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5 Things I Learned Overpacking for a Cruise

cruise overpacking lessons

In January, I completely overpacked for a cruise.

I had never been on a cruise like this before (well, longer than 2 nights), and after talking it over with my boyfriend about all the different activities we might want to partake in, he said: “Just take it all.”

I paused for a second to let my brain process this unusual (for me) concept.

“Sure, what the heck!”

The cruise was leaving and coming back to Sydney; it was just a simple train ride to the port for us, and no flight to worry about. No restrictions on toiletry sizes. If there was ever a time to splurge on luggage, this would be it.

Ovation of the Seas, cruise ship
The Ovation of the Seas cruise ship by Royal Caribbean.

Over the course of 8 nights, we would enjoy the pools, the beaches, trips to the gym, sightseeing in Vanuatu and New Caledonia, shows in the theater, casual meals, dressy meals, and not one, but two formal nights on the boat.

I would need bathing suit(s), workout gear, athletic shoes, flip flops, dressy shoes, and comfy shoes. Sun dresses, cardigans for cool AC, a jacket in case of rain during port visits, and so much more…

Yes, I packed way more than I do, for any type of trip, and I still managed to get it all into a carry-on suitcase and small backpack!

(Can we please take a minute to have a giggle over the fact I overpacked and it was still way less than most people pack for vacation!)

Being the ultralight packer that I am, I considered this another packing experiment. And boy did I learn and reaffirm some big points. Let’s have a closer look at the experiment before jumping to the juicy learnings towards the end of this post.

What I Packed for an 8-Night South Pacific Cruise

stuffed suitcase for the cruise
My suitcase that is quite full and overpacked, especially when adding on a small backpack with laptop and extra bits.

My specific South Pacific cruise went from Sydney to Vanuatu to New Caledonia and back to Sydney, a total course of 8 nights on the ship with 2 port visits. It took place during mid-January, the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere, with a forecast of mostly sun and some sun showers on our first port visit in Vanuatu. Dinners included multiple casual and dressy nights, and the chance to partake in TWO formal evenings.

Here is everything that I packed for this adventure:

Wearing/Not Packed: Top + lightweight shorts + Naot walking sandals, small purse, sunglasses

5 x Dresses (2 formal, 3 light sundresses)
2 x Shorts (1 jean, 1 lightweight)
1 x Black Jeans
6 x Tops
2 x Swimsuits + additional bikini top
2 x Workout outfits (2 Fabletics leggings, 2 tanks, 2 sports bras, 2 socks)
1 x Light long sleeve top
1 x Summer cardigan
1 x Merino wool wrap cardigan
1 x Light packable jacket
1 x Swimsuit coverup
1 x Pajamas (shorts + cami top)
1 x Summer robe (for lounging in the room)
12 x Underwear (extras for the gym)
3 x Bras
2 x Clutches
4 x Shoes (trainers, flip flops, dressy wedges, kitten heels)
1 x Waterproof pouch
1 x Stuffable backpack

Electronics: Laptop + charger, Plug adapter, iPhone, USB phone charger, backup portable battery pack

Toiletries: All the basics + extra creams and sprays for my fragile bleached hair + basic makeup kit (eyeliner, mascara, Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmers)

Meds: Pain pills, stomach meds, anti-nausea meds, vitamins

Extras: Sunglasses case, full-sized bottle of spray sunscreen, tube of sensitive skin sunscreen for face, baseball hat, clothesline, hair brush + round brush, pouch of jewelry, passport, nail polish, perfume (in atomizer)

How I Overpacked for the Cruise

naot dorith walking sandals
My favorite shoes right now- the Naot Dorith sandals- that probably could have been used for dressing up and *maybe* even formal nights, knocking out 2 other pairs of shoes.

Long story short, I packed a lot, and definitely more than I needed in the clothes and shoes department.

  • I easily could have done with 1 workout outfit that I rinsed and hung to dry in between sessions. I ended up going to the gym 3 times for less than an hour each go.
  • I easily could have done with 1 formal dress, even if we did attend/take part in both formal nights. Heck, a solid-colored maxi/sundress would have dressed up well enough for the night.
  • I didn’t wear the kitten heels, and the dressy (blingy) wedges worked perfectly for the formal nights. My cute Naot walking sandals could have even done the trick, knocking out 2 extra pairs of shoes from the mix.
  • I didn’t wear the jeans, the packable jacket, the merino wrap cardigan, the summer robe, the swimsuit coverup, or one of my swimsuits entirely. I could probably have done without the jean shorts as well.
  • The waterproof pouch still has the tags on it that I didn’t take off before packing!

And let’s not forget that I didn’t crack my laptop open once. Not once! You might think you’ll have some down time over the course of 8 days, but not so much when on a cruise ship where activities are scheduled all day every day.

5 Things I Learned (and Reaffirmed) at the End of This Packing Experiment

wearing same clothing while traveling
Even though I packed options, I still found myself wearing the same things over and over again. Notice the swimsuit top and loose tank-top while 1) hanging out on the deck, 2) getting ready to perform the Thriller dance, and 3) while sightseeing in Vanuatu.

1 – Packing for a cruise IS ACTUALLY a daunting experience.

I had only ever packed for a 2 night cruise, so I really didn’t understand how difficult cruise packing can seem for newbies. A cruise condenses so many different experiences into one relatively short trip, putting it in the same stress category as packing for an extended multi-country or multi-climate trip!

Not only are you thinking about formal nights and fancy dinners, lounging next to pools and beaches, hitting the gym, and exploring new lands, but you are also considering the most stressful part of it all: the fact you are secluded, often for days, in the middle of the ocean.

That sort of trapped feeling, combined with the fact my boyfriend wanted to “really experience it all”, added extra stress to the packing experience. Even though it didn’t need to.

Long story short: Just like when traveling to land-based destinations, you can purchase most essentials on the cruise ship (or while in port). And for things like shore excursions, the ship and local businesses have assumed you will need/buy/rent extras for them.

2 – You can fit so many options into carry-on sized luggage, but…

Ladiessss, I had so many shoes and so many articles of clothing, plus all the extra “extras”, and it all still fit into carry-on sized luggage. If you are questioning whether or not you can travel with carry-on only sized luggage, take this as your answer: YOU CAN DO IT. Ali even went on an Antarctica cruise taking only carry-on sized luggage.

That said… Just because all of this stuff fits into a small(ish) package doesn’t make it super easy. Yes, managing a smaller piece of luggage is better for the travel experience. Still, my suitcase felt heavy. I was annoyed pushing it across uneven roads and footpaths, lifting it on and off the train, and just packing and unpacking all the things.

Packing smarter for me is always about packing lighter, not just smaller, and that is why I stress it so much on this site.

3 – Overpacking is taking the short-term easy option.

When I was thinking about my packing list for this trip and talking it over with my boyfriend, I ultimately took the advice to just bring it all. That decision allowed me to stop worrying about the packing list in that moment. It meant we didn’t have to make decisions on what we wanted to do, or think more critically about the travel wardrobe.

In the moment, it took away any packing stress I was feeling. Later on, it did the opposite.

Packing light and right doesn’t come easy for most and will require a lot of extra work up-front. As annoying as it is, it’s important to remember that NOT taking the easy route in the short-term will benefit you more in the long-term – while traveling.

4 – Does anyone really care? Probably not.

My boyfriend forgot his dress shoes. When we made this discovery while unpacking into our cabin, we both got a bit flustered at forgetting something that could make or break a suit-wearing experience. At the end of the day, he got all formal-y in a suit jacket and tennis shoes, and you know what? It didn’t affect our experience one bit.

At the end of the day, no one cares if you are wearing a suit with tennis shoes on a cruise ship. No one cares if you wear the same dress to both formal nights. No one cares whether or not you forgot to put on makeup before leaving your cabin, or if you have straightened hair. No one cares if your toenails are painted, if your skin smells like Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue (my faaaaaaavorite), or if your gym attire looks different from the day before.

No one really cares about these things… except you. So why not give yourself a break and unburden yourself of preconceived notions of what you need to do while on vacation, right? And if you are worried about these types of things while traveling, just be sure you are doing so for the right reasons.

5 – There are times when women have the packing upper hand.

For the most part, I believe that women have quite a bit more to think about when it comes to packing for travel. We are expected to have a more intense personal upkeep process (make-up and hair), more undergarment needs, feminine hygiene product needs, and so on. We pack more because it is the standard that we need more.

For the most part, the simplicity of being a man wins in the packing arena, except for when it comes to dressing nice. Packing a bulky suit is way more annoying than a woman being able to take a simple dress and fancy it up with some lipstick and blingy accessories. Yes, we might have it easier in that area for sure 🙂

I’m not gonna lie…

There is a nice sort of feeling opening up the closet while traveling and having loads of options that can cover just about any scenario. It was fun being able to dress up with my partner in crime, and to do so with choice. It was great to not have to think about washing (or hand-washing) clothes in the middle of the excitement, or needing to spend money on things we forgot to pack (except for that darn aloe after I got sunburnt pretty bad – doh!).

Still, at the end of the day, so much of what was lugged with me for the experiment went unused, and more was pretty much deemed unnecessary. While there is a relief at having all bases covered, I’m not so sure options will ever outweigh (at least for me) the annoyance of packing, transporting, unpacking, repacking, and transporting again said stuff when I travel.

P.S. Have a read of these cruise hacks, or this post on packing for a cruise.

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Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Marie B croake says

    This is the first packing list I’ve read that makes sense for older people. One list suggested to pack 5 thongs and put them in your dress shoes! Really! Keep up the good work

  2. Maureen says

    That was my favorite line too! I am a HUGE overpacker … I tend to wear my favorite most comfortable clothes a few times and never wear the dressier clothes or most of the darn shoes I packed!
    Thank you, I am inspired to try to heed your advice on my next trip.

  3. Eve Pribel says

    We traveled from Chicago to Australia for a similar cruise, but ours was longer at 12 day at sea and 2-3 days travel and stay before and afterwards. My husband, 25 year old daughter and I all packed carry-ons and either a backpack or bag. And we all shared a cabin! We found ways to share some of the items we brought – like an over the door organizer for the bathroom, the meds we brought with, room freshener, extension cords and chargers. I think you are correct in that the women have an easier time dressing up without taking up a lot of space in our bags! I did find my husband a travel blazer that packed small and light but his shoes, dress shirt, and tie did take up more room than ours! My daughter and I usually pack reversible dresses to help when we need more than one nights wear and find them quite versatile. We were really happy to not overpack so that we could bring home all our souvenirs too! Thanks for this blog! We really have looked to it for inspiration!

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