I Color-Code My Travel Wardrobe and Now I’ll Never Do Anything Else

published Sep 3, 2023
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unpacking suitcase

In pre-Covid days, I was flying a ton both for work and fun. Packing started to become a more dreaded task than unpacking, if you can believe it. I always stuffed in random articles of clothing that I never wound up wearing but still made the experience of getting my bag, carry-on or checked, to pass the weight limit test stressful. If I changed my mind about what things I wanted to wear together once I was at my location or had a malfunction (like when I dropped makeup on a white shirt as I was about to walk out the door my first night in Dubai), it threw me into a panic because I wasn’t prepared with easy-to-swap-out backup items.

Quick Overview

My Color-Code Packing Method

Before any trip, I decide on a color palette and only pack items in those colors. I choose two neutral base colors, two complementary colors that can be worn together or separately with the base colors, and one statement color that can be worn with at least one base.

Pretty quickly, I realized that the solution could be found right in front of me as I packed. Taking the color-coding organization method from my closet, which I had pared down to make daily outfit selection easier, I applied it to my travel wardrobe. Before a trip, I now decide on a palette theme and then only pack items in shades of those specific colors.

Credit: Mary Cornetta

My Color-Code Packing Method:

  • Choose two neutral base colors like black, tan, or white (blue denim also falls into this category as I consider it neutral)
  • Select two complementary colors that can be worn together or separately with either base colors
  • Have one statement color if I’m feeling bold but that can also work with at least one base (this more often comes in the form of jewelry or a lipstick color so I don’t mind it taking up a tiny bit of suitcase space if I decide not to wear it)

All accessories including shoes, bags, hats, and most jewelry are kept as neutral and versatile as possible so I can mix and match them with any outfit. If you’re like me and struggle with knowing what looks good with what, this simplifies the process. It’s essentially a mini capsule wardrobe but the emphasis is on colors as opposed to “staple pieces”. It also seems so simple, but whenever I’m unpacking in a place where I’m with someone, they always say they need to try it out for their next trip!

The palette is usually dependent on the mood of the place I’m visiting or the purpose of my travel. If it’s casual, like visiting family, I tend to pack more neutrals. If it’s a more “treat yourself” kind of vacation, I pick a palette that reminds me of the vibe of the destination. As an example, I chose white, tan, green, and orange for my Dubai trip because I felt like it evoked visions of the desert.

Another tip that I’ve used, especially when a place reminds me of color out of my comfort zone (like wanting to wear bright red on my trip to Spain), is to either use a clothing rental service or go thrifting for inexpensive pieces that I won’t mind immediately donating or giving to a friend when I return home.

I still may struggle with assembling outfits, both on vacation and in my daily life, but this method significantly eases the stress of planning and packing. My next goal? Get into the habit of packing sooner than late the night before my flight.