Pack for a cruise with only a carry on

How to Pack for a Cruise with Only a Carry On

in Cruise Planning

There are many reasons to pack light on a cruise vacation but can you really pack for a cruise with only a carry on?

The answer is you can! It can save you on checked baggage fees at the airport and reduce clutter in your cabin.  Minimalist packing takes careful planning and an easy-going attitude, but can reduce vacation stress if done right.  Here’s how to pack for a cruise with only a carry on.

  1. Choose Your Luggage Wisely.
  • Watch the Width. Wheeled duffel bags are lighter and roomier, but often exceed the dimensions airlines will allow (22” x 14” x 9”). Aim for a luggage option that offer the most cubic inches of packing space.
  • Avoid Hard-Sided Bags. They are typically heavier than their soft-sided counterparts. Their clam-shell design also makes them more challenging to fill when packing for a cruise.
  1. Limit the Liquids.
  • Pack Fewer Travel-Size Toiletries. TSA only allows one quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through airport security. Each item must be 3.4 oz (100 ml) or less.[1]
  • Use an All-In-One. All those separate bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash take up space. Consider using the free soap/shampoo provided in your cruise ship cabin shower. If not, try an all-in-one hair and body wash.
  • Pack it in Pocket Form. You can buy a variety of different health and beauty products as pocket-sized wipes.  From shaving cream to insect repellent, these convenient sheets are carry on luggage-friendly and easy to use.
  • Cut Back on Cosmetics. Tropical humidity can cause make-up to seep into your pores.  Embrace your natural beauty and spend your cruise days focused on fun.  If you want to get fancy for formal nights, select a few smaller and neutral-toned essentials for your trip.
  1. Dial Back on the Devices.
  • Many travelers feel more relaxed on vacation when they leave behind their laptops and other electronic devices.  Instead of keeping updated on e-mails and social media, take the time to unwind.
  • eliminate the e-reader. Like reading by the pool or on the beach?  Most ships have an onboard library where you can borrow books during your trip.  Go ahead and leave your own books or e-reader at home.
  1. Embrace the Zip-Top Storage Bags.
  • Compress Your Clothes. Use gallon-size food storage bags to pack your clothes.  Squeezing the air out of these bags will reduce the size of each item, which means you can pack more outfits and extras.
  • Extra Storage. These convenient, waterproof bags are reusable.  Heading to the beach? You can throw your phone and wallet into a zip-top bag to help keep out the sand and sea.
  • Replace Bulkier Bags. Zip-top bags are more flexible and lighter than most electronics, toiletry and cosmetic bags, but can still keep your stuff together.
  1. Plan for the Plane.
  • Dress in Bulk. Whether it’s your hiking shoes or jacket, you’re bound to have some larger items you want to bring.  If possible, wear these to the airport instead of packing them in your carry on luggage.
  • Bring Your Backpack. A backpack is usually larger and more versatile than a purse or laptop case.  It can also be used as both your shore excursion and boarding bag. 
  1. Clothing Considerations.
  • Focus on Fabrics. When considering clothing options, go for lightweight fabrics.  Cotton, Linen and Jersey are easier to pack and less likely to need extra care than thicker fabrics.
  • Consider Different Combinations. When packing for a cruise with fewer articles of clothing, it’s important to select pieces that you can mix up.  Neutrals go a long way when switching up your selections.
  • evaluate Your Activities. When you pack light it should be tailored to fit your activities.  If your shore excursions include a mountain trek, consider lightweight hiking shoes.  Visiting a tropical rain forest? Pack lightweight ponchos. Want to go formal? Consider renting a tuxedo from the cruise line.
  • Do Laundry On board. Many cruise lines, such as Carnival, Disney and Princess, offer self-serve laundry facilities on board for their guests.  You can also wash your swimsuit in your stateroom sink.
  1. What to Pack For a Cruise

(Get our free printable cruise packing list here)

  • Clothing
    • Underwear/Bra
    • Socks
    • T-Shirts
    • Shorts
    • Nice Pants/Capris (no jeans)
    • Hat/Sunglasses
    • Pajamas/Sleep wear
    • Light Jacket or Sweater
    • Poncho/Rain jacket
    • Flip-flops/Sandals
    • Walking Shoes
    • Sunglasses
    • Glasses/Contacts/Solution
    • Swimsuit & Cover-up
    • Casual Dresses or Button-Down Shirts
    • Dressy Shoes
    • Dressy Outfit (for formal night)
  • Toiletries
    • Toothbrush/Toothpaste
    • Floss
    • Shampoo/Conditioner
    • Soap or Body Wash
    • Razor/Shaving Cream
    • Nail Trimmers
    • Feminine Hygiene Products
    • Sunblock
    • Face/Body Lotion
    • Deodorant
    • Insect Repellant
    • SPF Lip Balm
    • Hairbrush/Comb
    • Hand Sanitizer
  • Other
    • Cell Phone/Charger
    • Small Bills (for tips)
    • Travel Documents
    • Backpack/Daypack
    • Personal Medications
    • Pain Reliever
    • Cold Medication
    • Anti-Nausea Medication
    • Water Bottle
    • Small First Aid Kit
  1. Organize Your Carry On
  • Make Separate Stacks. Organize your potential items by priority (high, moderate and low).  This will help you determine how many low-priority items (if any) you will be able to take with you.  You can always rearrange your carry on bag for a better fit later.
  • Take Your Time. Never wait until the night before to pack your carry on for a cruise.  You’re more likely to get stressed out and forget something if you rush.  It’s also a good idea leave your carry on upright overnight.  Sometimes, you will find extra space at the top of your luggage just by letting gravity work its magic.
  • Stuff Your Shoes. Save space by putting smaller items inside your shoes.  Rolled up socks fit perfectly inside many shoes and also help them keep their shape during travel.
  • Save Exterior Pockets. Your exterior pockets are best saved for items you will need to access while at the airport.  Keep your liquids bag, and poncho/umbrella in an outside compartment.  Do not store anything fragile in these pockets.
[1] “TSA Liquids Rule.” Department of Homeland Security. http://www.tsa.gov/311/

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