Top 5 Tips for a First Time River Cruise

By on August 23, 2016
Top 5 Tips for a First Time River Cruise

By Pamela Lovegren –

The world of Viking River Cruising is legendary among my friends who cruise and the many positive reviews online. This is the first time my husband and I experienced this fascinating mode of travel along European rivers. A big question loomed over us. What advance preparations would ensure the most remarkable river cruise journey ever? Lucky for us…I love everything about prepping for a trip! 

Here are my top five tips for first time river cruisers. If you choose to follow tip #1 you will enjoy an amazing river cruise trip. Tips #2-#4 are for people who like a little extra preparation before traveling.  Tip #5 is a comprehensive list for the serious prepper who wants to cover all bases possible before embarking on an incredible river cruise.

Tip #1 Select a Cruise 

Visit which features more than 25 itineraries across Europe, Russia and Asia. After we chose the “Grand European Tour”, we were given access to Viking shares detailed descriptions of top sights & attractions, dining, shopping and entertainment to consider exploring. Intriguing optional tours like visiting thermal pools in Budapest and taking a dance class in Vienna captured our attention. We added them to our itinerary. Searching “Top Things to Do” online for each of the towns we would be visiting yielded even more ideas.  

Top 5 Tips for a First Time River Cruise

When the Cruise Documents arrived from Viking, we read them from cover to cover. We paid particular attention to the sections on Passports, Air Travel & Baggage Policy, Dress On Board & Packing Suggestions, Money Matters, All About Cruise Excursions in Detail, and Exploring the Ship. Viking does an excellent job of covering all the important topics to enhance your experience. By taking advantage of this information it helped us be “in the know” before departure and while traveling.

IMG_1547 Culture PicA trip to Europe was our golden opportunity to study the cultures of Hungary, Austria, Germany and Netherlands and apply what we learned. Checking out the Culture Smart books, available for 90 different countries, is indeed smart when you travel internationally. Example: Germany – Culture Smart! Mar 29, 2016 by Barry Tomalin and Peter Noble

Tip #2 Blend In and Dress for your Destination  

By researching current fashions for Hungary, Austria and Germany I discovered I could look like a local by wearing a blue denim or black leather jacket with a scarf. When I packed my clothes for this trip I asked myself “do I love it” or “is it essential”? If not, I did not bring it so valuable space was not taken up in my luggage. 

IMG_1652 Blend InChoosing just the right multi-use clothes is an adventure in itself. Why bring a one piece bathing suit or a two piece bikini when the top from a Tankini swimsuit can also be worn with a skort, jeans or maxi-skirt? I worked around a black color theme so everything mixed and matched and I used splashes of color in a scarf or top to create variety. My goal was to pack for two weeks in a carry on and a personal item bag. My garment ratio consists of three tops to one bottom. When I pack for five days I can travel for 10, 15, or even 20 plus days with a little hand washing.

Tip #3 Launder in Two-Gallon Zip Lock Bags 

Take clothes that can be laundered in two-gallon zip lock bags. These bags work great as little washing machines. Pour in some laundry soap and fill them up with water.  Use one bag for light colored clothes and another for dark colored items. The first time I tried it in the bathroom sink I created a flood. I discovered it is better to use the bags in a shower or tub while washing clothes. Leakage is contained instead of spilling all over the bathroom floor. 

Some clothes wash and drip dry quicker than others. My favorites are ExOfficio shirts and undergarments and REI prAna Kara skinny leg jeans because they wash and dry overnight. This was a great discovery because most jean fabric is thicker and takes a couple of days to dry. AAA has some wonderful jackets and shirts that dry quickly too. At Columbia Sportswear I found a pair of lightweight, fast drying, narrow leg pants which roll up and double as capris on a warm day.

Once I knew which fabrics dried quickly, I ventured into some fabulous shops like Faveur an eclectic unique boutique in Bend, Oregon. I found the perfect black Maxi skirt and ruched sleeveless top that interchanged with everything. Bring 3-4 scarves and you exponentially multiply the number of combinations you can create while traveling. 

Tip #4 “Anti Jet-lag Plan” 

Packing the perfect wardrobe has no value if you are too tired to go anywhere. Most people are affected by jet-lag when traveling across continents. We had to decide whether to be weary before the trip or during the first day or two traveling. If time and money are not a consideration, I recommend traveling to a long distance destination a couple days prior to embarking on a ship. Plan on going to bed at a decent hour in the new time zone and sleep until rested. 

My husband and I are not retired, work full-time and maxed out our vacation days this year. We chose to follow an anti jet-lag routine, for a week prior to traveling, where we went to bed one hour earlier each night and got up one hour earlier the following morning. By the time we flew to Europe we were functioning in the new time zone. It is a low cost, no vacation days required option. It allowed us to jump into our travel adventures alert and energized the day we arrived in Budapest. Embarking on the ship at 2:00pm local time, we unpacked and had plenty of energy to explore this fascinating town the rest of the afternoon and evening.

“Anti Jet-lag Plan” Time Adjustment Schedule before Europe Trip




Day 7



Day 6



Day 5



Day 4



Day 3



Day 2



Day 1 (Fly Out 1:30pm)


3:30pm Sleep on plane

Arrive in Europe

8:30am Amsterdam time



Tip #5 The Mega Planner 

Three Months Prior to Trip

Two Months Prior to Trip

  • Review transportation options to and from the airport of origination. Reserve in advance when possible: taxi, airport shuttle, mass transit, Uber or airport parking fees.
  • Attend a AAA packing seminar with your traveling partner.
  • Learn helpful phrases in languages of countries you will be visiting. A good place to start is the Viking website.
  • Know how to use a digital camera or phone camera. Pick up additional memory cards if needed.
  • Download a translation app on your phone such as iTranslate
  • Create a packing list for each traveler prior to your trip. Find examples online such as
  • Discover how to blend in by researching current fashions of the countries you will visit.
  • Purchase key travel items which will help you pack as light as possible.
  • Create an “Anti Jet-lag Plan” Time Adjustment Schedule (see Tip #4 chart)

One Month Prior to Trip

  • Notify bank and credit card companies of upcoming trip dates and countries.
  • Convert US dollars to currency of countries you will be traveling through and bring a couple hundred US dollars in small bills. AAA and Wells Fargo Bank offer this service.
  • Set up an overseas phone plan. Verizon has a $40 plan through International Global Support 800-711-8300  
  • Make a copy of medications, credit cards, driver’s license, debit card, passport, and health insurance card.
  • Check weather forecast predicted during your trip and pack layers accordingly.
  • Do a test run by packing luggage about a month in advance – double check weight and size of luggage confirming it meets airline requirements.
  • Prepay bills coming due while traveling.
  • Buy, sign and mail cards for upcoming special occasions, like birthday’s, you’ll miss while traveling.
  • Schedule haircuts, pedicures and manicures a couple days to a week prior to departure.

Two Weeks Prior to Trip

  • Review and make final revisions on the packing list – use Tip #2 “ love it or leave it” criteria.
  • Lay out everything you’re going to pack on a large surface like a bed. Take pictures in case of lost luggage.
  • Arrange for pets, mail, newspaper, yard care and plants which need attention while you’re gone.
  • Download books to read on a Kindle or other electronic reading device so they expire after your trip.
  • Share your itinerary with a family member or friend.

Two Days Prior to Trip

  • Get well hydrated two to three days before flying.
  • Be fully packed two days prior to trip to avoid last minute stress.
  • Confirm airline flights 48 hours prior to departure and again 24 hours ahead when checking-in online.

Travel Day

  • Get some exercise before boarding a long plane flight.
  • Drink lots of water to feel your best and avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and sugar.
  • Periodically stand or walk during the flight.
  • ENJOY the Journey

After Traveling

  • Fine tune the packing list after your trip – cross off everything you did not need or wear so you pack even lighter next time.

My husband thanked me about a dozen times for all the preliminary work I did before our trip which made for very smooth sailing throughout all the countries we explored on our Viking river cruise. It is fun and it is worth it. Start prepping for your own river cruise soon!


Pamela Lovegren –Business Manager / Travel Editor
Pamela’s expertise flows from building her own successful business to guiding small to mid-size family owned companies. She analyzes business structure, is a diplomatic negotiator, identifies operational issues, and implements effective resolutions to lead a firm on a path to excellence. Her experience ranges from resort management, leadership conferences, property management and business consulting to extensive traveling and travel editor for Pamela shares the vision of Carol Doyel, Founder of  to celebrate and encourage women of 50+ who desire to live life with spirit and passion each and every day.

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Top 5 Tips for a First Time River Cruise