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I packed for my Alaska cruise in a carry-on suitcase. Here's what I packed and how you can do it too.

22 Jun 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

There’s nothing I hate more than checking a bag when I travel. From paying baggage fees to risking lost luggage, I find checking a bag to be more stress than it’s worth.

On my recent Alaska cruise, I packed everything I needed in a small carry-on suitcase and backpack, and I have no regrets about packing lightly for my vacation.

When I cruised to Alaska for the first time two years ago, I was overwhelmed with what to pack and ended up (gasp) checking a bag. Inside the bag I placed nearly every cold-weather outfit I could find in my closet and, unfortunately, I way overpacked.

After the hassle of lugging my suitcase around the airport, throughout Seattle, and to the cruise port, I swore I’d never check a bag for a cruise again. So when I cruised to Alaska just last week, I was determined to fit everything into a carry-on, and I’m so glad I did.

Here’s why you should use a carry-on bag to travel to Alaska, including a step-by-step method of what I packed in my bag for the cruise.

My carry-on suitcase and backpack provided more than enough space

Most airlines allow guests to bring both a carry-on suitcase and personal item on a flight. The combination of space in a suitcase and personal item-sized backpack allows me to fit everything I need for a weeklong cruise.

For my Alaska cruise, I used a standard-sized carry-on suitcase with four wheels. I always use hard-shelled suitcases as I find them sturdier and less prone to unexpected water damage while traveling. In addition, having four wheels as opposed to just two allows for easier handling while wheeling the suitcase around the airport.

For my personal item, I used this anti-theft backpack from Amazon. The backpack is made from water-resistant material and opens from a pocket against my back, lessening the risk of pickpockets while traveling through busy areas.

Not only does this backpack work perfectly as a personal item while flying, but it is the optimal bag for port days during a cruise. Its relatively small size and anti-theft features make it comfortable to wear in any cruise port.

Using packing cubes is the trick to packing for an Alaska cruise in a carry-on

Packing cubes are, by far, the best investment I’ve made for travel. My handy packing cubes have traveled the world with me throughout the past six years (as shown by their wear and tear) and I never travel without them.

Using packing cubes allows you to pack more into a small suitcase, as they condense the space your clothes take up in the bag. Saving space is critical when traveling with a carry-on, and I can easily stuff two times as many clothes in my bag while using packing cubes.

I packed three packing cubes in my carry-on suitcase—one for pants and dresses, one for shirts, and the other for undergarments and socks.

Here’s what I placed into each packing cube.

Packing Cube #1

In my first packing cube, I packed my formal outfits and pants. In total, I put nine items into the packing cube:

  • 1 pair of blue jeans
  • 1 pair of black jeans
  • 2 pairs of yoga pants
  • 1 pair of flowy patterned pants
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 jumpsuit
  • 1 pajama shirt

I found the amount of pants and formal outfits I packed to be totally adequate for my weeklong cruise. In fact, I regretted bringing three formal outfits because I ended up dining at the buffet more than I thought I would—I only wore one of the outfits!

During port days, I mostly stuck to jeans as I didn’t have many active excursions planned, and I wore each pair two or three days during the cruise. While visiting Juneau, however, I wore yoga pants as I rented a bicycle.

Related: Alaska cruise outfits: ideas of what to wear

On sea days I stuck to my flowy patterned pants or yoga pants as they were much comfier to wear when lounging in the Solarium and attending activities.

Although it rains frequently in Alaska, I think packing waterproof pants is overkill. Jeans and athletic pants should work perfectly fine in most circumstances. If you’re traveling in the middle of summer, it may even be warm enough to pack a pair of shorts!

Packing Cube #2

My second packing cube is where I placed shirts and warm layers. In total, 11 items were packed into this packing cube:

  • 2 workout shirts
  • 3 pullovers
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 black t-shirt
  • 3 miscellaneous shirts
  • 1 pair of pajama shorts

Packing layers is essential on an Alaska cruise, and many first-time visitors to Alaska are concerned with which types of shirts to pack. After three Alaska cruises, I find I have a pretty good idea of what you should pack to be comfortable in all weather conditions.

The two workout shirts, my base layers, were useful to wear around the ship and when it was sunny outside in port. In the morning, I could put one of these shirts under a pullover, and when it got too hot, I was comfortable wearing just my short sleeve shirt and rain jacket.

Related: What should you bring on an Alaska cruise?

I brought three pullovers to act as my warm layer. Most days I skipped the base layer and just wore a pullover with my rain jacket.

Aside from the workout shirts and pullovers, the more fashionable shirts I packed were useful to wear around the ship and to dinner. With four of these shirts and a sweater, I had just enough to wear every day around the ship.

Packing Cube #3

My third packing cube is where I placed undergarments, socks, and my bathing suit. This packing cube is smaller than the other two, so it’s the perfect size for packing these smaller items.

Whereas on a Caribbean cruise I would pack at least two bathing suits, I only packed one on my Alaska cruise. Alaska is not, after all, a tropical beach destination, so I assumed I would spend far less time in a bathing suit compared to on a cruise to the Bahamas.

For any cruise, I recommend packing more underwear and socks than you think you’ll need. These items do not take up much space and it’s always better to have more than you need instead of not enough!

If you’re walking around a port and suddenly step in a large puddle, you’ll want to have an extra pair of socks handy to help keep your feet warm.

Water-resistant jacket

One of the most important items to pack for an Alaska cruise is a water-resistant jacket. Alaska’s weather is unpredictable, and it might rain every day of your cruise. Some days have just a light sprinkle whereas other days encounter heavy rainfall.

Wearing a rain jacket helps keep you dry while walking around the outer decks of your cruise ship and exploring port.

I usually travel to rainy destinations with my trusty REI rain jacket, so I panicked when I could not find the jacket while packing for my cruise. Fortunately, I had another water-resistant jacket to bring which, albeit useful, still did not hold up to the quality of my REI jacket. Nonetheless, any rain jacket is better than none!

To save on space, I did not pack my jacket in my carry-on. Instead, I wore it while traveling to Seattle and to the cruise port. Luckily, it was able to fit inside my backpack if I got too warm.

I ended up wearing this jacket every day during the cruise. Having a water-resistant jacket is essential and is much more comfortable than wearing plastic ponchos or holding umbrellas while walking around ports of call.

Pro tip: If your cruise stops in Ketchikan, take a look around the town’s souvenir shops for affordable rain jackets. You’ll find a huge variety of both lightweight and thermal rain jackets that will be perfect for the rest of your time in Alaska.


Inside my personal item backpack, I packed my toiletries—hair products, makeup, and other essentials. I put my liquid products into a plastic bag to avoid spillage and for easy handling at airport security.

In total, I packed:

  • 1 shampoo bottle
  • 2 conditioner bottles
  • 1 toothpaste
  • 1 antibacterial cream
  • 1 sunscreen
  • Razors
  • Makeup
  • Travel-size contact solution
  • Contacts case and extra contacts
  • Toothbrush
  • Hairbrush

Because I was traveling with just a carry-on, I brought travel-size containers of liquid products like shampoo and contact solution. I find the amount of travel-size product to be perfect for a weeklong cruise, although I packed two conditioner bottles because I often run out when traveling with just one.

Related: 40 essential things to bring on a cruise

Additionally, packing sunscreen is recommended in Alaska even if the forecast shows clouds and rain every day. Bringing a small tube of antibacterial cream is helpful as well, as you never know when you might accidentally cut or injure yourself—avoiding infections is crucial!

I’ll admit I pack relatively light when it comes to makeup and other toiletries. Some cruisers may require far more hair products, bath products, and other items.


Because I travel for work, I end up traveling with more electronics than most other passengers. Inside my backpack, I packed:

  • 1 mirrorless camera and charger
  • 1 DJI Pocket 2 video camera
  • AirPods
  • Laptop and charger
  • 2 hard drives
  • 1 European outlet adapter
  • 1 USB hub with 4 slots
  • 1 MicroSD card reader
  • 1 camera lens cleaning cloth

If you’re not traveling with a camera, you probably only need to pack a few chargers for items like a phone or Kindle.

That being said, I recommend packing a USB hub as well. My USB hub has four USB cord spots, meaning I can charge four devices at once while using only one plug socket in the cabin. Some cruise cabins may have few outlets in the room, especially on older ships, so being able to charge more than one device at a time is helpful.

Passport and credit cards

Perhaps the most important thing to pack on any cruise is the necessary documentation to board the ship.

In my personal item backpack, I packed my passport and several credit cards into a protective case. I then put the passport into a sealed Ziploc bag and placed it into the front pocket of my backpack.

I’m always nervous about my passport accidentally getting wet, whether from the rain or something spilling on my bag. To avoid any mishaps, I always place it into a plastic bag so there is less chance of water damage.


I brought five pairs of shoes on my Alaska cruise:

  • 1 pair of black flip flops
  • 1 pair of black flats
  • 1 pair of white flats
  • 1 pair of black Nike shoes
  • 1 pair of white Puma shoes

As the photo implies, I stick to neutral shoe colors as they are much more versatile than colorful statement shoes. White or black shoes go with virtually any outfit, and part of packing with only a carry-on is knowing how to best mix and match pieces together. Neutral shoe colors make this a whole lot easier!

I wore my white tennis shoes on the plane, which meant I only had to fit four pairs of shoes in my suitcase. The other shoes were relatively small—bringing ballet flats saved space compared to other types of dress shoes—I was able to fit them in the suitcase without any issues.

Related: 15 things you don’t need to bring on a cruise

While I didn’t wear the flip flops in port in Alaska, I was glad to have them for use onboard. Sometimes it’s just easier to quickly put on flip flops before heading to the buffet or the pool instead of tennis shoes. Having them handy is convenient, even when cruising to a cold-weather destination.

As far as tennis shoes, I recommend bringing water-resistant shoes. My mom, who traveled with me on this cruise, packed a mesh/cloth-style shoe and regretted it almost immediately. These types of tennis shoes get wet very easily in the rain or when walking on a wet surface. Bringing water-resistant shoes—those with a harder shell—will be more comfortable on rainy days.

Why you should cruise to Alaska with just a carry-on bag

Packing for a cruise with a small carry-on suitcase might seem ridiculous, but it’s a better idea than you think.

If you’re flying to a cruise port, checking a bag is a huge hassle. Even if you get a free checked bag with a particular airline, it still adds unnecessary stress to the mix. If your bag does not make it on your plane, which may happen with short layovers, you might have to board the ship without your luggage.

Plus, traveling with a large suitcase makes it more difficult to transit from the airport to the cruise port. You may have to call an Uber XL instead of a normal car, and it makes navigating transit like buses and trains much more difficult.

Truthfully, you don’t need as many clothes as you think on an Alaska cruise. Unlike in the Caribbean, you won’t (hopefully) be sweating nearly as much, which means your clothes will stay cleaner longer.

Because of this, you can easily wear the same outfit twice during the week, although I find I always have enough space in a carry-on to pack a new outfit for every day.

Plus, if worse comes to worst, you can always pay for laundry services on the cruise ship, and a bag of laundry will still be cheaper than roundtrip baggage fees.

The bottom line

Overall, I have no regrets about packing for my Alaska cruise using only a carry-on suitcase. Doing so gave me more flexibility at the airport and when traveling to port, as I could easily fit on public transport and did not have to wait at baggage claim.

I never felt like I was running out of clothes, as I had more than enough shirts and pants to wear both in port and onboard. There were a few items I did not end up wearing during the cruise even with such light packing!

I’m not sure I’ll ever check a bag when I cruise, as I can’t imagine needing more than what I can fit in my carry-on and backpack. Whether in Alaska, the Caribbean, or Europe, I’ll always prefer the convenience of a carry-on.

I packed for my Alaska cruise in a carry-on suitcase. Here's what I packed and how you can do it too

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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