Don’t Overpack For Summer Travel: Start With Easy Basics (And Then Get Wild)


I hate overpacking (like hate it hate it soooo much), so all of my summer packing lists are meticulously planned out in advance. I’ve found, over the years, that starting with a small set of really useful basics (that all go together) is the best way to get started.

Once I have a small set of well-chosen basics (and I do mean small: think, like, 5 key pieces) then I add in shoes, bags, accessories and a statement dress that all evoke the overall vibe I’m going for. For example, if I’ve visiting a romantic city (like, say, Rome), I might add a dress with classic, old-world glamour like this one or this one. The point is that any starter capsule should feel neutral – it’s the sartorial equivalent of a blank slate – and then the rest of the pieces add personality and interest.

Stop Overpacking: Start With A Small Basic Capsule

I’ve been a longtime fan of J.Crew’s summer line – I’ve literally been wearing J.Crew string bikinis since high school – but was especially impressed with J.Crew’s linen collection. They’ve managed to create a collection of linen basics that walk the line between classic and interesting, and the result is really chic & fresh!

While the whole line looks great, there are a handful of pieces that would make a perfect starting point for a summer vacation packing list. So let’s use these to illustrate how helpful it can be to start all packing lists with a small set of basics:

a capsule wardrobe for summer vacation from J.Crew. Includes linen tops, pants, shorts, and a shirt dress, as well as a striped bikini.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5a | 5b

Basics don’t have to mean boring!! One thing that makes this summer starter kit interesting (and, frankly, useful) is the fact that it’s a mix of neutral tones. While black + navy isn’t an obvious choice, when done in linen it feels really fresh – especially for summer! I credit that cute striped bikini for the idea – while it’s navy & white striped, it’s also trimmed in black (and there’s a one-piece available, if you’re not into bikinis).

How To Turn A Basic Summer Capsule Into A Full (And Exciting) Packing List

This mix of neutrals is a good base to then add in all sorts of fun pieces. Depending on what kind of vibe you’re looking for, this base of neutral pieces can skew romantic, playful, sophisticated, flirty – whatever you want!

Let’s look at two examples of taking a basic starter capsule for summer, and then adding in wildly different pieces to get two very different vibes.

Here’s option 1….

summer packing list for european travel, especially barcelona or france

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14a | 14b | 15 | 16 | 17

This summer packing list is a little bit sexy, a little bit irreverent, and Barcelona-inspired. Here I leaned into the idea of mixing neutrals – even throwing brown(!!) into the mix – and it works! Black, brown, navy, taupe and white are all at this party, yet it’s still cohesive. And then, for fun and a pop of color/personality, one stunning statement dress.

Now, for the next option….

summer vacation packing list with a red dress and lilac adidas gazelles.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16a | 16b | 17

This one, inspired by classic East Coast beaches (Montauk, maybe?) has a flirty, playful vibe. Instead of mixing in more neutral tones, I went with color – something that really comes alive against the the black/white/navy.

A Closer Look At My 5 Favorite J.Crew Linen Pieces

While basic starter capsules can be created with virtually anything, if you happen to be interested in these exact J.Crew pieces (and no, this post is not sponsored), I have a few fit notes & details for each of the pieces I recommend. Let’s get into it.

1. J.Crew Capitaine Shirtdress

dress (s, petite) | slides

This 100% linen dress is fantastic and available in standard, petite, tall and plus sizes! It can be worn with or without the tie waistband, and the cut of the sleeves are really freaking cool:

dress (s, petite) | slides

NOTE: I originally ordered both the white and navy to try (and liked the navy better). But if you are interested in white, one key difference is that the white dress is completely lined in 100% cotton fabric (super soft, too), while the darker colors in this dress are just unlined linen. In summer’s heat, I do prefer the dress to be unlined, but the white is really soft and comfortable (and not see-through AT ALL).

2. J.Crew Maxine Button-Back Top In Linen

top (s) | shorts (4) | heels

This top is perfect. I love how it’s a little boxy and short enough to feel fresh, but long enough that I don’t have to worry about dealing with An Actual Crop Top Situation. The buttons up the back are really cute, too. I liked this top so much that I own it in both black and white, and have been wearing it a ton. (Fun fact: My mom bought it as well – so it’s just a good for the Grandma set. Now we just have to make sure we don’t walk around matching.) Fit is TTS. It’s available in sizes from XXS – 3X, and all colors are unlined (so the white is a liiiitle sheer, but I like that).

3. J.Crew Remi Short In Stretch Linen Blend

top (s) | shorts (4) | slides | bag

The white shorts are great, but I just exchanged mine for a black pair – I think I’ll get more use out of black shorts (it’s a me thing, I think, not a style thing). The reason I’m wild about these shorts is because they look like a serious pair of trouser shorts, but done in a really comfortable linen. Love, love, love. The kind of shorts that look just as good with flip-flops as they do with sneakers as they do with heels. Fit is a little big (TTS for J.Crew, a bit big compared to designer/European brands) and the size range runs from 00 – 24.

4. J.Crew Soleil Pant In Linen

top (s) | pants (s, petite) | slides | bag

Ok. I actually have mixed feelings about these pants. The size range is great (classic, petite, tall, plus), and they’re a super comfy 100% linen (unlined in the darker colors, fully lined in white) and while I fully support the idea of classic linen pants…I felt a little dumpy in this exact pair. However!! Plenty of my friends swear by these pants (and honestly, they look great) so this issue might just be me.

I do wonder, however, if the petite size range is to blame (I do have a longer rise than most petite pants) and/or if the white – since it’s lined – is the problem. I did LOVE the polka-dot Soleil pants (sadly, sold out) – but they were a regular size small (not petite) and completely unlined:

dot top (s) | pants (s, petite) | heels

So do with that what you will.

5. J.Crew Striped String Bikini

top (m) | bottom (s)

Gahhh I LOVE this string bikini. This is the same string bikini J.Crew has been selling since I was in high school…and I think I’ve been wearing one of these every year since then. There’s nothing that fits better, and it stays put better than most bikinis, too. These things hold up really, really well over time – I can’t recommend them highly enough. J.Crew’s string bikinis come in sizes XXS – 3X, and are available in a huge range of solid colors, as well as some seriously fun prints.

Cheers to not over-packing!




  1. So how many days could you travel with just the wardrobes above? I’m going to Barcelona in the Fall so this information is perfect for me!

  2. How many days could you get by with these packing lists? I also hate overpacking, but going on a 16 day + trip without access to a washing machine may have me packing more than usual.

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