If you are taking a river cruise in Europe, here are some packing suggestions based on our trip in June-July 2014, i.e. the start of summer.
Buy the lightest full-size suitcase you can trust to last the trip and not eat into the 1 x 20 kg weight limit of Singapore Airlines. We had well-used Samsonite bags – one hard-shell and one soft-sided. They did the job well, but only half of each was used up, including our small souvenir purchases. If you are flying Business Class, you will have a larger allowance. We were also carrying two sleep apnoea machines, which took up some space and weight. If you don’t have such devices to carry, one full-sized suitcase might suffice two people.
We prefer four-wheelers that can be pulled or pushed. Nobody lifts suitcases anymore.
We also took some packing system bags to keep our clothes intact, otherwise they’d be completely creased by the time we got to the ship. Packing system units can also be lifted into drawers if you don’t want to unpack completely.
I took a sturdy, 14-yo backpack, while Lesley took a small shoulder bag that is given out by UK firms such as Trafalgar and Globus. Mine lets me carry a folding umbrella on the outside. We took the two small company-provided backpacks in our suitcases but did not use them at all on the cruise. I left mine behind, while Lesley used hers to carry the heaviest items back home. Other people happily used their Evergreen backpacks as day packs on our excursions, or ones they had picked up from other cruises.
Ideally, you need one with many pockets that are accessible and with decent zippers that can’t be forced open with a ball point pen. This bag should be good enough for the flights as well as the day trips. For the day trips (it was mostly sunny), I took a little camera bag that could also accommodate a bottle of water, a poncho and a windbreaker.
You will need two pairs to be safe. It can rain and you’ll need a change back at the ship. Get a comfortable pair that has a good grip for wet, cobbled roads. If you get walking shoes can masquerade as dress shoes, that’s even better, but honestly, you won’t need dress shoes on the ship or at the optional music concert. But get a pre-tested pair you can wear all day. Forget the high heels. Sandals are also OK during the day.
If you wear neat casual clothes that don’t include t-shirts or jeans, you will be ready for every occasion. I wore jeans and a business shirt during the day. I was one of 3-4 silly bunnies to wear a suit to the concert in Vienna and not only was I in the minority, it was hot and stuffy inside that room of over 1,000 people. Another ship, probably an up-market one, had people mostly dressed to the nines for the opera. There were people in t-shirts and shorts – which I do not recommend at all, but they were not kicked out.
During the day a lot of people wore shorts and cargo pants.
A hat is a good idea in summer, but remember to take it off inside a church if you are male. Women don’t have to remove headdress in churches. Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen. Sunglasses are also advisable.
We took photos and videos with our iPhones and a GoPro 3 Black. We left at home our video camera and the expensive Nikon SLR. It was rare to be in a situation where we missed the zoom lens. After all, nobody will care about our photos except ourselves and you’re not likely to be in situation to take award-winning shots. However, our cruise group included a retired professional photographer, who brought some very heavy, expensive gear.
I took my laptop as I am still in the work force and needed something with a decent keyboard to maintain this blog site, to back up the cameras daily, checking emails and for general internet access. The ship has free wi-fi. Other ships might offer a laptop in each cabin. You might need something simpler like an iPad, but think about a way to back up your camera somewhere – a laptop is just fine. If you back up your photos at home to the cloud, such as Dropbox, don’t do that on the cruise, as it might take hours or might fail.
Some cities along the route have free wi-fi, but don’t count on it, as they don’t have English instructions and you might not know how to connect. We bought global SIMs for $19.99 each and during three weeks I loaded about $150 worth of credit (mostly Facebook use) and Lesley loaded about $100. They were also handy when we got separated and needed to text one another. If you are with Vodafone, you can get a $5/day global roaming deal and you get to use your existing allowance and keep your Aussie number. Ditto with Optus, but it’s $10/day.
If the ship’s internet is down, your SIM is also unlikely to reach a cell tower, so don’t rely on it while the ship is under way.
We loaded Word Lens on our iPhones, as it was free and had French and German, but not Hungarian and Slovakian. It was handy for translating menus and the occasional placard. Not essential, but it’s fun to point the phone at some text and view it in English. For many, a phrase book might suffice, although you’re unlikely to meet anyone in Europe who does not understand English. Even in Paris nobody was rude to us for our speaking only in English.
We have several powered devices, so we take an 8-outlet Aussie power board and use a foreign plug adapter to plug it into the wall. USB devices can be charged from the TV set in your cabin (look for a USB socket) or your laptop.
On the cruise and at airports there were people using Skype (with video) to talk to their families back home and letting everyone around them hear both ends of the conversation. If you want to do this, please use earphones.
You won’t forget your toothpaste and toothbrush, but you might forget the sunscreen – you could be out in the summer sun all day and the days can be long, so don’t forget.
The cabins have a retractable clothes line, but you may want to bring your own as well. Do bring your own washing powder, preferably in small packets. Do not hang your washing in the balcony.
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