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Chronic overpacker? You need a travel capsule wardrobe — experts share how to create one

Pack light and look stylish for your next trip.
Vivian Le / TODAY

No matter where you're headed this season, your trip should be as stress-free and uncomplicated as possible — and that includes the packing process. Because there's nothing worse than lugging a big bag through the airport, only to realize at the end of the vacation that you wore less than half of the clothes in your suitcase.

One way to simplify the packing process is by creating a capsule closet for your travel wardrobe. Here, two experts share their tips for how to do it.

How to plan a travel capsule wardrobe

The idea is pretty straightforward: Instead of throwing every item you own into one bag, you strategically pick 10 to 12 quality items that can be mixed and matched to dress up or down.

"When building a capsule wardrobe for travel, select pieces that are interchangeable and can work in multiple settings," says fashion stylist Stacee Michelle. "Be mindful of the temperature and planned activities and select layering pieces that can be added or removed throughout the day."

"You should focus on versatile pieces that don’t wrinkle, can keep you warm, withstand water and can be worn from day to night," adds style expert Melissa Chataigne. Try keeping all of your items within one color palette, to make styling easy, she said.

With that in mind, we asked the fashion experts to share their picks for the essential pieces that should make up your vacation wardrobe, plus we added some of our own based on their guidance. Below, everything you need to stay stylish and stress-free, from departure to return.

13 essentials for your travel capsule wardrobe

Lanzom Women Wide Brim Straw Panama Roll Up Hat

Look stylish and keep cool with this straw hat. "Hats are a great way to accessorize while also protecting yourself from the sun," Michelle says. We like this option because it can be rolled up and packed away in your carry-on or beach bag.

New Balance Women's Impact 2-in-1 Running Short

If your vacation plans include plenty of hikes, walks or runs, you're going to want to have a good, comfortable pair of shorts in your suitcase. Chataigne likes these ones, which she says, "check all the boxes." They're made with quick-drying fabric to help keep you cool, and have pockets on the inner shorts, so you can keep your phone and hotel key on you at all times.

Old Navy Classic Jean Jacket for Women

"A denim jacket is arguably the most versatile layer in your closet," Michelle says. You can wear it over a tee, turtleneck or as a buttoned-up layer underneath a coat for additional warmth. "Save room in your suitcase by wearing it on the plane and using it as a pillow," she suggests.

Trendy Queen Women's Oversized Half Zip Pullover

When you want to feel cozy and comfortable on your trip, opt for a half-zip sweater. This style of sweater can easily take you from day to night, Chataigne says. We like this pick, which is an Amazon shopper favorite with more than 2,700 five-star ratings.

Superga Women's 2750 Cotu Classic Sneaker

White sneakers are like the little black dress of footwear, they're versatile and easy to style, which is why Chataigne recommends you pack a pair.

And Superga's Cotu sneakers are a classic choice. One Shop TODAY editor who tried them said that she loved the "classic feel and clean lines" of the shoes. Plus, she added that they're "supportive without being chunky, fitted without being too tight and they show just the right amount of ankle."

Dr. Scholl's Shoes Women's Rate Ankle Boot

No wardrobe feels complete without a pair of booties. And Michelle specifically recommends a black or brown pair. We like these ones, since they'll easily fit in with other pieces in your suitcase and the subtle heel makes them appropriate for dressier occasions.

Levi's Wedgie High Waist Straight Leg Jeans

"You want a pair of jeans that are comfortable yet highlight your curves and hold their shape," Chataigne says. She likes darker pairs, like these, because they'll hide any dirt or stains so you can get a few more wears out of them before washing. One way to keep them fresh? By turning them inside-out and steaming them in the shower with essential oils, she suggests.

Numi The Signature

Chataigne likes Numi's stylish tops which feature a moisture-wicking gusset under the armpits and are made with a thermo-regulating TENCEL material. You can choose between a variety of styles, from tees to bodysuits and crop tops, but you can't go wrong with the brand's top-selling Signature shirt. It comes in five neutral colors and can be worn under a jumpsuit or styled with a pair of shorts or pants.

Chico's Travelers Classic Crops

Chico's Traveler's Collection features a range of elevated fashion staples that you can wear for almost any activity. Chataigne likes these pants, which are made from a wrinkle-resistant fabric to keep them looking their best for your entire trip.

Lululemon Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve 2.0

While this Lululemon long-sleeve shirt is technically made for workouts, Chataigne notes that it can be a great casual option for travel. "Pair it with shorts, jeans or leggings for an everyday look that will still keep you cool," she explains. "The fabric is a soft nylon blend and has a four-way stretch, which wicks away sweat."

Naadam The Essential $75 Cashmere Sweater

Cashmere may be pricier than your typical sweater, but it's worth the higher price tag. Because the fabric is breathable, the sweater will feel comfortable on warmer days but will also keep you cozy when layered over your favorite long-sleeve button-up when the temperatures drop, Michelle says. She likes Naadam's $75 Cashmere Sweater, which is one of the more affordable options out there and comes in more than 20 colors.

J.Crew Ruched Bandeau One-Piece Swimsuit

"This jewel-toned one-piece swimsuit is a must-have for easily alternating between sand and city," Michelle says. "Wear it to the beach, then quickly transition to an on-the-town look by pairing it with denim shorts or a flowy skirt."

Birkenstock Arizona Sandal

Birkenstock's comfortable shoes can take you from the city streets to the beach and just about everywhere in between. "They are the perfect walking and travel sandal, with a contoured footbed that mimics the shape of your foot and provides excellent support," Chataigne says.

Meet our experts

Stacee Michelle is a fashion stylist in North Carolina.

Melissa Chataigne is a TV host and fashion expert.