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DON’T GO OVERBOARD WHEN YOU’RE PACKING

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Packing for a cruise requires a definite knack - a skill, I must admit, I didn't always have. Invariably, I overdo it.

This was made patently obvious to me once when I arrived abroad for a two-week cruise with my usual bevy of baggage. While ambling self-consciously behind a porter who hauled my husband's and my six bulging suitcases and several tote-bags, I noticed another traveler beside me who was heading for the same ship. He was breezing along with two bags - both carry-ons, no less. They contained everything he needed for the entire voyage.His formula? He had packed just three shirts, blue jeans, one dark suit (which when worn with a formal shirt and bow tie, doubled as a tux; the jacket even tripled as a sports jacket), one pair of slacks, two pairs of shoes, one sweater and the lightest-weight thermal parka he could find. Admittedly, it got a bit boring seeing him in the same white sweater and pink shirt but, hey, he wasn't tipping porters a week's salary either!

Packing smart can save not only a small fortune in porter's tips (about a dollar per bag), but also an aching back, and time - you won't have to wait so long at airports for your surfeit of suitcases. Besides, most cabins don't have enough space to store most of what you bring anyway.

Next time you're packing for a cruise, keep these tips in mind:

- A good rule of thumb is to pack one outfit for every 2 to 2 1/2 days of travel.

- Pack light, especially for warm-weather cruises. Just remember to toss in a sweater or shawl for cool evenings and hyper-air-conditioned ships.

- Don't bother buying anything new. For daywear, simply don what you usually do at home: slacks or shorts, T-shirts or sweatshirts, and comfortable shoes such as flip-flops or sandals.

- Bring a pair of rubber-soled walking shoes for slippery decks and dusty shore excursions.

- One bathing suit and a coverup are fine, even for Caribbean cruising.

- For colder climes, include a warm-up suit. Consider light-weight thermal underwear in place of bulky outer garments.

- The clothing you bring should be wrinkle resistant (silks are ideal).

- In the event your clothes require TLC, some ships have complimentary self-service laundries for passengers wishing to wash and iron their own. If you're sailing on one that does (such as the Universe, Sagafjord, and Royal Princess), pack fewer items. Self-service laundries are a handy feature, especially when you consider that travel irons are verboten on most ships (they're electrical fire hazards) and shipboard laundry services customarily charge upwards of three bucks just to wash a pair of socks.

- Remember, even when formal wear is requested, it is not required. If dolling up just isn't your thing, don't feel obligated.

- Don't own a tux? Not to worry: Carnival and Celebrity ships will rent you one on board. Otherwise, a dark suit and white shirt are fine.

- The key to packing smart is bringing mix-and-match clothing. For all formal evenings, I wear the same pair of black satin slacks, just gussying them up with different tops and glitzy earrings. Women may wish to bring two cocktail dresses or a snazzy slack-suit.

- Pack along sleepwear, underclothes, hosiery and toiletries, and some inexpensive foul-weather gear (a rain slicker or collapsible umbrella). Toss in a tote bag for carrying odds and ends.

- Finally, there's this advice from one luggage-industry expert: Whatever you planned to take, cut it in half.