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Trim Your Cruise Wardrobe, Pack Light... 
Be Fashionable & Practical

by Linda Coffman

I went to Europe for a 15-night cruise with everything I really NEEDED in a carry on and a backpack style purse.


Do you ever worry about getting your luggage?

You probably wonder why I am asking. Just what does that have to do with your cruise wardrobe? Everything, if you don't have it! According to cruise line Hotel Managers and Guest Satisfaction Directors I’ve spoken to over the years, their passengers’ biggest complaints are poor airline service and lost luggage—situations over which the cruise lines have little or no control. 

It never occurred to me that I’d ever be separated from my luggage until it happened. A sinking feeling overcomes you when the baggage carousel stops spitting out suitcases and yours aren’t there. I know that feeling...

Always in fashion--the Basic Black dress, a sheer beaded jacket, a crocheted silk ribbon jacket, Pashima shawl & silk scarf

Paring down:

You can plan for weeks and carefully pack everything only to have your preparations undone by the airlines. In our case, we received our missing suitcase before sailing, but I have witnessed first-hand how fellow passengers coped without their entire wardrobes during a cruise. While cruise lines have practices to assist passengers whose luggage has gone astray, those procedures vary widely. Some offer vouchers for replacement clothing purchases in on board shops and others provide loaner  tuxedos and gowns for formal evenings.

Perhaps it’s just “maturity” but after years of over-packing, I took a hard look at my habits and decided it was time for a change. Our routine was seven suitcases—one per day on a typical cruise. No one really needs seven suitcases! I decided that fourteen pairs of shoes were about ten pairs too many and... who says you can’t wear the same thing twice, particularly on a lengthy cruise? A few trips on my own also taught me the value of trimming down and never packing suitcases heavier than I can comfortably lift and carry. I have never tried to see how much I could get away with bringing with me on an airplane. Instead, my goal was to learn to manage comfortably with what I have in a modest sized bag—just in case the worst happens.

Black patent leather pumps, a shawl style silk scarf & evening bag

So, I still check a suitcase, but I maximize what I pack in my carry on just in case mine is THE bag that is mislaid. What does that mean? The law of averages is that one suitcase per flight doesn’t make it to the same destination as its owner. 

When we travel together my husband Mel and I split our clothing between two medium sized checked suitcases instead of one large one. It’s unlikely that two suitcases will be waylaid and we each end up with half our wardrobe. 

However, I've discovered that for almost any cruise I can carry my essentials on the plane and then straight to my cabin. If nothing else shows up, I don’t have to worry. On the other hand, Mel hand carries his cameras so he’d start looking a bit shabby after a day or two. 

In addition to “his & hers” packing, we devised a system to maximize space in our luggage. When Mel began taking weeklong bicycle tours he had to keep the volume and weight down to a single saddlebag and, in case of rain, everything had to somehow remain dry. 

After trial and error, this is what works… 

  • Compress knits, lingerie, and small items in Zip-loc plastic storage bags. Zip-loc bags are a traveler's necessity. It's difficult to have too many of them in a variety of sizes.

  • Dresses, jackets, and slacks stay neat and wrinkle free when they are packed on hangers and covered with dry cleaner bags.

  • By color coordinating items to do double duty, cut your wardrobe in half and still have choices. Shop carefully with an eye for fabric that sheds wrinkles, washes easily, and dries quickly.

Jewelry, travel documents, medicine, or any necessary items should remain with you in your carry-on luggage. For safety and peace of mind, carry travelers’ checks, cash, and copies of your passport and credit cards in a money pouch under your clothing.

This is how I went to Europe for a 15-night cruise with everything I really NEEDED in a regulation carry on and a backpack style purse...

Reversible dresses do double duty & a sweater adds another look

My rolling carry on included:

-Three dresses (one black & two reversible)
-Dress shoes & evening bag
-Two pairs daytime slacks
-Two pairs of dressy slacks
-Black tunic & black twin set
-Two dressy sweaters
-Scarves & crochet jacket  
-A polo shirt & knit top
-Two ivory tops/two white tops
-Short sleeve sweater
-Bathing suit & cover-up
-Lingerie for several days

My backpack style handbag contained cosmetics, medicine, and jewelry, plus a book and other incidentals that I can't fly without (mints, iPod, and inflatable pillow). 

For the flight, I selected comfortable khaki slacks, a knit top, black blazer, and walking shoes—all items that would come in handy for touring. Every garment I packed did at least double duty and I never felt inappropriately attired. 

When you must check luggage: 

Arrive at the airport in plenty of time, preferably an hour or more before departure. One of the leading causes of lost luggage is late arrivalsthey just doesn't have time to get them to the plane. 

Avoid curbside check-in. A whopping 87% of lost or stolen luggage originates at those curbside stations. One of the most common causes of misrouted bags is gate agent error. Know the three-letter code of your destination airport and verify it on the luggage tag before your bag is put on the conveyor belt. 

Avoid connecting flights whenever possible. If you must connect, especially to an international flight, make SURE your layover is adequate. Don’t accept anything less than an hour between flights; I prefer a minimum of at least two hours. You might make the plane; however, your luggage may not. 

Lock your bags. We use cable ties and can immediately tell if they’ve been tampered with. Check the locking devices when you arrive, and report any damage or missing items to the airline immediately.


With necessities in my carry on, even if the other luggage was delayed, I could rest easy. Once again, it wasn't everything that I packed for myself—but it was what I really NEEDED.  


Label luggage on the inside and outside with your name, phone number, and address (preferably a business address). Include your itinerary on the inside of your bags so you can be traced more easily. And remove any old claim checks from the bags. 

Finally, when tagging your bags for check-in on your ship, use all the tags you receive or print out at least two for each suitcase. I put two tags on each checked bag just in case one is damaged or comes loose.

Paper Luggage Tags? While most passengers have no complaint about printing e-documents for their cruise, luggage tags printed on paper are a cause for concern. Cruise Diva offers suggestions for how to keep them securely in place: Luggage Tags, Then & Now


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