10 Essentials for Your Next River Cruise

Must-have items for life onboard a river cruise ship.

River cruise with Prague in background
(Photo: Envato/vinnikava)
  • River cruises allow you to unpack once but have many adventures. But there are a few things staterooms and river cruise ships tend not to have.
  • Here’s my list of items that make a big difference in how comfortable and prepared I feel on river cruises.

I love a good river cruise. It’s an easy way to unpack once and then experience iconic cities and small villages on the same trip. No matter what river cruise line you choose, or where you go, there are some river cruising essentials you’re going to want to pack. These must-have items will ensure that your cabin onboard the river cruise ship stays organized, your electronics stay charged, and you stay feeling great throughout the trip. 

What to Pack for Your Next River Cruise

Just thinking about packing for a cruise can seem daunting, so it’s important that along with your clothes and bathroom essentials, you think about the other things that are going to make the trip easier. These are my 10 tried-and-true essentials to make the most of any river cruise. 

1. Laundry Bag or Collapsable Laundry Basket

person folding clothes into a suitcase
Keeping laundry separate from clean clothes on a river cruise requires some advanced preparation (Photo: Envato/Farknot)

After a day of sightseeing, I love being able to settle back into a tidy stateroom. The easiest way I’ve found to keep things organized without a lot of extra effort is with the help of a laundry bag or hamper. On many river cruise ships, the closet in the stateroom is big enough to stash your dirty clothes bag out of sight, but even if there’s not, you should have room for a bag or basket in a corner of the room.

For an easy solve, I recommend a simple drawstring bag. For something with a little more structure, get a mesh and wire basket that can fold flat and fit into your stowed luggage.

TourScoop recommends: A moisture- and odor-proof laundry bag that folds into a carrying case when not in use is the most space-efficient option. For ease-of-use, collapsable laundry baskets like these options from Walmart and Amazon are great.

2. Multi-Plug Charger

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be taking a lot of photos on your river cruise. But with all those snapshots comes the dreaded drained phone battery. Not to mention the tablets, watches, and other electronics you’ll want to keep juiced up. That’s why it’s important to bring a multi-plug charger with you on any trip, including river cruises. 

Be sure the charger can be plugged into the plugs of the countries you’re visiting. The best chargers also have ports for USB chargers and traditional plugs, so there are plenty of options to charge phones, smart watches, portable chargers, and more all from one spot in your cabin. 

TourScoop recommends: Brands like One Beat Store, the Besfan Store, and Best Buy Essentials, offer well-rated chargers. Retailers like Amazon and Best Buy carry these and other options if you’re looking for a specific size or color. 

3. Rain Jacket with a Bag

person wearing blue packable rain jacket in a heavy downpour
A packable rain jacket is a must if there’s any chance of inclement weather (Photo: Envato/Chalabala)

If you’re heading to a destination where rain might be in the forecast, a rain jacket that has a storage bag is a great addition to your day pack.

You’ll want to find a rain jacket that has a large hood to cover your hair. If you’re on an excursion that includes a bike ride, you’ll want your rain jacket to cover your helmet as well. The jacket should be able to easily fit into the bag that it comes with without much hassle (because wrestling a wet poncho into a tiny case is never fun). If needed, the rain jacket can also double as a windbreaker on cooler mornings or evenings.

TourScoop recommends: I like the rain jackets made by Avoogue, Hount, JTANIB, and Champion for their abundance of colors and styles.

4. Reusable Water Bottle

While some river cruises offer reusable water bottles for guests to use, others don’t, so it’s best to just bring a reusable water bottle with you. I like insulated steel bottles that can keep water cold all day long.

You’ll want to find a steel reusable water bottle that has double or triple insulation. The options with sport lids or integrated straws are useful if you want easy access to water while biking or taking walking tours, though remember that you’ll need to keep the bottle upright to prevent leakage.

TourScoop recommends: Reusable water bottles made by Corkcicle, Hydro Flask, Iron Flask, and Thermoflask are all highly rated for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for extended periods of time.

5. Reusable Snack Bags

Here’s an idea that has never let me down: When you bring your own snacks, you’ll never find yourself on a long bus ride without snacks. To keep whatever snacks you’re bringing with you for tours in one spot, and protect them from getting crushed, reusable snack bags are a handy and easy solve. 

The best reusable snack bags are made from either silicone or washable fabric. The bags should either close easily like a traditional zip-top bag or have a zipper at the top.

TourScoop recommends: Some of the best reusable snack bags can be purchased from brands like Stasher, Zip Top, and Bumkins.

6. Travel Notebook

person writing in travel journal
Bringing a travel journal on your river cruise gives you a single place to record your trip (Photo: Envato/luruggiero)

A lasting and special way to remember your travel adventures on a river cruise is with a travel notebook. Some travel notebooks sometimes have prompts where you can write about your day, while others have blank pages where you can jot down memories or sketch a scene while sitting at a street-side cafe. 

Look for a travel notebook that’s hard-sided and has at least 100 pages so you won’t likely run out of room on one trip.

TourScoop recommends: Travel notebooks from Duncan & Stone Paper Co, Amazon Basics, and Moleskine all earn high praise from reviewers.

7. Clam-Shell Jewelry Case

A clam-shell jewelry case is a great option to keep earrings, rings, necklaces, and bracelets safe and organized. I like the clam-shell design because allows the case to be zipped up so if the case falls off of a counter you’re not scrambling to find small earrings or backings. 

Look for a jewelry organizer that has at least two large compartments that are divided by a mirror flap. The case should have small dividers for earrings, foam cylinders for rings, and small felt hooks for necklaces and bracelets. 

TourScoop recommends: I like the jewelry cases from Benevolence LA Store, ProCase StoreLeture, Zoe Sunny, and Hatori. The best place to find the most variety of colors and styles for clam-shell style jewelry cases is on Amazon

8. Collapsable Hangers

Here’s something I’ve noticed while traveling: river cruise staterooms often come with just a few hangers. To keep your unpacking as efficient as possible (and to make sure you have enough hangers at any hotels you stay at before or after your river cruise), consider bringing your own collapsable hangers. It’s a little something extra, but doesn’t take up much space and can make a world of difference in helping you settle in comfortably on a longer river cruise.

The hangers come in large sets and can be used for everything from shirts and swimsuits to pants and jackets. The compact design means they won’t take up a lot of space in your suitcase, and the lightweight design won’t weigh everything down. 

TourScoop recommends: There aren’t many of these types of hangers on the market yet, so try looking at the options from the Trubetter Store, Youowo Store, Generic, and the Cyanlux Store first. All of these options can be found on Amazon

9. E-Reader

Unlike larger ocean liner cruises, river cruises don’t have an abundance of entertainment while cruising from port to port, after dinner, or between tours. To keep yourself occupied while sailing, consider bringing an e-reader. It’s essential that you pre-download your books before traveling, though, because the WiFi onboard most river cruises isn’t great. 

Look for an e-reader that feels light in your hands and is backlit or has a paper-white setting. For a bit of added security, be sure to get a cover for your e-reader before you leave too. 

TourScoop recommends: I like the Kindle Paperwhite, NOOK GlowLight 4e, Kobolibra 2, and BOOX 7” Leaf 2 E-Reader the most. Each of the options offers a great reading experience and doesn’t feel too heavy in your hands.

10. Fanny Pack/Belt Bag or Crossbody Bag

Belt bags are back, fashion-wise, and carrying a small belt bag/fanny pack or crossbody bag is an easy way to ensure that all of your valuables like money and phones stay safe because they are at your front and close to your body. Fanny packs or cross-body bags are also a nice option for river cruising since there may be long days of walking or biking where you don’t want to have to lug around a heavy backpack. 

While searching for a bag, look for one that has an adjustable strap so you can wear the bag around your waist or around your chest. I always make sure to look for heavy-duty zippers that aren’t going to break after a few uses, and try to find a bag that has multiple compartments. 

TourScoop recommends: Some of the top-rated fanny packs and crossbody bags are from INICAT, UTO, ZORFIN, and Sportsnew.

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Megan duBois is a writer whose work has appeared on Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Insider, Orbitz, The Daily Meal, Family Vacation Critic, TravelPulse, and more. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @MinglingwithMickey.