You’ve booked a fabulous river cruise getaway, now, what to pack?

The pleasures of a river cruise are many, and one of the most wonderful things is that you unpack once and enjoy a multitude of destinations arriving by your river cruise ship. But what to pack to enjoy the excursions and evening parties and dinners?

Packing light, of course, is the key. And each piece must work in a variety of ways; and each should be able to be worn many times, but look fresh. Here, travel pros share the best tips and tricks.

Photo Courtesy Kurt Winner
Photo Courtesy Kurt Winner

Choose Luggage Wisely:

Start with your luggage. Take only two. For your main piece, get a bag that travels as hard as you do. A lightweight, durable, and easy-to-maneuver through the airport bag. You can find bags weighing in at just over two pounds. The best materials are a 1000 Denier (tightness of weave) Cordura or a 2000 Dernier ballistic nylon. A backpack with a telescoping handle and exterior lacing to grip additional gear or piggy-back a smaller bag is a great choice. A smart example would be this option by Rick Steeves.

Whether or not to check your bag is a personal decision. But make sure if you carry-on, that you comply with your airline’s size and weight restrictions. Your bag should have multi-directional wheels and a long, fully retractable handle that the smaller “under the seat” bag can stack on top of as you wheel. Check that the ensemble fits your arm length comfortably at a full “running to the gate” roll. Ebags has a number of great suitcase options, with a few favorites being these by TumiEagle Creek, and TravelPro.

For your second, smaller carry-on, select either a backpack, daypack, or a combo bag that has a zippered and removable “personal item“ bag that you can keep under the seat in front of you. This bag is up to you and what you carry; PC or iPad and gadgets, camera, phone, charger, current adapter, neck pillow, snacks, baggie of liquids, jewelry, book, wallet, passport and dark glasses should fit into this bag. Again select something you can also use while on your cruise. Personally, I find the Rick Steeves Civita day bag to be perfect for me.

Where are you going?

Research the destinations and weather forecasts via the Internet. If you have not been there before, look for dress cues in the city or country by visiting the tourism website or contacting your cruise line concierge. River cruise lines will send you a detailed “help list” with the cruise itinerary and packing suggestions for your specific cruise.

AmaWaterwaysAMA Waterways Vice President Kristin Karst‘ Executive Vice President Kristin Karst is a lady I admire when she travels. She always looks well-dressed, and with a relaxed easy style. Kristin says, “I have always taken a ‘less is more’ approach when traveling. It is very rare that I check-in my luggage; and in the event of flight delays, missing a connection or losing my belongings, this has helped me become a smarter packer. I have found that packing socks or scarves inside boots or shoes creates more space in my suitcase, as does packing versatile clothing that I can layer instead of bulkier coats and sweaters. These tips also come in handy when it relates to shopping during the holidays! AmaWaterways offers several itineraries in Europe during the winter months that sail to the popular Christmas Markets, making light packing even more ideal than ever. Not only can I cross off items on my loved ones’ wish list, but I also return with a brand new wardrobe!” On a recent AmaWaterways cruise on the Rhine River, Kristin opted for simple shift dresses, dressed up or down with accessories. Nothing else except her radiant smile is ever needed.

Shore Adventures:

Sport enthusiasts demand hi-tech durability, easy wear-ability, and high style from sport clothing. In your quest to pack using one bag, allow these features to be your secret weapons. The bottom line is that you’ll want comfortable and functional clothes. For cooler climates layer; for warm, pack breathable fabrics.

I wander the world as a travel journalist. One of my favorites is a lightweight, tailored equestrian riding jacket of spandex and nylon that I use to keep the chill away in a plane cabin, add authority in the boardroom, or even to hike up a Swiss mountainside. For versatility I like Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Shade® line of hats, pants and tops. They protect from sun damage by blocking the harmful UVB and UVA rays, and also work as layering pieces in the cold. They have the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation for a minimum UPF of 30, and most importantly, they are light and easy to pack.

My other go-to pieces are tops, slacks, shirts and pants with sweat wicking qualities, better quality yoga pants, undies of 95% cotton/ 5% spandex, socks that dry quickly, convertible travel pants and other items, all available from sportswear manufacturers. Tights are a fabulous space-saver for the ladies. Add a pair of leggings to that summer tunic dress and you are set for cooler destinations or travel that includes a change of season. Recycled plastic bottles spun into fabric and edgy designs distinguish the wearable comfortable style at Nau that I like to wear in Europe.

If your taste does not run to “le sportif,” check out specialized travel wear collections in non-wrinkle fabrics that provide a more traditional look to men’s dress shirts, slacks, and sport coats (Tumi, Bonobos, Charles Tyrwhitt and Jos.A.Bank offer a lot of great “travel” fabrics). For the ladies there are no-brainer three or four piece interchangeable tops, jackets, skirts, and pants.

Photo Courtesy Kurt Winner
Photo Courtesy AmaWaterways

Destination Palette:

Select a neutral palette that reflects your destination and the season, and colors that don’t show dirt. In larger cosmopolitan cites like Amsterdam or Paris, it’s always ubiquitous black. For Lucerne, gray for spring will take you through and navy is clothing culture for summer in Lisbon. Carry this color throughout to maximize your wardrobe options and brighten your neutral canvas with bold touches of color via scarves or striped tops. Adding a silver pin, belt, or watch can pep up your simple silhouette. For the gentlemen, a few snazzy belts, interesting tie or tailored shirts create a point of interest for those cocktail receptions and special cruise nights. On AmaWaterways most river cruise evenings are “dressy casual’ meaning no formal jacket required.

A Word About Footwear:

You’ll be doing a lot of walking on a trip, and you’d better love the shoes that you are wearing. Kurt Winner, a photojournalist, prefers Mephisto shoes, which are very European, with sleekly-styled rubber soles and ventilated tops that keep feet cool and supported all day but don‘t have that “potato comfort shoe” look. I favor one color ballet flats with formed rubber soles that support my foot and make walking a breeze. You can find similar styles and brands from Naturalizer or Clarks. Break them in before you travel, and change your day shoes for another pair at night to give your traveling feet a rest or pack a pair of heels or strappy sandals.

Get Packing: How those who travel for a living do it

Select a few one-colored key pieces in specialized fabrics (such as washable merino wool or wick-able fast dry) that you can mix, match and layer. Roll your clothes, or use three-pocket organizers or compression bags in a well designed, light-weight carry on, and you‘ll be packing like a professional traveler.

Colleen Friesen, a cycling and outdoor adventure writer, says, “Unless I’m going somewhere tropical, I always pack my stuff-able down vest. It’s actually Hollofil or something and it zips into a tiny pocket. It’s a lovely base layer that works with my windbreaker.” AmaWaterways offers optional activities like bicycle tours ashore, and a wind breaker that packs into a backpack is a great idea.

Lena Katz, a worldwide travel journalist, blogger, and travel book author who always looks L.A. cool says, “I never pack close-toed dress-up shoes. They are impractical in the extreme. In cold weather, your feet will freeze, in warm weather you’ll sweat and get blisters. Nice boots are my go-to footwear. You can wear them with a dress in warm climates, as well as with pants or over leggings in cold. I tend to go for dresses and leggings or tights instead of lots of pants/shirt combos.”

If you are still undecided on a river cruise, check out AmaWaterways’ new ship the AmaStella which just launched in March for the European rivers; or browse their many ships and destinations around the world. River cruising is a fun and popular way to sample many cities from the comfort of a floating home base. And remember you only have to unpack once!

Tips for Packing Success: Regardless of the destination

  1. Functional luggage…
  2. Simple key pieces of clothing in a single color that can be paired in many ways…
  3. Comfortable walking shoes, and simple dress shoes or sandals that work with everything…
  4. Accessories that take up minimal room, but punch up your wardrobe…
  5. Layers are the key…
  6. Quick wash and dry undergarments…