The holidays are approaching! Grab some travel stocking stuffers from this list >>

How to Pack for a Semester at Sea

How to pack for a semester at sea

The following packing list for a semester at sea 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 with any of your outfits)

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


Bags: 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)

Shoes: 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)

Clipboard – some of the classrooms don’t have a typical desk set up

Downloads of your favorite movies or TV 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


Mini hand sanitizer

Semester at Sea recommends biodegradable toiletries. At HPL we love the solid Ethique toiletries. They are biodegradable, cruelty free, plant-based, sustainably produced, and easy to add to your Semester at Sea packing list. 

cape town
Cape Town

Travel Necessities

Mini laundry detergent (and some hand washing soap options)

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

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

You can either do your laundry in the cabin sink or pay per load to have it done on-board. If you are planning on doing it in the sink check out HPL’s essential packing list for hand washing clothes.

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 postcard 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.
Cadiz Spain, semester at sea
In Cadiz Spain

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!

About Alex: Alex Kelly studied 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!

Helpful Semester at Sea Info

Spending a semester at sea can be daunting for anybody. You’re going to be exploring new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. While this is exciting it can also be a bit intimidating. 

Being prepared can help you feel a little less nervous so here at HPL we’ve found some helpful information for you.


In each cabin there are two European outlets with a voltage of 220v. Power strips and extension cords are not allowed but you can bring an adapter with two USB connections to increase the plug capacity. There is also a shaver outlet in the bathroom.

Baggage limit

Each person is allowed two checked bags, one carry-on bag (like a small duffel bag), and one personal item (like a backpack). Like Alex said, your luggage will be stored in your cabin, so consider bringing bags that can fold up and fit under the bed or in the closet. (A stuffable daypack is also useful!)


Small instruments like guitars are allowed but they count as one piece of luggage so take your Semester at Sea packing list into account before you decide to bring one.

Bedding and linen

Bed linens and bath towels are provided so you do not need to pack them. You may want to bring a pack towel or travel towel for hostels you might stay in. You will also need a beach towel for any beach destination. Consider bringing a Turkish towel which is perfect for the beach but also folds up small making it easy to pack.


Although you won’t be able to check the exact weather for all the destinations you are traveling to, check the weather trends for your voyage itinerary so you can be prepared. Pack layers so that you are prepared for any weather conditions.

HPL Gear Suggestions

Alex has some great suggestions on her Semester at Sea Packing List. We have some brand and gear recommendations if you need to do some shopping before you leave. 

Merino Wool

Add merino wool to your semester at sea packing list
wool& Axis Midweight Legging and Ashland Tank Top

If you are looking for clothes that work well in warm and cooler weather, then you should definitely look out for items made from merino wool.

Merino wool regulates your temperature, is breathable, and odor-resistant. It is also wrinkle resistant and quick drying (perfect for laundry on board). You can find so many merino wool classic staples like leggings, shirts, and cardigans. 

We love:

Do note that it is best to never put merino wool in the dryer and line drying is recommended. The bonus here is that merino wool needs to be washed less often!


Add The North Face Triclimate Jacket to your Semester at Sea Packing List
The North Face Triclimate Jacket

You’re going to want something that is multi-functional. The North Face Triclimate Jacket not only keeps you warm with its fleece lining but it also doubles as a rain jacket.

This jacket actually functions as two pieces in one as the waterproof shell gets zipped onto the fleece liner jacket and they can be worn together or separately depending on conditions.

  • There are multiple versions of this jacket available on Amazon


Add The Chacos Chelsea Waterproof Boot (left) and the ASICS Women's Gel-Contend 5 Running Shoes (right) to you semester at sea packing list
The Chacos Chelsea Waterproof Boot (left) and the ASICS Women’s Gel-Contend 5 Running Shoes (right)

Alex recommends a leather boot for colder cities, we love the Chaco’s Chelsea Waterproof Boot. These boots also provide arch support making them perfect for exploring a new city. For tennis shoes we recommend the ASICS Women’s Gel-Contend 5 Running Shoes.

Check out our blog post on how to choose your travel shoe if you need some more inspiration.  


Add The Eddie Bauer Easy Tank Dress (left) and the wool& Sasha French Terry Dress (right) to your semester at sea packing list
The Eddie Bauer Easy Tank Dress (left) and the wool& Sasha French Terry Dress (right)

We love a dress with a relaxed fit giving you comfort while still looking good. Some of our favorites are the Eddie Bauer Easy Tank Dress and the wool& Sasha French Terry Dress.

We have a whole blog post on the best travel dresses if you want to check it out.

Have you been on a Semester at Sea? What were your packing list essentials?

Download This Packing Checklist Now

Plus get access to 100+ more FREE downloadable packing lists.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

speakeasy hidden pocket travel scarf ad
Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


Splice Jaisalmer Reversible Tunic
Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


tom bihn 3d organizer toiletry bag
Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

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

Leave A Reply