How Do I Pack for a Short Trip?

The capsule holiday wardrobe is the holy grail of travel: an interchangeable, efficient system of dressing that in an ideal world necessitates no more than a tote and a bag that will fit in an airplane overhead bin. This is a particularly pressing ideal this summer, as warnings grow of airport chaos and the potential for lost luggage, but packing light also provides what I think of as a much overlooked psychological boost.

Sure, movies are full of the glamour of landing on the airport tarmac with a quadrillion Louis Vuitton trunks (hello, Elizabeth Taylor), but there is something liberating about leaving most of your worldly possessions behind. The weight of stuff falls from your shoulders, as does the time spent deciding what to wear. Instead, you are free to enjoy and experience the place where you are, your ego fading into the background so you can ogle what is around you, be it nature or monuments.

Also, of course, it’s just a lot easier to carry.

Fashion professionals may not seem like the best people to advise on how to pack less since their days are spent thinking about how to wear more, but given the travel demands on their time, they know a fair amount about the subject. Erik Maza, the executive style director of Town & Country, said he had been traveling with only a carry-on for decades — even for two-week, two-city fashion week jaunts. Thus, an ad hoc survey of such colleagues yielded the following tips.

1. There’s no magic number of items or combination of colors to pack, though most experts advise between 10 and 15 items (underwear and socks do not count), and say that neutrals are generally easier to mix and match than a panoply of potentially jarring shades. (The other option is to hew to a kind of monochrome dressing.) The key is that everything fits together like a cog in the wheel of your adventure.

2. Shoes are the biggest space suck. For hiking, you need a sturdy pair of shoes, a more casual pair of walking sneakers like Keds and perhaps sandals. If you are also going to a city, add a pair of dressy sandals. (My solution: a pair of fancy Birkenstocks, which can be worn at the beach, walking and out to dinner).

3. Samira Nasr, the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, suggests a chambray or linen button-up or two, which are great as a cover-up during the day and double as tops for more formal occasions.

4. Pack a pair or two of shorts and two pairs of pants, maybe in cotton or rough linen that can be wrinkled. (Avoid belts because, if you are wearing a backpack with a waist strap, they can chafe.) Add one dress, a cardigan or hoodie and a thin rain jacket. Also accessories, of course. Forget folding: roll.

Even if you have the luxury of traveling with many bags, it’s worth trying a capsule travel wardrobe system, simply for the mental and emotional experience. It’s like spending a little time in Marie Kondo world, without the commitment.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.