Girl on Cruise Ship with Luggage

How to Pack Light for a Cruise So You Don’t Have to Check In Luggage (Free Packing List)

Going on a cruise but don’t want to check in your luggage? Carrying your luggage on board will make your embarkation and disembarkation a breeze. Here are some tips for packing light on your cruise. I’m also giving you my free packing list for packing light that you can use to help you stay organized so you don’t forget anything.

Luggage for Packing Light on a Cruise

Let’s start with the kind of luggage you should pack for a cruise if you want to keep it light. Since you’ll be carrying it yourself up to the ship, it must be easy to handle. The best option is to use a small wheeled suitcase that can fit in the overhead bin of an airplane.

This way, you can wheel it up to the ship effortlessly and even carry it up a few flights of stairs, if necessary. However, if it’s too heavy, you will probably need to take the elevator, which can be quite crowded on embarkation day.

I also recommend carrying a backpack with you as an extra bag in case everything doesn’t fit into your roller suitcase. I like to use a small roller luggage like this one.

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How to Pack Light for a Cruise

Use Packing Cubes

If you want to fit everything in a small roller bag, then packing cubes are an absolute must-have. They help you compress your clothing, which allows you to fit more than you would by just folding and placing them in a suitcase. Plus, they are a fantastic way to keep your clothes organized. The cubes can fit into any backpack or suitcase with ease.

Personally, I like to label all of my packing cubes so that I know exactly where everything is. You can even assign different color packing cubes for everyone in your group.

For example, I use red packing cubes while my husband uses black ones. It makes it easier to differentiate our belongings. Another thing I like about using packing cubes is that it makes unpacking a breeze because you can quickly take them out and place them in the cabin drawers or shelves. It keeps everything organized and makes repacking a lot easier too.

Pack Outfits

When you are packing light for your cruise, you need to pack in outfits not individual items. Think in outfits, everything should match each other. Packing light for a 7 day cruise does not mean you bring 7 shirts and 7 shorts. You should plan to rewear your clothes.

Pack Clothes that Matches 

The most efficient way to pack light for your cruise is to make sure every piece of clothing matches each other. The easiest way to do this is by sticking to one color palette. 

I know I just adviced you to stick to 1 color palette, but I personally have a hard time with wearing only one color palette since my style is more Lilly Pulitzer than monochromatic colors (I love colorful prints). 

So my trick is I usually pack my Lilly Pulitzer printed skorts, shorts or pants and match them with white/beige tops. That way every top will match with every bottom. 

Pack Lightweight Clothes

When choosing what to pack for your cruise, you need to choose lightweight clothes. Less is best. For example, pack a light summer dress instead of a blouse and skirt. Instead of jeans, pack shorts. 

How to Pack Light for a Cruise

The Less Shoes the Better

Shoes are the reason why it’s hard to pack light for a cruise. They take up too much luggage space. If you have big feet then that can be a problem!  

I suggest bringing a maximum of 3 pairs of shoes- a flip flop, a good walking shoes and dressy shoes. 

You should wear the bulkiest shoes up the ship on embarkation day so it’s less to pack in your carry-on bags. I usually wear my walking shoes on embarkation day, then I pack my flip flops and heels in my carry-on bag.

Toiletry Bag

Packing light for a cruise can be challenging, especially when it comes to the toiletry bag. If you’re planning to avoid checking in any luggage at the airport, you’ll need to ensure that all your toiletries fit within TSA’s specified limit. The maximum limit is 3.4 ounces (100 ml), so using small bottles can help you stay within the limit.

If you’re not flying, you can bring any size bottle on board the ship. Another option is to purchase toiletries at a convenience store at the cruise port before boarding. 

If you’re going on a Caribbean cruise, sunblock can be a concern since 3.4 ounces is not enough for a 7-day cruise. You’ll need to pack several small 3.4 oz bottles of sunblock or visit a local CVS to buy a full-size sunblock before boarding the ship.

For your toiletry bag, at a minimum, you need a toothbrush, toothpaste and a comb. The cruise ship provides shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Check out my toiletry bag packing list (you will need to pare it down since it’s not for packing light).

Do a Dry Run

Packing everything in a carry-on bag is not easy and it might not even work for everyone. It’s a lot easier if you’re petite and the weather is warm, but if you’re going somewhere cold and you have big shoes to pack, it might not be doable. And if you’re traveling with kids, forget it! Packing light is not an option. 

The best way to figure out whether you can pull it off is to do a trial run. Use packing cubes to organize everything and limit yourself to a backpack and a small roller bag. See if you can fit everything in there. 

You might need to take some things out or you may realize that it’s just not feasible to pack everything in a carry-on bag. If that’s the case, don’t sweat it. Just plan on checking in one piece of luggage instead.

Wear the Bulkiest Clothes Up the Ship 

You need to be strategic with what you wear up the ship. Wear your bulkiest clothes, for example wear your sneakers and pack the flip flops. That way you take up less space in your carry-on luggage. Wear your jeans and pack the shorts in your bag.

Plan to Do Laundry

If you’re planning to pack light for your cruise trip, it would be wise to prepare for some laundry. I recommend bringing travel laundry detergent so that you can easily wash clothes in your cabin sink.

Do keep in mind that washing heavy items like jeans by hand in the sink might not be very practical. Instead, focus on washing clothing items like bathing suits, underwear, and quick-dry clothes. You may want to consider packing quick-dry shorts that are perfect for traveling light.

Check If Your Cruise Ship Has a Laundromat

Some cruise ships have self-service laundromats. You should check to see if the cruise ship you’re going on has a laundromat. Some cruise ships even provide free use of self-service laundry machines, you just need to buy the detergent! 

If You Have Space

If you have space, here are a couple more items to pack for your cruise. It’s a good idea to bring a refillable water bottle. Not only will it save you money, but it will also save you from having to go back and forth to the buffet for water. I also recommend packing some travel-sized Lysol wipes to clean and disinfect everything in your cabin.

Caribbean Cruise Packing List for Packing Light

Here is a sample list of things to pack for your cruise. It’s a generous packing list considering we are trying to pack light. I made it so you don’t have to wash underwear and you don’t have to wash tops. You will have to repeat bottoms though.  

7 Day Caribbean Cruise Wardrobe for Women Packing Light

Here is an example of what to pack on a 7 day Caribbean Cruise for women.

  • 7 pairs of underwear (less if you’re willing to wash)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 2 light weight summer dresses
  • 1 lightweight cocktail dress (if you plan to dress up)
  • 2 bottoms (shorts, skorts, capris)- you will repeat bottoms
  • 4 tops (less if you don’t mind repeating tops)
  • 1 sweater or cardigan or sweatshirt
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 pair of walking shoes (sneakers)
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 1 swim cover up
  • 1 sun hat or baseball cap
  • 1 shawl or pashmina

7 Day Caribbean Cruise Wardrobe for Men Packing Light

Here is an example of what to pack for a 7 days Caribbean Cruise for men

  • 7 pairs of underwear (less if you’re willing to wash)
  • 3 pairs of socks (you will have to repeat)
  • 2 pairs of shorts (you will repeat bottoms)
  • 7 t-shirts/polo shirts (pack less if you’re willing to repeat)
  • 1 sweater or sweatshirt
  • 1 blazer
  • 1 khaki pants (this can be used for dress up nights)
  • 1 dress shirt
  • 1 tie, belt 
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 pair of very comfortable walking shoes (sneakers)
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 2 bathing suits 
  • 1 hat or baseball cap
Free Cruise Packing List for Packing Light

Get Your Free Cruise Packing List for Packing Light

Sign up once and you will get access to ALL exclusive content on this website. After unlocking the printable, just save the printable image and then print it. Use it as a checklist when you pack for your cruise, so you don’t forget anything! I hope you like it!

Cruise Packing List for Packing Light

This printable is for personal use only and not for commercial use. You may print as many copies as you like, but you may not sell or distribute this printable or any copies of it. All rights reserved.

Packing light is not for everyone, if it’s not for you, you may like my regular packing lists: Caribbean Cruise Packing list or Alaska Cruise Packing List.

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