How to Create a Travel Capsule Wardrobe the Sudoku Way

Packing

May 18, 2024

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READING TIME, 8 MINUTES

Do you like playing Sudoku? Sometimes I do, and sometimes it drives me nuts, mostly depending on how well I’m doing.

The same goes for packing for vacation. Sometimes, it’s easy, and sometimes, I’ve overpacked and been annoyed as I carted around things I never wore.

In this post, I’ll show you how to use the same principles in the Sudoku game to create a Sudoku Capsule Wardrobe for travel. 

Whether you are happy to check your luggage or aim for carry-on only, my guess is that you would probably prefer to juggle fewer bags and carry less weight as long as you don’t sacrifice style.

If so, you’re in the right place! I created this 5-step process to help you coordinate your individual travel pieces. It's a fun way to organize your travel wardrobe and eliminates decision fatigue while on the road. You'll never have to wonder what you'll wear each day.

I recently took 9 core clothing items for a month-long trip. They made 13+ outfits. I found I had everything I needed, so I know this process works. Let me show you how.

What Does it Mean to Create a Travel Capsule Wardrobe the Sudoku Way?

Sudoku is a game where players insert the numbers 1-9 into a grid divided into 9 squares and subdivided into 9 additional squares. Every number can appear only once in each horizontal line, vertical line, or square. Yeah…we need a picture for this.

A sudoku puzzle showing some boxes filled in.>>> READ MORE: How to Build the Perfect Travel Capsule Wardrobe

To create a Sudoku travel capsule wardrobe, you insert individual clothing pieces into a grid so that they make outfits in each horizontal line, vertical line, etc.

Here’s a simple 3x3 grid, which I used for my month-long trip.

A blank sudoku travel capsule grid.
Grid 1

If you love dresses, never fear. You can add them in Step 5 below. And if the idea of a capsule wardrobe scares you because it's just so, well...small, then take a few extras (see Step 5), or create more than one grid. Here's how that works.

Let's say you're on a cruise where your clothing is casual during the day and more dressy in the evenings. You can create a casual grid and a dress-up grid. Then, see which items can do double duty.

For example, instead of black capris, bring black pants you can roll up into a cuff. Wear the cuff up with a T-shirt during the day, then down with a lovely blouse or sweater in the evening.

If you choose versatile pieces and place them in the right spot on the grid (more on that later), you can create 13 complete outfits out of these 9 core pieces. Actually, more than 13!

Follow the steps below, and by the time you finish Step 5, you’ll feel like a packing pro! You’ll enjoy looking fabulous while carting less luggage, saving your back, and paying less in baggage fees.

Ready? Let’s go!

Step #1: Choose a Color Palette

Before mixing and matching your clothes, take your time with this critical first step. It will save you time and weight in the long run.

Here's one way to create a color palette for your upcoming trip:

  • Pick a primary color. For most people, this will be a neutral base color.
  • Choose some lighter or darker shades of your primary color.
  • Choose an accent color, one that complements your primary color.

Another easy way to do this is to start with a print that coordinates with many of your clothes and work backward.

My travel scarf with many different colors.That's what I did for this trip. I used this scarf as my starting point.

It's blue, black, brown, purple, and red-orange and perfectly matches many of my travel clothes.

What to look out for . . .

Many people skip this foundational step and just start pulling out their favorite clothes. Then they wonder why they can’t put their Sudoku wardrobe together. Don’t let that be you!

OK. Got your color palette chosen? Great job! Let’s move on to Step 2.

Step #2: Shop Your Closet

Now it’s time to start shopping your closet, which means selecting clothes that fit your chosen color palette, the time of year you’ll be traveling, and your personal style.

  • Pick your primary or base color
    I was packing for a very casual trip where hiking would be our main activity. I decided to wear mostly jeans, and I chose blue as my primary color. There’s not a lot of blue in my scarf, but some other colors coordinate nicely with blue.I pulled a light pair and a dark pair of jeans plus a pair of lightweight black pants that travel with me almost everywhere. I find it’s always good to have some black in case I have an unplanned need to dress up.
  • Choose some lighter or darker shades of your primary color
    I pulled a navy blue top and a light blue and white striped top. I also chose a white T-shirt, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a couple of denim shirts.And I tossed in a black top for the dress-up reason mentioned above.
  • Choose an accent color
    Based on the scarf's colors, I chose a lightweight lavender sweater, a red T-shirt, a deep purple shirt, and an orange hoodie.

This step is important because it will help you see how many clothes you already have that work together. You'll also be able to see if you need to buy anything else.

It’s so much smarter to find out what you have first than to go on a shopping spree for a whole new wardrobe. This not only saves money but also lessens your environmental impact.

Here are some tips to help you move through this step quickly:

  • Stand back and look at your closet from the 10,000-foot level. Have you chosen a color palette representative of the clothes in your closet, or do you have very few in that color? If so, choose another primary color.
  • Pull a fair-sized sample of clothes in each category. Don't pick just three. If you have a lot, just pick your favorites. Otherwise, sorting will take too long.
  • Don’t worry too much yet about how these pieces will coordinate. At this point, you just want to pull clothes that fit your chosen color scheme. Once you start playing around, you might find a few things that go together to create some new looks you haven’t thought of before.
  • Fold and sort your clothes into piles by tops, bottoms, and layers.

>>>For the next step, grab a copy of your free Sudoku Capsule Travel Wardrobe Grids. I created them to help you pack this way without stress and overwhelm. Print them out and save them for future trips.

Step #3: Lay Clothes Out in a Grid

First, lay three bottom pieces on your bed in the positions marked in Grid 1. Then, lay three tops and finally, three layering pieces.

How do things look?

Do the colors all go together? Does it look like you've got a few different outfits?

Grid 2 below shows that it's possible to make three outfits vertically (the orange lines), three horizontally (the green lines), and one diagonally (the yellow line).

This gives you seven outfits, which should be enough for a one- or two-week trip if you don't mind wearing something twice.

A sudoku grid with outfits made up from clothes up and down and across the grid.
Grid 2

Grid 3 below shows other ways you can create outfits...that's IF you have the right clothes in the right place on the grid.

A sudoku grid with outfits made up with clothes in the corners.
Grid 3

How may outfits can you make the way you have things laid out now?

If everything works together and you’re happy with the outfits you've created, you’re done.

Congratulations!

It usually takes a little fidgeting to get things exactly right.

If things aren’t working quite right yet, move on to Step 4.

Step #4: Move Clothes Around Until You Have Multiple Outfits

Next, start pulling and replacing items until you can make as many outfits as you need.

For example, I decided the hoodie was too bulky, so I replaced it with a black vest.

I also rejected the red T-shirt because it didn't go with enough other items, and based on the activities we had planned, I decided white wasn’t practical. So those items went back in the closet.

Here’s what I ended up with:

  • 4 Merino long-sleeve shirts which I could layer if needed
  • 2 pairs of jeans (one dark and one light)
  • 1 pair of lightweight black pants
  • 1 vest
  • 1 base layer (OK...this is more than one item, but it packs as small as a pair of jeans)
The 9 pieces I took on my trip.

 If this process is a little frustrating, that’s perfectly normal. Any time you try something new, it takes a little while to get the hang of it, so just be patient and stay with it.

It took me about 20 minutes to get everything in place to make 13 outfits. But that saved me way more than 20 minutes over the month. I didn't have to sort through my luggage to put together outfits like I would have had I just tossed things in a suitcase.

Step #5: Add Extras

Check your packing list. What else do you need to make your trip work? This is where you would add dresses if you wanted to take some instead of pants or skirts.

Once I had everything the way I wanted it, it seemed dreary. I don't mind wearing the same clothes repeatedly, but to keep me happy, I need a burst of color every now and then, and I wanted more than my one colorful scarf.

So, rather than taking the nightgown my packing list called for, I chose a pink Merino top and lightweight gray pants to wear in the hotel as lounge and sleepwear.

If I knew it would be warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt on a few days, I would have also tucked in a T-shirt with a colorful print.

The extras I took on my trip.In addition to my hotel clothes, I added a travel sarong. I could use it as a picnic cloth, hot tub cover-up, exercise mat, and more.

Another item I packed was a travel bandana. Not only does it add a cute touch as a neck scarf, but it's also incredibly useful for travel

For jewelry, I brought one pair of everyday earrings and a second pair with a matching necklace. These would go with my black pants and top in case a dress-up occasion presented itself. I also brought a pin made by a friend to pop on my vest when I wanted something a little different.

Two pairs of shoes (one hiking, one town), two sets of underwear and socks (wash one, wear one), minimal makeup, and an outer coat completed my extras.

When all packed up in my compression cubes, it easily fit in a small travel bag.

sudoku-packed-up

Expert advice

Always think double-duty!

  • Since I took a nightshirt (the pink one) instead of a nightgown, I could swap that shirt out with any of my other day shirts.
  • The gray loungewear bottoms I added to my extras (not pictured) were comfy enough to wear in the hotel but also appropriate in public when I was washing my other pants.
  • I packed all Merino shirts. They're versatile and comfortable in both warm and cool weather. Because the shirts are from the same store with the same fit, I could wear them alone or layered for extra warmth.
  • I counted my blue and white Merino shirt as a layer, but it could be worn as a top under or on top of the plain blue shirt. I could also roll the cuffs up over either shirt for a different look.
  • The scarf I took has several purposes. Because it’s large, I can drape it around my shoulders in the hotel room if the dreaded air conditioner starts blowing on me. And it's lightweight, so I can wear it loose for a pop of color or snuggle it up to keep my neck warm if it’s cold.
  • I could wear my long underwear shirt as another top or layered under another shirt for extra warmth.
  • I didn't expect to need long underwear bottoms, but they didn't take up much space and I could wear them under my thin black pants if it was cold and I needed to get dressed up.

Now, look at what's in your grid. Is there something you could swap out for something that would do double duty? The idea is to get the most flexibility with the least amount of weight.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You just learned how to create 13+ outfits out of 9 pieces of clothing using the Sudoku Travel Capsule method.

Follow the simple steps above and you’ll look fabulous with all your pieces coordinated in a nice capsule collection. Your days of taking too many clothes, dragging excess luggage, and sorting through clothes you don't end up wearing is over! 🎉 🥳 🙌

Once you try this out, please do me a favor and let me know how it went in the comments section below. Were you successful? What tips do you have you can share with others?

Bonus question: Earlier, I said you could create more than 13 outfits from these grids. Have you figured out how? Let me know in the comments below.

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