Serious Packing Problems? Try A Capsule Wardrobe

“Study abroad” is a hilariously deceiving term.  While the “abroad” part is obviously a no-brainer, the “study” part is slightly delusional. Who can spend too much time studying with the world buzzing at their fingertips?

There’s a sense of freedom and adventurousness that comes with study abroad:

being so far from home + being surrounded by endless opportunities for new experiences = a recipe for last-minute trips and spontaneous weekend getaways.

It’s all fun and games—buying plane tickets, booking your Airbnb—until it’s time to rock and roll.  You’ve got mere hours until you leave, and you have no clue what to pack.

One simple fact of life that we all must accept is that packing efficiently and thoughtfully takes time. However, there is a way to streamline the process.

Allow me to introduce you to the concept of the capsule wardrobe.

Caroline Rector via
Caroline Rector via

If you have returned from your own study abroad adventure, you’ve probably already discovered some version of this concept. If you have yet to embark on your travels, take note.

A capsule wardrobe brings the concept of minimalism to your closet; it forces you to identify what your style is and invest some time, energy, and maybe some money for the short-term in order to benefit in the long-term.  When it comes to study abroad, curating a capsule wardrobe before you leave is a very important step in the pre-departure process.

As a rule of thumb, capsule wardrobes allow for about 40 or so items (including pants, shirts, dresses, outerwear, and shoes) that are highly versatile.  The idea is that you condense your personal style using three main criteria: quality, confidence, and climate.


No matter what you’ve seen on Instagram or in your favorite, wanderlust-inspiring movies, traveling isn’t always majestic or awe-inspiring.  It can get real—and fast.  When you’re living the non-stop, hectic life of a traveler, you need your clothes to keep up with you.  The last thing you want is a jeans-blowout fiasco while you’re running to catch your flight or to have a cheap pair of shoes give out on you on a rainy day.

Make sure what you buy is going to last you through thick and thin. Those $3 Forever21 t-shirts and $12 pairs of jeans are wonderfully affordable, but the first time you wash them they’re going to fall apart. That’s money straight into the trash. Anywhere you go shopping, pay attention to the fabric (yes, be that person and check the washing label) and the texture of the clothes you’re buying. It’s easy to spot cheap, no matter what country you’re in.


When you’re rolling up in a new city, you want to look and feel your best.  Make sure that all of your clothes make you feel good.  If you don’t feel like a million bucks in a white t-shirt and jeans, you haven’t found the right t-shirt and jeans yet. Also, don’t feel like because you’ve condensed your wardrobe that everything has to be shades of neutral. If you want color, add color!  Everything in your closet should be something you love and will want to wear.  If your capsule still feels a little bland,  add accessories! Earring, necklaces, watches, scarves, and hats are easy ways to add some personal flavor to a capsule wardrobe without taking up too much space in your closet or your luggage.


Obviously, you’ll need to adjust your capsule wardrobe based on the seasons. In the winter, you don’t need lots of thin, cotton t-shirts and shorts. Know the climate of wherever you’re studying abroad, and plan accordingly. Also, don’t be afraid to hold off and buy some things once you arrive.  To save money on an overweight bag on the way to your destination, leave out certain items (like a heavy coat and thick scarves, which take up lots of space) and pick them up once you’ve arrived and settled in a bit.

Capsule wardrobes aren’t meant to rob you of your individuality, they’re meant to free you from over-shopping, clutter, and the closet-full-of-clothes-but-nothing-to-wear syndrome. By condensing your wardrobe into a highly efficient and personalized smorgasbord of outfits, you set yourself up for ease of travel and a much more enjoyable study abroad experience.

Image via Lily Beck

Marissa Kessenich

Editorial Contributor, The University of Texas at Austin Major: English and History Her heart belongs to: books (esp. historical fiction and science fiction), tacos, red wine, European adventures, and Oscar Isaac Take her away to: somewhere new--but preferably warm and sandy...with water...and cocktails with little umbrellas

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