Packing Tactics: Wear and Recycle

Standing before a closet of clothes, the future cruiser faces the daunting task of packing an appropriate wardrobe to cover port stops, days by the pool and dinner dress – all the while remembering the items will need to be placed into a Barbie-sized closet. To accomplish this nearly impossible task takes what I call “Guerilla Packing.”

My Cruisemates comrade, Kuki, recently wrote an article that called for taking along a very broad list of cruise clothes; by contrast, let’s look at the other side – the Lean, Mean Packing Machine.

The primary tenet of this packing tactic is: “Wear and recycle.” Nothing extraneous is allowed. Of course, no one wants to be seen in the same outfit day after day, night after night. People will talk. That is where the planning comes into packing play. (All my examples will be a man’s wardrobe, but female cruisers should be able to use the same approach in their planning.)

The first step is to count out the days and evenings you will need to address. In this case, we will assume a seven-night, warm-weather cruise with three port stops, three full sea days and an evening upon embarkation. This translates into seven dinner outfits and nine sets of daytime clothes (to account for embarkation and the day you disembark.)

Now that we have identified the problem – how to pack 16 outfits into a garment bag and 18-inch rolling carry-on, without needing a wrestler to haul them – we will break it into manageable steps. The simplest way, I’ve found, is to separate clothing into daytime and nighttime, and then a miscellaneous category. I then type these categories into the computer and break them into subcategories: Day 1, Day 2, etc.

As for evening wear, there are always two formal nights on a week-long cruise, and five others that usually call for either casual or “resort casual” clothing. In my packing book, formal translates into a suit and tie; casual is a polo shirt and slacks; and resort or country club attire is a rayon/silk shirt and slacks. Believe it or not, all these evenings count up to: one suit, two ties, two dress shirts, one belt, one pair of dark shoes, two pairs of slacks, two polos and three rayon/silk shirts. By rotating clothing, it will appear to the casual observer you have a new outfit each night. This is when it helps to note the standard order of evenings.

For ease in understanding the plan, I will underline clothing when it is being worn a second time, and number the items to show when they pop up again in the wardrobe plan

  • Evening 1 (casual night): Polo Shirt #1 and Slacks #1
  • Evening 2 (formal night): Suit #1, White Dress Shirt, and Print Tie
  • Evening 3 (resort casual): Slacks #2 and Rayon Shirt #1
  • Evening 4 (resort casual): Slacks #1 and Silk Shirt #1
  • Evening 5 (resort casual): Slacks #2 and Rayon Shirt #2
  • Evening 6 (formal night): Suit #1, Striped Dress Shirt, Solid Tie
  • Evening 7 (casual night): Polo Shirt #2 and Slacks #1

Please note: What matters most is what is above the waist – people are going to see you for longer periods of time at the dinner table, or seated at the show or in the casino. By wearing something rather nondescript on the bottom, you can wear and recycle. Along these lines, on formal night a change in color of shirt and style of tie will make that suit appear like a fresh outfit. For women, think of a different jacket or scarf, etc.

In the daytime category, you will see how some evening shirts are worn a second time during the day. The bottom line is that eight days of cruising and traveling translate into three pairs of shorts and five cotton shirts. The reason for more fresh shirts is that daytime clothing gets the longest amount of wear, and the most active. Also, on the shorts, bring dark-colored ones – they hide the dirt from the day better.

  • Daytime 1 (embarkation): Cotton Shirt #1 and Shorts #1
  • Day 2 (sea day): Shorts #2 and Cotton Shirt #2
  • Day 3 (sea day): Shorts #3 and Cotton Shirt #3
  • Day 4 (port stop): Shorts #1 and Polo Shirt #1 (from first dinner)
  • Day 5 (port stop): Shorts #2 and Cotton Shirt #4
  • Day 6 (port stop): Shorts #3 and Cotton Shirt #5
  • Day 7 (sea day): Shorts #1 and Polo Shirt #2
  • Daytime 8 (disembarkation): Shorts #2 and Polo Shirt #2 (from dinner the night before)

On disembarkation day, you’ll note I violated one rule – the shirt was worn the night before at dinner. However, normally you have to have your suitcases out the last night, so this way you can fill the suitcase the last afternoon of the cruise and fully enjoy your last night on-board, while everyone else is back in their cabin busily packing. Just re-hang the evening’s shirt to wear off the ship, and throw the pants and shoes into the small bag you carry off.

I admit it looks as if you need a flow chart to keep track of everything. But if you take the clothes out of your wardrobe and write on the preliminary packing list, “This is No. 1,” you can keep track. Also on my standard typed list, a better description is noted, such as “green print rayon shirt.” By the way, this guide comes into play later.

Our final category is miscellaneous. This is all-encompassing and can be altered to fit your needs -- but remember, it’s not to be used as an excuse to throw in extraneous clothing.

My standard miscellaneous items include: one pair of cotton pants or jeans (only if a chilly day is forecast), one ball cap, one belt, seven pairs of dark socks, four pairs of white socks, the toiletry bag, two magazines, a camera and travel clock. I usually also pack one tee-shirt and a pair of slip-on shorts to wear when hanging out in the cabin and usually re-use one of the cotton shirts later in the cruise for the same purpose when the tee becomes stale.

We are not avid swimmers, so I just pack one set of trunks, which easily dry out in one evening. Those who plan on a lot of time in the spa or pool should pack two. Finally, I plan on fresh underwear every night but do admit they get re-used the next day (heck, they were only worn for 3-4 hours at night). Finally, on sea days, I just wear flip-flops, so no need for white socks those three days.

One item I have not touched on is footwear. Shoes take up a lot of space, so I have very strict rules – you get three pairs, and one must be worn on and off the ship. This amounts to one pair of dark dress shoes (if they don’t go with the two pair of slacks and the suit, you must substitute slacks that can be worn with this one pair); one pair of sneakers (which are worn embarking and disembarking); and one pair of flip-flops for pool wear or during sea days.

Now that you have the packing plan in place, it’s time to transfer to the suitcases. I normally use one garment bag and one large suitcase for the two of us. One person should be able to get away with one garment bag or large suitcase, and perhaps a small 18-inch roll-on. But before transferring the clothes, type or write up the list of clothing on a day-to-day basis. (Again, you will see how this figures in just a bit.) With that, begin to pack.

I always send all the shirts and pants to the dry cleaners before the cruise – and ask that each be individually wrapped in plastic. You will not believe how this eliminates wrinkles! Wire hangers are your friend when packing (sorry Joan Crawford). The hanging clothes are then put in the garment bag in reverse order of appearance (daytime clothes in the back, and then evening clothes).This way, when you get on-board, you open the bag, hang the clothing, and you’re done. It’s all in order of appearance – say “adios” to your brain keeping track. Also, pack the clothing list you typed on the computer and keep it nearby in the closet. This not only helps you to remember, but you will also avoid the standard question from your partner, “What am I supposed to wear?” I just say, “Consult the list.”

Shorts are folded, while small items (socks and underwear) get my bargain-basement Space Bag routine. For this, take a zipper-style plastic bag, throw in socks, sit on bag, and zip. Flat as a pancake! Other small items (travel clocks, magazines, etc.) get shoved in the shoes. The hanging toiletry bags are great space savers, too. Three small items to throw in: Post-Its, to leave notes for your cabin steward; a backpack for port and sea days; and some return address labels for your bag tickets so you don’t have to write all that info out when returning.

Finally, on the clothing items that are re-used, when you come back to the cabin after an evening out, just move the item to the next appropriate day, while consulting the typed list. Voila! You are all set.

Here is my total packing list for a seven-night cruise:

  • Two polo shirts
  • Two pairs of dress slacks
  • One dark suit
  • Two ties – one solid and one print
  • Three silk/rayon shirts
  • One pair of cotton pants or jeans (if cool weather expected)
  • Three pairs of shorts – one worn on embarking
  • Five cotton or sport shirts
  • One ball cap
  • One belt
  • Seven pairs of dark socks
  • 4 pairs of white socks
  • One pair of dress shoes
  • One pair of sneakers (worn on boarding)
  • One pair of flip-flops or aqua shoes
  • One pair of pull-on shorts and white tee
  • Toiletry bag
  • Camera
  • Travel clock
  • 2 magazines
  • Cruise documentation, charge cards and money

Although you may admire these packing tips (which come from 16+ cruises), I must give credit where credit it is due. My friend, the late Pam Kane, detailed how to guerilla pack in her first book, “Cruise Control,” which was the most helpful book I found when I embarked on our first cruise in 2000.

So, my hat’s off to you, Pam … I’m carrying the packing torch.

(Harry Martin is an editor with CruiseMates, and moderates the Mexico and G/L boards on the web site.)

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