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Packing for a Cruise

Packing for a Cruise

Believe it or not, packing for a cruise is something of an art form. Generally speaking, the cruise lines don’t care how much luggage you bring. However, the airlines will usually charge you an excess baggage fee if you bring more than one suitcase or if your suitcase weighs more than fifty pounds. As such, it is important to make the best possible use of your luggage space.

One of my first recommendations is to purchase a luggage scale. You can find them on the Internet as well as at various retailers for about $20. A luggage scale will allow you to find out how much your luggage weighs before you go to the airport.

If you don’t have a luggage scale, then you can also check the weight of your luggage by using a bathroom scale. Simply weigh yourself, and then pick up your luggage and step onto the scale again. Subtract your weight from the weight of you carrying your luggage to find out how much your luggage weighs.

So if you can use a bathroom scale to find out how much your luggage weighs, you may be wondering why I recommend purchasing a luggage scale. The reason is because luggage scales are small enough and light enough that you can take them with you on your trip. That way, you can weigh your bags before you come home to make sure that you won’t get stuck paying excessive baggage fees at the airport. The luggage scale that I use also has a built in tape measure that you can use to verify that your carry-on bag complies with the airline’s size limitations (which is especially important for flights out of London and certain other foreign airports).

I usually find that my bags are lighter on the trip home because things like shaving cream tend to get used up. Even so, many people like to shop while on vacation, so the baggage weight can become a real issue on the return trip. Thankfully, there are some things that you can do to keep from paying excess baggage fees on the flight home.

If you find that one of your bags is a little heavy, then you can move some items to a lighter bag. This is probably the easiest way of dealing with excessive weight. The trick is to use your luggage scale to make sure that neither bag ends up being over 50 pounds.

If you did so much shopping while abroad that you simply cannot get your bags under the fifty pound limit, there are some things that you might be able to do to avoid excess baggage fees. One trick is to wear your heaviest clothes on the trip home. Blue jeans tend to be heavy, as do some sweaters. Shoes also tend to be heavy. Even though flip-flops are my shoe of choice, I have occasionally had to put my flip-flops in my suitcase and wear my tennis shoes or my dress shoes for the flight home as a way of decreasing my bag’s weight.

Another thing that you can do is put your heavier items into a carry-on bag. You just have to make sure that the items in your carry-on bag are things that you will be able to get through airport security, and that your carry-on bag remains small enough to fit in the overhead bin. Keep in mind that some countries only allow tiny carry-on bags, so it is a good idea to check on what will be allowed at the airport that you will be flying out of.

One last technique that I once used for decreasing the weight of my luggage is to get rid of cheap items. For example, you might be able to lighten your suitcase by a pound simply by throwing away a bottle of shampoo. Of course I don’t like to be wasteful, so I have only done this once, when I had no other choice.

A moment ago, I mentioned putting heavier items into your carry-on bag. This brings up an interesting point. I recommend bringing along a carry-on bag whether you need it or not. The reason why I say this is because on the last night of a cruise, most cruise lines expect you to place all of your luggage in the hallway outside of your stateroom before you go to bed. That way, they can collect all of the luggage and begin unloading it as soon as the ship arrives in port.

This is where the carry-on bag comes into play. There are some things that you probably aren’t going to want to put into your suit case (passports, jewelry, electronics, etc.). Likewise, there are also some things that you are going to need when you wake up in the morning (hair brush, deodorant, razor, makeup, etc.) Having a carry-on bag gives you a way of keeping these items with you until you leave the ship.

Usually when I cruise, I take along a back pack that I use as a carry-on bag. I primarily use it so that I can keep my camera, MP3 player, cruise documents, and passports with me as opposed to in my luggage. I have taken short cruises on which I didn’t even bother bringing any personal electronics and had no need for a carry-on bag. Even so, I packed my backpack in my suitcase so that I would be able to keep a few personal grooming items with me after I put my luggage out on the last night of the cruise.

It is worth noting that although placing your bags in the hallway before bed was once an absolute requirement, most of the cruise lines now offer an express departure service through which passengers who signed up for the service are allowed to carry their own bags off of the ship.

I have tried both methods. The advantage to putting your bags in the hallway the night before is that you don’t have to carry your bags around while waiting to leave the ship. When the ship arrives in port in the morning, you are usually expected to be out of your cabin early so that the cabin can be cleaned before the next passengers board. Believe me when I say that it is no fun carrying all of your luggage to breakfast or trying not to block the isles with your luggage in one of the lounges while you wait for debarkation.

Of course there is a time and a place for everything, and sometimes bringing your own luggage off of the ship has its advantages. The primary advantage is that you are usually allowed to get off the ship at your leisure if you are carrying your own luggage. I once had an early flight out of Barcelona, Spain and using express departure allowed me to be one of the first people off of the ship and helped me to be on time for my flight. Keep in mind that not every cruise line offers express departure, so you should check on its availability before you cruise.

I want to take a moment and address a bit of a contradictory statement that I made earlier. I recommended putting some of your heavier items in the carry-on bag if your checked bags were too heavy, but I recommended storing personal grooming items in your carry-on so that they would be available to you on the morning that you leave the ship. So which should you do?

What I usually end up doing is putting everything in my luggage except for valuables, passports, and any personal grooming items that I will need in the morning. When I arrive at the airport, I take my personal grooming items out of my carry-on and putting them in my checked luggage (remember, airport security is picky about liquids, gels, and aerosols). I also take the opportunity to remove anything heavy from my suitcase and place it in my carry-on bag (if my suitcase is too heavy).

One more recommendation that I would make in preparing for the trip home is to locate your cell phone and your car keys on the night before you get off of the ship, and put them in an easily accessible location (such as the front pouch of your carry-on).

On one of my trips, I put my cell phone and my car keys into my carry-on bag before I went through airport security. Since I didn’t use either item the entire time that I was gone, I didn’t really give them another thought. When the trip was over, I made it all the way to my car before I realized that my car keys weren’t in my pocket. Instead, they were packed inside an unused carry-on bag that was locked inside my luggage. I had to dig through my suitcase in the middle of the airport parking lot (in the rain no less) just so that I could go home.


OK, I’ll admit that it probably sounds strange to have a section on toothpaste, but I just couldn’t write this article without telling you about this one. I have found that although you can buy travel sized toothpaste, they tend to be inadequate for all but the shortest cruises. As such, I prefer to bring along a full size tube.

The catch is that most of the toothpaste manufacturers put flip top lids on the tubes. Flip top lids do not work very well for travel. If the tube gets crushed while it is in your luggage, the flip top will open and leak toothpaste everywhere. As such, I always use a tube that has a screw top lid.

I also like to put anything liquid or gel (toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo, etc.) in a zip lock bag before I put it into my suitcase. That way if any leaks do occur, the leak is contained and your clothes don’t get ruined.

Compression Bags

When packing for some cruises, I have found it helpful to use compression bags. Compression bags are plastic bags that are designed to compress your clothes so that they take up less space in your luggage.

I found compression bags to be especially beneficial for our cruise to Antarctica. As you can imagine, you need a lot of warm clothing when you visit a place like Antarctica, and warm clothing tends to be bulky. By using compression bags I was able to condense an eight inch high stack of Taz’s sweaters down to about three inches.

Even though compression bags work well, there are a few things that you must keep in mind if you decide to use them. For starters, compression bags do nothing to decrease the weight of your luggage. If anything they will increase the weight of your suitcase slightly, because you have the weight of the bag itself added to the weight of your clothes.

Another thing to consider is that if you are going to use compression bags then it is a good idea to bring along an extra bag or two. You never know when a compression bag will break and you won’t be able to use it for the trip home.

Finally, be careful about the type of compression bag that you use. Some bags require you to use a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out. Those types of bags aren’t practical for traveling because you won’t have a vacuum cleaner at your disposal when it comes time to pack your bags for the trip home. The bags that I use are designed so that you can squeeze the air out rather than having to vacuum the air out.


There has never been a shortage of food on cruise ships, but if you want things like chips or packaged cookies you can usually only get them in the gift shop. As you would expect, the prices in cruise ship gift shops are outrageous. As such, I like to bring my own snacks with me when I cruise.

The cruise lines will tell you that they will not allow you to bring food on board. This policy exists as a way of preventing the spread of disease. The airlines do the same thing. I have never visited a country that allowed you to bring in food from elsewhere.

Having said that however, I will tell you that the policy applies primarily to fresh fruits and vegetables. I bring snacks with me on almost every cruise, and I have never had anyone say a word to me about it. The trick is to make sure that any food that you smuggle onboard is sealed, and that you don’t bring too much of it.

Generally when I travel, I will bring along things like snack crackers, trail mix, or chips. I have put such items both in my checked bag and in my carry-on bag without any problems. One thing that you do have to watch out for is that the baggage screeners at the airport are on the lookout for liquids and gels, so you shouldn’t attempt to smuggle drinks or gel like foods in your bags.

Another thing that you have to watch out for is the policies for any countries that you might be flying into. Chile for example will seize any food that you bring in, regardless of what it is. Chilean customs has even been known to go so far as to seize chewing gum.

Considerations for Foreign Airports

Even though the airline standards for baggage is consistent throughout America, the baggage limitations can vary considerably in foreign countries. As such it is a good idea to check on the size and weight of the bags that will be allowed at your destination.

For example, you can take any size carry-on bag that you want to London, so long as it adheres to the usual standards for carry-on bags. However, when it comes time to go home, your bag may not be acceptable. Passengers on flights out of London are not allowed to bring on board any carry-on bag larger than a briefcase.

The same limitations can come into play for checked bags. You can fly a fifty pound piece of luggage to Buenos Aires, Argentina without paying any penalties for excessive baggage. However, the weight limit for the flight home is 44 pounds.

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