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What to Pack for an Expedition Cruise


Here’s a tip for when you’re headed out on your first expedition cruise: forget everything you know about itineraries to the Caribbean or the Italian Riviera. These trips to more remote destinations will feature activities focused on local culture, native wildlife, and full-on adventure.

You’ll be up and out of your cabin early, spend the day exploring, and get back to your ship late. You won’t need formalwear, and you can ditch accessories. Instead, you’ll need to tote items like necessary travel documents, versatile utility clothes, high-quality photo equipment, medication, and back-to-basic supplies.

Travel Documents

Most cruise lines take you step-by-step through which travel documents are required for your cruise. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need a passport. If you don’t yet have one, apply ASAP at the Bureau of Consular Services (part of the U.S. Department of State).

Depending on the countries your itinerary calls upon, you may also need visas. The US. Department of State runs down country-specific requirements.

Be sure to bring photocopies of all your documents or scan them and put them on a flash drive on cloud services like Google Docs (Pack the copies separately from the originals.) Finally, make sure that a friend back home has copies. If something goes wrong and you lose your passport and identification, having access to copies will speed the replacement process.

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Expedition cruising is active in nature and nearly all shore excursions include walking, hiking, biking, swimming, hopping in and out of a Zodiac—to name a few. You’ll want to pack comfortable, quick-dry, loose-fitting clothing for warm-weather destinations. For colder destinations, they key is layers, including thermal underwear, wind-stopper shirts, and fleece vests. Warm gloves and hats are a must. For in-between climates, a pair of "convertible" pants comes in handy. Zip off the portion below the knee for instant shorts when the day turns warm.

Visit outdoor stores like REI or Cabela’s to review your clothing options. Some hats, shirts, and pants are even treated with bug repellant, which can be a lifesaver on the savanna or in a rain forest. The Travel Outfitter by Abercrombie & Kent offer packing lists for Polar regions, Africa, and the Galapagos.

Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with local customs and expectations. Women should wear pants or long skirts when necessary, and carry a scarf to cover their heads when entering certain houses of worship, like mosques in the Middle East.

Camera Gear & Communications Equipment

Even if you’re no paparazzi, don’t go on a cruise like this without taking a camera. A good quality point-and-shoot is a must for casual photogs, while serious photographers and amateurs alike will opt for digital or film SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses. Don’t forget extra batteries and memory cards as well as a waterproof camera bag to store everything in.

You’ll probably also want to bring a phone. You can rent country-specific cell or satellite phones from Cellular Abroad. GMS phones, like iPhones, will work overseas once you authorize additional services. Watch the fees. Non-GMS phones require that country-specific SIM cards be installed.

Regardless of what type of gear you carry, think about registering it with US Customs and Border Patrol before you leave your home airport. You may be asked to pay the duty on the items when re-entering the United States unless you have proof that you owned the equipment prior to the trip. (The same goes for expensive jewelry, though suggests you omit those sorts of things from your list of must-pack items when it comes to expedition cruising.)


If your vacation takes you far from home, it’s best to consult a doctor specializing in travel medicine before departing. Primary care physicians don’t always know which diseases are prevalent in distant lands. The International Society of Travel Medicine can help you find a specialist in your area. He or she will suggest which shots, if any, you need before your trip and what prophylactic medications you should bring (think Malaria prevention and anti-diarrhea pills).

Don’t neglect over-the-counter medications. It’s always wise to pack heartburn relievers (calcium carbonate), cold and flu tablets, and antibiotic ointment.

Don’t Over-pack

Here’s our final bit of advice: don’t over-pack. It will be tempting to bring more than you’ll need. Remember that most ships can provide laundry services, so you don’t need to have different outfits for each day of the week. For maximum no-frills thrill, focus on the must-have items and leave all the rest at home.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

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