How to be a good cabin buddy

At sea is no place to be getting under the skin of your companion, writes Sally MacMillan.

Not everyone travels only with a husband, wife or partner, whose habits and foibles are so familiar we take them for granted. Many of us cruise regularly with friends or family members we don't live with, so it's important to develop some sensitivity to behaviour that you wouldn't normally think twice about.

For example, you may think nothing of bouncing out of bed bright and early in the morning, but your cruise companion might appreciate a quiet lie-in and cringe at your pre-coffee enthusiasm. Similarly, while your long-term partner finds the sight of your undies hanging up to dry in the shower quite endearing, not everyone else will.

I am writing this on a SeaDream II Mediterranean voyage, where my cruise companion is my much-loved sister-in-law - and we've already encountered a few little questions of cabin-sharing etiquette that had to be addressed. Having discussed cabin-sharing manners with quite a few cruisers, I've found the consensus is that it's always best to talk about potential pitfalls before you go. If you're not sure what to bring up - because, after all, you are perfect - here are some tips for when you're cruising with someone for the first time.

Stow it

Space is necessarily limited in the majority of cabins, but even if you have the biggest suite on the ship, you still have to divvy up the storage space. No hanger-hogging allowed! If you need more hangers, just ask your room steward, and he or she will happily oblige with some spares. Check with your cruise companion about who will have which drawers and shelves (not everyone likes the lowest ones), and while you might drape your just-worn clothes on a bedroom chair at home, it will be much appreciated if you keep everything shipshape and stowed away in your cabin.

Take turns recharging

There never seem to be enough electric sockets for recharging all the camera equipment, tablets, smartphones and laptops we travel with, let alone enough desk or dressing-table space for the stuff two people take along. What to do? The easiest thing is to take it in turns and stash the equipment in a drawer when it's not in use. If you are especially laden with electronic devices, consider bringing your own power strip on board so multiple items can charge at once.

Employ good bathroom behaviour

When you're unpacking your cosmetics and toiletries in the bathroom, try to curb the urge to spread all your own stuff on the most accessible shelves. Bring an over-the-door shoe bag to stow small items. If you like to wash your undies and hang them up to dry in the shower, check with your cruise companion first. She might not enjoy the sight of dripping underwear. You may also want to have a conversation on day one about shower-time preferences so you don't find yourselves fighting over the bathroom 20 minutes before your shore tour leaves.

Admit to snoring in advance

My husband and I both snore, and we both insist the other person has the worst problem about being kept awake. We have learnt to live with it (just!) and are happy to give the snorer a hefty shove, but nudging or yelling at a friend (or sister-in-law) can lead to trouble. Apart from discussing it and warning your cruise companion that snoring is a distinct possibility, you could also take a pack of nasal strips and earplugs (for the victim) with you.

Night owls and early birds

If one of you likes to party late into the night and the other doesn't, you'll need to come to an arrangement about coming in to your cabin quietly. There's nothing worse than being woken up by a tipsy friend who crashes around the cabin in the dark, so leave one light on when you turn in. If you're one of those who can't sleep with a light on, resort to sleeping mask and earplugs. Early risers, keep the noise to a minimum and turn on lights judiciously when you're getting ready at 6am.

Turn out the lights

I have a habit of reading and then falling asleep with the light on, which can be extremely annoying for my cruise companions. Your life partner might not mind leaning over and turning the light off, but one friend said she felt awkward about looming over me in the middle of the night. Some cabins have small individual bedside reading lights, so it's not such a problem; otherwise, sleeping masks could be the solution again.

Stop talking!

My husband and I are quite used to reading over breakfast and don't tend to chat until we've had at least two cups of tea and a coffee. Definitely alert a new travel companion to your talking taboos in advance, lest they think you're giving them the cold shoulder or chatter cheerily at you while you're still clearing the fuzz from your head. It's also perfectly acceptable to seek out alone time now and then on the trip. Just tell your buddy that you need to indulge in some "me time", rather than disappearing unexpectedly.

Article first published online at Sally MacMillan is the editor of Cruise Passenger magazine.