Ethical Travel Clothing Guide
- Travel Essentials for Women

This Travel Essentials for Women Guide is the ultimate packing list for active women that want to travel either long or short term, to any destination, and who worry about their footprint with their ethical clothing decisions.

Traveling is the ultimate experience, but unfortunately it also carries a heavy environmental footprint, from the pollution created by air travel to the choice of fabrics you wear.

Although there are already ways to offset carbon footprint for flights, here we will focus on how to reduce the impact of your clothing choices while creating your packing list.

We start with the minimalist packing golden rules, and then our guide to create your own capsule wardrobe for traveling anywhere in the world.

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Minimalist packing list for female travellers - The golden rules

Minimalist packing lists are a scientific challenge, especially for female travellers who Iin the moment of deciding what should go and what should stay, always tend to overpack and take non-essentials that end up weighing too much or not be used at all.

Minimalist packing is taking only what is really necessary and making sure that you use all of what you bring with you.

If need be, you can always buy a few items along the way or donate those that have lost their utility, but, remember, the goal is to reduce consumption, not increase it, so I don’t really advocate for buying more stuff. 

You should aim at reducing your footprint, by making conscious purchases and using fabrics that are eco-friendly.

Our golden rules:

Rule # 1 - Be a minimalist woman


Minimalism is a way of living that values experiences over possessions, less is more. 

When traveling, this couldn’t be truer because minimalist packing releases you from unnecessary constraints, like paying for oversized luggage, breaking your back with all the extra weight and not having enough room for souvenirs.

When it comes to clothes, I like to use some minimalist rules:

Before packing, ask yourself: “Do I really like to wear this? Would I wear it more than once? Do I feel great about this item?”. If your answer to any of these questions is a no, then don’t bring it with you. Most probably, this item will stay longer inside your luggage than on you.

When traveling in cold climates, opt for several layers of lighter items over one bulky piece that takes up more space. When traveling in hot climates, a breathable fabric that also wicks moisture away and dries quickly is the best option, especially if you are doing a lot of laundries.

Any extra space you can get is key for packing light and sustainably. A double-duty item is a travel essential for women and it could be something like a convertible dress that can also double up as a skirt or even triple up like a top.

Backpacking for months, living as a digital nomad in different locations or just enjoying your yearly 2-week holidays, trust me, pack as if you were traveling for a week. You can wash-as-you-go, mix and match different items to come up with multiple combinations for any situation, or wear some items more than once. Minimalist travel requires versatility and quick-dry as key features that you should look for in your clothes. You want to wear clothes that can be used for almost any kind of activity: sightseeing, trekking, night out, business meeting, airplane/bus traveling…

Also, it’s important to choose matching styles and colors so that you can use all items and take full advantage of your capsule wardrobe.

Make yourself and the environment a favor and invest in good quality items. Why? Cheaper items might do the trick for the first few months of a backpacking trip or of living in a new country but the tear and wear will soon become visible in your clothes and you will have to replace them sooner rather than later.

My minimalist backpack always carries my specialized good quality items and then, if I need anything extra, I try to buy at a second-hand shop. That way, I am not spending loads of money on clothes, I am reducing my waste, and promoting the use of recycled and upcycled clothing.

Rule #2 - Be eco-friendly

affordable ethical fashion brands eco slow fashion cheap
Minimalist packing is the first step to sustainable travel. The next is to make wise choices that take your budget and the environment into consideration. Buying the latest eco-friendly shoes might not be the best solution to reduce your footprint if it makes you spend a lot of money as well. You want to think about sustainable travel as a whole, including environment, finances and the utility of your items.

Here are some ideas to help you pack in a sustainable way:

Before buying any new item, have a look at your wardrobe and see if there is anything that could be included in your backpack. Things to include would be basic day-to-day clothes, like T-shirts or tank tops, jeans, a scarf or a sarong, a long skirt or dress, just as a few examples. I tend to choose my favorite pieces of clothing, not forgetting that they also need to be useful and practical.

If you opt for taking worn-out clothes in the hope that you replace them with new ones, just take into consideration that, in some places, you might not be able to find the same quality or model, or the best price. Also, donating your clothes might not be the most sustainable option, as more often than not, they end up being dumped in landfills or being resold, killing the local economy.

After watching the documentary True Cost, I could not stop thinking about the huge impact fast-fashion industry has in third-world countries’ economy, society and the environment. After the Rana Plaza collapse, in Bangladesh, where more than a thousand textile workers were killed, the movement Fashion Revolution was created and I resonate with the values they are proposing for both consumers, producers, and brands. For me, buying second-hand comes naturally as a way to reduce our footprint. It’s also a sensible way to save money. You can even add an extra social dimension by helping refugees buying from social enterprises like Makers Unite.

Finding specialized travel gear in a local thrift shop could be more of a challenge but Patagonia has created a fantastic project, Worn Wear, where you can buy online wearable second-hand travel gear and clothing. Anyone can trade their used clothes at a store and receive the credit to buy new or used ones. What is also different about this initiative is that Patagonia promotes a repair, care and share mindset, stimulating a reduction in consumerism.

When buying clothes for traveling, first think about the weather in the destination(s), then choose the most environmentally-friendly fabric, opt for natural colors or low-impact natural dyes and, finally, choose good quality timeless models that will be with you for a long, long time.

A fun way to reuse clothes and buy second-hand is to organize an exchange party with your friends: each one brings whatever items they want to get rid of and you sell, offer or trade for another item.

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Minimalist travel packing checklist - your capsule wardrobe for a week

A capsule wardrobe is composed of the minimum number of pieces that you can mix and match to compose your overall style. It means that you will be repeating pieces of clothing several times but the advantages are plenty: you save money, pack light and, if done well, you have a plethora of choices that are versatile and ready for any situation.


  • Cold: choose long-sleeved tops and warmer fabrics, like wool, and pants over dresses or skirts for bottoms (always go with your personal preferences, though). Opt for insulating materials and clothes that can be layered to offer more protection against the cold.
  • Hot: choose light, breathable fabrics, like cotton or linen and light colors. Skirts and dresses are a popular option to let your body cool down. Make sure the style is suitable for wherever you are traveling.

Colors and Style

To make it possible for you to combine all the pieces here are some quick tips:

  • make sure your tops go well with your bottoms and your outer layers, especially if you need to layer them up.
  • choose solids for either bottoms or tops, if you want to be able to match them together
  • add a few patterned pieces, chosen carefully to allow to mix them with your solids
  • choose a neutral color (blue, grey, black, navy, cream…) and a theme (dark or light) and then stick to those. If you choose brighter colors like a lively orange, try to combine it with other lively colors to create a nice color palette.

See more on color pairing here.

Packing list

How many pieces really depends on you how much you want to carry. I usually pack the bigger number for my longer-than-a-month trips and the smaller number for short trips, like when I traveled carry on only to Malaysia for a week.

These can be simple T-shirts or tanks and a nice blouse. It really depends on your personal taste but look for flattering models and neutral colors, although you can add a patterned blouse for some flair.

Some people swear by jeans, I like them for city walks or colder weather, but in hot humid weather they might not be the best option, they can be very heavy and hard to dry. I like to travel with my harem pants, instead, they are light and I can always add a nice blouse to dress them up if needed.
Shorts and skirts are great for hot weather, but avoid super short ones that show too much, try to dress on the conservative side when traveling to ward off unwanted attention.

Want a great idea for a minimalist packing tip? A black maxi skirt can always double up as a mini black dress, too. Just add a nice accessory and you are done for a cocktail night.

For colder weather, I like to wear my fleece, it offers me great protection against the cold but it’s kind of sporty so not the best option for a fancier outfit. You can opt for a nice sweater or even a cardigan.
In hot climates, a long-sleeved shirt or a light tunic might offer good protection against the blazing sun or cover up your body against the freezing air-conditioning. Again, you can use a large scarf with the same effect and you can use your scarf as a beach towel, sarong, head wrap or even a bag.

This one you might want to invest in good quality and waterproof features. This will be especially important in colder climates. Bea Johnson, the author of Zero Waste Home, swears by Patagonia’s 3-in-1 parka for cold climate. I haven’t tried it myself but it does seem a very versatile item that would be worth investigating.

How much underwear should you carry? If you don’t mind washing every day, 3 pairs of undies are more than enough. Buy quick-dry synthetic fabrics with an organic cotton liner in the crotch area for a healthier environment down there. In my opinion, natural fabric for undies are better for the vaginal flora so, for my day to day undies, I like to wear cotton, and I use synthetic fabrics for my sports equipment because they wick moisture away from the skin.

Again, the number depends on how much you use them. For hot climates, you could do well with just 2 actually, but invest in a good pair of woolen socks for hiking or long walks. In colder weather, having wet feet is not pleasant so I would take more to wash them every day. Merino wool socks could be a great way to save space in your bag since they have antibacterial properties, you don’t need to wash them so often (because they don’t smell after you’ve used them).

I like to use a bralette because they are comfortable but, as a general tip, avoid underwire bras or any made of lace, you want it to be comfortable. A convertible bra is also a great option to minimize your luggage. Make sure you bring a sports bra for any sporty activities, from yoga to running.

Sneakers or other comfortable types of shoes and another pair, more presentable like flat sandals or shoes. For cold climates, a good pair of boots and some ballerinas would do the trick.

Travel essentials for women - do it yourself

I have been slowly replacing my clothing travel essentials with more eco-friendly options, slowly building my sustainable wardrobe. It takes time and patience and a lot of self -love, too. Don’t blame yourself if you still have that nylon T-shirt; using what you have is so important to reduce the unnecessary and to avoid the trap of consumerism. I hope that with these tips you will be able to hack your own sustainable and minimalist backpack for all your traveling needs.

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