Is This Cruising’s Toughest Packing Challenge?

January 10, 2012 | By | 30 Comments

No matter how often you travel, packing is a tough challenge, even for a seven-night Caribbean cruise. In a recent discussion on our Facebook page about packing for long-haul, more exotic cruises, Ted Ferragut’s posting resonated. “We are off for a 39 day cruise and really want to pack light. But it’s very hard to do.”
I’m with you, Ted. On the eve of departing for a 14-night voyage on Azamara Quest from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I’d been thinking to myself: Is it me, or does packing for a long voyage present even more complications than the norm?
Over on Facebook, Linda Mclendon wrote that I was overthinking it: “Just take enough for seven days.” But wait. I think there’s a difference when it comes to longer haul travel, especially when itineraries like ours span climate zones (that also goes for South American round-the-horn trips between Buenos Aires and Chile’s Valparaiso, among others).
We started out steaming hot in Bangkok; by the time we get to Hong Kong in mid-January, it’ll be chilly.
So I liked Dan Waguespack’s advice. “It will be warm in Bangkok and cool in China. Pack shorts, long pants and stuff you can layer.”
Though I’m a chronic overpacker, the best advice I’d give when packing for a trip like this is to factor in ships’ laundromats or use their laundry services. And there’s an upside: Some of the best souvenirs I’ve ever bought on a cruise came to be because of packing mishaps, like that beautiful sweater I bought in Edinburgh one day when in unexpectedly snowed in May. So leave a little room in the suitcase for unplanned purchases.
Of course, it’s not always that easy to fill in the blanks. On this trip, I carefully left space in the suitcase for potential “necessities” but forgot the one thing that would make purchasing them easier: My debit card to extract cash in local denominations.
And the big shame? It wouldn’t have even take up any room.
What’s your biggest packing mishap? How did you solve it?
Pack like a pro: Check out our 10 Must-Pack Items for New Cruisers.
Need more guidance? Read over our Top 10 Cruise Packing Tips.
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    30 Responses to “Is This Cruising’s Toughest Packing Challenge?”

    1. Linda
      January 10th, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

      Cannot feel bad about anyone packing for a cruise!!! SERIOUSLY!!!

    2. Myriam
      January 10th, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

      I bring only separates in easy matching colours (black, beige. Skip the formal wear!!! When you are limited to one small piece of luggage on most airlines, I will not give up space for a dress and high heels I will only wear once. (Same with DH the suit, tie and dress shoes take up too much valuable space.
      Then layer, layer, layer if you are going from hot to cold and vice versa!

    3. Meg
      January 10th, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

      My biggest packing mishap? I didn’t pack shoes for a 4 night Bahamas cruise. All I had was my “comfy” crappy looking, over-worn flip flops. I bought “dressier” looking sandals on board.

    4. Jenny
      January 10th, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

      My biggest packing mishap was going on a 7 day and forgetting to pack my formal dress. I had to settle for an overpriced black dress that could’ve passed for a long dressy tshirt from the gift shop onboard. But at least I could make lemonade out of the lemons!

    5. Charity Froggenhall
      January 11th, 2012 @ 8:23 am

      @Meg: shoes are the hardest thing for me to figure out. I wear size 11’s so they take up a lot of room! Plus we like active tours like hiking and cycling, so you need to have sturdy shoes. I think for our Alaska trip, I wore my heaviest shoes on the plane. I keyed my wardrobe choices to my shoes. For casual dresses for dinner, I wore the same copper colored “flip flops” every night and brought dresses in those colors. For formal nights, I made sure my formal shoes went with both my dresses, which luckily were brown and orange.

    6. Tim
      January 11th, 2012 @ 8:59 am

      If you’re going on a 39 day cruise I’d say two things. First, if you’re worried about airline baggage fees, don’t! Just consider them as part of the cruise fare. I don’t like them either, but I wouldn’t let them get in the way of what will likely be the experience of a lifetime.

      Second, pack for 7-10 days and use the on board laundry facilities or laundry service.

    7. Susan Marenus
      January 11th, 2012 @ 9:18 am

      We were to be gone for 17 days & packed for 7. We used the ships laundry service for our every day clothes (nothing dressy or needing special handling) & paid $100 for the convenience. Extra luggage & additional clothes would have probably cost the same.

    8. Jan Brandvold
      January 11th, 2012 @ 10:51 am

      Our biggest packing mistake was overpacking! Last time my husband and I went to Europe for 3 weeks (including a 12 day cruise) we each checked a 24″ bag and had carry-ons, too. We wound up buying an extra suitcase to get our souvenirs and gifts home! This was a lot of stuff to be schlepping up four flights of stairs to a B&B, or through the streets of Siena or Venice.

      We are taking a similar trip next summer, and plan to each take a 21 “carry-on, plus a small day pack. We will take a 7 day mix and match wardrobe, and laundry soap leaves from Magellan’s for hand washing small items, plus Purex 3 in 1, which are like dryer sheeets, but have laundry detergent and softener built in, to use in the B&B’ and ship’s laundrys! We both have Kindles now, so travel books will be loaded; no formal wear, and just two pairs of shoes each plus flip flops. We will use Rick Steves’ packing lists, plus several packing aids (like cubes). If we are missing anything essential, we’ll buy it there. Our gift purchases will be small, and we’ll take a little folding bag, so if needed, we can check one bag on the way home. Good planning is the key.

    9. sharon heffelbower
      January 11th, 2012 @ 11:07 am

      pack your memory cards separate from the camera. We had ours in the camera case with the camera (small nikon coolpix) and they came up missing. Can’t imagine what happened to the camera. Now we have no pictures from our 3 week trip. A real bummer..

    10. Diane Chmelik
      January 11th, 2012 @ 11:17 am

      I always take a 22 suitcas carryon plus a 25/26 suitcase. If you are spending the money for a 39 day cruise, baggage fees are peanuts. I pack for two weeks and layer, layer, layer. I take dressier clothes to change into for evening. My husband always takes a blazer. You never know when you want to attend a fine restaurant in a major city. Try to limit your shoes as they are heavy. Avoid heavily beaded items. I can even take cruises with formal nights in that amount of space. My husband brings the same luggage and even can bring his tuxedo.

    11. fann1sh
      January 11th, 2012 @ 11:34 am

      @Charity – I feel your pain. Wear women’s size 11 *narrow* shoes (sometimes a 12), very hard fit. Buying shoes while cruising? NOT going to happen! My emergency shoes are “soft shoe slippers” (socks with a tread) sold by a major online retailer….don’t think I’m allowed to say who. Google is your friend. Take no space, are perfect for days when the ship rocks and rolls. Available in a men’s version, too.

    12. eunice
      January 11th, 2012 @ 11:35 am

      I had this same dilemna when packing for our honeymoon that spanned 18 days across 6 countries in Europe. I packed everything into a CARRY-ON (I surprised even myself).

      My best advice is to do a mix of separates that can result in several different outfit combinations. (7 tops x 3 bottoms = 21 outfits!) The easiest is to stick to dark,neutral colors but for women – what’s the fun in that? don’t be afraid to throw some color in there. Also know things such as tunic tops and dresses can do double duty depending on the material (pair with leggings, pair with jeans, etc) Also consider material – nothing chunky – just lots of layers. Definitely use ships laundry service. And like some posters above said, leave room for new items!!

      Believe me, no one will be the wiser if you repeated outfits except for you and maybe your travel partner. You can read about my experience of packing for our trip on my blog:

    13. Sandra
      January 11th, 2012 @ 11:44 am

      My husband and I each carried one 26″ suitcase and a carry-on for a 10-month trip that included a 45-night Oceania cruise and a 13-night Celebrity cruise. The best thing we did was to use packing cubes for shirts, blouses, tops, underwear, socks, etc., as they keep everything neat, can be stacked on shelves, and make it quick and easy to pack/unpack. The Oceania ship and most places we stayed had laundry facilities, but the Celebrity ship did not. I would never book a long cruise on a ship without laundry facilities. The charges for laundry service may not be that high for a one or two week cruise, but they would be very high on a long cruise.

    14. Scott
      January 11th, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

      On the topic of formal nights (at least for men), I have found it more convenient to rent a tuxedo from the cruise line (on the ones that rent) rather than to try and pack formal wear. I have found that the price of renting from the ship the last time was actually cheaper than renting at home and taking it with. And a lot less worries.

    15. Patricia of Northern CA
      January 11th, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

      Forgot – my prescription medication! Now how do you go on a 26 day cruise plue 3 days in the start-city without your meds (yes, I’m an “older” chick)? I had carefully planned out just how many pills I would need and put them in my prescription bottles while leaving the rest at home. Took the wrong bottles on two of the four prescriptions, both of which were absolute necessity; I ended up 10 days short on one and about 20 on the other. Ended up having to go to a doctor in Sydney (Australia) to get prescriptions and to the pharmacy, all which set me back about $200 plus a total morning running around. I just don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t get those prescriptions refilled just before we got onto the ship.
      As far as packing light, I bring my “little black dress” for “formal” and then wear light jackets/tops to change out the look.

    16. Susan
      January 11th, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

      A friend once taught me to pack a few items that I plan to throw away during the cruise. When I cruised in the Caribbean in November, two pairs of shoes, a couple of nightshirts, some undies and socks, and the pair of jeans that I wore on the plane went in the trash after use, replaced by new souveniers I purchased in port. I also always pack a small container of liquid soap for hand washing in the sink.

    17. Jeff
      January 11th, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

      Back in the day before baggage fees I used to take 2 med cases each packed about half full and mixed both dress and casual clothes. That way if one case was lost I had enough to get by. Also the leftover space would hold the treasures bought on the trip. Of course fragile things were hand carried. I met a lady that sailed a world cruise and she told me that she took all her old underwear and other articles of clothing which could be worn then thrown away and that helped a great deal. Depending on the cruise, destination and line I pack clothes that are easily cared for and can wear a couple of times. Of course the laundry service can get expensive but I do like a nicely pressed shirt. I will use the shipboard self service laundries.

    18. Larry L.
      January 11th, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

      Whatdya pack for a 39 day cruise? Simple answer; the same things you pack for a 7 day cruise! Travel lighter, it’s easier to schlep the stuff around. You can buy t-shirts, jackets, sweaters, whatever, along the way. They make nice souvenirs.

    19. Ruthie
      January 11th, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

      Really! A thirty-nine day cruise and you are worried about baggage fees. I don’t think that should be an issue. Fly BA,stay in hotels with lifts. Let the porters handle your luggage. I travel with Euros, GBP or what ever is required to pay for some one other than me, to handle my luggage. On a thirty-nine day cruise
      don’t concern yourself with minor issues…

    20. Frank Jones
      January 11th, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

      We were on the Zaandam for 39 days from San Diego to Sydney including Hawaii and NZ this past fall and found that packing clothes for about 7 – 10 days works fine – use the “layered” and “mix-n-match” approach . My spouse was able to wash everything that needed washing in our cabin so that we never used the laundry service or laundromat. The HAL laundromats are a pain and the laundry service is pretty hard on your clothes in addition to being expensive, so hand washing worked out very well for us. Bring high quality “wash-n-wear” clothing such as Costco/Kirkland brand mens shirts – looked like professionally washed and pressed after “drip dry.”

      We also have a generic checklist which we modify for each trip based on circumstances covering everything we need to carry: RX’s, spare glasses; cameras and all electronics including spare batteries, chargers and cords; binoculars, small flashlight, compass, etc. Also, all documents (passports/visas, insurance cards), shore excursion info, credit cards, foreign currency….

    21. sd1
      January 11th, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

      We had to pack for a 30 day winter trip that included business and hiking Middle East desert, high mountains in Germany and DC. This plus we and a service dog and a month’s worth of food. We packed in 2 briefcases, 2 22\s and 1 24. It was a lot to carry but when you consider that 23 had 15 pounds of dog food, well, you get the picture. Without the dog food we could have done it in 1 22 and 1 24, including hiking boots and poles. The thing that saved us and that we always do now is to pack in the vaccum bags. If we have a trip with distinct sections to it (say hot and cold weather) we pack the cold with the cold and the hot with the hot and don’t open that bag until you need it. Of course, layers!

    22. Joan Trumm
      January 11th, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

      I, too, wear size 11 shoes. I bring a pair of basic black ballet slipper type shoes to go with formal wear and other semi dressy outfits (they take up very little space). They worked great on an Alaskan cruise when there were 15 to 25 foot high seas during formal night. I thought some of the ladies wearing high heels were going to break their ankles because of the ship’s rough movements.

    23. Kris
      January 11th, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

      Biggest mishap was to forget my light fabric athletic ‘sweats’ that I relax in at the end of the night in my cabin. Hardly a crisis but it is a necessity for me. I picked some up at Walgreens by my hotel in Ft Lauderdale before my 10 day cruise. Longest cruise I’ve been on is 14 days, I bring one checked suitcase and use self serve laundry on Princess ships. I took a Celebrity 10 day and didn’t bother with laundry. I am lucky at 4′ 8\ tall, some of my clothes take up less room and I never pack very fancy stuff.

    24. M. Tierney
      January 11th, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

      We sailed on Cunard’s Queen Victoria for 36 days through the Mediterranean. We packed for 7 days. The ship has self serving laundry facilities on almost every floor. Soap is supplied. Three washers three dryers and an ironing board with iron. Very nice and very easy to use. These were three 12 day cruises, back-to-back so on the disembarking and embarking days, we did our laundry in the morning. – The airline luggage fees were extremely high, but inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Cunard has several formal nights so packing for those requires space. A fellow cruiser suggested buying chiffon dresses and tops. Not much weight and lovely. I will do that for future cruises.

    25. Ron Vogel
      January 12th, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

      We did a 16 day big ship cruise round trip Buenos Aires all the way to Antarctica (so no getting off the ship in Antarctica) plus an additional 3 days at Iguazu Falls. That was a challenge. Steamy hot in Buenose Aires, the Falls, and other places, Frigid in Antarctica one day, mild the other 2. And a bit of everything in between. Made use of the laundry facilities (but not always possible, in Antarctica, the facilities were closed, and ship couldn’t do laundry either) but mainly just completely skipped the formal clothes.

    26. ajpeter
      January 12th, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

      I rally do not understand the trouble. We NEVER pack light. No matter where we go. And as we are on a well deserved holiday i will not be washing any clothes in the cabin or self-laundry. We love to dress up day and evening, so we have 4 to 5 large suitcases among the 2 of us. Tuxedos, suits, club jackets,the lot. Have fun and don’t worry. We are on holiday, right? Enjoy yourself, don’t limit yourself.

    27. noburns
      January 12th, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

      when i was younger i always packed as i wanted and checked everything. as i got older and traveled for business, lost luggage made me rethink my past habit, i can now pack everything in a carry on. My philosphy is -If i need it i can buy it. I do like the attitude of ajpeter- I think for a cruise or if you are staying in one place that is great. If we travel around from place to place i do not like to carry big pieces of luggage on trains.
      The biggest mishap- I forgot my id and all my credit cards. Lucky i had a copy of my passport in my luggage. I have to say the TSA was great, helpful and patient. I made the trip with little problems. They do not get enough recognition for the good they do, so thank you for making my trip work out.

    28. Dave Morris
      January 12th, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

      One poster already mentioned this – bring some things that you can throw out. I always bring my oldest pair of sneakers, some old socks etc and throw them out the night before debarkation. Half full bottles of suntan lotion, aloe etc are consolidated before packing and the 2 bottles of wine we brought with us are gone so there’s space for souvenirs.
      Also, I bring 3 sets of Rx – one on my person, one with my wife and one in my carryon.
      Plan your packing & pack your plan.

    29. MMezza
      January 22nd, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

      Forget about whether you pack too much or not…you’re on vacation! I agree with ajpeter. My husband & I like to dress up for dinner & shows in the evening. After all, when you get back home & work, when do you get a chance to dress up again? Recently, we were on the Norwegian Gem & every morning in the buffet, we saw a couple come in the same pj’s, hair uncombed. At first I thought maybe their luggage was lost, but then we stopped in Port Canaveral where they could have purchased clothing-forget it, they still came in their pj’s! Cruise lines are going a little too far in allowing this type of casual.

    30. Suzanne Lowe
      January 29th, 2014 @ 7:07 am

      Has any body ever bought larger womens clothing in Hong Kong,we are size 16 aussies and dont want to bring too many clothes on our cruise and buy new ones the week before our cruise,Millenium Celebrity Asia.

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