How to Pick the Best Travel Shoes

When it comes to planning a travel wardrobe your shoes have the biggest impact on your trip. Uncomfortable shoes can doom a trip, especially one that relies on doing a lot of walking. Similarly, if you make the common mistake of packing too many shoes you will literally be weighed down by the excess and unnecessary weight.

A comfortable travel shoe that is also stylish takes a bit of hunting if you don’t already own a pair. I wish I could recommend a pair that would universally work for everyone but we all know everyone’s foot and foot needs differ. What I can do is recommend certain styles that pair easily with a travel wardrobe of basics. Within those styles you can find the pair that works best for you and your feet.

While I’ve had some success with regular shoes that aren’t “comfort” brands it really just takes some research and luck to find the pair that works best for you. Some comfort brands to look for when doing your search are: Dansko, Clarks, Naturalizer, Aerosoles, Mephisto, Birkenstock, Munro, Camper, Paul Green, Softwalk, Ecco, certain styles of Cole Haan, Born, J 41, Soffit, Softspots, Trotters, OTBT, Tsubo, Dr. Scholls’s, Kork Ease, Aquatalia, Taryn Rose, Miz Mooz, Naot, Farylrobin, Josef Seibel, Docs, Pikolinos, Rockport, Teva, Easy Spirit, Merrel, Chaco, Keen and Fly London.

Some other factors to consider when choosing a shoe:

  • Make sure there are no spots that rub uncomfortably.
  • Try on shoes at the end of the day so that you can account for the slight swelling that occurs naturally in your feet.
  • If you are buying shoes that will require socks make sure and try them on with your travel pair.

If you live near a DSW or a Nordstrom Rack that’s a good place to start. They carry lots of the “comfort brands” as well as regular brands and you can take your time trying everything on to see what works. If you want a more customized experience visit a comfort shoe store or Nordstrom, both have been helpful in my search in the past. Online stores like Zappos have a friendly return policy so you can order and try on different brands as well.

The next shoe issue when traveling is taking too many pairs. Yes, I most definitely have been guilty of this myself. The problem stems from not properly planning your travel wardrobe which leaves us with the temptation to throw in an extra pair or two or three “just in case”.

If you have confidence in your travel wardrobe and know that you can mix and match and be appropriate for all your travel activities then you can resist the temptation to pack anything unnecessary.

A good pair of walking or sightseeing shoes will serve as the backbone of your shoe wardrobe. You bring a secondary pair to mix up your looks and maybe to relieve any foot stress that your original walking shoes may be causing you. You could stop there but consider the third pair you bring your “just in case pair” so you can bring a dressier pair of shoes or your favorite sandals and so on. So there you have it you are bringing three pairs of shoes. That’s right THREE pairs! These three pairs should cover most travel activities.

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Are there exceptions? Of course, this is just a general guideline to strive for. For instance if your travel itinerary includes sightseeing mixed with adventure activities like hiking, etc. you will need to bring specialized footwear. If you are attending a wedding then obviously your comfortable walking shoes will be out of place and you will have to pack a dressy pair. For beach trips I also like to bring extra sandal and fit-flop options but luckily these take up minimal room and weight.

Use your judgement and if your goal is to pack light carefully consider your travel activities and corresponding footwear needs.

Do you need an extra pair of shoes for dining out? In my opinion, not particularly unless it is a five star affair. Short boots, tall boots, flats and sandals when combined with a smart travel wardrobe can take you from most day to evening activities.

What if? What if the queen invites me to dinner? What if I decide to splurge and actually get reservations to that five star restaurant? What if I decide to go to the Opera? If any of these above scenarios actually comes true well then that’s the time to hit the local shops and pick out that ball gown and shoes.

For you runners and wanna be runners out there (I fall into the latter category). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed my running shoes (as an extra fourth pair!)only not to even touch them during a trip. So be honest with yourself if you are debating bringing running shoes. Luckily, certain running shoes have become part of mainstream fashion so you could get away with bringing a pair AND incorporating them into your travel wardrobe.

Also keep in mind weather and cultural considerations. If you are going to a rainy destination consider how waterproof your shoes are or take steps to waterproof them. Bring thicker socks to wear with boots if you are traveling to cold weather spots. Keep in mind the culture of your travel destination. The shoes I would bring to France are entirely different than what I would take to Thailand.

Short Boots
Short boots or booties have become my new Fall and Spring travel wardrobe staple. They mix and match easily with skinny jeans or pants, dresses, skirts and even shorts (if you are daring). Adjust the thinness or thickness of the socks you wear with them depending on the weather. Most short boots can get you through warm spring weather and cooler pre-winter weather. They come in a variety of styles to suit your personal taste and budget. A dressier pair like the Black Sam Edelman Petty shown above can take you from day to night. Frye Phillip Bootie, Steve Madden Troopa. For travel outfit inspiration with short boots, check out my Pinterest Board.

Tall Boots
Tall boots are a no-brainer as far as winter and cold weather travel go. They keep your feet warm and look great with skinny jeans or pants or leggings. They can also be dressed up with skirts and dresses. Most are rugged enough to get you through rain and light snow situations. The only drawback to tall boots for travel is that they take up a lot of luggage room, so you might have to wear these during travel days. The Merrell Captiva Strap Boot has the added bonus of being waterproof. The Steve Madden Fairmont boot has the look of an expensive Frye boot but at a better price. Pinterest Board.

Flats
Flats are about as ubiquitous as it gets because they go with just about everything. They can pair with any cut of pant from bootcut to skinny, they are also a natural with dresses and skirts. Personally, I don’t find flats that comfortable and use them as a dressy third pair option. Cole Haan Manhattan Waterproof Ballet Flat. I’ve had luck with Merrell flats and I used a pair similar to the Merrell Avesso during travels through Thailand. The Naturalizer Maude flats have great reviews on Zappos. If you are ordering shoes online make sure and read the reviews first! Pinterest Board.

Sneakers
Sneakers used to be taboo in travel and a dead give away that you were a tourist. This is no longer the case, sneaker culture has taken over the world and you will no longer stand out if you were sneakers smartly. The key is that the rest of your outfit consist of classic or tailored pieces, wear sneakers as you would flats. Dark or neutral colored traditional gym sneakers are a good option like these Nike Free shoes in black and white (Nike Frees are also very lightweight!). It doesn’t get any more classic than old-school Chuck Taylors. I’m becoming a convert to the slip-on sneaker like the Steve Madden Eccentric and will be incorporating them into my travel wardrobe. I’ve got a Pinterest Board dedicated to travel outfits incorporating different styles of sneakers to give you inspiration.

Sandals
A pair of stylish sandals can take you from day to night and are easy to pair with jeans and dresses. Many comfort brands have stylish options like Dansko and Birkenstock. Birks have made their way into mainstream fashion so you can be comfortable and in style with them. I like the versatility of the Gizeh style of Birkenstock in a metallic finish. The Bodhi by Dolce Vita is also a cute and comfortable sandal option. Pinterest Board.

Comfort and / or Functional Travel Shoes
If you have foot issues or just don’t want to risk blisters or sore feet you may have to choose a shoe solely based on comfort. For many years all I wore to Europe were Dansko Professional Clogs. Not the prettiest shoe but I rarely got any blisters and the rocker bottom on the sole of the shoe made it easy and comfortable to walk for miles and miles without thinking about my feet. The key to pulling off a less than pretty shoe is making sure it blends in with your travel outfits – Dark shoes blend in with dark pants and don’t stand out.

Some travel destinations will also determine your footwear options. For example if you are traveling to Thailand in the rainy season a water shoe like the Keen Whisper might be the way to go. Similarly, if you are participating in any high adventure activities like sea kayaking, long day hikes or thru hikes etc. you want to make sure you pack whatever specialized footwear you need for those activities. Pinterest Board.

What are your go-to travel shoes?

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