What to Pack for Working on a Cruise Ship

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What to pack for working on a cruise ship?

This is a question I’ve received recently, and I thought it beneficial to write out a blog post rather than answer individually. The question itself is a fair one, since the whole process is a bit of an infuriating puzzle. Consider that:

  • It’s sort of like packing for vacation…
  • Except it’s your entire life for the next 4 – 7 months…
  • But you have no storage for anything because your shared cabin is the size of a shoebox.


I’ve mentioned before that I managed to pack everything down into one suitcase, one carry-on, and one backpack. It lasted me for my seven-month contract, and I somehow didn’t want for anything. I’m not sure how that worked itself out; minimalism rooted itself into my psyche, so that definitely helped out quite a bit, but I did try to be smart about packing.

Even if you’re not specifically packing for shiplife, hopefully this is still helpful and applicable to anyone planning on traveling for an extended period of time!

Let’s talk about luggage, first

To my mind, luggage is one of those consumer items in life that you either invest the money into in order to r/BuyItForLife, or you cheap out and are perpetually replacing pieces after only a few years. If you’re committed to working on a cruise ship, you’re going to be traveling and living out of suitcases more than the average person. The last thing you want when you’re in the middle of an airport or a foreign country (i.e., removed from anything convenient) is for your luggage to crap out on you.

I went with some purple (because of course) Samsonite pieces. Not only are they amazing quality, but they’ve got two other important factors working for them:

  1. Zipper expansions
  2. The carry-on piece NESTS inside the full-size case.

Nesting is so so so nice. When I unpacked everything into my cabin, rather than trying to store two separate pieces of luggage under the bed (which would not have worked), I just nested the carry-on into the full-size case and stowed it tidily away. Guys, you would have thought I was Albert Einstein based on my roommate’s reaction.

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So, yes. Space is a finite resource. Treat it well.

What I packed

Without further ado, here’s what I actually packed for working on a cruise ship (in my nesting luggage!):

  • Clothes: I tried to pack as sparingly as possible, since clothes take up most of the space in a suitcase. I was wearing a uniform every single day, so that mostly eliminated the need for a full closet.
    • Two week’s worth of underwear (you do laundry on board), bras, socks
    • Comfy clothes that could serve the dual purpose of ‘going out and about’ clothing and ‘sleepwear’. i.e., yoga pants. Lots of them.
    • Swimwear
    • One pair of flip flops, one pair of tennis shoes, and then a few pairs of shoes that were part of my uniforms.
    • A bag w/ a zipper for toting laundry.
  • Toiletries: 
    • Toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss. I can live without mouthwash.
    • Deodorant, shampoo, dry shampoo, and bar soap.
    • Tweezers, razor, Q-tips, nail clippers and/or nail file.
    • Lots of sunscreen, face wash & moisturizer (which also had sunscreen in it), aloe vera gel
    • A metric ton of tampons
    • Makeup & makeup brushes, makeup wipes & remover,
    • hairbands & bobby pins, hair straightener, hairbrush, comb.
    • Melatonin, allergy meds (didn’t need them, but just in case), dramamine (again, just in case), ibuprofen, & birth control*
  • Misc: 
    • Laptop, kindle, and cell phone.
    • Laptop, phone & kindle chargers, disposable batteries, a European plug adapter, and headphones.
    • Mesh draw-string bags for going out and also for laundry, Jansport backpack (like the Samsonite luggage, a Jansport backpack will also last you FOREVER), and plastic baggies for miscellany.
    • Re-usable water bottle.
    • Pens & journal.
    • Ear plugs because your 22-year-old roommate is a f**king brat who keeps snoozing her alarm for three hours every. goddamn. day.
    • 3 pairs of sunglasses, glasses holder, glasses cleaner/wipes (which, even if you don’t wear glasses like me, it’s still handy for the sunglasses).
    • Lint roller. If you’re in the Caribbean, you will get sandy.

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What I wish I’d packed more of

  • More laundry detergent. Those single-serve packets of detergent, specifically. They’re convenient and take up way less space than a bulky gallon bottle. Plus, the on-board commissary wanted, I shit you not, $40 for a bag of those detergent packets.
  • More than one swim suit. I went to the beach more often than I did laundry. My swim suit would get funky (and, consequently, so would the rest of my laundry), and I would either have to re-use it (ew) or use a sports bra in place of a bikini top.
  • More dry shampoo and hair conditioning products. The chlorinated water absolutely killed the texture of my hair. Seriously. It was dry, flaky, and literally crunchy. It would have been better if I’d washed my hair less and conditioned more. Some girls used bottled water to wash their hair, but without any way to warm it up beforehand, I was not a fan of dumping cold water on myself repeatedly.
  • Cash. Specifically, cash that I had set aside for in-port spending. Each time I used my credit card, I was hit with a foreign transaction fee (twice). Each time I withdrew money from an ATM, I had to pay exorbitant fees (again, twice). While I wouldn’t have carried thousands of dollars of bills on my person, a couple hundred stowed away would have lasted me for a while.
  • More socks. I severely underestimated how much I would be on my feet (15k steps per day, easy) and how rank my socks would get. I had only brought maybe five pairs of socks to begin with…
  • Better shoes/gel insertsI mentioned before that I pretty much killed my feet by wearing the worst shoes in the world for seven months (only slightly better than just walking around barefoot all the time). Orthotics/gel inserts/shoes made for walking and being on your feet all day, at the very least, would have saved me a lot of pain.
  • A file folder. Not that you’ll be dealing with much paperwork, but you’ll accumulate enough of it over your contract; it would have been nice to be a little more organized. Also, you’ve got the category of ‘important documents’ (IDs, medical paperwork, passports, tickets, etc…) to contend with.
  • A bottle opener. Seriously. If you’re going to work on a cruise ship, you’re going to drink (heavily) and be around (heavy) drinkers. That’s just a universal truth. If you’re a wine drinker, bring a wine key. These will come in handy and win you friends when you save someone from having to use their lighter.
  • Cleaning supplies. You’re living in close quarters with a roommate** and no housekeeping. It gets funky. Bring an air freshener and maybe a magic eraser or two. As a janky replacement for a vacuum-cleaner, I used a lint roller.
  • A beach towel and tote. They provided towels on board, and I had drawstring bags for going out, but these two things would have been a just little more convenient for beach-going.


*In case you’re wondering, condoms were available (for free) on board.

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**Here’s another fun story about my awful roommate: she refused to clean our cabin and gave no f**ks if we failed cabin inspection, standing on the principle that we shouldn’t have to provide/pay for our own cleaning supplies. Maybe she had a point, but, also, f**k her. 


For all those about to embark on shiplife, I hope this is helpful! Let me know if there’s something I missed in a comment below, or feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]. Happy sailings, friends.

Click here for all of my Life on a Cruise Ship posts!

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2 Replies to “What to Pack for Working on a Cruise Ship”

  1. great comprehensive list. you might want to look into getting an account with charles schwab if being charged foreign-transaction fees. and am not sure how much you use an ATM card, but like my credit union will refund ATM fees if you use your card to make at least 6 purchases in the month. Las Vegas had those heafty ATM fees and they were all reimbursed into my account at month’s end.

    As for not-cleaning roommate or snooze alarm would all drive me batty! So in failing inspection – I hope you didn’t get blamed in part of her non-compliance.

    1. That would have been so handy! If I had known about how hard I would have gotten hit over the head with the ATM and foreign transaction fees beforehand, I would have definitely done something to avoid it. I estimate the fees alone were probably $100 – $200 over the course of my contract. Next time 🙂

      Oooh, Lordy. That’s not even the worst of what my roommate did. I was *very* happy when she signed off. We’d failed cabin inspection twice, but somehow managed to sneak by without any consequence, although we totally should have (one time it was because the inspectors wrote down the wrong cabin number and I just didn’t… correct them…)

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