your purse can fit into ? Plus a carry on type roller bag? I want to carry on make-up/ meds and a few things in case of luggage loss.I was thinking of 3 jeans 1 khaki pants and 1 white pant. Maybe 6 tops/ shirts and one blazer or BLUE JEAN JACKET. Ranch type accommodations and traveling with 2 other couples.No one really knows what to pack.Knowing I need to pack light, getting rental large SUV.but 6 people…….

  22. Tanya says:

    Brilliant list, fabulous outfits. This is the kind of thing I do for fun before each trip. Heading off in 10 days time. 6 nights Waikiki and 12 nights New York City so a bit of a challenge combining beach and city in the one carry on. I am relying on navy, taupe and orange as a serviceable ( hides the dirt) colour scheme which shouldn’t be too heavy for Spring. Any suggestions would be great.

  23. Jane says:

    This is amazing, but can you post for summer/spring packing guide? I would love to see that…..as i am going away in the next couple of weeks and would love to see what you would suggest. Thanks :)

  24. Sonia says:

    Love this! Leaving for Cali for two weeks with a duffle bag. Suggestions? =)

  25. chrissie says:

    PLEASE help me with a packing guide in WARM weather!!

  26. Katie says:

    This is an awesome site! I would love to get emails when you update but you do not have place for that on the site. Will you be adding that?

  27. MELANIE says:

    PLEASE..Where’d you get those boots? Brand? Maker? THANKS! LOVE YOUR IDEAS

  28. Heather says:

    Love both your warm and cool weather guide! Heading to Italy in October and am making it my challenge to do it in a carry on. You made it easy. Just a good guide on how to make outfits look different at home too! Found Ponte pants at Costco!!!! Wondered how you tied your scarf when you made it a belt in several outfits? Looks likes a belt not a scarf, how did you make it not look bulky?

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