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Woman getting ready to board her cruise (Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock.com)

Why You Should Pack These 8 Things in Your Cruise Carry-On Bag

Woman getting ready to board her cruise (Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock.com)
Ashley Kosciolek
Senior SEO Editor
Kyle Valenta

Last updated
Jun 30, 2023

Read time
5 min read

Whether you travel light or bring multiple bags every time, there's an art to organizing your carry-on. It's important to stow your essentials -- from travel documents to toiletries -- in your unchecked bags to avoid complications on your next cruise.

Think of packing hand luggage as a way of having access to the essential items you'll need, both on embarkation day and once you're onboard if your checked luggage is lost. View our picks for the top items to put in your carry-on -- and why -- and you'll be prepared for any scenario.

1. Travel Documents and ID Always Go in Your Carry-On

Identification is the single most important thing you need to keep in your carry-on (in addition to medication). In addition to boarding documents, cruise lines require all passengers to present government-issued identification in order to embark. That means you'll need either a passport or a driver's license and birth certificate. You ID is necessary if you're flying to your departure port as well. If you tuck these items safely into your smallest carry-on (such as a purse or backpack), you'll prevent loss and keep everything easily accessible.

Related: U.S. Passport Card vs. Passport Book: Which Is for You?

2. All Medications Should Be Packed in Your Carry-On

Medications can literally mean the difference between life and death for some people. And if it's packed in luggage lost by an airline or cruise line, it can have serious consequences. Pack your pills in a case that's easy to read and large enough to store your doses -- but small enough to keep in your carry-on. You'll also want prescriptions for controlled substances in their original bottle with your information on it. You can generally find basic over-the-counter medications on a cruise ship if those are lost, but the same rule applies if you rely on aspirin, Sudafed, or any other medication regularly -- throw it in your carry-on.

Related: How to Prevent Seasickness on a Cruise

3. A Reserve of Cash Is a Carry-On Must

While ATMs are available on cruise ships and in almost any destination worldwide, you'd still be smart to bring a reserve of at least $100 in cash with you on your cruise. Why? For starters, ATMs can malfunction. However, keeping cash in checked luggage means lost luggage is that much more painful. Additionally, credit and bank card fraud is real and if this happens to you while traveling and your account is locked, you may find yourself without access to money you need.

Related: 5 Credit Card Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Cruise

4. Your Wallet and Valuables Also Belong in Your Carry-On

In addition to a small cash reserve, make sure that your wallet and any valuable items are in your carry-on. That includes any jewelry you're planning to bring with you. We've heard horror stories of travelers who've left these in their checked luggage, which wound up missing or delayed.

Related: 6 Ways to Keep Your Belongings Safe on a Cruise

5. Smart Travelers Throw a Change of Clothes in Their Carry-On

There's nothing like a flight or a long drive to make you feel grimy. On embarkation day, you'll leave large bags with a porter at the dock, and it's not unusual for that luggage to take hours to arrive at your cabin. To be sure you have something clean to change into before dinner, pack an extra set of underwear and clothes in your carry-on, tote or backpack. Opt for clothing that's at least somewhat wrinkle resistant (in other words, no linen). You might also want to toss in a swimsuit in case it takes ages for the rest of your stuff to show up and you plan on maximizing your day one pool time.

Related: A Guide to Cruise Line Dress Codes

6. Your Toiletries Should Go in Your Carry-On As Well

Much like having an extra set of clothes readily available, it's also a good idea to stash a few essential toiletries, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, in your hand luggage so you can freshen up before your checked bags arrive. If you're flying to your port of embarkation, just remember that, per Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations, carry-on liquids must be in containers of no more than three oz (100 ml) each, and all must fit in a clear quart-sized bag for inspection when you go through security. You can pack larger toiletries, like full-sized hairspray or lotion, in your luggage, but that means it may go missing if your luggage is lost.

Related: 12 Things You Might Not Need to Pack for a Cruise

7. Your Electronics Belong in Your Carry-on

From cellphones and e-readers to headphones and chargers, there are lots of gadgets you might find essential for your trip. If that's the case, be sure to keep them all in one place to avoid the loss or breakage that could result from checking them. Be sure to keep the charging cords with each gadget. The last thing you want is to whip out your camera to take a fantastic photo, only to discover your battery is dead because your charger is someplace else.

Related: What to Expect on a Cruise: Using Your Cell Phone

8. Flip-Flops or Sandals Can Be a Good Carry-On Item

Remember what we told you about luggage sometimes taking hours to reach your room on embarkation day? Well, that might mean you're heading straight to the pool for cocktails and a dip. To give yourself those on-vacation vibes, consider packing an easy-to-pack pair of flip-flops or sandals in your carry-on. If you're using a backpack with a side pocket, these often fit right inside it.

Publish date September 15, 2022
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