How to Pack for a Cruise in a Carry-On

How to Pack for a Cruise in a Carry-On

It’s the time for summer vacation planning to begin. While us grown-ups love planning awesome trips for our families, we hate packing all the stuff that goes along with those trips. Our last cruise we did our personal best in packing. We got all of our things into ONE suitcase (and just my things would have fit into a carry-on).

You might be thinking… one suitcase for two of you for a week long vacation?

Was it a challenge? Oh yeah.

Did I use my capsule wardrobe? You bet I did!

I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time and I didn’t have a lot of maternity clothes. While at 20 weeks I wasn’t what I call “super pregnant”, I still had a belly that stuck out and a yearning to wear anything stretchy.

You might be unsure as to how or why a capsule wardrobe can translate into vacation wear. This method can work for ANYONE, really seriously anyone who is motivated to minimize what they pack for vacations in any climate or season.

Read More About Capsule Wardrobes >>>
Spring/Summer Capsule Wardrobe
– Fall Capsule Wardrobe
– Winter Capsule Wardrobe

20 weeks pregnant and still had fun!

Prepare for all of my vacation photos 🙂

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Choose Your Cruise Carry-On Bag Wisely

First – if you’re flying to your departure port, make sure that you read the airline parameters for what qualifies as a “carry-on”. If you’re driving, you don’t have to worry about that.

Second – all cruise ships have beds that will fit a standard size suitcase underneath. We have personally shoved our gigantic suitcase under beds on Royal Caribbean and Carnival and it fit just fine. If you and your travel partner have separate carry-on size bags, they will both fit underneath.

I personally prefer the duffel bag style when traveling by car. My Vera Bradley bag (similar) has been many places! But when I fly, I more prefer the standard, soft-sided rolling bag. It is far easier to run to a terminal rolling a bag behind you than it is carrying it over your shoulder.

Another factor to consider is if you plan on purchasing souvenirs in port and on the ship. The duffel bag works excellent for this!

Plan to Bring a Tote Bag or Backpack.

Even if you packed for your cruise in a carry-on bag, you’ll want to leave it with the porters when you arrive. No one wants to head to the buffet or pool rolling a suitcase behind them.

Bringing a smaller bag, like a tote bag or backpack, will allow you to carry important documents, medications, wallet, and your swimsuit plus sunscreen with you while you board. Otherwise, all of this is stuck in your suitcase.

I always bring our backpack (similar) with us. We put on sunscreen and sit outside before the boat embarks on its journey. It is always nice to have easy access to things you might need those first few hours.

If you plan to go on excursions, an extra bag like this is a must! You can carry a towel, change of clothes, and all of your beach necessities without hassle.

Embarkation day aboard Carnival in Galveston – backpack for the win!

Be Realistic About What You’ll Be Comfortable In.

Cruise attire is a real thing. Some people go all out and dress up at all hours of the day (forget about packing for a cruise in a carry-on only). Others wear a swimsuit all day and then change for dinner.

Then there is the group most people fall into. I’m in the “what’s comfortable and still looks okay because it’s humid as heck” group. No one will judge if you wear leggings and a tank top all week.

If your capsule wardrobe holds what you’re comfortable in, then pack it!

My comfortable must haves include:

  • maxi skirts
  • loose fitting dresses
  • athletic leggings
  • breathable t-shirts
  • sandals
Flowing dresses are best worn in a breeze.

What’s not comfortable?

  • jeans
  • high heels or wedges
  • tight fitting clothing
  • super formal, formal wear

Don’t Over-Pack.

It is so very easy to over-pack when you don’t know what all your ship has in store for you. If you read your cruise itinerary carefully, you will know exactly what to pack for your cruise in a carry-on.

I’ll give the example of a seven day cruise.

Two formal nights should be expected. The same outfit can be worn both nights.

There is no need to participate in every themed party. Plenty of people that do go to them, dress in regular (aka non-themed) clothing. You’ll have just as great of a time.

You’ll have three days of excursions. Depending on what you’re doing, the clothing you would normally wear aboard the ship works for what you can wear on land.

You probably won’t need to change clothes four times a day. Again, plenty of people do this with their posh cruise wardrobe but there isn’t a need. Unless you get drenched in soft serve ice cream or get muddy on an excursion, you shouldn’t have to change. *The exception is for dinner. Most people wear nicer clothes to the dining room.*

For this excursion, no special outfit needed – just a swimsuit and a cover-up.

What You Should Pack – Clothing

When packing for a cruise in a carry-on only, it’s important to bring items that can all be interchanged or worn multiple times.

Here is my regular packing list for cruises:

I promise it all fits into individual carry-ons. Folding like the KonMari method, you’ll staying super organized. We don’t pack our tennis shoes because they take up a ton of space and tend to be dirtier than any other shoe. We wear them aboard instead.

What You Should Pack – Toiletries

Most cruise lines put little soap dispensers filled with body wash and shampoo in your shower stall. While that’s great if you forget your own, I don’t recommend that you solely rely on it. It is not the best quality and tends to dry skin out.

We pack our toiletries in a toiletry bag that rolls up and can be hung (similar). The pouches remove from the bag itself. This way, we can take individual pouches with us on excursions.

  • Sunscreen – just a small tube and a solid stick will do
  • Bug spray, bug repellent wipes, or mosquito bracelet if traveling to a country with large quantities of mosquitoes
  • Shampoo + dry shampoo
  • Bar soap or body wash
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Contact case and contact solution
  • Deodorant – don’t be the person that forgets it!
  • Make-up – I only wore make-up for dinners (because it’s humid as heck)
  • Make-up remover or Norwex body cloth
  • Lotion
  • Nail clippers
  • Hair brush, hair ties, and flat iron
  • Tylenol or ibuprofen
  • Band-Aids
  • Pepto and antiacid
  • Sea sickness or motion sickness pills
  • Any regular medications
This is the day I should not have worn jeans. Lesson learned!

What to Pack – Miscellaneous

There are certain things that you’ll want to bring for your cruise in a carry-on that make your trip just a little bit easier.

  • Eye mask for sleeping
  • Room spray – make your own in a small spray bottle by mixing witch hazel and 10 drops of essential oil (the bathrooms in cabins are very small)
  • Small desk fan – for white noise and to get air flowing through your cabin
  • Phone charger
  • Small roll-up reusable bag – like the kind you use for groceries, just in case you purchase a few too many souvenirs
  • Small laundry bag for underpants and socks which tend to hold smells
  • Plastic grocery sacks – to hold clothing that is still wet or shoes that got dirty during the trip
  • Cash in small bills – tipping the employees that helped you during your entire trip is customary and they appreciate the cash!
  • Waterproof phone pouch – these are awesome for beach and snorkeling excursions
  • Headphones
  • Smartphone with downloaded music and movies – internet aboard the ship is expensive. Make sure to download everything you need before you leave.

Yes, it all fits.

I packed up to show you that it does all fit into a carry-on bag. I even have room in my tote bag for all of the important boarding docs, wallet, phone, headphones and water bottle.

I’m very bad at taking pictures, so excuse the poor quality.

I have nothing in the front pocks of the carry-on which allows me to add last minute items if necessary.

What are some of the cruise essentials you can’t leave home without but still fit into your carry-on?

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  1. Such a great rundown! My husband and I have opted to only take carry-ons on our mediterranean cruise next month. We want to ensure the bags get to our final destination, and also we want to cut costs where we can since we just spent a lot on our floor resurfacing last month. With your help, I think we can pull it off!

  2. Master the art of packing light for a cruise with these smart tips from Hello Brownlow, ensuring you have everything you need in just a carry-on!

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