Yes, packing light for a cruise and having everything you need is possible even in today’s changed world. We have done it successfully multiple times. The trick is knowing the cruise essentials, including what to bring on a cruise and sticking to a packing light checklist.
It’s true that one of the advantages of cruising is unpacking only once while exploring several destinations. However, you still have to lug your belongings to the airport, to the cruise terminal, and back home.
Plus, we nearly always tack on days before and after our cruise. Learning how to pack light is a game-changer. It makes for less hassle everywhere we go.
First, be inspired …
Note: Based on world conditions, we advise checking official channels including cancellation policies prior to booking. Also, with often reduced capacity, booking ahead becomes more important.
Packing light without missing any of the cruise essentials
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Dressing for dinners
The dining room dress code is one area that is different on a cruise ship than on other travel. With no shorts, tank tops, swimwear, or sometimes even jeans allowed, and several days often labelled either “smart casual” or “formal,” cruisers need to be prepared.
- Dinnerwear for women: I bring a “little black dress.” For me, it is one of the most important things to bring on a cruise, and a key piece of my wardrobe. To alter my style, I bring a scarf, black cotton blazer, light coloured cardigan, and costume jewellery – each completely changing the look thus appearing as several cruise dresses. It can be worn to multiple dinners without appearing as if I have worn the same thing.
- Dinnerwear for men: Hubby’s dinnertime cruise clothing includes 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.
Dressing for every day and at port:
Pick a colour theme and mix and match everything you wear.
- 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: two long, two short, Women: one long, one mid-calf or skirt, two shorts
- One cardigan (women) or fleece (men) – modern ships are air-conditioned and can get chilly
- One sun hat
- Three pairs of shoes per person is all we need: Everyday walking shoes, sandals for pool or beach, and semi-dressy/go-anywhere shoes for dinner
- A breathable rain jacket or rain poncho
- Seven day supply of socks and undergarments
- Swimwear (you can bring a cover-up, or wear the bathrobe provided in your stateroom)
Accessories and other non-clothing cruise must-haves
- Fashion accessories: Jewellery (unless you plan to buy it in port), scarves, belt, and a Fitbit.
- A first aid kit including seasickness pills that I have never needed 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 a doctor (expensive) onboard. Our overstocked first aid kit contains the following: sunscreen, insect repellent, motion sickness tablets, paracetamol, ibuprofen, Imodium, sore throat lozenges, antibiotics, band-aids, first aid ointment, and hydrocortisone cream.
- Camera, street lens, extra battery, battery charger, camera raincoat, flash, tripod, extra SD cards
- Sunglasses and glasses (spare pair)
- Cosmetics and toiletries
- Electronics including camera (I shoot with an Olympus OMD Em5), tripod, phone, laptop, Kindle, and/or iPad, backup drive, USB stick, and smartphone with charging cable. **Be sure to check with the cruise line as to the outlets and voltages on the ship and bring electrical converters as necessary.
- Documentation – passports, immunisation cards, insurance cards, tickets, credit cards, pen, paper, and a highlighter (you will not regret bringing this on a cruise).
Extra items to add based on current world conditions
- Portable hand sanitizer – while there will be plenty around the ship, sometimes you might want your own.
- Masks – as they may be required at times.
- Books, electronic books, a deck of cards, or other self-contained entertainment – hopefully, these will all stay in your suitcase, but after the past few years, it’s better to be prepared than bored should you end up with an extended stay in your cabin.
How to pack light for a cruise
My top tip for success is packing cubes. If you don’t know what they are, take a look at this video and then read on.
How to use packing cubes
Our final travel packing tip is to use packing cubes. I know, it’s not much of a secret, but packing cubes keep everything tidy and reduce the space needed for packing. They allow us to keep organized and find what we need quickly.
If you have never tried them, I highly recommend them. On a 16-day cruise around the top of Australia, we arrived at the airport with a total of 22kg of luggage for two people. This included camera gear with a tripod, two laptop computers, and backup discs.
Thanks to packing cubes, it all worked out well. (We love the ebags packing cubes!)
What you need for success
- Packing cubes – for two people, we take six cubes: two each of small, medium, and large. (We use five cubes when travelling without a cruise.)
- Toiletry kit – one per person, unless you like to share (we don’t).
- Emergency kit – pack your own or get this one.
- Lightweight digital luggage scale.
- Cruise Packing Light List from Albom Adventures (download below).
How to pack a couple’s cruise essentials into packing cubes
Here’s how we do it:
- Small Cube #1: Pack one small cube for your emergency and first aid kit.
- Small Cube #2: Pack the second small cube with the electronics chargers, backup disks, flashlight, highlighters, and any other small accessories.
- Medium Cube #1: Pack one medium cube with sleepwear and undergarments for both travel partners.
- Medium Cube #2: Pack all formal wear in one medium cube that doesn’t need to get opened or disturbed until formal night. This is very helpful if you have a land package attached to the cruise.
- Large cubes: Each family member should have one large cube for all of their remaining clothing items, except the rain jackets.
- A separate toiletry kit for each of us.
- Rain jackets are rolled and packed for easy access.
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A few photos of our interchangeable cruise outfits:
- 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.
- Versatile swimwear looks like clothing when worn around town (or on the ship). Perfect for tropical ports like Aruba.
- 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.
- Ports are weather dependent, 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.Ports are weather dependent, 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.
Cruise and port planning tips
Spending 160+ days at sea, we discovered a few cruising secrets. In addition to our list of cruise tips, here are our best planning tools:
Cruise: We find great deals on Cruise Direct.
Flights: We like to arrive at least one day prior to disembarkation and use Skyscanner to discover flight options.
Accommodations before and after: We use Booking.com to find accommodations.
Private tour guides: Looking to maximize our limited time at a port, we often hire private guides from Tours by Locals.
Rental Car: When we need a car, we always use RentalCars.com, a rental car search engine with no hidden costs.
Travel Insurance: We purchase insurance that covers medical and travel emergencies when we head overseas. We use a travel insurance aggregator that gives us a free and easy-to-read comparison of the inclusions of each policy.
Packing Tips: Get a copy of our free packing light for cruise travel checklist when you sign up for our mailing list. (We pack light, yet have everything we need.)
**Find more money-saving resources on our Travel Resources page.
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Will you be packing light for your next cruise or will you bring it all, just in case?
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