Packing 101: River Cruising in Europe

Do’s, don’ts and other tips on packing for a river cruise in Europe.

Your what to pack for a river cruise in Europe checklist doesn't need to include gowns or tuxedos.

Gowns and tuxedos aren’t necessary for dinner so leave them off your what to pack for a river cruise in Europe checklist.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Viking River Cruises

It’s easy to pack for a Caribbean cruise—toss in shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits, sandals and tennis shoes for daytime and sundresses, collared shirts, khakis and dressy tops for evenings, and you’re done.

But cruising in Europe requires more planning. Here are some things to consider as you decide what to pack for a river cruise in Europe.

First, the weather isn’t as predictable as it is in the Caribbean, even in the summertime. Also, river vessels are much smaller than cruise liners, so there’s little hanging or storage space for extra clothes and the large suitcases they came in.

Remember, too, that the culture of river cruises is different than most ocean cruises. You may be traveling in comfortable—even luxurious—accommodations, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a river cruise that requires you to wear a gown or tuxedo for dinner. River cruises are more likely to offer an expert lecture or local entertainer than a full-out dinner dance, so formal nights aren’t a thing. At most, you may feel inclined to spruce up a bit for the captain’s welcome party; that usually means a collared shirt and slacks or khakis for men, and dressy tops and pants or skirts for women. (The exception might be if you plan to attend an opera or ballet while in port; be sure, too, to pack appropriate attire if you’ll be visiting mosques or other religious sites.)

Remember cottons and linens as you consider what to pack for a river cruise in Europe.

Remember cottons and linens as you consider what to pack for a river cruise in Europe.

Photo Credit: Courtesy AmaWaterways

Here are a few good general tips on what to pack for a river cruise in Europe:

  • Do stay comfortable by wearing breathable clothing (cottons, wools, linens) that you can wear in layers and that can be mixed and matched.
  • Do take a jacket. Even on warm days, activities on the water or up in the mountains can call for a jacket or windbreaker. Rain ponchos that fold up into tiny packages are a good idea if you’ll be spending time outdoors during the rainy season. River vessels will have umbrellas, but if you prefer a tiny one, you should bring your own.
  • Don’t skimp on footwear! No matter when or where you’re going, you’ll need comfortable walking shoes—Europe is best seen on foot—and, depending on the season or your activities, hiking boots. Learn from my mistake: If you’re taking a Christmas markets cruise on the Danube in late November, wear (or carry with you) a heavy coat, scarf, gloves and boots. That way, if your luggage is lost, you’ll still be able to enjoy the trip. (FYI: Most river ships don’t have dry cleaners, but there are laundries, and they’re often self-service.)
  • Do share suitcases with your significant other. If your bag gets lost, your partner’s will contain something for each of you to wear.
  • Do be meticulous about your electronics, which you should carry with you on your flight. Carry them in waterproof covers and take along extra batteries, memory cards, chargers and other items you might not find easily in Europe. Whenever possible, leave them safely locked up on the ship. (FYI: Most ships have Wi-Fi these days.)
  • Don’t spend valuable time searching for a drugstore. Always carry your meds and copies of prescriptions, toiletries (don’t forget sunscreen or the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule) with you, plus a few first-aid items, such as bandages and antibiotic ointment.
  • Do keep passports, visas, credit cards, cash and other important documents safe. Invest in a lightweight pouch you can wear underneath your shirt.
Sturdy footwear is a must as you consider what to pack for a river cruise in Europe.

Sturdy footwear is a must as you consider what to pack for a river cruise in Europe.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Uniworld

A final tip: For the optimal river cruise experience in Europe, consider blending in by leaving clothing that supports your favorite sports team or cause at home. Also, rethink the fanny pack and the glaring white tennis shoes. European friends of mine have said wearing either is the quickest way to get pegged as a tourist.

Ask your AAA Travel Counselor to help you choose the river cruise that’s right for you.

Thinking about a river cruise in Europe? AAA Travel Counselors are experts on the options and special offers that are available. Call 877-396-7159 or click the button at right to get more information.

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Janice Yip-Hudson, AAA Travel Counselor, Daly City, Calif.

Today, people's lives are so busy. We're thinking three days ahead just to get through our to-do lists. I love helping my clients plan vacations where they have nothing to do but relax; where time stands still, and you're just on vacation.

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