Things to Consider When Packing for an Expedition Cruise

Higher stakes. More needs. Here's how to pack for an expedition cruise.

person on boat on expedition cruise fully outfitted for sun protection and taking a photo of wildlife with a long lens camera
(Photo: Envato/riderfoot)

Packing is always specific to the destination, but on expedition cruises, the destinations and the packing needs tend to be more extreme. And when you’re packing for an expedition cruise, the stakes feel a bit higher, since you’re often far from services and things like pharmacies and clothing stores, and need to account for the challenge of more extreme temperatures and weather

I’ve got expedition cruise packing on the brain because I’m gearing up for a Lindblad Baja California whale-watching expedition cruise. I’ve packed for hundreds of trips, but expedition cruise preparation is a different experience, one in which everything feels a little more urgent. Here are my tried-and-true tips for expedition cruise packing.

Customize Your Packing List

partial view of packing list that's highly customized for an expedition cruise
I print out a packing list and customize it by hand for expedition cruises (and any other trip with a highly specific packing list) (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

I have a standard packing list that I’ve honed over the years, but it simply isn’t up to the specialized-gear task of helping me pack for expedition cruises, so I use it as a base that I can customize for the trip. 

This is one of those times when it can be helpful to actually print out a packing list, where you can cross out and add things as needed, make notes to yourself, and, if you’re the sort of person who keeps your packing lists (me!), eventually pop this new version into a spreadsheet for later use. 

Start Preparing Farther in Advance

Unless you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast or a regular adventurer, there may be some gear you don’t already have. Here’s what I suggest: Two to three weeks before your trip, look at what you do and don’t have (this is where that customized packing list comes in handy) and keep a running list of the things you’ll need to buy. 

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I try to support local businesses and brick-and-mortar locations when I can, but I also don’t want to spend a lot on items that I probably won’t use after the trip. For items (like a waterproof backpack and a heavy-duty plastic bag for my phone so I can use it in the water) that I probably won’t use again, I opted for cheap versions from Amazon. But for things I can imagine using again and again (sun shirts and a fleece, for instance), I’m spending a bit more for better quality. 

However you choose to do it, start well in advance so you have time to gather all your goods before it’s time to pack. 

Read the Documents

documents sent by tour company about expedition cruise
The documentation sent by the cruise company can be long, but it’s packed with useful information that can help you pack the right gear (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Most expedition cruise companies provide super in-depth guides to passengers well in advance of the departure date. And one of the things you’ll generally find in these documents is information about what to pack. 

For example, on my upcoming expedition cruise, the company has provided a packing list that takes into account the typical weather for this time of year, the activities, and special needs (like good binoculars) that are specific to the trip. 

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Two additional benefits from diving into the company-provided information early: Reading up on your trip will help boost your anticipation, which is such a great part of any trip. And with information like recommended reading lists, it’s usually packed with ideas to help you make the most of your experience. 

Consider Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

Do you have shoes that are up to the adventure, or is it time to buy (and break in) a new pair? If binoculars are a must, will you be relying on a freebie pair from the bank or do you want to research a more powerful option that will let you see wildlife up close while you remain at a respectful (and safe) distance? Will your clothes protect you from the sun, keep you warm enough and cool enough, and be able to last the length of your journey? Do you need water resistant gear (you might, especially if you’re spending time on smaller boats like Zodiacs). All good questions to ask yourself, and to remedy if your answers come up short. 

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Prep Your Meds

If you have meds that you must take daily, make sure to pack enough and then some (as long as your supply allows it). I travel with chemotherapy drugs, and it’s pretty high-stakes that I take them every day at the same time. On trips where I can swing it, I carry double my supply and keep the two stashes in different places so that if something happens to one set of pills, I’m still covered.

If you need destination- or experience-specific medications (like Scopolamine patches for seasickness or anti-malarial meds), make sure to get a doctor appointment well in advance and secure a prescription. 

Bonus: Double Check Documents, Vaccinations, and Other Practical Needs

Thinking about packing includes sorting out any travel documents you need, which may include visas if you’re going to a country that requires it. There’s also your passport if you’re traveling internationally, as well as a copy of your passport kept somewhere else in your luggage. 

The documents you receive from your tour company should cover any special vaccinations you’ll need for your trip, but it’s also worth doing some independent research and reaching out to your doctor. Some doctors offices have an in-house travel team that can help you sort out necessary vaccinations for your trip, but if your doctor doesn’t offer this, you can often find travel clinics nearby. 

Finally, think about any other elements that you’re likely to need on your adventure. Trekking poles, insect repellant, a waterproof backpack—think through the scenarios and decide on what’s going to be helpful and make your trip better. 

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Christine Sarkis is the co-founder of Vacationist Media and editor-in-chief of TourScoop and She is the former executive editor of, a travel publication owned by Tripadvisor. Her work has been published in dozens of publications including Conde Nast Traveler and USAToday, and she has been quoted in print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also offered tips for travelers on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now.