Essential Items for Your Next Cruise - or Even a (Gasp!) Land Vacation

Most of us learn the hard way...and still forget to pack that elusive item for our next trip.
After all of my travels, mostly cruises and a smattering of hotels, I've learned to keep these ten essential items pre-packed, ready to toss into whatever suitcase I plan to take.

  1. A flashlight.  Seems kind of obvious...for when the lights go out.  But what about if there's a fire (not raging out of control of course but escapable)? When keeping low and crawling to the nearest door, it would be nice to have a flashlight. Power failure. Looking behind furniture for that earring that fell.  I never travel without one.

  2. Cute little foam ear plugs. Yes, they work.  Whether your roommate is a snorer or your neighbors are tossing about all night or even a drippy shower, these things really muffle the sounds.

  3. Zip-lock bags.  A zillion uses are possible; for packing a piece of fruit for your day trip/shore excursion, safe storage for that gorgeous new silk scarf, accumulation of bar coasters (so you can remember what beer you tried) and business cards, those pesky little amenity bottles, shells collected at that remote beach.  You just never know.

  4. Thermos bottle.  Don't go on a trip without one.  But you're going on a cruise, you say.  OK...I don't know about you, however after a few days at sea, I easily tire of having room service deliver my coffee and Danish.  I don't put out the hang-tag on the doorknob because it never fails that if I request an early coffee, I will have had trouble falling asleep and would rather sleep late.  Or vice versa; I wake up early and have to wait till it arrives.

    With my own thermos, here's what I do: making sure it's clean of course, I fill it up at the 24/hour coffee stand just before I retire.  In consideration of others, I use one of the ship's coffee cups to fill my thermos with the near-boiling hot water or coffee.  Quickly, I put on the cap and head back to my room.  Oh...I bring back a cookie, too. In the morning, at my leisure, I uncap my thermos and pour the still-hot coffee or water into a coffee cup.   Starbuck's Via is perfect for adding to the hot water.  I keep a carton of milk in the refrigerator and have sugar packets and stirrers.  This way, I can enjoy a steamy cup of coffee when I want it, usually within seconds of when my feet touch the ground.  Also, bring a nice covered coffee mug, too.  But remember...don't fill any containers directly from the public spouts.  It's just not sanitary. It's so nice to walk around the deck, not spill your coffee and have those "ahhhh" moments to savor.

  5. Electric power strip.  First, make sure that the ship allows this in your cabin.  If they do, never leave it unattended and unplug it when not in use.  Make sure it has an automatic reset switch.  Fire is the worst hazard aboard a ship.

    That said, if you have a lot of equipment that you absolutely must lug around with you, you know it's impossible to recharge everything at the same time with one, maybe two outlets.  The power strip is great because you can recharge your laptop, iPhone, camera battery and Bluetooth earpiece all at once.  Start charging when you return to your room and by the time you've unpacked your souvenirs, relaxed for a half hour, showered and dressed for dinner, everything will be ready to go.
    Conversely, if the idea of a power strip is either too cumbersome to pack or just in case it's not allowed, bring a couple of European converters, instead.  Much lighter and compact, you might be able to plug in three or four electronic pieces, especially if you are on a cruise ship from North America.  European river ships only have 220 voltage outlets.  And usually only two of them.

  6. Bubble wrap.  Huh? tell me how you manage to bring home those ultra breakables? Or what if you must mail some of your things home along the way?  You can layer the bubble wrap in between your clothes (helps prevent wrinkles, too) and then use as needed.  When I'm on a river cruise in Europe, I always end up shipping clothes and souvenirs home.  And without bubble wrap, I used to worry about something breaking in transit.
    If you need to know the ins and outs of shipping from Europe, let me know.  I've done that in a half-dozen cities, both river and ocean cruises.

  7. Suction hooks.  Goofy little gizmos that are so incredibly handy.  Just stick them on the bathroom walls and voila! Instant storage hooks.  Depending upon the interior of your room, you can use these for caps, scarves, light jackets,wo etc.  Most ships only have two or three hooks, usually on the inside of the bathroom door.  Hotels never seem to have any hooks at all.

  8. EXTRA AA / AAA batteries.  This is so obvious, but so easy to overlook.  Not everything is rechargeable.  I also suggest bringing a spare camera battery, too.

  9. Portable battery charger for your iPhone.  There are several of these on the market...and I never travel without one.  The two that I am familiar with are Mophie and Beam Box Power Pack.  Both will allow you to get an addition 5-7 hours of use (depending on what your are doing – video burns up juice like crazy.) Just charge it up, snap it onto your iPhone like a protective case.  When you get the dreaded "10% power remaining" message, simply flick the switch and it will recharge your phone.

  10. Extra SD cards and at least an 8 GB flash drive.  I could write a book about this idea.  In many countries, it's nearly impossible to find a brand name SD card.  I once bought an unpronounceable named SD card solely out of desperation.  The next day it "blew up' in my camera and I lost four days worth of photos, including an entire ship tour.

    Which brings me to my next must-do: every night, back up your photos in at least one other place.  I learned the hard way...the one night that I didn't't download, the next day was when the SD card crashed.  Now I back up onto a flash drive and transfer all the photos to my laptop EVERY NIGHT.  The photos remain on the flash drive until I get home.  Bring a small case to keep all of the flash drives and SD cards.  Or a small Zip-Lock bag.

That's how I travel...all this and only one medium-size suitcase and my wheeled carry-on with my computer and electronics.  Don't forget small packets of clothes detergent (Tide and Woolite make small packets, but put them into a Zip-Lock bag!)