How to pack light for a cruise - 11 smart tips. Image is of a carry on sized suitcase

11 Smart Packing Light for a Cruise Tips

Are you planning a cruise vacation and hoping to bring just carry-on luggage but are wondering how to pack light for a cruise? These 11 smart packing light for a cruise tips will help.

If this is your first cruise, you will find these cruise packing tips especially helpful.

This article will include:

  • Tips for how to pack light for a cruise
  • The cruises that are easiest to pack light for
  • Benefits of cruising with just carry-on luggage
  • Things to be aware of when packing light for a cruise vacation

Packing light for a cruise.  Image is a close up of luggage

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Packing Light for a Cruise Tips

1. Compression packing cubes

Packing cubes not only help keep your suitcase organized and your clothes from moving around and getting wrinkled, but they can also help you save space in your small suitcase. Especially compression packing cubes.

We purchased a set of these before our last cruise. Once your packing cube is all packed up, you zip the extra zipper which removes extra air and compresses your clothes even further. This is a great space saver.

Compression Packing Cubes for Travel - Luggage and Backpack Organizer Packaging Cubes for Clothes (White and Green, 6 Piece Set)

2. Roll your clothes

Most people agree that rolling your clothes saves space over folding. Roll your clothes before putting them in your packing cubes.

Make use of all the small spaces. Place rolled up underwear in between the rolled shirts or pants. Tuck pairs of socks inside shoes.

3. Shampoo bar instead of bottles

If you pack your own shampoo and conditioner, use a bar instead of bottles. They take up a fraction of the space, are eco-friendly, and there is no chance of spilling. This is my favorite travel packing hack.

On our last cruise we bought both a shampoo bar and a conditioner bar and cut each in half. Then placed one of each half in a travel soap container. For a 7-day cruise, this was plenty.

Some cruise lines do provide shampoo and conditioner but not all. Carnival Cruise Lines provides shampoo but not conditioner and Royal Caribbean has a shampoo/body wash combo and no conditioner.

Ultimate travel hack - cut a shampoo bar and a conditioner bar in half and pack in a travel soap dish. A great packing light for a cruise tip

4. Skip formal nights

Many cruise lines still have formal nights. The cruise line’s dress code applies to the main dining room. Your cruise ship will have several other dining options, choose one of these on formal night instead.

Formal wear can take up a lot of space in your suitcase. It’s not just the evening gown or suit, it’s the shoes that go along with it.

If you enjoy dressing up or like the formal night menu, instead of packing 2 cocktail dresses, bring one little black dress that can be worn both elegant nights. Change it up a bit by wearing a large necklace or scarf the second night. For men, your could evening wear could consist of one pair of dress pants with 2 dress shirts and ties.

5. Plan your outfits

Don’t just pull random pieces of clothes out of your closet. Plan your outfits, choose only items that can be mixed and matched. Choose a pair of shorts that can be worn with a couple of different shirts. A capsule wardrobe in a neutral colour theme works best.

6. Use a cruise packing list

A cruise packing list will help you keep focused on bringing just the essential items. It will help eliminate the “ooh maybe I’ll wear this” and adding extra items to your suitcase.

Our printable Cruise Planner & Journal can help keep you organized for your next cruise. There are packing lists for the cruise essentials, toiletries, an outfit planner that can help you decide what to pack, and blank clothes packing lists to make the packing list right for you. Plus so much more.

Printable cruise planner and journal.  These checklists will help in packing light for a cruise

7. Plan to do laundry

There are several different ways laundry can be done on a cruise ship.

  • Self serve laundry facilities – this is offered on some cruise ships but not most. You can research ahead of time if your ship has do-it-yourself laundry.
  • Laundry service – cruise lines offer laundry service. This is the most expensive of your laundry choices. Crew members do your laundry for you.
  • Tide laundry sink packets do a small load of laundry right in your bathroom sink. Then hang your clothes to dry on the clothes line you will find in the shower of your cruise ship bathroom.
  • Scrubba wash bag – such a clever idea. It is a wash board in a bag, uses minimal water and very compact

Scrubba Portable Wash Bag – Foldable Hand Washing Machine for Hotel and Travel – Light and Small Eco-friendly Camping Laundry Bag for Washing Clothes Anywhere Green Green 6.3" x 2.4" x 2.4"

8. Minimize the number of pairs of shoes you bring

Shoes takes up so much space. The best way to save luggage space is to minimize the number of shoes you bring. Comfortable shoes on a cruise are a must.

When deciding if you need runners (tennis shoes) consider your activities. Do any of your shore excursions require closed toed shoes? Will you participate in any of the cruise ship activities that need runners? Plan on going to the gym? If you do plan on packing runners, considers wearing them on embarkation day to the cruise port. They will take up the most space in your suitcase.

Pack a pair of comfortable sandals than can be worn in the day as well as nice enough to wear in the evening.

If you do need to pack a pair of dress shoes, pack just one pair that can be worn with different outfits.

Put your flip flops in the beach bag or backpack that you will use as your shore excursion bag.

9. Pack multi purpose clothes

What I mean by this is pack clothes that can be worn both day and night.

On a cruise you will want to pack a cardigan or zip up hoodie since the air conditioning in the public areas can feel chilly. I’d suggest packing a nice black cardigan that can be worn in the day if needed as well as the evening over your dressier clothes.

Choose a sundress that can be worn during the day as a bathing suit coverup and then in the evening as a casual dress for dinner.

10. Leave your hair dryer at home

Cruise cabins have a small hair dryer similar to the ones you often see in hotel rooms. Save the luggage space and leave your hair dryer at home.

11. Don’t pack beach towels

Cruise lines provide towels for use at the pool or in port. Towels take up too much space, it’s better to use that extra space for cruise clothes or personal items.

When packing for a cruise always make sure you have your travel documents handy and not tucked into your suitcase. If you are wondering what toiletries to pack for a cruise, this will help.

Cruises that are easiest to pack light for

It is definitely easier to pack light for some cruises than others.

A Caribbean cruise or a Mediterranean cruise (in the summer months) are easier to pack light for than an Alaskan cruise. A warm climate cruise requires a lot less bulky items than a cooler weather cruise.

A shorter cruise is obviously easier to pack in carry-on than a long cruise.

3 Benefits of cruising with just carry-on luggage

1. Lighter to carry

This is the obvious benefit. A smaller lighter suitcase is easier to lug around.

2. Cheaper

There are a few ways that packing light for a cruise and bringing just carry on can be cheaper.

If you need to purchase a suitcase for your next cruise vacation, a smaller carry-on suitcase is less expensive.

If you are flying to your cruise departure port, many airlines now charge for checked luggage. Traveling with just a carry-on can save you the baggage fees.

3. Quicker disembarkation.

Carrying your own luggage off the ship can save time.

3 Things to be aware of when packing light for a cruise

No room for souvenirs

Packing light often means no extra room for souvenirs. There are a couple ways around this. Choose small items for souvenirs that can fit in the nooks and crannies. Or, use an expandable tote bag as your shore excursion bag and airline personal item. This is a great way to have extra space to bring home a souvenir or two. Worse case you may have to check a bag for the flight home. You have still saved by not checking luggage on your flight to the cruise.

Large Travel Tote Bag, Waterproof Expandable Duffel Gym Tote Bag,Weekender Carry On Overnight Bags for Women with Trolley Sleeve Wet Pocket,travel duffel bags,Pink

Don’t pack so light you have to buy things

A cruise vacation is a little different than other land vacations, you don’t have a big box store on every corner. You don’t want to pack so light that you end up having to buy things from the cruise ship shops.

Be sure to check allowable carry on luggage sizes

If you are flying to port, make sure to check with your airline what the allowable carry-on bag sizes are. This is important. You don’t want to still have to pay checked baggage fees in the end.

Don’t let packing for a cruise be a stressful thing. If you are wondering how to pack light for a cruise I hope these packing light tips have helped. If traveling with just carry-on isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. I admit that I am one who doesn’t always bring just the bare minimum.

Other cruise articles you might find helpful are:

35 Cruise Embarkation Tips to Start Your Cruise off Right

27 Smart Cruise Cabin Organization Tips

59 Awesome Cruise Shirt Ideas