Wondering how to pack for a cruise in a carry-on, even if your cruise is 7 days or longer? Well, you’re in luck. Despite my doubts, I was personally able to pack for a 7-day cruise in only a carry-on. With these tips, you can too.
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How do you pack for a cruise in just a carry-on?
Here’s how to pack for a cruise in just a carry-on bag.
1. Buy A Rolling Duffle Carry-On Bag
First, consider investing in this Rockland carry-on size rolling duffle bag.
I know you may have a certain brand or style of luggage that you prefer, but, at least for the cruise, consider opting for a rolling duffle.
In my 20+ years of travel, I can promise you that I have never fit more in a carry-on than with one of these Rockland bags. I’ve packed upward of three weeks of clothes in one of these duffles before, so whenever I have to pack for a lengthy trip in a carry-on only, I always choose this bag.
2. Use Packing Cubes
Furthermore, using packing cubes will help you consolidate all your clothes in an organized, suitcase-shaped fashion.
Trust me. I used to think packing cubes were gimmicky until Well Traveled sent me these packing cubes to try out for my cruise. Let’s just say, I’ll never not use packing cubes again. I’m not even being paid to say this.
Plus, once you get to your stateroom, all you have to do to unpack and stay organized throughout your trip is place each cube unzipped into the closet shelf/drawer space.
3. Roll, Don’t Fold
Next, roll your clothes. Don’t fold your clothes.
This is another packing hack that I always doubted until the past few years. However, this time-old packing trick still proves to be one of the most efficient, space-saving and wrinkle-free ways to pack.
You’ll especially want to roll if you are using packing cubes. By rolling, you’ll be able to see all of your clothes inside the cube at once without digging through an otherwise folded stack.
4. Use A Foldable Hanging Toiletry Bag
On the contrary, this is a secret packing hack I have yet to see mentioned anywhere else: foldable hanging toiletry bags.
First of all, I love hanging toiletry bags because they allow you to hang up your toiletries wherever is most convenient, whether that’s on the bathroom door hook, mirror, shower curtain rod or closet.
But, in terms of packing a carry-on, foldable hanging toiletry bags also enable you to bend the bag into any leftover suitcase space and/or lay the bag flat on top of the suitcase after you have packed everything else. In essence, you won’t have to think about how on Earth you’ll fit another giant cube in your carry-on.
5. Bring Minimal Cruise Toiletries In Your Carry-On
Likewise, bringing minimal toiletries for your cruise will save a lot more space than you would expect.
Random bottles, tubes and other clunky products can take up an unnecessary amount of suitcase space, especially because you probably won’t use all of the toiletries that are currently in your toiletry bag anyway.
So, instead of just packing your daily dopp kit or makeup bag, take out only the individual products you will actually need on your cruise. Leave the rest at home. This is a minuscule packing tip that makes a massive difference.
6. Buy Sunscreen In The Cruise Port City
You’ll need a lot of sunscreen (multiple bottles) on your cruise — way more than TSA allows you to take on your carry-on.
Instead of packing a travel-size bottle of sunscreen, which will only last you one day on the cruise anyway, buy sunscreen in the departing port city once you get there. This way, you’ll also avoid the overpriced sunscreen on board the ship.
Alternatively, ship sunscreen from Amazon (we love this non-toxic brand) to your port city hotel or AirBnB — with permission from the front desk/owners, of course.
7. Bring Two Pairs Of Shoes Maximum
Shoes are arguably the biggest culprit to every overpacking scenario.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. For cruises, you need, at minimum, one pair of shoes for the pool, one pair of shoes for formal dinners, one pair of shoes for exercise and one pair of comfortable walking shoes.
While this may be true, don’t settle for packing 4+ pairs of shoes. Get creative. Find one pair of cruise shoes that can serve as your pool, formal dinner and walking shoes. (I have an entire guide filled with cruise shoes that fit all these functions here.) Pack those. Then, wear your tennis shoes on the plane.
8. Pack Multi-Purpose Cruise Outfits
Just like it’s key to pack multi-purpose shoes, it’s also key to pack multi-purpose cruise outfits.
Now, you’re probably thinking you need two outfits per day: one for the daytime, one for nighttime dinners and entertainment — not to mention formal night evening gowns or swimwear. So, try to find outfits that you can wear both to the pool and to dinner, such as sundresses for the ladies and button-ups for the men.
Even so, if you chose to use packing cubes (which, again, I highly recommend) and roll your clothes, you shouldn’t have a problem packing 15+ outfits. I did it with these Well Traveled packing cubes.
9. Pack Cruise Outfits You Can Rewear
On that note, don’t be afraid to rewear clothes, too, especially denim shorts, swimsuits and swimsuit cover-ups.
Otherwise, you may indeed find yourself packing 15+ outfits, which is doable but certainly not ideal.
Ladies, I particularly love full-coverage swimsuit cover-ups and one-piece suits (I love this black one-piece from Amazon) because you can wear them as tops (when dry) into the buffets and casual restaurants during the day. Pair them with a rewear-able pair of denim shorts, and you’re set.
10. Use A Full-Size Backpack As Your Personal Item
Finally, not many people know that on most airlines, particularly US airlines, you are allowed to use a full-size backpack as your plane personal item.
Many people assume that personal items only include purses or shopping bags, but, actually, you can get by with a full-size school backpack as long as it will fit under the seat in front of you.
So, now, not only do you have a carry-on suitcase for all your cruise essentials, but you also have an entire backpack. For pro tips on packing the ultimate personal item bag, check out my personal item packing list here.
And, just like that, you are fully equipped on how to pack for a cruise in a carry-on. Have any questions? Ask in the reply section below or by sending me a direct message on Instagram.
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