When it comes to travel outfits, 4 is the perfect number. Whether you’re off on a quick weekend getaway or a 6-month round-the-world trip, you can get your packing down to a fine art by following the rule of 4. Pick four basic outfits that will be the backbone of your wardrobe and from which you’ll be able to mix and match to create a variety of different looks.

Four Outfit Packing List

After a lot of trial and error, I’ve come to realise that you really don’t need more than 4 complete outfits for any trip. The key is to pick items that you are comfortable wearing in all situations and climates, that mix and match easily, and that you can layer with leggings and long sleeves for wintry conditions.

Start with bottoms and dresses. You could take a pair of jeans, a dress, a skirt and a pair of shorts, or jeans, pants, and 2 skirts, or you could go for all dresses, all pants – whatever you’re most comfortable in and makes sense for the climate you’re heading to. For a multi-climate trip, it’s might be worthwhile packing at least one pair of pants and one skirt or shorts so you’re covered for extreme cold and extreme heat (though if you really hate pants, you can get away with just dresses and skirts even in cold weather with layering).

Next, add the tops necessary to complete the outfits. If you’ve chosen mostly neutral colours for bottoms (a wise choice) then brighten things up by choosing colourful tops. These four outfits will form the basis of your travel wardrobe.

To make sure you’re covered for all weather conditions, the next step is to add layering pieces. Leggings, a long-sleeve thermal top, scarf, gloves, warm hat. If you’re only heading to warm climates, you can skip this step and travel even lighter.

Lastly, your outerwear – cardigans, sweaters, jackets. Choose 1 piece of outerwear for warm climates, and up to 3 for cold (light cardigan, warm sweater/hoodie/fleece and a jacket work well).

Throw in some PJ bottoms and a couple of tank tops to sleep in (choose tops that can be worn during the day as well) and you’re all set. If you like to workout while travelling, try to combine your workout gear with your sleeping gear.

Putting this all together, you should be covered for almost all weather conditions. Wear a light summer dress in winter by layering with leggings and a cardigan. Carry a warm, but light (merino’s great) scarf, hat and gloves to layer up outside and remove when indoors. If it’s REALLY cold, add a long-sleeve thermal top (again, look into merino) and a jacket.

Simple Dress Outfit

Personally, I find a scarf, gloves, thick socks and maybe a hat make all the difference when it’s cold. They do a lot more to keep you warm than a heavy jacket does. This is because in cold weather you lose most heat through your extremities. You’ll probably be walking a lot, which will warm you up quickly, and passing from the cold outdoors to heated museums, shops etc, so it’s good to have layers you can peel off when you warm up. A scarf and gloves will pack up small so you can pop them in a pocket or purse when you don’t need them.

Choose your fabrics wisely. Look for lightweight, breathable, quick-drying fabrics such as merino wool, silk and travel-specific synthetics that have an anti-microbial shield. With the right fabrics you should expect to get 2-3 wears out of each item and do laundry once every 7-10 days. If you’re travelling to hot, humid climates where you’ll be sweating a lot (such as southeast Asia), you might need to wash your clothes more frequently, which makes quick-drying fabrics particularly important. Speaking of which, if you go with merino, keep in mind that you can’t put these items in a dryer (they’ll shrink) so they’ll have to be hang-dried. If you’re staying in shared dorms with little space, you might want to limit your merino.

Finally, if you’re struggling to find suitable pieces for your travel wardrobe, don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy a whole bunch of new items before your trip. Just take one or two outfits and check out the shops when you get to your destination. Wandering foreign markets and stores is a lot of fun when travelling, and you might pick up some really unique items that you could never find at home. In fact, this is what I’m intending to do myself. Shopping in Tokyo – now that’s going to be so much fun!

How many outfits do you like to take travelling?