A Closer Look: What’s Your Cruise Packing Strategy?

June 16, 2014 | By | 11 Comments

The summer season of overcrowded airports, mammoth check-in lines, exorbitant baggage fees and lost luggage is fast approaching. So would you do a cruise with carry-on bags only, simply to avoid the hassle?
I have before, but it’s not easy when you want to look good in the evenings and take workout gear and drag along a large camera, an iPad, a phone and a charger for each. And then go shopping in port.
But a thread on the Cruise Critic forum about ‘bundling’ has made me realize I’m packing all wrong. Member Linkerbink has posted a video of Jon Holloway from packinglight.com smoothly squishing what he claims is enough outfits for 60 days into a 22-inch carry on. Sixty days!
The trick, apparently, is to build a pile of your clothes in the wheelie bag with the arms of the tops and the legs of the trousers hanging out, the garments arranged criss-cross on top of one another. When you’ve layered them all neatly, you fold in the arms and legs to create a compact bundle, which, Jon Holloway says, uses the space most efficiently.
Underwear goes in a space-saving hanging bag and you’re allowed two pairs of shoes plus the pair you wear for travel. Toiletries, cameras and books go in your second piece of hand luggage, which doubles up as a handbag or daypack on the cruise. Sorted.
I do have some issues with Jon’s claims; for a start I find the fictitious lightweight traveler for whom he is packing to be sartorially challenged. His two pairs of shoes (hidden in a shoe bag) are tiny; they could be soft Gucci moccasins, which is fair enough, or simply flip flops, which wouldn’t do for dinner on a stylish cruise. No bejeweled wedges or shiny black evening shoes for Jon.
Second, the capsule wardrobe he packs in the demo (three pairs of trousers, one pair of jeans, one skirt, one dress, nine tops and a jacket) is really boring. Everything is plain and pastel, because to make his enough-outfits-for-60-days claim, you have to be able to combine any of the five pairs of trousers or the dreary black skirt with any of the ten frumpy tops.
But let’s be less ambitious. Just seven days would be good, including one jacket for men or a couple of cardigans or wraps and a small evening bag for ladies, so surely that’s attainable using this method? There’s always the onboard laundry, after all.
It’s clear from the forum, which, incidentally, contains some great packing tips, that a lot of cruisers do like to travel with hand luggage, some even more ambitiously than Jon Holloway, although some bundle, others roll and one (MsPink98) favors the ‘stuff and pray’ method, whatever that may be.
If you’ve ever cruised with hand luggage only, what’s your top packing tip?
 For more packing tips, see our Ultimate Packing Guide.
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    11 Responses to “A Closer Look: What’s Your Cruise Packing Strategy?”

    1. Carol Mannchen
      June 16th, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

      I could travel with just a carry on for a seven day cruise, but I like longer cruises. I need a bit bigger suitcase. My goal for my next cruise which is in the Med for 12 days on Regal Princess, is to have just my one not too big suitcase and a smaller carry on that I can manage better. I am good with the clothing, and no longer have to bring books, but I remain somewhat shoe challenged.6

    2. Elizabeth
      June 16th, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

      What about razors? Do you all just buy those before you leave on the cruise?

    3. Kerry Drennan
      June 16th, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

      Our last cruise, 6 days and 2 days in Vancouver, BC used one suitcase for the wife and me. Had plenty of clothing and odds and ends we need, in fact had clean clothes left over. Trip was from LA to Vancouver. Had a great time on NCL…..:)

    4. Betty Carlson
      June 16th, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

      I do check a bag because I have to carry my CPAP but my checked bag is carry on size. My extra large purse I carry has swim suit, change of under were, semi dressy flip flops, and a dress that can be worn for dinner or cover up or night gown. My CPAP bag has all the chargers in it. I can live with just my carry on if luggage got lost or delayed but would be much happier with my checked bag. I had friend who did not get her bag until week after she got home so I plan for the worse case and am happy it has never happened to me.

    5. Brian
      June 16th, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

      It all becomes so much easier when you’re willing to wear (gasp) the same outfit more than once on the trip. No one notices or cares, especially since usually by the end of the cruise (or other trip) you’re interacting with different people than you are at the beginning. I was so proud of my wifey when we visited Europe for two weeks using only carry-ons!

    6. Shelley Wooldridge
      June 16th, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

      I usually use the plastic vacuum bags by folding as many clothes as I can, placing them in the bag and then vacuuming out the air! It decreases the size by more than half the size the clothes would have been alone! It works like a charm!

    7. Terry
      June 17th, 2014 @ 12:43 am

      My husband, adult son, and I have just returned from a two week trip to Europe including a 10 day crossing on the QM2 using only carry-ons. The men store their tuxes, ballroom shoes, 3 slacks/jeans, lightweight boxers and socks, silk shirts (long and short sleeved), 2 silk ties, swim trunks, 2 T-shirts and 2 undershirts in the rolling suitcase, and wear the dress jacket on the plane. They carry a rolled up windbreaker and all of their toiletries, electronics, binoculars, etc in an additional small duffel. In my small rolling suitcase I pack 3 lightweight formal gowns (silk) plus a long black chiffon skirt with 3 different dressy tops, 2 light shrugs and a cardigan, 3-4 light pairs of slacks, 5-6 silk tops of various styles and festive colors, 3 lightweight jersey dresses and a skirt, a very adequate assortment of silky nighties, underthings, and socks/stockings, plus silk long johns and camis for layering. Along the sides I tuck a pair of sandals and dressy shoes. My husband carries my ballroom shoes in his bag. Everything else (including versatile pieces of jewelry)I put into my vintage QE2 flight bag. Even my travel pillow gets stuffed in there. I wear a cozy hoodie from Hollister over my flight clothes and of course my walking shoes are on my feet. We have traveled this way successfully for many years. Cunard has great laundry rooms. NCL has removed them from their fleet unfortunately. I will admit our cases are fairly heavy and my husband has to heft them into the overhead bin.

    8. joyce
      June 17th, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

      I went on a 10 day cruise using a 25″ expandable suitcase from eBags, small tote bag and handbag. My husband had the same 25″ bag. We used packing cubes and packing sleeves to keep the suitcase organized. I used the small tote bag to keep all toiletries,shoes, electronics and other misc stuff. It also expanded and doubled as a return bag for all my souvenirs. I am a light packer to begin with and utilize items that can do double duty. I was very proud of myself. :)

    9. joyce
      June 17th, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

      P.S. I check with the airline and the plane I used would have considered these bags as meeting their carry-on requirements. Go Airbus!!!

    10. carol anderson
      June 18th, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

      Both my husband and I take a carry on suitcase and another bag which we put under the airplane seat in front of us. We can pack everything for 10 days. For example–I take only 5 pairs of capris (I spend most of the day in my swimsuit by the pool). Therefore, I can wear my capris more than one day. I take more tops. For formal night,I have a pair of dress pants which I wear one of the crinkled blouse. I also take several scarves and many pieces of jewelry. The only bad part about not taking a check in suitcase is that I have to find small bottles in which to put my cosmetics. My husband wears his suitcoat as a jacket; so that doesn’t have to be packed. All of the ships have blow dryers and usually they provide shampoo and conditioner so you don’t have to worry about that. I put a smaller purse, my camera, kindle etc in my bag that I put underneath my plane seat.

    11. marianne
      June 22nd, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

      I make a list of where we will be each day, whether in port or at sea, then decide, in detail, what we’ll wear each day. It’s easy to eliminate excess baggage that way. This works if everything co-ordinates with multiple items. Shoes are limited to 3pr, of which one pair is on my feet. Instead of heavy jackets, layers is better. Nobody cares if you wear the same outfit for two days. In all of our 26 cruises, we have never checked luggage, and have never had to worry about lost or misplaced luggage. The best part is that because we can carry our own bags, we’re also able to use express disembarkation,and be first off the ship, when customs lines are the shortest. Packing light really comes down to being organized and planning ahead.

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