Before we embarked on the trip of a lifetime, I began thinking about how to pack for a European river cruise. We had purchased Viking River Cruise’s “Grand European Vacation.” I researched how and what to pack, especially thanks to Pinterest. I’ve been to Europe a few times, but never with such limited luggage restrictions because of the small amount of storage in our stateroom aboard the ship. Looking back on the trip, I learned a lot about packing for a fall European river cruise. For a man’s perspective, I asked my husband – who has been places for several years and traveled the world – for his input. You’ll find it mixed-in with my tips and advice.
Also, start making a TO DO/TO TAKE checklist a few months before the trip. Use it as you pack and get ready to leave your home to avoid those “Did I turn off the stove, etc.?” thoughts while you are already in the air halfway to your destination.
How to Pack for a European River Cruise
First of all, I took the advice of several tourists/travel bloggers on Pinterest regarding how to pack for a European river cruise, and used a rolling duffle bag (26 inches) as my airline checked bag because it would expand and also, when empty, fit under the bed in our cabin. I brought an airline carry-on rolling bag and a backpack. I packed an extra set of clothing in the carry-on, in case our luggage went to Amsterdam when we went to Budapest. The only problem occurred when a Lufthansa agent told me that my carry-on was too heavy! Yes, a carry-on’s weight matters as well as its dimensions when you are flying on European airlines, so you need to check the airline’s weight limits for those items, too. So, all that planning went down the tubes, as my carry-on got checked through to Budapest from Chicago. Fortunately, it showed-up with us in Budapest.
Let’s start at the bottom. If your feet hurt when you’re on vacation, you’re done. You plod along, wishing for it to stop. Every step, which should be supporting your enthusiasm to discover new ideas and see new sights, turns into anguish by 4 p.m. I included a pair of boots that I’d broken in and a pair of walking athletic shoes. I also brought along a pair of flats for evening attire and flip flops for the cabin. However, the boots – which had been tried and true before the trip – blew out and blistered my big toe. The sneakers didn’t work well on cobblestones, and there were a lot of cobblestones.
To solve this difficulty, while on the free time part of our tour in Bamberg, Germany, we searched specifically for and found a sporting goods store within walking distance that sold LOWA boots. LOWA makes excellent boots for women and I’ve worn them here in the States for years, I bought a new pair that fit like a glove from that store.
So, keep that in mind. If you do blow out a pair of trusty shoes while on a tour, just head to a sporting goods store and get a fresh pair. There are so many boots that don’t need to be broken in first, and are built on a sneaker-type platform. I also headed over to the local “chemist” (pharmacy) and bought some better blister “plasters,” too. I only had moleskin along with me.
Socks Matter, Too
Another tip to remember when you pack for a European river cruise is to bring socks of the type that you can wear all day long, as if you’re on a hike. If your feet tend to blister, use a trick my husband learned in basic training – wear a thinner nylon sock underneath your walking socks. The socks tend to slide against each other, instead of sliding against your skin.
There also are a load of great compression socks or compression calf sleeves out there, that might help with any swelling and help knees feel better at the end of each day.
We went to Europe at the end of September, when temperatures ranged between the 70s Farenheit in the day and 50s at night. It’s really a perfect time to be there. I based my wardrobe on the color black – black pants, black jeans and black leggings. Then, I built everything else around that basis, with lots of mix and match options. Since we didn’t have laundry facilities onboard, I took along some lightweight, washable tees that I could quickly dunk in the sink or take in the shower with me, and hang up. Sometimes, I even draped a shirt or 2 out on the balcony, over our chairs, while we cruised down the river.
For the evenings, even though it’s supposed to be a business casual, some people opted for tee shirt casual. We brought along a mix of shirts (blouses for me and V-neck pullover with tee underneath for the hubs), so we always dressed up a bit for dinner.
My husband bought 2 pairs of Duluth Trading Company’s “Dry on the Fly” trousers for daytime wear on our outings, and was able to spot clean them with shampoo and water in the evenings so they could dry overnight. When you pack for a European river cruise, bring some type of detergent. I brought small packets of Tide laundry detergent, and we used shampoo.
Bring enough underwear for a European river cruise to last at least a week. If you’re used to wearing cotton, don’t. It’s time to go synthetic and opt for wick-away material. You can wash that out at night and it’ll be dry by the next morning. The shower in our stateroom had a clothesline that extended the width of the box and we used that for undies and socks. Also, you’re in Europe … let go of the notion of constantly wearing fresh and clean clothing; just don’t make the mistake of thinking cologne or perfume will mask body odor.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Think layers. I brought a few wick-away tees, a lightweight fleece jacket, a couple of lightweight sweaters and a rain jacket. I also included a knee-length, thin cardigan that I could wear and dress up for evening dinners, or toss on as a robe. My husband brought layers, too. You definitely need a rain jacket with a hood, and don’t forget neck scarves – so fashionable and they add that extra layer of warmth when you’re on deck and it’s breezy.
Hats and Gloves
While heading out the door to the airport, I tucked a fleece stocking cap and a pair of lightweight gloves into my checked baggage. I was glad I did – especially on the damp days. As the ship motors upriver, one of the neatest places to be for sightseeing is on the observation deck atop the ship. Be advised that there is a stiff breeze (and occasional spray off the river) when the ship is underway that will turn a cool cloudy afternoon into a shivery cold and miserable experience … unless you brought enough clothing layers to wear.
But, enough about me …
How She Packed for a European River Cruise
I asked a newfound friend on the cruise, Deanne Breedlove, from Austin, Texas, who has made numerous international trips, for her tips on how to pack for a European river cruise.
What I’m Glad I Brought
- Layers, layers, layers (t-shirts, long sleeve t-shirts, light sweaters, puffy vest, coat, shorts, pants, dresses, etc.) The climate changed dramatically along the way so it was good to be able to adjust to outdoor heat, indoor cold, Amsterdam cool, etc.
- Athleta leggings and skorts with deep pockets. The pockets are GREAT for your iPhone and even a water bottle, and they are very comfortable and versatile.
- Cycling shorts – helps for long bike rides.
- Flexible iPhone tripod. It’s a staple when I travel. Great for group photos, time lapse, mounting your camera in difficult places.
- Blister Band-aids for feet. Just in case! I ended up not needing them, but someone in the group always does.
- The North Face luggage – While I’m very attracted to the 4-wheel, rolling, hard-shell suitcases that have a phone charger built into them, Shawn (hubby) has been right about The North Face luggage being user friendly. It only rolls on 2 wheels (its biggest drawback), but it is very durable, folds down like a duffle so you can put it under those Viking beds and stores easily at home. If you bring 2 pieces, the smaller can fit inside the larger for storage under the beds on the cruise.
Note: I like the clear John Hart travel bags in a variety of sizes and colors but I’m sure there are other brands. They can double as an evening bag if you need a clear one for a certain event for security reasons.
I bring a travel tote for the plane that has the following pouches inside of it:
- a pouch for Rx/medicines (Tylenol, etc.)
- a pouch for my reading and sunglasses, pen, gum
- a pouch for chargers, cords
- a travel wallet with my ID, passport, credit cards.
And then, Deanne, being Deanne, added this information.
What I Wish I Hadn’t Brought
- “Extra” tennis shoes – Had I needed them, I would have been glad I brought them. However, I didn’t need them, so they just took up space.
What I Wish I Had Brought
- A backpack like my friend Glenda’s – it had holders for 2 water bottles on the OUTSIDE of the zipper! I had to put Shawn’s and my water INSIDE my zipper and we were zipping all day long.
Viking River Cruise did not endorse or pay for any of my posts about the vacation we took. It was all on our dime. Would I do it again? Absolutely, and I’d go back to Viking in a heartbeat.
See other posts about the cruise.