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There are myriad pleasures to be found on any river cruise, not the least of which is the need to unpack only once, regardless of how many destinations you visit.

But what to pack to enjoy the shore excursions, evening parties, and sumptuous dinners?

The key to avoiding any headaches in this regard is simply to pack light. Think versatility and choose each article of clothing so that it functions in a variety of ways and can be worn more than once while still looking fresh.

Here are the best tips and tricks for packing for a river cruise.

Get luggage right

You will only need two pieces. The toughness and durability of your main bag should be commensurate with the type of travels you undertake – tough treks, tough luggage. For a relaxing river cruise, a lightweight, durable bag that’s easy to manoeuvre through the airport is ideal. Think a backpack with an extendable handle and exterior lacing to grip extra gear or piggy-back a smaller bag. Or even a rolling bag. There are plenty of different styles, materials and colours on the market to choose from.

Whether or not to check-in your bag is a personal decision. If you do decide to carry-on, you’ll need to comply with your airline’s size and weight restrictions. Choose a bag with multi-directional wheels and a long, fully retractable handle that the smaller “under the seat” bag can stack on top of as you wheel it around.

For your second, smaller carry-on, either a backpack, daypack, or combo bag with removable “personal item” bag is ideal. You can pack your laptop, tablet, phone, charger, neck pillow, snacks and passport in this bag. Choose something you can also use while on your cruise.

Research destinations and weather forecasts

If it’s your first trip to your destination, check travel guides, go online or contact your cruise line concierge and get the low-down on dress codes, customs and seasonal weather conditions. The last thing you want is to be stuck without a raincoat or waterproof clothing if visiting a tropical location during wet season.

Shore adventures

Sports enthusiasts will want hi-tech durability, easy wearability, and high style from sport clothing that is both comfortable and functional. For cooler climates, layer; for warm, pack breathable fabrics.


Select a neutral palette that reflects your destination and the season, and colours that don’t show dirt. In larger cosmopolitan cites such as Paris, it’s always ubiquitous black, while navy is clothing culture for summer in Lisbon. Bold touches of colour in the shape of scarves or striped tops can enliven your neutral canvas. Likewise, accessories such as a silver pin, belt, or watch. For men, a chic belt, interesting tie or a tailored shirt create a point of interest for cocktail receptions and special cruise nights.

Select a few one-colour key pieces in specialised fabrics such as washable merino wool or moisture-wicking, fast dry items that you can mix and match and layer.


You’ll be doing a lot of walking on a trip, so it behoves you to love the shoes you are wearing. A good idea is to break them in before you travel and change your day shoes for a different pair at night to give your travelling feet a rest, or pack a pair of heels or strappy sandals.

Tips for your packing success:

  • Functional and practical luggage.
  • Simple key pieces of clothing in a single colour that can be paired in several ways.
  • Comfortable walking shoes, and simple dress shoes or sandals that work with everything.
  • Accessories that take up minimal room but pimp up your wardrobe.
  • Layers.
  • Quick wash-and-dry undergarments.