One of the biggest perks of cruise travel is not having to be a packing savant. Once you’re on board you won’t need to live out of your suitcase. You can keep it in your stateroom however you like, or better yet, put it all away in your cabin’s closets and drawers.

Whether you're preparing for an Alaskan voyage, a cruise around the Mediterranean or a European river cruise, follow the advice below, and you’ll be ready to roll.

1. Keep your luggage simple and affordable

Thinking about splurging on a fancy bag? Maybe don't. You don’t need a shiny new suitcase that earns its sticker shock with engineered ergonomics. The beauty of a cruise is the ability to unpack once you get to your cabin. When you're flying to catch a cruise, or just boarding near home, choose a good, solid piece of luggage, whether you check it or carry it, depending on your preference. Just make sure you can lift it should you need to and that the wheels (if you've got them) are sturdy and can withstand uneven surfaces.

To maximize storage, get yourself some packing cubes. And if you don't have a suitcase that works for your cruise trip needs, you can always ask friends and family if they have one you can borrow.

Packing cubes work miracles to squish your gear into a carry-on
Packing cubes work miracles to squish your gear into a carry-on @ Getty Images

2. Consider what to put in your carry-on

The ultimate power move for any traveler is to fit everything in a carry-on suitcase. Yes, you can fit a week’s worth of cold-weather clothing, if you’re a prudent packer, or two weeks of warm-weather gear in an airline-sized carry-on suitcase or bag.

When flying in to catch your ship, or the day of embarkation, pack in your carry-on bag the things you'll need for the first few hours (or days depending on your concern) of the journey. Consider packing bank cards/cash and other valuables, plus toiletries, a change of clothes including something warm and a light rain jacket, and your swim suit. Even if you're in possession at the port of embarkation, sometimes your baggage can take a few hours to make it to your stateroom. 

3. Be bold – color is your friend

Raise your hand if you have a black suitcase. Black’s a great choice – sleek and streamlined – but it can also lead to a lot of confusion. Add a distinguishing element, like a brightly-colored bag tag, to your suitcase to avoid any mix-ups.

Adding a “fragile” sticker to your bag is another travel pro-tip, it might help prevent your stuff from getting chucked around. Best of all, stand out by choosing a colorful suitcase.

Photo of for colorful luggage being checked in at airport
Opt for colorful luggage so it stands out on the carousel © Getty Images / iStockphoto

4. Track your luggage

How did we live without luggage trackers? It wasn't too long ago that when you checked your luggage, you weren't guaranteed to see it again. These days finding your missing suitcase is a snap, just make sure your tracker is set up properly before you take off.

5. Pack a tote or duffel bag

Your bag should contain...more bags. It sounds almost too simple, but you’ll want something lightweight that isn’t a purse or a carry-on backpack to carry your belongings (like sunscreen, camera and poolside reading material) whether you're heading to another part of the vessel or planning your shore excursions.

You can also roll up a larger duffel inside your suitcase, should you plan to shop and check it on the way back.

A cruise ship docking at a pier with colorful wooden buildings
Cruise lines almost always have packing lists to help you prepare yours © Getty Images

6. Check if your cruise already has a packing list

Before you fold (or roll) even one item to pack in your suitcase, go straight to your cruise’s website and carefully read their suggested packing list.

If your Antarctica adventure operator tells you that waterproof boots and lined windbreakers will be provided, do not waste precious space in your suitcase with versions of your own. These guidelines have been drafted with the wisdom of a thousand crossings and will give you crucial information needed for packing right.

7. Plan to wear items twice, at least

Many cruise lines offer laundering facilities (and we don't mean paying a premium for sending it out; find out if there are coin-operated or free machines you can use before you go). But for the number of days your cruise is, plan to wear everything you bring at least twice. The truth is many of us over-launder our clothes, there is no reason not to wear items multiple times (save a stain, for which a stain-removing stick can help). If you're packing for a 10-day cruise, you really only need 5 days worth of clothing. 

Suitcase on a bed overflowing with items
Don't let this happen to you: make a list and stick to it © bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock

8. Write it all down

Here's a checklist to help you guide your packing. Ideally, you'd write this all down or copy it over to a document or a notes app so you can tick each item as you slip into various compartments. One final tip from a packing pro: coordinate your colors. You can derive maximum use from a modest amount of clothing by ensuring every item goes with every other one.

The following is far from all-purpose, but we think it's a solid starting point for a warm weather cruise.


  • tops and T-shirts
  • button-down shirt 
  • sundress
  • shorts
  • pants
  • underwear
  • socks
  • workout outfit
  • bathing suits and cover-ups
  • lightweight jacket
  • sweatshirt or sweater or wrap
  • sport coat
  • dress or suit for dinner or formal night, including a tie
  • pajamas


  • sneakers or comfortable walking shoes
  • sandals or durable flip flops
  • dress shoes for the evening
  • belt
  • jewelry
  • wide-brimmed sun hat or baseball hat
  • sunglasses


  • passport 
  • wallet
  • keys
  • medications (and the prescription)
  • list of medications (including pain killers, stomach upset, motion sickness and any other over-the-counter drugs)
  • seasickness remedies (many cruises will have these too)
  • tissues
  • Band-Aids
  • hand sanitizer
  • face masks (in case you're ill or next to someone who is)
  • earplugs
  • books or an e-reader 
  • mobile phone, or tablet or laptop
  • headphones (wired or unwired or noise-cancelling, according to your wants)
  • chargers and adaptors

Partially adapted from Lonely Planet's The Cruise Handbook: Inspiring ideas and essential advice for the new generation of cruises and cruisers © 2019

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