What To Pack For A Barge Cruise: A Guide for First-Timers

Canal in Canal in Illkirch, France

If you are reading this article and are in a tizzy about what to pack for a barge cruise, relax. The most important thing to remember is that hotel barging is a casual, comfortable and pretty hassle-free way to travel.

While barge cruising is a luxury travel experience (because it is so intimate and personalized), barge cruises and their devotees are typically devoid of pretense. You’ll find yourself amidst kindred spirits who appreciate “slow travel” without the glitz and who share your passion for immersing yourself in art, architecture, history and the culture of a destination—and appreciate good food and wine!

Here are a few tips, based on our experience, to help you think about what to pack for a barge cruise:

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Dress code: Informal

There aren’t any formal dress-up nights on a barge cruise. The closest thing to it is probably the farewell dinner on the voyage’s last night. But even then, you don’t need to wear anything fancy.

Slacks and a nice top for women, and long pants with a collared tee shirt for men are fine. (No ties or dinner jackets required and they would probably feel out of place). Dress comfortably.

Depending on your dress style and the weather, shorts, skirts or slacks are appropriate daytime attire for women. If you’re visiting a church, you’ll want to have something to cover exposed shoulders with a sweater or shawl.

Unlike ocean cruising, days often blur into evenings without any need to change clothes for dinner.

Casual onboard entertainment on a European Waterways barge in Saverne, France
Casual onboard entertainment on a European Waterways barge in Saverne, France

Don’t count on onboard laundry services

There aren’t any laundry services onboard hotel barges so be sure to bring enough clothes and underwear to last you through the trip.

If push came to shove, you could probably wash small items in your bathroom sink (although you might have to wait some time for anything to dry). 

Resist the urge to overpack 

Square footage in staterooms and suites on hotel barges is more limited than that on riverboats or ocean liners.

While cabin space is sufficient to stow your belongings, it is more of a hassle to bring “too much stuff” or weigh yourself down with an oversized suitcase. (After you unpack, your suitcase is generally stowed under your bed).

What to Pack for a Barge Cruise: Stateroom on European Waterways barge Panache
Stateroom on European Waterways barge Panache

If you only bring what you think you’ll require, you’ll allow yourself a little space to tuck in an irresistible treasure you find to take home from your travels. Women don’t need to bring expensive jewelry or evening bags.

Comfortable walking shoes are essential 

Remember you’ll be on a boat, getting on and off multiple times via steps and/or a metal gangway. Both of these can be slippery when wet so wear sensible, rubber-soled shoes. Sneakers or some other type of athletic shoes are a good choice.

Because barges travel quite slowly (no more than 4-5 miles per hour), this affords passengers opportunities to hop on and off the boat to walk, bicycle or jog along the towpaths before meeting the boat at an upcoming lock.

You’ll also be walking in small towns and villages—sometimes with unpaved or cobblestone streets—for guided tours and visits to artisans, wineries and castles.

What To Pack For a Barge Cruise: Bicycles on a barge on a canal in Nordhouse, France
Bicycles on a European Waterways barge on a canal in Nordhouse, France

A pair of flats or sandals can be comfortable to wear at meals or when relaxing on the barge. 

Best Shoes For A Barge Cruise

Packing three pairs of shoes (for women) will be more than ample. You can wear one pair so you’ll only have to bring along two other pairs.

I’ve chosen each of the shoes featured because they are lightweight and easy to get on.

Skechers Slip On Go Walk Sneakers 

These are perfect for getting through airport security and comfortable enough to wear on shorter walks on your cruise. They also have rubber soles so you will be less likely to slip if the deck gets wet. They can also fill in for a pair of slippers at night.

Frank Mully Round Toe Ballet Flats

These ballet flats are perfect for dinner on the barge or at a restaurant. The round toe is uber-comfortable and they are soft and lightweight. Priced right, they are similar to the ones featured by an expensive brand. I recommend tan or black to work with any outfit.

Vionic Slip-On Walking Shoes

You’ll definitely want a pair of supportive shoes for walking, jogging and biking. These Vionic slip-ons are a great choice. They have orthotic insoles for arch support and come in a variety of widths, including extra-wide.

Pack in layers

Barge cruises typically sail between April and October so the weather is temperate. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t get colder or hotter than expected.

Our last barge trip was in late August. During the course of one week, we experienced very hot weather, weather cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt or warm sweater, and rain.

Dressing in layers allows you to feel comfortable on a crisp, chilly morning and take off your outerwear as the sun warms up the day.

Eagle Creek Packing Essentials Kit

If you like to stay as organized as possible, this set of three ultra-lightweight bags helps organize your belongings without adding any weight or bulk. The set includes an antimicrobial shoe organizer for dirty shoes, a medium bag with an internal divider to separate clean from dirty items, and a space-saving compression packing cube. The bags come in a choice of colors but I tend to stay away from black because the bright ones are easier to find in your stuffed suitcases.

Daytime tours take place rain or shine, so bring along a light rain jacket or poncho. Umbrellas are usually available on loan aboard the barge. Many barges have hot tubs for relaxing after a hot day.

LeSeis Lightweight Rain Jacket

Made of nylon, this hooded LeSeis rainjacket is windproof, waterproof, and has velcro on the wrists. Stylish and ultra-lightweight, it takes up almost no space in a suitcase or carry-on. It’s breathable and perfect to take tours when there is a possibility of rain or to wear on the deck if it is windy. 

If you want to take the plunge, bring a bathing suit, sun protection and sunglasses.

Miraclesuit Bathing Suit

Figure-flattering Miraclesuits are a favorite of mine. I especially love the two-piece models with tankini tops. On a cruise, you can wash the bottom with each wear but wear the top several times.

Hot tub on European Waterways' Panache
Hot tub on European Waterways’ Panache

Stay connected

Wi-Fi connections can be spotty along canals (especially if the barge is passing through a lock or tunnel) but you’ll be able to use your smartphone or laptop some of the time.

If you want to make phone calls, you’ll need to arrange an international data plan before leaving home.

We always recommend bringing along a small power strip (with appropriate voltage) when traveling to charge your multiple gadgets overnight, whether it’s a smartphone, camera or e-book reader. Bring an electrical adapter, too.

Dandelion International Travel Adapter

This is one of our favorite international travel adapters. Whether at your hotel or on your European barge trips, it covers more than 150 countries and allows you to charge three devices simultaneously, along with two USB ports. It is lightweight, portable, easy-to-use, and comes with its own carrying case.

Note: It is NOT a power converter. It WILL work with your dual-voltage hair straightener or other dual-voltage gadgets.

Leave your hair dryer at home because you’ll find one in your stateroom (along with basic of toiletries).

If in doubt 

Specific policies and amenities always vary somewhat by barge operator and boat. If you have questions about what to pack for your upcoming cruise, don’t hesitate to call the company.


What To Pack For a Barge Cruise: Waterlife on a canal in Maconge, France
Waterlife on a canal in Maconge, France

Don’t forget: Other hand items to take on your barge trip

Small Crossbody Cell Phone Bag

This small cross-body cell phone bag is compact and lightweight. Made of faux leather, it’s perfect for barge excursions when you only want to carry a few valuables close to your body. Compact enough to tuck in your suitcase, the bag is divided into multiple compartments (three main ones) so you can stay organized and easily reach for your credit card, cash or phone. Comes in a variety of whimsical colors and neutrals.

Off Insect Repellent Wipes

If you are a mosquito magnet like me, you’ll love this pack of 12 individually wrapped insect-repellent wipes. Perfect for dining al fresco on the barge or in town. The protection lasts up to 8 hours, and they’re unscented. You might need to bring a couple of extra ones to share with your traveling companions!

Loqi Travel Tote

When I travel, I often find a food item or last-minute souvenir that I want to carry back to my cabin. Loqi totes are made of an ultra-light, water-resistant polyester fabric. And they come with a convenient, matching zippered pouch. The pouch is small and light enough to tuck in a pocket or purse. The range of colors and designs is dazzling.

Rain or Shine Hat 

Rain or shine cruise hat
Rain or shine cruise hat

If, like many of us, you are prone to “cruise hair,” isn’t this sun hat the cutest (and an easy conversation starter)?

Bon voyage!

Also, on More Time To Travel:

My Article on Forbes:


What To Pack For A Barge Cruise


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  1. The first and, until recently, the last cruise I have ever done was nearly 40 years ago. It turned out that my extreme seasickness didn’t magically disappear as promised after a few days (then weeks) at sea. This year however I discovered river cruising and was hooked. Barge cruising sounds like even more fun. I am absolutely going to give this a go.

  2. Your packing advice is far more useful than the Heidi Klum article in which she says she packs 15 pairs of sunglasses and enough bathing suits to change two or three times a day.

  3. We often watch the lazily passing boats here in Burgundy, France, and dream of taking a trip on the river. I will keep your packing list, just in case!

  4. We have loved following the barge cruise series. I believe we are now ready to check out one for ourselves. Thanks for sharing this unique travel style.

  5. Wow! I’ve never heard of a barge cruise before. Nice that it moves slowly. I would quite like to bike and meet it at the next point. Good tip about comfy shoes. My must do!

  6. I do prefer travel without the glitz – just down to earth to see the earth, outdoors, as wells as art, architecture, history and culture. Sounds like we would like a barge cruise. It sounds like all you need for dressing up is casual slacks or skirt and a nice top. Sounds good! I always take a sweater even when going to hot weather, as you never know if you’ll be indoors in air conditioning. Sounds like the way I generally pack for trips – layer, rain wear, medium weight sweatshirt with hood, and comfy walking shoes. Wondering if waterproof hiking shoes would be better than walking shoes?

  7. We’ve become so ‘relaxed’ in our lifestyle and wardrobe that I am afraid we will need to rethink any cruising as we may just look like we’ve come in from the farm! Great tips for us though on what to pack for barge cruising!

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