Packing for Semester at Sea: Four Months On the Ocean

If you recall, I sort of struck out when packing for our six-week road trip last summer. Since space was at a premium on the M/V Explorer, I put a little more time and effort into what went in my two suitcases for our four-month circumnavigation this fall. (I still had plenty of misses.)

With Semester at Sea’s Spring 2012 voyage departing in just two weeks, I compiled a list of what to pack—and what to leave behind—for all future participants.


What I used:

Daily wear: 30 sundresses, 3 maxi dresses. It’s true: I’m a bit of a girly-girl, but I can’t help thinking dresses are efficient for a traveler. They roll up so much more compactly than any other clothing. And I bought around 10 more throughout the voyage. I could have used even more—but then again, I don’t like repeating clothing as much as I was made to this fall. Most people brought about half the outfits I did and were fine. The maxi dresses were imperative for countries like India and Cambodia where it’s respectful to cover up.

Active wear: 2 workout outfits, my running shoes. I was compelled to bring more, but knew my working out on the ship would probably be limited. I did play a number of intramural sports, as well as frequent pick-up games of volleyball, so the two outfits I did bring got a lot of use.

Lounge wear: 2 pairs of yoga pants, a handful of tank tops. The ship is a pretty casual environment. While I preferred looking nice the majority of time, many of the students wore lounge wear 99 percent of the time.

Outerwear: 3 wraps, 4 cardigans, 1 denim jacket, 2 sweaters. While it wasn’t cold in any of the countries we visited other than Japan (which was just in the 60s), the ship can get pretty darn chilly. I got a lot of use out of my layers, which paired perfectly with my collection of dresses.

Formal wear: 3 nice dresses. I only brought three silk dresses (one of which is pictured on the right, below), which I wore for the following occasions: formal family nights, nice dinners out in port, fine dining on the ship and meeting Desmond Tutu. Three was the perfect amount.

Footwear: 2 pairs of flip-flops, 2 pairs of nice sandals. I primarily wore my Havaianas everywhere, but I brought one pair of silver Sam Edelmans and one pair of gold gladiators that together matched all my nicer outfits.

Cover-ups: 2 scarves. In many sites we visited, covering your shoulders was required. I always kept a scarf in my camera bag—just in case.

Electronics: My MacBook Pro. Obviously. And if you don’t have AppleCare, trust me and purchase that bad boy before taking your Mac traveling! I’ve had my computer completely replaced twice now in three years—for free (well, minus the cost of AppleCare).

Storage: A portable hard drive. Many students’ hard drives failed due to the ship’s vibrations so I was very careful about backing up all my files after each port. Plus, photo-swapping and music- and movie-sharing are big on board, so having an external hard drive with a lot of storage comes in handy for a myriad of reasons.

Wrinkle release spray. Notice how wrinkled all of my clothing is above? Well, there are no irons on board, so I got by with a small can of wrinkle release spray, which you can buy at most drugstores or supermarkets.

Magnets. SVV had the foresight to buy these heavy-duty Rare Earth magnets, which were very useful for hanging things in our rooms. We picked up some over-the-door magnet hooks in one of the ports, as well, for hanging jackets, backpacks and the like.

Medicine: Cipro, Pepto Bismol. I cannot even tell you how many bottles of Pepto (both the tablets and the liquid) we went through in four months. That would just be disgusting (and alarming). Nasal spray like Afrin and cold medicine like Dayquil/Nyquil and cough drops also were hot commodities each time a cold circulated on the ship.

Instant coffee. It’s no big secret that the ship coffee…well, is it actual coffee? I don’t think so. We spent a lot of our funds buying lattes and cappuccinos at the coffee bar. You can avoid this excess expenditure by stocking up on Starbucks’ instant VIA coffee, which is about as close as you’ll come to the real deal while still enjoying the convenience of it being instant.

Snacks. We brought a whole bag of snacks to start, which I was against, but it wound up being a good thing. Sometimes, after it’s been awhile since the last port, the food in the cafeteria gets a bit limited. Having snacks on hand like Cup of Noodles that could double as a meal was a saving grace.

(Clearly, with all the photography we do, SVV and I brought a lot more electronics than noted above—four cameras, five lenses, a tripod and a myriad of other accessories, to be exact. For our full repertoire of gear, see here.)


What I wish I’d brought:

A water bottle. There are no water fountains on the ship, so the only way to stay hydrated is by carrying your own water bottle and filling it up in the dining room or else buying bottled water at the snack bar (an unnecessary expense). While we had a whole cabinet of Nalgenes back home, we wound up paying twice the price in South Africa since we didn’t bring any on the ship.

More costumes. There were a lot of opportunities to dress up—from Halloween to talent shows to Wacky Tacky Day—and I love any excuse for an ensemble.

A beach towel. We spent a lot of time toward the end out on the pool deck working on our tans, and the bath towels just didn’t cut it.

A nice map or other token of memorabilia. At the end of the voyage, many of the participants have all their friends sign or leave notes in a journal or on a map. If I’d thought about this in advance, I would have purchased a beautiful antique map of the world before leaving and using this as my keepsake. The ship store sells $4 maps, but they weren’t anything I would have wanted framed on my wall.


What I could have left at home:

My iPad. With my laptop on hand, there was no need for a secondary device.

2 hoodies, 2 long-sleeved sport shirts, 2 fleeces, 1 puffy jacket, 1 hat. I didn’t wear any of these. Not once. Granted, we were lucky with weather and chased summer for four months, but one heavy item would have been enough just to be safe. I wish I had used this allotted space for more dresses, particularly as all of these garments took up a lot of room.

2 jeans, 1 pair of slacks. One pair of jeans is always a smart thing to pack, but I didn’t even take the other two pairs of pants out of the bag!

2 pairs of TOMS. While I wore my TOMS often in California, I found myself living in flip-flops both on and off the ship.

The tripod. While we brought this for the sole purpose of doing long exposures at the Taj Mahal, tripods were forbidden. We used it some at Angkor Wat, but all in all, not worth the hassle of hauling it around.

Brita filter. It was a good idea in theory—water from the tap on any ship is never very tasty. But I found that even when filtered through the Brita, it still tasted rather off. Instead, filling up a bottle from the dispenser in the Garden Lounge wound up being the best option.

French press. SVV and I like our coffee. Knowing it was going to be subpar on the ship, we brought our own press. We didn’t realize how difficult it would be to clean in our cabin, so we quickly packed it up in storage under our bed.


What I’m glad I didn’t pack:

High heels. Girls, you’ll hardly ever wear them, so don’t waste the valuable packing space! Likewise, SVV said he’s glad he didn’t pack men’s dress shoes. His Chucks were acceptable the majority of the time.

A hair dryer. There’s one in each cabin—plus, I hardly ever did anything besides washing my hair and putting it up in a wet ponytail.


Have you traveled around the world before? What items did you find handy? What could you have done without?

If you enjoyed this post, please recommend it through one of our social media icons to the left. This will enable us to grow and continue bringing quality content on a frequent basis. Also consider subscribing to our newsletter or RSS feed. Thanks for reading!

Comments ( 68 )

  1. I carry a water bottle with me every time I go on a trip, even if I have to empty it and then refill after I get past airport security. Now Brita makes water bottles with a filter built right into the lid and they are so convenient. Also, if I know I’m going to be traveling somewhere that I might not have much access to good coffee, I’ll switch to caffeinated tea (Earl Grey or English Breakfast) to drink with meals instead. It’s my way to ensure that I can get my caffeine fix without having to drink sludge coffee.

    • That’s a really good idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had full bottled water in my bag and have to dump it at security–such a buzzkill and then I never have anything to drink on the plane when I want it!

  2. You and Andi P with your dresses! I tried it out for the first time – took 4 sundresses to Key West and Ft. Lauderdale over Christmas and it actually was cool, but I can’t wear a dress on a plane for some reason! 30 cracks me up!

    • I know…it might have even been a few more than that, actually. I was just guesstimating =) It’s a sickness, I think.

  3. I am SO curious to know how you dress your dresses up for colder weather. I’ve been doing boots and tights and that *somewhat* helps, but I still have to wear a jacket all the time because they are short sleeved. I’m so sick of wearing jeans and long sleeves for winter weather, though!

    PS Heart this packing list. I love seeing how you pack SO light for SO long!!

    • I have a lot of three-quarter length dresses that I can wear in any weather, and then I pair them with a scarf, belt-and-long cardigan combo or else a leather or denim jacket, tights (I seriously have about 50 pairs in every color of the rainbow) and boots. That was my uniform while in San Francisco! I’m allergic to most kinds of wool, so I can’t really wear heavier sweater dresses in winter months sadly.

  4. I love posts like this. I have a post in draft form, waiting to be published, that details how I can pack 14 outfits into a carry on. Perhaps I need to revisit that post.

    Love this!

  5. I love hearing how you pack!

  6. Ahhh – your Moods of Norway sweatshirt went unworn, what!?!? :)

    I’m really interested how my packing will change for my second trip back to Norway – granted the weather will be different, but there were things I never wore and things I wore every day.

    • I know, right? It needed a bit of a break, as Lord knows I wear that thing out in the US! It’s my hoodie of choice for wearing around the house and to do errands in. Have you bought much there? My Norwegian friend who was in LA and just moved back to Oslo worked at their U.S. HQ so I stocked up when I was visiting her last year.

      • I didn’t do much shopping while I was there (I could barely afford food!) but my one complaint is that there is so little selection in the store that if you buy something and then wear it in Norway, everyone knows exactly where you got it from. Case in point – there was a girl on my plane from CPH to JFK wearing a sweater that was really cute but that I immediately picked out as from Moods. But if you buy it there and wear it here, no problem!

  7. Holy smokes – I can’t believe you took 30 sundresses! That’s totally you. :) (I don’t think I even own 30 sundresses.) And, I love that you chased summer the whole time – how awesome!

    We love our water bottle sling and water bottle because it’s so nice to be able to carry water around everywhere, even while seeing sites.

    • I would not have packed nearly as much as I did had I been a true RTW traveler and at the mercy of what I could carry. The nice thing about traveling on ship was that I could take two 50-pound bags and two carry-ons and not worry about the weight once I was on board. Scott also took an equal amount of baggage–of course all of the space under our beds then went to our empty suitcases!

  8. I made a list for traveling, it’s helped me with what I need and don’t really need.

    30 dresses?! I don’t think I own three. Although I could see how much space they would save vs Levi’s.

    It’s good to see lists like this, it helps. Oh, and I always travel with a wide-mouth nalgene bottle.

    • I own…a couple hundred. And that’s not an exaggeration! I only realized how out of control it was when we moved and from unpacking the past couple weeks. (I really like to shop at sales and I don’t like to throw things out…what can I say?)

      Lesson learned with my water bottle conundrum. I couldn’t find a wide-mouth Nalgene in Africa, so I had to use the narrow-month one, which was a bit of a pain when I wanted to add ice!

      • A couple hundred?! Oy!

        I have a man in my life with a couple hundred t-shirts, so… I get it.

        If you wanted to thin the herd, maybe you could have a random dress give away on your website =)

        • And I have virtually zero T-shirts (other than race finisher shirts, which just go in a box in the attic). Perhaps we should have one massive blog clothing swap–that would be fun!

  9. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing.. I was kind of wondering how you’d back for such a long trip!

  10. I’m impressed with the way you were able to pair down your shoes!

  11. Water bottle would have been at the top of my list, can’t go anywhere without it. I don’t even own that many dresses, but find a couple of dresses is Always a good idea. I assume there were laundry facilities on board. I mean really, 4 months is a long time.

    • Yep, they do your laundry for you at $6 a bag…you can cram a LOT into that bag, too–it wound up being cheaper than using the coin-operated machine in our building in San Francisco, plus they folded everything up so nicely for us, too! Spoiled.

  12. I love the sundress/cardigan concept. Easy and you look so put together!

    (Plus, I could seriously use an excuse to buy more dresses!)

  13. I recommend ginger tablets to people who are worried about unsettled stomachs. I always travel with my backpack and Tevas. And as silly as they looked, I loved having a pair of Crocs in Chennai because we had to trudge through an inch of coal slop from our port into the city and it was great to be able to just throw them in the shower and scrub them off.

    I always think about how if I get the chance to go on SAS again, the biggest thing I’ll change is how I dress on the ship. I think I rotated between two pair of jeans, a pair of work out pants, six t-shirts, and the same pair of TOMS for the entire voyage. Love the idea of taking a bunch of dresses and leaving the other stuff home – especially on the fall trip!

    Did people on your trip use a map to track the voyage each day? When they read the coordinates out at noon each day, we all tracked them with a dot on our maps and then wrote the date to the side.

    Not sure when you’re moving to Nashville, but if you have already… welcome! :)

    • I can’t believe I forgot to mention the seasickness meds! Thanks for the reminder. I kept a big bottle of ginger tablets on my desk and Bonine in my cabin, though when we got to really rocky waters (coast of Africa, Pacific crossing), the scopolamine patches were an absolute savior.

      There was a map in Tymitz Square that they updated daily, but I don’t remember them ever announcing the coordinates over the intercom. They were posted on the TV channel and in the Dean’s Memo each day.

      We’re in Tullahoma for the next four to six months while we slowly house hunt and get our bearings. Looking at a house in East Nashville this weekend actually, though is that area still a bit dicey? We’d love to live near one of the universities or 12th South, Berry Hill, Germantown, etc.–we just haven’t seen many places with garages in those areas, which is a priority. SAS alum reunion soon, though, once we’re fully settled!

      • I meant to reply to this so long ago! How was the house in East Nashville? Love the east side – the dicey-ness just depends on where you are. It varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. Inglewood is pretty decent, and that whole side of Gallatin is usually pretty safe. Once you start to cross Gallatin/Ellington Parkway and get into Cleveland Park it gets a little dicier. 12 South is great – that’s the neighborhood where I live! But I don’t usually see many houses with garages over here, and it can get pretty pricey if you’re looking to buy. Good luck house hunting, I hope you find something awesome!

        • The house was really nice, if overpriced by about $50K, but neither of us were sold on that particular neighborhood. Plus, it was about 15 minutes from I-65, and we need to be closer to the Interstate. But we had brunch at Marche yesterday, and I LOVE that area around all the restaurants (plus, it’s a straight shot to the freeway) so we might look more around there. We’re also contemplating Crieve Hall, as it’s close enough to I-24 (Scott will be commuting south each day).

  14. Ahh yeah a tripod is always one of those things I over think when trying to figure out to pack. I do love my tripod but when I pack it I get angry for having to carry it around when I don’t I often find some random reason why I just wish it was there.

    Did you find yourself using all 5 of the lenses?

    • Anwar, good question. These days, we primarily keep the 24-105mm on one camera and the 10-20mm on the other. Many times, if we’re doing a lot of walking, we’ll leave everything else on the ship. I didn’t use my 50mm once the entire voyage, and the 17-85mm has pretty much been retired since we upgraded to the 24-105mm last spring. I keep the 70-300mm handy in case of wildlife, but we really only used it in India for our tiger safari.

  15. You did great- I’m so impressed!!! I always travel with way more dresses too- as I find them so much easier packing and if I have to washing and drying in the hotel room. Jeans- forget it! so heavy. I really like how you picked up and bought made for you dresses in some of the countries- what awesome souvieners!

    • I think we should travel together–it would be like traveling with two wardrobes! We have similar styles and could trade dresses once we tired of our own outfits =)

  16. Wow, you did a really really good job at packing light, I am very impressed! I also totally agree that a bunch of dresses and cardigans are so much easier to pack than lots of heavy jeans/trousers and generally look smarter anyway!
    Hooray for cheap tailors making souvenir dresses that bit easier to bring home from your travels too! :)

    • We did buy so much stuff while traveling that we had to ship two boxes home from Florida, so I don’t know how “light” I managed things… =) Then again, shipping is way cheaper than airline baggage fees!

  17. nice prepraitions for the great tour…Wonderful post, I enjoyed learning more about you and your travels. very interesting images

  18. Well done! I’m steadily building my dress collection, but I only have about 10. For now.

    As for water bottles – someone gave me a Vapur anti-bottle and it’s become a travel staple. I actually keep it in my bag whenever it’s not in use because it weighs nothing and takes up no more space than the actual nozzle. No good for adding ice, but I’m fine with that.

  19. I’m going on the Spring 2012 voyage and have been following this blog for the past semester. Thanks for all the insight over the months and this post has been especially helpful.

    • I’m so excited for you (and mildly jealous, too, even though I just got off the ship)! You are going to have the time of your life.

  20. Suggestions on how to find nice dresses? I have cheap sundresses from Target/Walmart and then dresses I wear to dances at my college that call for semi-formal wear, but nothing really in between.
    I really like the suggestion to wear mainly dresses. Coming from preppy UVA, where a large number of the girls wear dresses often, I am starting to get into that habit but also can’t get out of my Catholic school habit of wearing shorts under the dresses. Now I just have to remember to include shorts and dresses on my packing list. Thanks!

    • I buy most of mine on the sale racks at the end of the season–I frequently peruse the sale sections at the Limited and J. Crew and sometimes Anthropologie (check their websites too…there are often online-exclusive deals). I’d say 90 percent of my dress collection comes from those three stores. And I actually just purchased a couple spring dresses on Banana Republic’s website, which I don’t usually do (they’re too pricey) but they have a cute new line out and it’s all 25% off through today!

      Target is a good call for Semester at Sea dresses, because you don’t have to spend a lot and that way if you feel the need to toss some of your clothing out after traveling (which both my sister and I did post-SAS), then you don’t feel too guilty. Have an AWESOME time!

  21. Great list – for a ship traveler or even your average RTW. It’s much easier to pack when you’re chasing summer around the world!

  22. I covet every single one of those cardigans. In particular, that floral white one. SWOON.

    Have you tried packing cubes, by any chance? Those suckers are amazing. They’re like little drawers for your suitcase. I’m an organization freak, so I live by them. :)

  23. Thanks for this useful list! I’d love to go to sea again I just got SO sick on our last cruise!

    • I also left off this list: scopolamine patches. These were a saving grace considering I can’t even seem to take a half-hour ferry ride without getting sick! You put it behind your ear, and for three days, it dispenses medicine. On the third day, you take it off and replace it with a new one. So worth it–before I discovered this method, nothing (not Bonine, Dramamine, ginger pills) did anything to ease my seasickness.

  24. UM. What is this computer failing vibration situation you speak of? I read this last night on a train and the rattling gave me nightmares the whole way after.

  25. i cant believe i read through this post. you even make packing an interesting topic!!!! LOL
    im surprised the ship did not provide pool/beach towels!!!! and instant coffee is a must (i definitely agree). and 30 dresses? my mouth opened up in shock when i read that. wow!!!! definitely different when a lady travels πŸ˜‰ next post is about christmas and new year celebration please.

  26. I can’t imagine even owning 30 dresses… I’ve never been a girly girl but I know the next trip we’re taking – I’m totally going for the dresses. Less space, one garment.

  27. After every trip I evaluate what I took and what I didn’t need to take so I can do better on the next trip. No matter what I cut out I still end up overpacking.

  28. Thanks for writing this article, I’m planning on starting six months at sea in April and this has given me some great ideas. I especially like the idea of buying a map, drawing the coarse and getting voyage crew to sign it as a memento!

  29. I’m finally realizing how silly it is for me to ever pack high heels. I never wear them, even if I have the best of intentions. I packed them for my Vegas trip last year but couldn’t muster the strength to wear them. I’m a comfort over everything else sort of girl, I guess.

  30. Wow! I am so used to packing only what I can carry on my back and easily move with. I love the pup in these shots. She’s soooo pretty!

  31. 30 sundresses? Holy poop.

  32. Thanks for the list! I’m going on a similar trip – and can’t find ANY advice on what to pack to live on a boat :)
    (30 Sundresses sounds completely reasonable to me, btw)

  33. Hi Kristin, I’m planning to go on the 2012 spring voyage! I would appreciate if you could give me some advise on packing for the spring trip, since the locations and weather would be different from the fall trip. Any other tips would greatly be appreciated. You can also email me. Thank you so much again! I’m really excited for my voyage even though it is 11 months away!

  34. I’m going on the Spring 2013 voyage and even though I should be studying for exams instead of dreaming of the voyage, I found your post and loved it! Thanks, and greetings from South Africa!

  35. hmm.. just wondering, do you have to iron the dresses since you packed quite a lot of them? One of my troubles when travelling is crumpled clothing from being squashed in my luggage.

  36. THANK YOU so much for this! you are a lifesaver!

  37. I’m planning a world tour starting six months at sea in november and this has given me some wonderful ideas. I especially like the idea of buying a map, drawing the coarse and getting the crew to sign it as a memento thanks for the brilliant article.


  1. […] researching lists online from previous voyagers. There is a great list on the travel website Camels & Chocolate. Don’t procrastinate and do everything months beforehand. Apply for your visas, turn in the […]

  2. […] on the Fall 2011 trip, Krista Luna has made travel blogging a profession and her blog has great packing tips and stories from her two voyages and plenty of other general travel/destination specific advice. […]

  3. […] Packing for a Semester at Sea: Four Months on the Ocean […]

Leave A Note


CommentLuv badge