Packing Light for Cruise Travel and Having All You Need

Yes, packing light for cruise travel and having everything you need is possible. We have done it successfully multiple times. One of the advantages of cruising is unpacking only once while exploring a variety of locations. However, you still have to lug your belongings to the airport, to the cruise terminal, and back home. For us, we also tack on days before and after our cruising adventure. Packing light makes for less hassle.

Tips to pack light for a cruise

We recently embarked on a 16-day cruise around the top of Australia on Royal Caribbean’s  Radiance of the Seas. We arrived at the airport with a total of 22kg of luggage for two people, including camera gear with a tripod, two laptop computers, and backup discs. This is our second cruise this year; the first was 19-days through the Panama Canal on the Island Princess. (Don’t miss my list of tips for cruising.) Again, we travelled light.

Here is our essential list when we are packing light for cruise travel (with limited overlap to our list of essential things to bring when travelling around the world):

Packing Light for Cruise Travel

  1. Dinnerwear  – The dining room dress code is one area of travel that is different on a cruise ship. With no shorts, tank tops, or swimwear allowed, and several days labelled either “smart casual” or “formal,” we need to be prepared.
    • Women: I bring a “little black dress.” This is an essential piece of my wardrobe. To alter the look I bring a scarf, black cotton blazer, light coloured cardigan, and costume jewellery – each completely changing the look thus allowing the dress to be worn to multiple dinners without appearing as if I have worn the same thing.
    • Dinnerwear for Men: Hubby brings two button-down shirts (one collarless), a solid tie, and a casual dinner jacket. All pieces are interchangeable, creating more looks than pieces of clothing.
  2. Three pairs of shoes: Everyday walking shoes, sandals for pool or beach, and semi-dressy/go-anywhere shoes for dinner.
  3. Swimwear (you can bring a cover up, or wear the bathrobe provided in your stateroom.)
  4. A breathable rain jacket or rain poncho.
  5. first aid kit including sunscreen, insect repellent, vitamin C, and sea-sickness pills (I have never needed them while cruising, but having them gives me peace of mind). While I always travel with a fully stocked first-aid kit, it’s not necessary on a cruise as there is a general store and doctor (expensive) onboard.
  6. A camping clothesline and some laundry soap if cruising more than 7 days. 
  7. Electronics including camera (I shoot with an Olympus OMD Em5 Mark II), (and tripod), phone, laptop, Kindle, and/ or iPad. **Be sure to check with the cruise line as to the outlets and voltages on the ship and bring electrical converters as necessary.
  8. Documentation – passports, immunisation cards, insurance cards, tickets, and credit cards (things I never travel without).
  9. Clothing. I pick a colour scheme and have all my outfits become interchangeable.

The detailed packing list:

Dressing for Dinners:

  • Women: Little black dress, cotton blazer, brightly coloured scarf and possibly a pullover shirt to give a skirt and blouse effect.
  • Men: casual jacket, collarless shirt or collared shirt and tie, nice pants (as stated in item #1)

For Everyday and at port:

  • Five to six casual shirts that can layer including 2-3 tanks, 2-3 short sleeve shirts and one with long sleeves
  • Four Pants: Men: 2 long, two short, Women: 1 long, one capris or skirt, two shorts
  • Sleepwear
  • One cardigan (women) or fleece (men) – modern ships are air conditioned
  • One sun hat and sunglasses
  • Three pairs of shoes (walking, pool, dress)
  • Rain jacket or rain poncho
  • Seven day supply of socks, underwear, and bras (women)
  • Accessories: Jewellery (or buy it in port or on board. There are usually great deals to be had.), scarves, belt, and Fitbit.
  • Our overstocked first aid kit contains the following: sunscreen, insect repellent, motion sickness tablets, paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Imodium, sore throat lozenges, Cipro, z-pack, band-aids, strapping tape, pawpaw ointment, hydrocortisone cream and Heal Me.
  • Camera, street lens, extra battery, battery charger, camera raincoat, flash, tripod, extra SD cards.
  • Laptop, plug, adapter, backup drive, USB stick, and smartphone with charging cable.
  • Camping clothes line and small laundry detergent.
  • Spare pair of glasses
  • Cosmetics and toiletries.
  • Documentation, pen, paper, and a highlighter (you will not regret bringing this on a cruise).

Here is what it looks like:

Standing with the captain of the Radiance of the Seas

Hubby and I standing with the ships captain. I am in the black dress, hubby in his jacket. As the shoulders are a key feature of my dress, wearing a jacket or cardigan completely changes the look.

In the captain's chair on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas

With white capri pants and a black tank top, I could simply add a layer when I got the opportunity to go on the bridge and sit in the captain’s chair.

Aruba in the Caribbean

Versatile swimwear looks like clothing when worn around town (or on the ship). Perfect for tropical ports like Aruba.

Mandala Suci Wenara Wana Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud Bali, Indonesia

On a rainy day in Bali we were glad to have the raincoats. This is hubby watching a monkey that is about to swing right in front of him at the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud.

Cartagena Colombia

Ports are weather dependant, although I tend to usually be in shorts, while hubby prefers travel pants. Notice the layers on me and neutral colours on him. Plus, sun hats as this photo is in Cartegena, Colombia.

Tips for packing light for cruising. Photo onboard Island Princess

Day to day cruise wear onboard the ship. Neutral colours for hubby and black (or white) shorts for me.

Dressing it up for a special Chef's Table dinner on the Radiance of the Seas.

Dressing it up for a special Chef’s Table dinner on the Radiance of the Seas.

Can you do it? Will you be packing light for cruise travel? Or will you bring it all, just in case?

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Tips to pack light for a cruise

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PS. Happy Thanksgiving.

Quirky Artwork Onboard Radiance of the Seas
Highlights of a Day in Geraldton, Australia


  1. says

    I’ve only been on one cruise in my life and I remember having to bring so many different kinds of clothes! It was crazy! This will certainly come in helpful! #Wkendtravelinspiration

  2. says

    Hi Rhonda – I totally get your POV and you look great in that little black dress and all clothing so appropriate. I remember when my mother and I went to Namibia – where we had to pack very very light and we did … but on our way back from Angola down to Windhoek in a tiny plane a chap got on, who was large to start with, and baggage for Africa – I don’t think he thought of others or the situation … but we weren’t on a cruise ship! Cheers and an excellent listing for any of us who might go on a cruise … Hilary

  3. says

    Very useful list Rhonda. I’ve never taken a cruise but it does seem like packing appropriately seems more important than usual, particularly when it comes to dinner wear. I appreciate you including men’s clothing as that is something you often see overlooked even when its straightforward. You’ve managed to cruise to some pretty neat places.

    • says

      True, we have the same problem for hubby. While there were a few people who chose to wear a tuxedo to the formal dinner, most of the younger men, and newer to cruising men just wore a jacket or shirt and tie.

  4. says

    Thanks Rhonda. We been trying each cruise to get away from a great deal of things to bring. This Christmas I’m giving my wife ( hopefully ) a new piece of luggage. One that should be easier to lug around.One of roller pieces of luggage. Have you ever needed to clean things like the tables, phone, TV, etc about the sicknesses that could still be there from that last people. i worry about that every time I go. I would love to go on a longer cruise but I can’t get my wife to go on it. She says to me ” Paul, 8 days is long enough ” I laugh sometimes but she says to me, ” if you want to go on a longer cruise, get someone to go with you.” Any ideas to help me? Ha,ha,ha.

    Have a wonderful day my friend. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

    • says

      I find about 16 days to be perfect. A week seems too short for me, too much effort for such a short time. But, we always travel longer than most people. As for the cleaning, I don’t worry about such things. But you did remind me to add Vitamin C to the list above. I dose up before embarking and take some everyday while we travel.

  5. says

    When you own a boat you learn what to bring and what to leave at home. I do the same as you and can change the look of anything in seconds. I can travel very light. It’s essential.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

  6. says

    I enjoyed reading your post, Rhonda. I saw first hand how light you guys travel and this post gave me a quick pick into your luggage. I have to confess that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you two crying just a couple of duffle bags for a three-week trip to the States. I agree that it’s possible to travel light and still have everything you need, but I love to dress up and change outfits, so there is no way I could fit into a duffle bag.

    • says

      Sorry, only one hat. My others are all straw and I worry that if I bring them out of New Zealand, they won’t let me bring them back. Honestly, I can’t be bothered to carry the stuff around, plus we usually tack on lots of travel before and after, so for us, it’s rarely only once.

    • says

      If it makes you feel any better, hubby bought the tie in Sydney before we boarded the ship and NEVER wore it. Most of the men did wear a tie at least once, but it’s just not hubby.

  7. says

    I’ve never been on a cruise before. I tend to pack pretty light, but I usually pack pretty casually. The little black dress idea with some scarfs and costume jewelry is a great idea for those formal cruise dinners I’ve heard about. Might be worth packing on my next trip even if it’s not a cruise.

  8. says

    Excellent packing light list. I haven’t cruised, but I travel with carry-on luggage, and many of your tips and suggestions apply. The photos of each outfit are helpful – great idea!

  9. messymimi says

    Great tips, and i will try to pack lighter the next time i travel. The fact is, the older i get, the more i pack like Grandma, who always brought everything she could possibly fit to bring along.

  10. says

    I enjoyed this post and I enjoy cruising. We have just booked another, a longer cruise where we’ll get to visit some Asian ports we’ve been to before and see Japan and China which is exciting. I’ll have to try and follow your advice for packing lighter than I usually do. We love to dress for formal night and Steve always takes his tux. Wish me luck!

    • says

      Cruises tend to be getting more and more casual, especially the ones around Australia. However, there were a few that did wear tuxedos. On one cruise when we decided to do that, hubby hired one from the ship. That allowed him to look really smart, and still pack light.

  11. Chrysoula says

    Very useful travel tips. Packing is my least favorite. I haven’t been on a cruise yet but I would love to go soon so this post is really helpful.

  12. says

    I’ve not been on a cruise but your ideas will work well for a variety of travel situations. I also try to pack co-ordinating pieces but even after all these years of travel mix and match is not my strong suit.

  13. says

    I love your packing style! It’s a close match to the way in which we pack as a family as well. I find accessorizing with scarves for fancy cruise dinners is a good way to go too.

  14. says

    I am a light packer too! I like when I even surprise custom agents. They can believe how l little we packed for 17 days in Europe! Anyway, I will never go back after experiencing how hassle free is to travel with minimum luggage. You “little black dress” is very nice. #TPThursday

  15. says

    Very useful practical list. I haven’t been on a cruise yet, but I am sure those who are planning will find this useful.
    Even otherwise it is best to travel light, I do that very meticulously.

  16. says

    Love the little black dress with interchangeable accessory idea. Packing light is great. I usually find I wear the same things repeatedly, but I can never seem to be able to know in advance with few things they will be!

  17. says

    I’d never have thought about the documentation for side trips. I have the same camera as you – the OMD-EM5 Mark II – and I love it! yes, I use a portable tripod with it too, the photos come out even better.

    • says

      LOL – my tripod is the only thing not compact in my kit. It weighs almost 2kg, and takes up quite a bit of my bag. Most of the time it isn’t with me, only if we are heading out at night or to a waterfall.

  18. says

    These are excellent tips. I can quite imagine the predicament when it comes to selecting and packing the right dresses. I keep poring over the itinerary for hours.

    • says

      It’s the total travel package, Monika. Packing light makes it easier to get on and off the ship, plus we always add on travel days before and after our cruise, so we aren’t staying in one place.

  19. says

    we usually live out of our suitcases when we travel, even if we are in one place for a while, but because of the space on a cruise ship you do have to unpack and stow your bags. We like NCL because they are less formal than other ships at dinner time, but they still do have some rules I think for the dining room (shorts, fop flops). I love clothes that serve multiple functions, like swim shorts, sundresses that can go casual or dressy, and so. They are travel essentials.

  20. says

    I did my first cruise this spring and completely over-packed. True, I did use most of the nice clothes I brought, but I could’ve been smart about it and planned things vs just packing for 8 days. Next time. And spot on with the shoes… I forgot non-flipflops/tennis shoes. #lessonlearned

  21. says

    Gorgeous photo of the two of you dressed up next to the captain. I’m getting better at packing light. The fact that I don’t have as many clothes in my closet anymore has really helped, too. We’re going on a Disney cruise for Spring Break. I have to add “pirate costume” to my packing list. It will probably incorporate a black skirt that I can also use when I want to look normal.

    • says

      Double using that black shirt is exactly the idea I am talking about. Also, if it were me, I would get the pirate accessories at a $2 store, and just donate them to the kids camp on board when I was done with them. But I really hate carrying around extra stuff. 🙂

  22. says

    I’m getting much better at packing but there is still room for improvement. My husband has no problem with it all though! Thanks for sharing – I hope to use some of your tips.

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