Most of our travel tends to focus on city breaks, and it is often easier for us to figure out how to pack. We’ve been doing it for decades. When it comes to what to wear on a European river cruise, though, it takes a lot more thought and planning. We share our river cruise packing list tips and tricks.
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What To Pack For A European River Cruise
In this cruise packing guide, we share our European river cruise packing tips. This includes cruise essentials and things to consider when traveling to Europe – particularly for Americans.
Part of this advice includes what not to bring to Europe as well. Included are tips on cruise clothing and outfits. I am not a fashionista, that is for sure. I pack for a mix of function and fashion while always trying to pack light. I share tips on how to pack light for Europe too!
As much as we’ve only been on two river cruises in Europe, we live in Spain and have been traveling to Europe for two decades. We know how to dress in Europe. I recognize that European river cruise attire is different. I don’t feel that on our cruise, I made any mistakes – that I brought too much or too little. And, we did it all with only carry-on bags!
Our Avalon Waterways Active And Discovery Cruise
Our Avalon Waterways experience was not our first European river cruise (or, hopefully, our last). This cruise was unique in a few key ways. First, we cruised up the Danube from Budapest to Linz on a nine day cruise. We cruised in summer during an epic European heat wave. This posed some challenges with our wardrobe for sure.
Second, we experienced Avalon’s Active And Discovery Cruise. They offer this style of cruising on the Rhone River in France, on the Rhine River in the Netherlands and Germany, and on the Danube. We cruised the Danube.
We are not as active as other passengers were on the ship, but our activities focused more on the discovery end. Whereas many European river cruises offer excursions focusing on walking tours of cities and villages, Avalon’s excursions allow passengers to go much deeper into the local culture.
For us, that meant cooking classes, absinthe tastings, beer tastings, wine tastings, and yes, even a few small hikes. We even met a count! (Read our full review of our Avalon Waterways Danube River Cruise.)
Attire For An Active Cruise
Even if your river cruise is not as active as ours was, our packing list is still relevant and relatable. Our river cruise attire focused on casual and comfortable during the day, and casual elegance at night.
This is the same as for any other river cruise. The main difference is that on an active cruise, there might be more of a need for hiking shoes and athletic gear. I also try to include below why we made certain choices while packing for this cruise.
Avalon River Cruise Dress Code
Avalon Waterways is different from other river cruise companies. They have a feel of relaxed luxury, with one of the most unique cabins in the industry. Everything on the ship feels polished and contemporary. All that said, they don’t suggest a dress code for any of their river cruises.
This is particularly the case for their Active and Discovery cruises. During the day, many passengers were decked out in active wear as they explored Hungary and Austria by hiking, biking, or canoeing. In the evenings, they wanted passengers to not worry about their river cruise attire.
This might not be the case for every cruise line. It’s important to check on the dress code for the river cruise you book. In this blog post, I share our tips on how to pack for Europe in general as well as how to pack for a European river cruise regardless of whether there is a dress code.
How Pack Light For A River Cruise
The one “rule” Avalon had with regard to packing and dress was that it requested all passengers only carry one piece of luggage. Space is at a premium on all cruise ships.
Our cabin on the Avalon Impression was, well impressive. At 200 square feet, our cabin was about 30% larger than the industry standard. Even though both of us are pretty big people, we never felt closed in by our cabin – in part because of the incredible floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sliding doors.
That said I was happy to fully unpack my bag (something I never do at a hotel) and slide it under the bed. There was a good amount of space under there, but not infinite! Avalon did a good job of moving our bags for us, which we don’t generally need because we pack light!
This is important particularly for people who are traveling in Europe before or after the cruise. You might end up dragging a bag on cobblestones or up or down stairs in an European train station. You might need to place your bag overhead on a train. It’s always my recommendation to pack light for Europe! If looking for a secure bag, check out this post on the best anti-theft travel bags.
Best Luggage To Take On A River Cruise
When we took this cruise, we only owned two pieces of luggage, and we used these suitcases whether we are traveling for a long weekend or a month.
Our carry-on sized bag from Eagle Creek can be expanded for extra space when checking it, but it is easy to maneuver and seems almost cavernous inside. I can carry this bag on my own up and down rail station steps and I can board a train with it all on my own.
If you prefer spinner luggage, check out our review of this hard sided luggage for Europe. It would be perfect for a cruise and would easily fit under the bed for storage.
What To Pack For A Cruise – Day Bags
We went a little overboard on our other bags for this trip because I wanted to look nicer when on ship or out to meet the Count of Clam in Austria!
Eric always carries his trusty messenger bag when traveling because he holds our camera, equipment, two laptops, etc. But, he doesn’t generally carry this bag around during the day.
My day bag for our cruise rotated between two options. I have a Desigual purse that fits securely under my arm and is large enough to hold my camera and accessories. I felt comfortable carrying this day bag for our cruise when heading out on excursions that were less strenuous, like wine tasting, beer tasting, schnapps tasting, etc.
I also had a very lightweight, packable daypack for our more active excursions, i.e. our evening hike through the vineyards in Austria or our climb to a Medieval castle for a knights tournament.
At night, when dining on board (or when I met the Count!) I had a tiny, casual evening bag. To me, the best purse for a cruise is one that is small and easy. This fit my phone, cabin key card, some cash, and lipstick. And, my evening bag is actually made of cork so it matches every outfit!
Each of my bags were small enough to fit in my nightstand when I wasn’t using them, meaning there wasn’t a lot of clutter around our cabin.
Crossbody Bags For Europe
For traveling in Europe, generally, I do recommend a crossbody bag or even an anti-theft bag. If traveling a lot before or after your cruise, this might be something to consider.
I felt really safe heading out on my excursions with Avalon, or even walking around in cities like Budapest, Vienna, and Linz or our own, and felt my Desigual bag was sufficient, tucked under my arm. But, we live in Europe.
I also have a Desigual crossbody bag that is slim and fits within my suitcase, but is a secure option when sightseeing in big cities. Or, I recommend Travel-On as an anti-theft day bag option, which comes in a messenger or crossbody bag as well as other options.
See our recommended Crossbody Bags For Travel In Europe.
What To Wear On a European River Cruise
What To Wear On a European River Cruise
When it comes to what to wear on a river cruise, this is the list of what I packed clothing wise for a summer cruise. It was hot. We were there when a heat wave smothered Europe.
At the opposite end of the spectrum our prior river cruise was also in summer, but during a cold and rainy season. It’s important to check the weather a few days before your cruise departs to have a better idea.
For our Danube cruise, I packed a cardigan and never wore it and I left my jeans at home! Where necessary I will make some comments on what to pack for a spring or fall cruise as well.
Recommended River Cruise Clothing:
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of khaki-style pants
- 2 pairs of capris
- 1 dress
- 1 skirt and 1 pair of light, flowy pants
- 6-8 tops – for this trip I focused on a lot of blue and shades of blue, so everything matched!
- 1 set of exercise clothing
This was actually a perfect amount of outfits. This included the fact that it was pretty hot during our trip. Avalon had onboard laundry facilities, but I also managed to wash a few shirts in the cabin too.
If it were spring or fall, I probably would have brought a windbreaker, a sweater, and I would have packed jeans. I just didn’t think jeans would be needed when the weather said it would be so hot. I was right!
Shoes To Pack For A River Cruise
I have to mention again that I am not a fashionista. I pack for function first. I never want to be the woman wearing the uncomfortable shoes. I packed three pairs of shoes for this trip, my silver, strappy Birkenstocks, which don’t look too utilitarian.
The best thing is that I can pound the pavement and walk 20,000 steps in a day with these shoes. I also brought a pair of typical sneakers, for exercise and for day hikes.
I also packed my strappy black sandals. This style of sandal goes well with skirts and dressed but can also stand up to the famous European cobblestones. Other women wore heels and wedges, but I would not have been comfortable wearing those on evening excursions.
The main thing here is to ensure you have at least one pair of really good walking shoes! If taking a fall cruise, I would skip the sandal in favor of an ankle boot or comfortable flats that can be worn for dinner.
Other River Cruise Necessities
There are some other things needed for a cruise in Europe that don’t have to do with attire. These are some of our recommendations and considerations anytime you travel to Europe, with some modifications to our normal advice for the particulars of river cruising. Here is our European Cruise Packing List (aside from clothes) along with a more in-depth description for each of these items:
- Filtered Water Bottle
- Camera, Smartphone, Memory Cards
- iPad or Kindle Fire
- Power Pack
- Portable Coffee Maker
- Credit Cards and Cash
- Money Belt
Filtered Water Bottle
We’ve never had problems drinking tap water when traveling in Europe, but understand that a river cruise is different. Avalon did a fabulous job of leaving large bottles of water in our room, offering filtered water at meals, and even bottles of water for our excursions. This was needed – it was hot!
To reduce your use of plastic, I recommend bringing a Brita filtered water bottle so you can fill up your bottle from the tap and carry it with you through the day.
Even better, Avalon is starting the process of installing filtered water dispensers on some of their ships (including the Avalon Impression). Hopefully in 2020, passengers will be able to refill water bottles and reduce plastic.
Avalon is really focused on trying to remove all single-use plastics from its ship. They have already eliminated plastic straws in favor of paper ones. I give a double thumbs up for this effort!
We uploads photos we take on our Smartphone to Dropbox daily and automatically. But, we also both have big memory cards in our Smartphones and on our camera.
Either upgrade the size of your memory card, or pick up an extra before leaving home. You don’t want to miss out on amazing river cruise photos because you’ve run out of space. This 125GB memory card will mean you will never run out of space for your photos.
European River Cruise Packing List Pro Tip
When traveling with a digital camera, delete all old photos from your memory card before leaving home. Then click “reformat” in your function settings. This will clear the memory completely on your memory card leaving it completely empty for new photos. If you don’t occasionally reformat your memory cards, they continue to hold a lot of old data, which takes up space.
Other Technology Packing For A River Cruise
In addition to a camera or smartphone there are a handful of tech items that you should add to your travel essentials list for a river cruise.
iPad or Laptop or MacBook
We always travel with our Macbooks, but that’s because we work while traveling. There are some great laptops for travel, but if heading out on an actual vacation (jealous) an iPad or Kindle Fire might work well. This will help you stay connected on board and provide reading material to enjoy on the sky deck.
We always travel with at least one portable battery to top up our smartphones during long days of sightseeing. We also carry our charging cords with us during the day because there are often cafes or restaurants where we can top-up along the way.
We’ve had a few power packs from Anker that have worked well. This can help on an active cruise if you squeeze in a few excursions each day and don’t have time to charge in between.
A proper travel adapter will help you charge all of your devices while traveling. I recommend taking multiple adapters on a trip.
We generally carry at least four on each trip, two for our laptops and two for our phones, so we can charge most of our devices at one time. This is important when you have long days and might not have a ton of time to charge up on the cruise.
A Universal Adapter is the best value because it can be used in Europe, the UK, and Asia.
Portable Coffee Maker
We were plenty happy with the coffee available on our Avalon cruise. If you are particular about your coffee, though, perhaps consider packing a travel coffee maker, particularly one that doesn’t take up a lot of space. Check out our review of the Best Portable Coffee Makers.
Passport Requirements For Europe
If you are traveling from within the European Union, a National Identification card is sufficient. For the rest of us, a passport is required. Be sure to have at least six months validity on your passport. For example, if your trip begins on January 1, be sure that your passport doesn’t expire until after July 1.
I recommend scanning a copy of your passport or taking a photo on your phone and keeping it in the “cloud.” This can mean keeping it in Dropbox, Google Drive, or even just emailing it to yourself so that you can access it if need be.
For most European river cruise destinations, no visa is needed for Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc. But, don’t just assume you do not need a visa. Our Avalon cruise documents explained the rules to us.
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions about traveling in Europe, particularly for Americans. This advice comes from an American perspective.
You won’t need a lot of cash during your river cruise because most of your activities, excursions, and food will be included on the cruise. You can even often tip your crew on a credit card.
But, if you want to tip guides or explore a city on your own you might want to have a few bucks. In our case, we needed Euros for Austria and Hungarian Forint for Hungary.
ATM Cards And Credit Cards
I recommend bringing one ATM card and two credit cards. Keep one credit card in your cabin safe, or hidden in a suitcase just in case your bag is stolen during the day.
Call your bank and you credit card companies before leaving to let them know where you are traveling and when so that they do not turn your credit card off for suspicious behavior.
Most important, check whether your credit cards charge Foreign Transaction Fees. Foreign Transaction Fees can be 2-3% of every purchase you make. Some cards have these and some don’t.
Most of our Chase credit cards don’t charge the fee. The same goes for ATM cards. Just call to confirm so you are not surprised when you get home with random fees.
As for money, the easiest and best way to access cash when traveling in Europe is to use the local ATM machines to withdraw Euros. We also visited an ATM in Budapest to withdraw money with no problems.
There is no need to convert USD to Euros at your bank before leaving home. There is no need to convert at the airport in the US or in Europe.
Generally, the exchange rates and fees are way worse than simply withdrawing money at an ATM. Avoid ATMs that are located as part of a souvenir shop or convenience store – stick to the ATM machines at legitimate banks. Do this at the start of your trip or in larger cities. Smaller towns and villages visited during your river cruise might have less options for ATM access.
Money Belt or Passport Belt
A lot of people consider a money belt or passport belt when packing for a river cruise in Europe. We have not traveled with one since our first trip to Italy in 2000.
First off, there is no reason to carry your passport with you during the day. Leave it at in your cabin safe and have a copy or a photograph on your phone instead. That way it stays safe.
As for money, Eric doesn’t carry a big wallet when traveling. He keeps his money in his front pocket where it is most safe. If you follow my advice above about keeping money in various places and not carrying all your credit cards with you, you should be fine. This is particularly true if you are used to traveling in big cities, like New York or Chicago. You just need to keep your wits about you.
All that said, if you would feel more secure using a money belt, we recommend this Stash Neck Wallet It includes an RFID blocker, which means that your credit cards are more secure. It also has room for a smartphone to keep it secure as well.
If you have prescription medication that you must travel with, try to bring it in the original bottle that shows your name and details. We’ve never been stopped, but you never know. This is better than bringing random pills in a pill organizer.
What To Not Add To Your River Cruise Packing List
There are a handful of items that many travelers consider adding to their cruise packing list. But for a variety of reasons these should be on your list of what not to pack for a cruise to Europe. This is mostly because things have changed considerably in Europe, and the world in general, over the past decade.
In today’s society, traveler’s checks are no longer needed. In fact, they can be a real pain to use because you need to go to a bank (when the banks are open) to exchange them. Follow our tips on how to access money in Europe, above.
Most European cruise ship cabins will have a hairdryer. You can double check the availability of a hair dryer on your ship’s list of room amenities. Packing a hairdryer takes up space. It requires an adapter.
Some cruise ships won’t have a proper outlet in the bathroom for this kind of appliance. On our Avalon ship I used the hairdryer they provided and it worked wonders. If you do want to pack a hair dryer, choose a dual voltage hair dryer to ensure you can use it in Europe.
When living in Bangkok I bought a fabulous pair of bright red heels. I wore them out a lot there, where we were taking taxis or an Uber to go out at night with friends. I’ve never worn them in Europe, even where we live in Spain.
First, we walk everywhere. Second, heels and cobblestones don’t mix. For a cruise, perhaps you want to choose a pair of heels or wedges to wear to dinner, but it might be better to wear flats during the day for excursions.