Packing for a cruise can be stressful, particularly if you’re embarking on a worldwide adventure. To ensure the packing process runs smoothly, we chatted to the travel experts to discover which items they simply can’t travel without. Here, they reveal their must-have cruise items, no matter where in the world you’re headed:
Whether you’re backpacking or hopping on and off a cruise ship for excursions, a suitable backpack is essential, as Margherita from The Crowded Planet told us: “I’ve been travelling only with carry-on luggage for a few years, regardless of the weather and how long I’m gone for. When people ask me how I manage to pack so light, my answer is always the same - I don’t pack much and I always travel with my CabinZero, a carry-on sized backpack that fits up to 44L inside.
“For example, during a trip to Bostwana, I had to have clothes for all kinds of weather, since we were there in winter and it was fairly warm during the day but then the temperature dipped at night. My CabinZero was large enough to fit about three outfits, a spare pair of shoes, my toiletries bag, my laptop and even my DSLR and drone! I only ever pack a limited number of outfits and wash them on the road, since it’s easy to find laundromat or laundry services these days.
“Travelling with a small backpack also makes it easier to move around cities, especially when you have to kill time between flights and check-ins or checkouts. I’ve used a large (80L) backpack for years and I remember ambling around cities with 20 kilos or more on my back, loathing every second. I honestly don’t regret switching to a smaller backpack for a moment - it taught me a lot in terms of practicality and minimalism and if I find myself needing something I don’t have, I can always find it along the way!”
Cathy from portExplore recommends a water bottle and/or insulated cup. She told us, “Depending on our destination, I might take a water bottle - filled up at the buffet - it reduces my plastic footprint ashore. Or, I’ll take an insulated mug which is perfect for sitting on the balcony with a hot chocolate, looking out for whales or glaciers.”
Packable Down Jacket
For Natasha from The World Pursuit, investing in a good jacket is essential to prepare for unpredictable weather: “If there is one thing I never travel without it’s a packable down jacket. A packable down jacket can be used in all seasons, even on cold summer nights and chilly winter days. They are different from regular winter jackets in the sense that they are functional, lightweight and comfortable.
“Companies make down jackets stylish and easily packable these days. I have travelled all around the world with mine and it weighs almost nothing. The best part is these jackets compress down to the size of your hand - perfect for packing in your limited airline luggage space.
“Patagonia makes my favourite packable down jackets on the market. They may be more expensive than competitors but with the high cost comes great quality. The Patagonia jacket shell is made from 100% recycled polyester and the fill is traceable goose down. When you’re in cold, wet weather it’s easy to combine with an outset shell to keep extra warm and dry. From Iceland to South Africa, I have never left home without this essential jacket. It makes a great gift that can actually be used year-round!”
“I always take a pashmina with me,” Karen from Cruise Blondes told us. “It’s perfect for chilly walks on deck in the evening, wrapping around your shoulders when the air conditioning is on full blast in the buffet, keeping tired kids’ warm and even as an emergency cover-up or towel. Choose a pretty one and your pashmina will be your fashion go-to every cruise.”
Cathy also recommends taking a pair of binoculars away with you. “Wildlife, other ships, shoreline, odd floating things… that’s when you wish you had some binoculars! Some cabins include them while others don’t but if you take some you could end up not having to share them.”
“I know, I’m so old fashioned,” Cathy told us, “but I spend so much time online that I think it’s good to take a screen break. I love to read a book while travelling, generally set in the area we are visiting. I also love books for the opportunity of bonding with others - I often discuss titles with other cruisers clutching their paperbacks and have made some good friends on board by swapping books as the holiday progresses.”
“On a rainy sea day, we enjoy spending time as a family playing games together,” Jenni from Cruise Mummy explained. “Some cruise ships provide board games but the selection isn’t always great and sometimes pieces may be missing.
“Our favourite travel games to pack are Monopoly card games like Monopoly Deal and Monopoly Bid. Our whole family can play together and I love that these teach the kids maths and logic skills without them even realising. They also take up much less space than a Monopoly board and are much quicker to play with each game lasting around 15 minutes.”
First Aid Kit
“When cruising, we always pack a small first aid kit and basics medication pack,” Carole from Paul & Carole Love to Travel explained. “I am a retired nurse so am always thinking of what could happen and like to be prepared.
“We normally include simple and waterproof dressings, steri strips, gauze and some antiseptic cream and saline. For medications, we take some painkillers, anti-allergy tablets, indigestion tablets and seasickness tablets. You never know when you might need something and it can save an expensive trip to the cruise ship hospital!”
Lateral Flow Tests
“In current times, it’s always reassuring to know that you’re healthy and not putting anyone else at risk during your cruise,” Jenni explained. “From now on, I will always pack some lateral flow tests in my cruise luggage.
“The availability of lateral flow tests on cruise ships varies. While cruise lines should always offer a free test to anyone with symptoms, you may not be able to get one just for peace of mind. If you’re not sure whether your headache is the result of overindulging on your drinks package or something more serious, it can be a good idea to take a test before you head down to the breakfast buffet.”
Cathy simply can’t travel without a notebook or a cruise journal. She told us, “Quick plug here for the portExplore books! They exist because I couldn’t find what I wanted. The Cruise Addicts Planner has a journal section for a 2-week cruise but on a short break, I take one of our cruise notebooks - they’re a perfect size for notes, lists, reminders and journaling my cruise.” Check out Cathy’s cruise journals and notebooks here.
“I always pack a tube of Pringles to take on a cruise,” says Jenni. “They’re great to keep the kids happy while you’re getting ready in the evening, particularly if you have a late dining reservation and they can’t wait.
“You’ll often find mini tubes of Pringles in your cabin mini bar but they can be very expensive at around £4 for a tiny portion. Instead, I get a large tube for around £1.50 from my local supermarket and they last the whole trip.
Laura from Travelling Weasels always travels with her camera equipment. “The item I can’t live without on my travels is my Canon G7X camera. It is very easy to use, takes amazing high definition pictures and videos and has great battery life. I also love the small size and the weight of the camera, it is very easy to carry it with me anywhere I go and it can store a large number of photos, as well as long videos, making it perfect for a travel enthusiast who loves to document their trips.”
“The essential holiday item we simply cannot live without is our noise-cancelling headphones,” Coralia and Gergely from You Could Travel explained. “We love our quiet and nowadays, there is noise pollution everywhere. To be able to fly in peace and keep calm during intense, noisy situations, we simply switch our noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to our chilled music.
“We found them essential on busy beaches, airports and as mentioned, on flights. Once you discover the bliss of silence, there’s no way you can ever travel without your headphones. We found them quite expensive but they pay off in no time. We can now sleep on planes, relax on long train or bus rides and just enjoy our holiday without getting irritated at others who make too much noise. The perfect holiday companion.”
“A mobile phone is obviously essential for the camera and communication options,” Cathy told us. “Post COVID-19, cruising has brought such an increase in the use of on board apps to provide information, allow messaging, replace daily planners and QR codes for menus and information. Even my very mobile averse husband carries his mobile phone at all times on board!”
Alongside her mobile phone, Cathy packs a portable power pack. “On a recent cruise, I didn’t get the chance to fully recharge my phone between a day at shore and the evening’s entertainment - a neat little power pack popped into my bag meant I could still choose my meal and find my favourite cocktail!”
“For me, the one item to take on board has to be the humble power converter,” Marcus from Sparkx explained. “We are so reliant on power these days to charge phones, cameras and other devices and use various appliances such as hair dryers that we need to have access all the time. Ships offer a wide variety of plug types, which is where things can get confusing. The majority offer just US and EU types, with UK lines offering UK plugs as well. More and more ships also have USB sockets but these are few and far between in my opinion (and a bugbear, if I’m really honest). So, make sure you pack a converter or two. In fact, you can get very clever adaptors these days which not only can plug into pretty much any plug but can charge several USB devices at the same time as using the main socket - it’s honestly invaluable.”
Cathy makes sure to always pack a multi-USB travel charger, “Mine has a selection of backs so it works on any type of plug and then four or five charging points. It charges my phone, camera, laptop and Kindle. Although slightly slower than a single point charger (which is why I sometimes need a power pack), it is a brilliant space saver.”
“This is one thing that my phone can’t replace,” Cathy told us. “Sailing close to the coast in a different time zone will automatically update the time on your phone. Not so bad if it wakes you up an hour early but a bit of a disaster the other way round! And, of course, ship time is not always the same as local time.”