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How to Pack for a Semester at Sea

semester at sea packing list

The following has been submitted by Alex Kelly. See all packing lists here.

Studying abroad is a key part of making the most of your time in college. When it came down for me to decide which country I wanted to study in, I was torn. Then I heard about Semester at Sea and it hit me: Why pick one country when you can visit 15?

Deciding to go was easy, but knowing what to pack was a challenge. I would spend four months on a ship from August to December, with 500+ college students, and travel through four different continents. How does one pack for a trip like that?

I am a fashion major and tried to pack enough so that I could be both casual on the ship and cute in port. With research, advice from SAS alumni, and personal experience aboard the MV Explorer, I have compiled the ultimate Semester at Sea packing list for any woman planning to go.

Note from Editor: You can cut the clothes in this list down if you want to travel lighter, but since you’ll have a place on the ship to store belongings during study abroad, it’s less important… unless you plan to buy tons of souvenirs.


6 tops (3 cute cotton tops for day, 1 chambray button up, 2 tops for night/going out)

2 pairs of jeans (one blue, one black)

3 casual pants (leggings, linen pants & sweatpants)

2 shorts (1 denim, 1 colorful pair)

1-2 running shorts (super light and perfect for warm locations)

2 jackets (fleece-lined jacket, compact rain jacket)

3-5 bras & 1-2 sports bra

Socks & underwear

Black or gray cardigan (perfect for layering)

3-5 t-shirts (I wore these everyday on the ship or as pajamas)

2 tanks

1-2 pajama shorts

1 cocktail length dress for the alumni ball (or you could buy one while you’re traveling)

2 casual dresses for port, 1 skirt

1-2 swimsuits

the ship in dominica
The Ship in Dominica


Cross-body purse, backpack for weekend trips, 1 compact mini duffel (you can put souvenirs in here for when you need extra space on your return home)


2 scarves (1 solid, 1 patterned)

2 belts (pick ones that go well with your wardrobe)

Leather boots (perfect for colder cities), 1 pair of nice sandals, flip flops, tennis shoes, Sperry’s

Sunglasses and glasses


Versatile jewelry you wouldn’t mind losing


Laptop and headphones

Phone (I kept my phone data off but would use wi-fi in hostels or cafes to skype home)


USB flash drives

Auto-shut off dual voltage straightener (must be auto-shut off for the ship, I found a good one here).

World power adapter

School Materials/Leisure


Some pens/pencils and notebook paper (it’s still school so you will be studying occasionally)

Small DVD case with favorite movies/shows, deck of cards

Mini scissors, strong magnets and photos to put up in cabin

my cabin wall
My Cabin Wall


Prescription meds: malaria pills, sea sickness patch if you need it (my doctor recommended I only use half a patch at a time and it was the perfect dose)

Every OTC medicine you think you might need (you’ll probably end up using it at some point)


Makeup, brush, hair ties and pins

Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss


Face wash and moisturizer

Shampoo, conditioner, hairspray if you use it

Deodorant, razor with refills, lotion

Mini nail maintenance kit

Baggie with travel sizes of essentials for quick 3 day trips in port

Feminine products for 4 months – you won’t find the brand you like abroad, and you do have room for it in your cabin. (Or go with a Diva Cup.)

Body soap

Contacts for 4 months, eye drops

Chap stick

Mini hand sanitizer

cape town
Cape Town

Travel Necessities

Mini laundry detergent

1 laundry bag, clothes pins for your clothes line in the bathroom

Mini bottle of wrinkle release spray (saved me $ on dry cleaning)

Water bottle

Passport, credit cards, ATM/debit card, IDs, copies of passport/photos, Yellow Fever card

Some American cash (you’ll want to tip your steward)

1 compact towel & 1 easy dry washcloth, sleeping bag liner & combination lock – all perfect for hostels

My own pillow (I’m picky)

SNACKS – I brought a carry-on full of them

Lots of baggies, eye mask, compact hanging shoe bag for closet (I put all kinds of stuff in here including rolled up t-shirts)

Mini umbrella

Bug repellant with DEET

Extra pillowcase

To Buy on the Ship:

SAS sweatshirt


General Tips:

  • Pack Light! You are allowed 1 carry-on and 2 pieces of luggage. (I recommend getting 2 large duffels that can be pressed completely flat when empty and stored under your bed.)
  • Don’t bring anything too valuable – things get damaged and lost.
  • Use packing cubes and vacuum seal bags.
  • Don’t buy souvenirs that take up too much space unless you plan on shipping them home. I bought a post card from each city and a mini flag from each country and strung them together in my cabin as we traveled.
  • Snacks were critical for me to bring because I’m gluten intolerant. The ship is great about making gluten-free meals but my GF bars were still lifesavers.
  • Only bring pieces of clothing that you absolutely love. You will be re-wearing things and will get sick of them if you don’t love them already.

Semester at Sea is a fabulous experience and I recommend it to all college students and even those out of college (check out the Lifelong Learner program). I hope this list makes packing for you a little bit easier. Enjoy every minute of your Semester at Sea and bon voyage!

Cadiz Spain, semester at sea
In Cadiz Spain

About the Author: Alex Kelly is a senior studying Textiles and Apparel Design at the University of Texas at Austin. She loves bright colors, fashion, the great outdoors, gluten-free brownies, yellow labs, spending time with friends and family, and of course traveling the world! She graduates in May 2014 and plans to pursue a career that combines both fashion and travel. You can follow Alex on instagram: @alexkelly17

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Reader Interactions


  1. Meg says

    I brought 2-3 long maxi skirts and wore them often in more conservative countries. As far as suitcases I used large hockey bags and that really worked for me

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