After a lot of trial and error, I’ve come to realise that you really don’t need more than 4 outfits for any trip. 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.

Now by outfits, I really mean bottoms or dresses. Usually you take a few extra tops, and maybe 2-3 sweaters/warm layers. Truth be told, I’m usually happy with 3 basic outfits (some people travel with only 2 – wash one, wear one, tops included). However, that fourth outfit makes it easier to transition between hot and cold climates, while still getting to pack your favourite items. For instance, I’m sure most of us love jeans. Jeans are great in temperate and cold climates – good for winter, spring and autumn, but useless in Summer. On the flip side, shorts are a godsend in hot weather, but you’d have to be a brave soul to wear them through winter. If you have 4 outfits, you can take both shorts and jeans, plus 2 additional options suitable year-round so you’ll have at least 3 outfits to wear in any type of weather. The key is to pick items that you are comfortable wearing in most situations and climates, that mix and match easily, and that you can layer with long sleeves and leggings (long underwear for the blokes) for wintry conditions.

To get started planning your travel wardrobe, decide on what bottoms (and dresses) you want to take. For hot climates, focus on lightweight, breathable pants, shorts, skirts and dresses. For more temperate or cold regions, look at jeans (but aim for lighter-weight options that will dry within a day or two if hand washing), pants, but also skirts and dresses to wear over leggings. Shorts are the one clothing item that doesn’t work in the cold (unless you’re really into that leggings-with-shorts look). Everything else can be adapted by layering with leggings and long underwear. If you need to bring workout gear or dressier clothes for an event, make this your fourth outfit and try to blend the pieces with the other 3 to get more use out of them.

Next, add the tops necessary to complete the outfits. A good rule of thumb is to take 2 tops for each bottom. Tops generally need to be washed more often than bottoms, and if you’re in very humid climates you might end up changing your t-shirt at least once during the day.

Taking a dress through summer, autumn, and winter

To make sure you’re covered for all weather conditions, the next step is to add layering pieces. Leggings, long-sleeve thermal tops, and if it’s going to be really cold, a scarf, gloves, and warm hat. Look for merino wool which is lightweight and stays warm when wet. 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 (a light jumper or cardigan, a warm sweater/hoodie/fleece, and a down jacket work well together). Rain jackets are a personal preference. In hot, humid weather, you may prefer an umbrella. If it’s likely to be cold and raining a lot though, or if you’ll be out in nature a lot without a cafe to duck inside of to wait out a storm, it might be worthwhile picking up a lightweight, packable jacket. Throw in something to sleep in (or just use leggings and t-shirt) and you’re all set.

Choose lightweight, breathable, quick-drying fabrics that you’re comfortable in. As long as you’re not wearing cheap synthetics that hold onto smells, 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 wool which many light travellers prefer, 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 how much merino you bring.

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 that you love and check out the shops (especially second-hand clothing stores) 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. Happy travels!

How many outfits do you like to take travelling?