Expert Tips on Packing for a Cruise: You Need Less Than You Think

by | Aug 28, 2018

flat lay of woman packing
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Last updated on April 21st, 2024

How to pack smarter before setting sail

By Evelyn Hannon, Founder, JourneyWoman

Many years ago I met Arline Bleecker, an American travel journalist with wonderful expertise in the art of cruising. Arlene always looked great but if you looked carefully you understood that she had not packed a lot. She was simply being practical and creative. Here’s what I learned from her about packing for a cruise. 

Arlene’s tips on packing for a cruise 

Packing for a cruise requires a definite knack – a skill, I must admit, I didn’t always have. Invariably, I overdid it. But finally, I learned some tricks.

Sure it was fashionable a century ago to board an ocean liner with enough steamer trunks to sink it. But today, the prevalence of one-class ships lets us forfeit fashion fatigue.

Packing smart can save not only a small fortune in porter’s tips (often $5 per bag), but also an aching back, and time–you won’t have to wait so long at airports for your surfeit of suitcases. Besides, most cabins don’t have enough space to store most of what you bring anyway.

A ship part of Uniworld River Cruises sails through Budapest

10 expert tips on packing for a cruise 

  1. A good rule of thumb is to pack one outfit for every 2 to 2 1/2 days of travel.
  2. Pack lightly, especially for warm-weather cruises. Just remember to toss in a sweater or shawl for cool evenings and hyper-air-conditioned ships. If you forget just visit the ship’s shops. I’ve bought some of my prettiest shawls onboard or at the first port of call.
  3. Don’t bother buying anything new. For daywear, simply don what you usually do at home: slacks or shorts, T-shirts or sweatshirts, and comfortable shoes such as flip-flops or sandals.
  4. Bring a pair of rubber-soled walking shoes for slippery decks and dusty shore excursions.
  5. One bathing suit and a cover-up are fine, even for Caribbean cruising.
  6. For colder climes, include a well designed flannel-lined sweats (some are quite fashionable). Consider lightweight thermal underwear in place of bulky outer garments.

7. The clothing you bring should, if possible, be wrinkle resistant (certain silks and stretch fabrics are ideal).

8. In the event your clothes require TLC, some ships have complimentay self-service laundries for passengers wishing to wash and iron on your own. If you’re sailing on one that does, pack fewer items. Self-service laundries are a handy feature, especially when you consider that travel irons are verboten on most ships (they’re electrical fire hazards) and shipboard laundry services customarily charge upwards of three bucks just to wash a pair of socks.

9. Remember, even when formal wear is requested, it is not required. If dolling up just isn’t your thing, don’t feel obligated. The key to packing smart is bringing mix-and-match clothing. For all formal evenings, I wear the same pair of black satin slacks, just gussying them up with different tops and glitzy earrings. Some journey women might be more comfortable in dresses. You can wear whatever your little heart desires. Add one pair of suitable shoes. In this case black flats or perhaps metallic are best.

Just about all ships have alternate casual dining spots. Everybody else is getting dressed up? You can wear your jeans and a t-shirt in the cafe of your choice.

10. Pack sleepwear, underclothes, hosiery and toiletries, and some inexpensive foul-weather gear (a rain slicker or collapsible umbrella). Toss in a tote bag for carrying odds and ends.

BONUS: Finally, there’s this expert advice to women from one luggage-industry expert: ‘Whatever you planned to take, cut it in half and you’ll be fine.’

Why Ships Are Given Female Names

I believe that it is especially fitting that they give cruise ships female names. Think about it this way … ‘She is pregnant with a thousand adult embryos who long to stay warm forever and sheltered in this great white womb’
(Helen Slyke – A Necessary Woman – 1979)

What should I wear on a Christmas Market River Cruise?

Cruise shipLeave the fancy gowns and glitz at home. Part of the joy of a river cruise is its wonderful informality. There was only one evening when we dressed up a bit, otherwise, we all opted for comfortable sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans or slacks. Going on a Christmas Market River Cruise means travel in November or December. Northern Europe is cold and damp at that time of the year. So what? It’s supposed to be cold at Christmas time. It just means you’ll be drinking lots of hot chocolate and delicious mulled wine. Just make sure to pack appropriately and understand you’ll be exploring markets and sightseeing for long stretches of time. For me, that meant wearing a warm coat, hat, gloves, scarf, socks and long johns. I also made sure I had boots that had thick soles so I was never cold. Read more here. 

BONUS: If you’re lucky you’ll get to see Europe under a sprinkling of snow and in a very different way than if you’d travelled by train or car during the summer.


More about Travel on Small Ships 

Follow JourneyWoman for curated articles, tips, news and content from our community and our partners.


We always strive to use real photos from our own adventures, provided by the guest writer or from our personal travels. However, in some cases, due to photo quality, we must use stock photography. If you have any questions about the photography please let us know.

Disclaimer: We are so happy that you are checking out this page right now! We only recommend things that are suggested by our community, or through our own experience, that we believe will be helpful and practical for you. Some of our pages contain links, which means we’re part of an affiliate program for the product being mentioned. Should you decide to purchase a product using a link from on our site, JourneyWoman may earn a small commission from the retailer, which helps us maintain our beautiful website. JourneyWoman is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases. Thank you!

We want to hear what you think about this article, and we welcome any updates or changes to improve it. You can comment below, or send an email to us at [email protected].

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *