Updated October 17, 2019
Often it doesn't hit you until you're struggling with a stuffed suitcase at the airport: You overpacked for your cruise. Again. And while other travelers breezily zip through the airport, you're the one lassoing your bulging bags at baggage claim and handing out hefty porter tips.
Wish your packing life could be easier? Cruise Critic is here to tell you our tried-and-true secrets to avoiding overpacking. Read on for a few quick tips that can make your cruise packing process simpler, saner and less stressful.
1. Pick a Palette
It makes sense; if you have limited suitcase space, you can stretch your outfit choices by mixing and matching clothes that are similar shades. Restricting yourself to a handful of similar colors also means you can cut down on shoes.
2. Go Two if by Sea
The rule of "twos" can help you plan the perfect wardrobe. Pick two outfits -- one for day, one for night -- for each day you travel, as well as workout clothes, bathing suits, and PJs for every two days. Then cut the total amount in half -- remember, no one is going to notice when you wear the same shirt twice. Also, restrict shoes to two pairs (more about shoes below).
3. Layer Up
If you're heading to a chilly climate, you can wear the same upper layer repeatedly, while only changing the lighter layer close to the skin. Bring more lighter layers or do laundry onboard. Wear the heaviest outer layer -- a hoodie or a sport coat -- on the plane to save packing space.
4. Get a Shoe Clue
Shoes take up the most space in your suitcase, so be smart with how many pairs you bring. Limit yourself to two, in neutral colors, and chose ones that can do double duty. Boots, for example, can pair with a nice dress AND jeans. Ditto ballet flats or Mary Janes. Above all, choose comfort over fashion; nothing is worse than limping around a port in poor footwear.
5. Stay Fresh
Bring travel-sized Febreze spray to freshen up items to re-wear. A small sachet can make clothes in a drawer smell better. Clothes and underwear can be washed in the sink and hung on the clothesline to drip dry. (Or just spring for laundry.)
The same nice dress can look different with a new scarf or eye-catching jewelry so this is one area to bring multiples. Pashmina scarves can be particularly versatile, brightening up neutrals or serving as a shawl on chilly planes and in dining rooms.
7. Be Clever With Carry-Ons
Rather than pack a separate beach bag, look for a waterproof tote that's big enough to serve as your airplane carry-on. Tablets are your best entertainment investment, as they can be used for e-books, downloaded movies and news sources.
8. Roll Up
Roll clothes when packing them. You can fit more in your luggage that way, and it also helps to minimize wrinkles. Rolling socks and stuffing them into shoes is another space saver.
9. Divide and Conquer
If you and your companion have both vowed to stick to carry-ons, don't be afraid to co-mingle bags. The taller person might have larger things, so splitting the stuff is more efficient.
10. Tame Toiletries
If you can live without your brands, go with the toiletries provided onboard. If you need a larger size, stop at a drugstore near the port, and buy it there. If you don't need the full 3 ounces, rebottle potions and lotions in a contact lens case. If you travel frequently, save time by keeping a bag of already measured liquids ready to go.
11. Single Out
It's not cheap, but buying single use products can save space. Many products such as antibacterial lotion, nail polish remover, insect repellant and sunscreen come as wipes and cloths, not bottles. Simply toss when done.
12. Take Inventory
When you get home, look hard at your suitcase and take note of what you did and didn't use. These can provide clues for the next cruise's packing adventures. And then write yourself a reminder not to overpack next time!
Cruise Critic is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by promoting and linking to Amazon.com.