Traveling light is an ideal ambition for many. We're drawn to the ease of navigating with only a carry-on and the allure of a stress-free travel experience, but not packing enough shirts, forgetting a toothbrush or an umbrella (especially when it starts pouring rain during an excursion) can be downright annoying. Cruise ships offer limited supplies onboard, and you won't want to spend your time on shore sorting through retail racks to find the items you missed.
Use these telltale flags as signs that you went a step too far and didn't pack enough for your cruise.
It's one thing to plan to do laundry midcruise and rewear outfits the second half of your sailing. It's another to be washing intimates every single day while on vacation. No one needs daily chores on vacation, so choose a realistic number of days' worth of attire to bring. Think through the details of each outfit and make sure you have enough clothing to last for several days. Bring items you can wear a few times before washing if you want to pack light without having to do multiple loads of laundry.
If you plan to do laundry, pack soap from home. You'll save the dollars you'd otherwise have to spend on detergent onboard, and you can take the brand you prefer. Travel-size pouches are very small and won't hurt your plan to pack light.
Related: Cruise Line Laundry Services
While your cruise goal may be to relax, don't rely on shorts and T-shirts for everything without thinking through your onboard schedule. You might want to add a bit of glamor and dress up for formal night, especially if you'd like to get pictures taken -- and many lines take formal night dress codes seriously. Conversely, you'll want workout gear if you plan on hitting the gym or going for a hike port. A visit to a religious site or high-altitude destination might require you to bring clothes that cover your arms and legs.
Also look at weather forecasts and averages for the places you'll be visiting. You might need a jacket, hat or gloves for an excursion to a glacier, or a raincoat and pants for an outdoor trek during dicey weather.
Related: Pictures of What to Wear on a Cruise
If you're in a rush, it can be easy to overlook essentials. Forgetting to pack your usual contact solution or favorite shaving cream can lead to extra stress onboard. Cruise ships offer limited free toiletries (mainly shampoo, soap and body lotion), and many sell only the basics onboard, sometimes at marked-up prices.
Start packing toiletries early to think through what you'll want the morning and evening for skin care and other necessary items. If you're taking small bottles of shampoo or other liquids, make sure you have enough; you don't want to run out of hair gel or makeup remover halfway through your trip.
Leaving without prescription meds to last the duration of your trip is a big no-no. Always put important medication in your carry-on luggage; never pack it in your checked baggage -- this goes for your flight and embarking your ship as well. You'll be able to access any needed medication, even if there are travel delays or your luggage doesn't arrive on time.
In addition, make sure you grab over-the-counter aids that could help you soothe a headache or send motion sickness symptoms away. As with toiletries, your options to buy these items onboard will be limited and overpriced; looking for the equivalent of Pepto-Bismol a foreign port might not be your idea of a fun day ashore.
Shoes tend to take up a lot of space, so it makes sense to keep your footwear selections to a minimum. However, on a cruise, one pair is hardly ever enough. While you will want a comfortable pair for travel, evaluate what you might need on excursions, at the pool and for dressy evenings onboard.
Look at the outfits you plan on packing and make sure the shoes match your selections. You don't want to head to dinner on formal night in flip-flops because your evening footwear is at home. Nor do you want to take a hike or go kayaking in a cute pair of flats. To bring just enough shoes, consider color coordinating your clothing, so you don't need the brown and the black shoes. Skip the heels and go for comfortable flats that can be used by day or night.
Also keep in mind that different destinations require different footwear: A hike in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska is very different from a breezy day on a Caribbean beach.
Electronics like phones, cameras and laptops all need to be plugged in, and forgetting the appropriate charging cable can be a big problem. In addition to remembering to pack the necessary chargers, check if you'll need to pack a voltage converter as well. While the U.S. uses 110-volt outlets, many countries and cruise ships use 220-volt outlets, so you might need a converter for any electronics on the trip.
Newer ships are equipped with USB outlets, but on older vessels, you might be looking at one or two 110v outlet and one 220v European-style outlet. That's it. Having an adapter on hand can help you use that otherwise useless electrical outlet.
Cruises are full of downtime and having a book or magazine on hand is a great way to relax on the flight down, while waiting to board your ship or relaxing in a deck chair. Leisurely reading material will also come handy when you're sunbathing by the pool or at a beach port. To cut down on weight, load books onto an e-reader. If you're not into physical books, consider another nonelectronic hobby, like adult coloring books or crocheting, to bring along so you can unplug and recharge your spirit at sea.
Related: Best Cruise Books
While cruising tends to be a safe way to take a vacation, it's still smart packing to add a few items that will help you feel prepared case the unexpected occurs. An extra phone charger, sweatshirt or umbrella might be the thing you end up being most thankful to have along. Also pack a travel first-aid kit to have a few basics on hand case someone your group needs, or an antibacterial ointment.
Related: What Not to Forget on a Cruise
It might seem odd to pack food when cruises are known for offering 24/7 dining. Keep mind that for some stretches of time, especially the late afternoon, the only available food choices might be soft serve ice cream and pizza. With several lines now charging for room service, you don't want to depend on-room delivery when the afternoon munchies hit.
Having some packaged snacks on-hand is always a good idea on long shore excursions. Keep in mind you won't be able to take that apple from your stateroom or the buffet ashore due to local regulations, so having sealed, packaged snacks to take with you can always be a good idea.
For those planning on taking the little ones on vacation, packing snacks isn't just a nicety; it's practically essential.
Updated November 22, 2021