As an experienced cruiser who suffers from a chronic illness, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise comfortable and stress-free.
Tips to Avoid Overpacking for a Cruise
If you’re anything like me, you’re not hit with the realization that you may have overpacked for this trip until you’re carrying your luggage around the airport, or for me, it is more likely to hit when I am trying to check my luggage in at the cruise terminal.
After you have lugged around too much luggage a few times, you will come to the truth that enough is enough, and decide to review and note your packing habits. Read my handy dandy tips below and take on what ideas suit you best. I’m sure there are at least a few quick tips that can make your cruise packing process simpler, saner and less stressful.
1. Stick to a Few Functionable Outfits
If all you have is one suitcase, be sure that you are being as efficient as possible in that space. I have also found that if I choose a few standard goes with anything clothing options in a few good colours, then I can cut way down on the luggage clutter. It might feel minimalistic but once you figure out the outfits that you really need it will free up a heap of space for other more important things.
Just make sure you aren’t like my sister and try to take up that extra space with shoes. If you must, make sure you stuff them full of other things to keep the use of suitcase space as efficient as you can.
2. Daytime and Evening Clothes
The way I see it is that you don’t need to take a heap of everything when it comes to getting the most out of your suitcase. So keep it simple, and do what I do. I just stand to the side of my bed and plan based on having an outfit selected for the day and another selected for the evening. Rinse and repeat this until you have every day of your cruise vacation covered.
All you’re left with then is some comfy pajamas for changing every couple of evenings (unless you're going free bird), some items for swimming (definitely don’t free the bird in public) and some gym gear so you can work off extra energy and the buffet. If space in your suitcase is coming up a little short, then divide the outfits in half. Not a single person is going to notice or care if you wear the same top twice. Shoe wise as a male, I can probably get away with one dress pair, some sneakers and some runners. Though some will probably want to take a couple of pairs of dress shoes, especially the ladies.
3. Don't Forget to Layer
Be prepared for a bit of colder climates when you are traveling to chilly places, don’t bank on the weather being perfect 100 percent of the time. If a chilly climate is your destination, remember that you can get away with wearing the same upper layer a few times, whilst you will need to change the other layers more often. So bring a couple more bottoms or plan to wash them on board or pay for them to be washed for you. If you need to fly into the cruise departure port, make sure that you wear your heavier items on you so that it doesn’t tip your bags' weight over the edge.
4. Pick the Right Footwear
Without a doubt and with very little effort, shoes end up taking up an enormous amount of space when you are packing your luggage. When packing your bag, be mindful of how many of those precious pairs you are packing. It is always best to impose a solid limit on yourself so that you end up with only two pairs for days and two pairs for evenings.
Make sure your choices are comfortable and functional but don’t be afraid of fashion. Just don’t let your choices be completely ruled by it. If you stick with fashion alone, be prepared for blisters and hobbling on port days or after an evening of dancing. No one really wants that.
5. Stay Fresh
Spring for one of those travel-size fabric refreshers like Febreeze. It will pay you back in spades when you can re-wear some items of clothing without having to spend time washing and drying them or having to shell out for laundry service which most times just isn’t worth the expense unless you can overstuff the laundry bag.
Clothes and delicates can be washed in your cabin sink easily enough and hung up on the little clothesline in the shower. Sometimes things won’t dry in the bathroom because of the humidity, so I will take a pack of magnetic hooks and some cordage so that I can hang things up around the room (the walls are metal, remember!).
The same nice dress, or pants and shirt, can look completely different when you make some clever choices with your accessories. Make sure you include a few marvelous pieces of jewelry and even a nice shawl for an evening at the theater and you can be economical with your choices and even get the occasional compliment. Adding a splash of colour or point of interest in your clothing choices is just good science, as your basic items will sing with the right accompaniment.
7. Share the Burden of Baggage
If you are going to limit the amount of luggage you take with you and you have a partner or travel buddy with you, it is time to negotiate. The one with the bulkier clothes and items can shift a few things to the other persons, and those gaps from the larger items can be taken but by a handful of smaller items. A simple give and take.
8. Carry-On Bags and Electronic Books
A decent backpack is your best friend. Make sure you have a large enough and sturdy enough backpack and you can take it on the plane as a carry-on to get to the cruise terminal. A decent hard-wearing bag will work well for hiking and equally well when you go to the beach.
A kindle can be a great little investment too and even though I love the tactile feel of a good book, an ebook reader can just make the trip so much better especially if you’re a fast reader and don’t want to carry a library in your pack. Pick the right tablet and you can also use it to surf the internet and watch a few movies, depending on if you plan ahead and purchase an internet package. Just don’t expect your Netflix to work with the onboard internet as coverage can be a bit spotty.
9. Roll Your Clothing
To get the most out of your suitcase, be sure to roll your suitable clothing into tight rolls, you can then bundle them up and get the most out of your luggage. The rolling technique will allow you to fit more in and then you will also have the added benefit of being able to reduce wrinkles that sneak into your clothes during the journey. My other handy tip is to get a good wrinkle releasing spray that will come in handy instead of having to find an iron or cough up the money.
10. Travel Size Products
Packing a small item instead of a big one can save a heap of space, but it may cost a bit of money. If it is things that aren’t super important, a quick visit to a dollar store will remedy any issue on the way to the departure port. Single-use items can be a real help, so next hotel visit, grab those extra complimentary items. You never know, they might be just what you need on your next cruise.
Travel size products are also worthwhile if you can find them cheaply, so don’t be afraid of the itty bitty bottles of antibacterial ointment, insect repellent and sunscreen. If space is short at the end of your trip, just flick them in the bin if they aren’t worth carrying back home.
11. Take Advantage of the Toiletries Provided
The supplied toiletries included as part of your fare on your cruise really aren’t that bad, but I understand that some of us have a hairdo that requires a little extra or skin that might be a touch sensitive. If there is a product that you must have, then invest in some smaller shampoo containers. I use them and find it is a lot easier than carrying an enormous bottle in my luggage.
If you really must have a larger size bottle, stop at a store or pharmacy at your departure port before you get on board and this will save you having to pay extra for luggage if you have taken an airplane to get there.
12. Unpacking What Went Unused
It is tempting to just ignore your suitcase when you get home and unpack it here and there so you don’t fall out of holiday mode all at once, but it is important if you want to slim down on what you pack for your next trip.
When you unpack, make sure you take a good look at what you have and haven’t used. Note whether thirty pairs of socks were maybe too much for a cruise where you mostly wore thongs, or if a thick jacket whilst in the middle of summer was really worth that extra weight in your pack. When you finally take stock of what you used, you will have a much better idea of what you can leave at home when you go on your next cruise vacation.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Paddy Michelson
Brian from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia on August 27, 2021:
Paddy, thanks for sharing all this useful tips! I think it's relevant as long as you are someone who travels a lot.
I have not been on a cruise travel before although it would be great to experience it at least once, perhaps after the pandemic.
However, my family and I do some travelling every now and then, before the lockdowns and we miss being able to do so again.
I personally like to travel light especially for short getaways but the missus always seem to have quite a number of things she can't go without; so we always end up over-stuffing the bags/ luggage.
I might share this with the wife, who hopefully will find it useful and implement it for the next trip.
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 26, 2021:
Paddy, this article was “packed” full of wise advice. I have only been on one cruise (so far).. about 6 months before the pandemic hit, but realised I had taken too much clothing. Better safe than sorry I thought, but i learned a valuable lesson. The fact luggage is unlimited on a cruise, compared to a plane lures you in, especially if you don’t have to fly to the place of the cruise’s departure. Thank you for sharing, and enjoy your next cruise.
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on August 26, 2021:
Wonderful article. I managed to go on a 15-day river cruise with one carry-on, a briefcase, and a purse. My tip is to color coordinate all of your clothing - and stay with one theme. For me, that was black and white, with a splash of blue. Everyone will be different, but I think it's important to make sure all of your separates go with each other. And pack twice as many tops as bottoms. Nobody remembers what pants you were wearing (well, most people don't). Bon Voyage!