5 Ways to Pack Right on a Cruise

Remember old Hollywood movies, where the glamorous stars would stride onto a cruise ship with an endless parade of suitcases, steamer trunks, and clothes racks of gowns and coats? Well, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, those are works of fiction.

In reality, cruise ship cabins are pretty small, even if you have one of the larger state rooms. And, if you’re sharing a cabin, forget about it. Even a four-day excursion means a minimum of four outfits, which doesn’t include any nice formal options for fancy dinners, back ups if your day-tripping items get too soiled to wear a second time, or costumes if there’s a theme night.

So, how do you find the right balance?

Wheeling bags are great for preventing back strain, but all that extra hardware means extra weight, reduced space inside the bag (and in your cabin), and a tendency to overstuff. This type of luggage doesn’t collapse, either, so your best bet would be to go for a large backpack. Yes, that piece so often associated with grimy hostels and even grimier backpackers actually makes for a suitable companion on long trips. You can even find some with wheels, if you must have that assist when bringing your things on and off the cruise ship.

Stuffing your bag at the last minute leads to forgotten items or an inability to find anything when you need it. Check out camping stores like REI or luggage retailers for packing cubes, which comes in all shapes and sizes and don’t take up much space. They let you organize everything from shirts, slacks and socks to everything in between. Then, when you want something you don’t have to dig through the rest of your clothes and wrinkle them in the process.

Denim weighs a lot, is bulky, and takes forever to dry if it gets wet. Depending on the type of cruise you’re on, we suggest one rugged pair of jeans for when you’ve docked in a port and are going exploring, and one nice pair that can be combined with a coat and dress shirt for an elegant evening. Add in one or two additional pants (again, depending on how long you’ll be at sea), and plenty of shirts, and you can have endless new looks for any occasion.

Speaking of shirts, consider bringing a couple light sweaters or similar pull-over shirts, that when combined with a coat give you the dressed up look you want. Blouses are great, but they tend to need hangers and ironing, and you didn’t take a luxury cruise to spend all your free time in the cabin ironing. For men, pack some polos and light sweaters, and maybe one or two dress shirts and a tie for the more important nights.

The same rule applies to shoes: A comfortable pair for sightseeing, sandals for the pool and beach, and one nice pair for parties and dinners. For the ladies that might sound tough, but when you find yourself not stressing, you’ll thank us for it.

If it’s a sunny climate cruise– say in the Mediterranean or Mexico– bring plenty of shorts and T-shirts. Those will be your primary wardrobe anyway, so why bother packing clothes you won’t actually wear? They can also be bundled into neat rolls that reduce wrinkling and save space. You only need one, maybe two swimsuits. Seriously.

Even on a summery cruise you’ll want to bring one windbreaker or sweatshirt that can be tightly folded, and one nice coat if you’re dressing up at any point. If it’s a cruise to Alaska or a colder climate, have one bigger coat but don’t go crazy. Big jackets weigh a ton and take up space. Layering with sweaters is a smarter option.

Yes, it’s nice to save a buck, and we’re all headed home at some point anyway so why not bring it with you?

Because there’s no room! There’s nothing wrong with shipping home the stuff you don’t need at an intermediate stop. It can be done relatively inexpensively, and if you go through the cruise ship or a local FedEx or DHL shipper (they’re all over the world, folks) you’ll be in good shape. It takes a ton of stress off your back and lets you focus more on what you’re there for: Relaxing and having fun.

With some simple forethought, you’ll save yourself a ton of space and stress, letting yourself have more fun while sailing the high seas.