A challenge: How do we pack for two river cruises spanning three weeks? And how do we pack as we prefer – all carry-on? We did it for the Galapagos last week. Can we do it for our cruises in Europe?
Tamera and I are sitting on our back patio, coffee in hand, making the final preparations for two cruises: 1) a seven-day barge trip through Alsace; and 2) an 11-day cruise on Crystal Bach.
The latter is Crystal River Cruises’ President’s Cruise. Tom Wolber, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises will be on board with his wife Sharon. What to wear? Dress code is “Crystal Casual,” which is outlined here Guidelines & Policies. Tamera will be on board for only one night before heading back home, so the challenge of packing for Crystal is all on me.
Men’s Crystal Casual includes:
- Open-collar shirt
- Collared polo shirt
- Button-down shirt
- Dress shirt (no tie required)
- Dress pants/Smart trousers
- Sport coat (optional)
Because this is the President’s Cruise, I will pack a sport coat and dress pants, which requires dress shoes and a dress shirt. These items add considerably to the bulk in my carry-on bag.
For the barge trip, we are hosting a diverse group of guests from the U.S. and Canada on what has become an annual event. In April 2020, we’ll be hosting three barge cruises in Burgundy and in Alsace.
Our barge trip, which begins on Friday, will take us through Alsace. Two weeks ago the 10-day forecast appeared foreboding: rain every day. Things were looking much better when I checked the forecast this morning: highs in the 60s and low 70s, with only a small chance of rain.
We have been preparing for a few days now. We have laid out everything we think we want and need to bring; now we need to streamline what we pack.
What We’ll Pack – And How
Finding outfits that are multipurpose and versatile to meet all the different scenarios and weather is a challenge, especially fitting all the attire into carry-on luggage. Plus, we want our hands free, which means backpacks. Our goal is to always pack as if the airlines were going to lose our luggage.
We are bringing clothing and essentials which are suitable for air travel and on board the barge and river cruise as well as for excursions involving hiking and biking.
The attire on the barge is casual, and for that we are grateful. It means fewer shoes, fewer jackets, fewer dressy clothes. No formal wear is required.
Long-distance backpacking taught Tamera the “rule of three,” which allowed her to keep her load light and less bulky: three pairs of socks, three bras and three pair of underpants. This conveys into the one she wears, the one that’s dirty and the one that is drying from hand-washing.
Tamera has also discovered lightweight, fashionable, and functional adventure and travel clothing and footwear at our local outdoor specialist retail shops. These outfitter stores carry brands such as Patagonia, Columbia, Outdoor Research and Goretex, to name a few. Footwear suitable for both hiking and wearing in the water is by Keen and Merrell, for our choices.
Dansko Mary Jane shoes are what Tamera wears on the plane and around town. They are heavy but are easy to slip on and off. In addition she can wear them with jeans or a dress and a walk around town all day.
A layering system for clothing and outerwear allows us to adjust to conditions to protect ourselves and keep us comfortable. A list of what we each will pack follows.
- Light rain jacket
- Buff brand neck gaiter
- Lightweight insulated jacket
- 2 pairs lightweight quick-drying hiking pants
- 2 pairs lightweight quick-drying hiking short
- 2 technical short sleeve tops
- 2 long sleeve quick-drying shirts
- 2 packable travel dresses
- 3 pairs of lightweight fleece leggings
- Fleece sweater/jacket
Even if there is no precipitation, a rain jacket makes an excellent windbreaker on a sunny day. A mid-layer insulation piece can be added or removed under my rain shell to adjust my core temperature as needed. Buff neck gaiters can add warmth by covering my neck and also keep the sun off. Buff’s can also be used as head wear to tame the locks on a windy day or under a rain hood to add warmth. We lose heat through our heads.
For adventure clothing we bring lightweight, quick drying hiking pants, shorts, and short and long sleeve shirts for layering (two of each).
We choose technical socks, wool or synthetic, not cotton. Cotton holds moisture and can get chilly. Lightweight fleece leggings can be fashionable with dresses and functional by adding warmth under trousers too.
My go-to shoes are Keen Aruba II , which not only slip on and off easily but also quick-drying and with shock-absorbing midsoles, meaning they’re good for long walks. For long walks and hikes, I’ll wear Keen Newport Hydro , again, quick-drying and more secure on the foot with closed toes and back straps.
We’re also packing cameras, tripods, two iPads and much more. And we are packing some items on this trip that we forgot to bring on other trips.
- Cold medicine. Travel increases risk for catching a bug. On a ship, it can be difficult to find cold medicines if needed.
- Platypus brand water bottles. These are lightweight, durable and packable. They can roll up and fit in a pocket when empty. We will reuse and refill these from a tap, rather than using endless plastic water bottles.
- GoToob brand travel bottles. These are TSA approved and refillable. Another way to avoid the multitude of endless little shampoo and lotion plastic bottles.
- Command strips with hooks. Other travelers recommend we bring these to hang clothes in our cabin. These are small, sturdy and easily removed without damaging any surface.
Can We Get It All In Carry-On Luggage?
We want to use carry-on luggage, so that the airlines hav no chance of misrouting or losing our bags. And we were tired of maneuvering wheeled luggage up and down escalators, bumping into people, and rolling it through city streets with cobblestones or steps. Plus we found we overpacked when we had the luggage space.
Tamera is using a 36 liter, “carry on legal” Osprey backpack. With a backpack she can be hands-free, and all the weight is on her hips not her shoulders when walking around.
We feel there is an extra security in wearing our packs as long as we don’t have valuables protruding from pockets.
We rolled our clothing to fit items in our bags. Rolling reduces wrinkles. We do not do ironing.
We have filled all the little nooks, crannies and pockets with our travel needs. Our packs fit in the overhead compartment of the plane.
I am using a ULA Camino 2 backpack as a carry-on. It is designed for travel and for easy access. I also carry a hip-pocket bag. made by Thrupack , and amazingly, it accommodates two phones, a Kindle, passport, credit cards, cash, business cards, Apple Airpods and more.
In addition to our carry-on items (the backpacks) we’re allowed personal items, generally considered to be a purse, briefcase or laptop computer. In practice and through experience, however, airlines generally allow personal items that are smaller than carry-on items. For example, we use a small roller that can also be hand-carried, such as this one from Briggs-Riley .
Aboard Crystal Bach there is laundry service , which we will likely need. Crystal’s website reads: Laundry services may be arranged through your Suite Attendant or your Butler. Laundry charges will be billed to your shipboard account. Complimentary self-service Guest Laundry, including washing machines, detergent, fabric softener, dryers, irons and ironing boards are provided on Deck 1 on Crystal Bach, Crystal Mahler, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel.
Now It’s Up To The Airlines
At the airport, if the airlines balk at our carry-on luggage, we’ll go to plan B. We have additional backpacks that fold into their own pockets. Those will give us an extra bag in case we need to re-strategize. We also use these smaller backpacks on excursions and day trips while on the cruise.
The secret to being able to pack as lightly as we did was to start early, think about it, lay everything out, think some more, sleep on it (figuratively) and dispose ruthlessly. The strategy worked well for the Galapagos, and we hope it will work well for Europe.