This is a December 2019 update of a post originally published in 2016.
My outlook on the best travel shoes for women was defined early on. My mother regularly reminded my sister and me not to skimp on shoes; cheap shoes would hurt and not last, she warned us. She also told us that shoes would last longer if you didn’t wear them every day, but alternated to give them a rest. (I guessed they would last twice as long, but I internalized that my feet, too, required an alternating set of footwear.)
These days, the most frequent question I get about packing is ‘what shoes do you pack?' or ‘what are the best shoes for travel?' What are the best shoes for walking all day? What are the best shoes for us travelers over 50? Even my doctor asked, wanting to pass on the information to her inquiring traveling patients. Let's face it: travelers walk a lot and aren't shy about talking about their feet.
Travel shoes are all about comfort and range of use. Don’t overthink it: style will follow if comfort comes first.
My feet are admittedly weird. My super bendy ankles and loose joints mean crooked toes. I’ve had two foot surgeries, spent a small fortune on Dr. Scholl's aids and orthotics, and have moved up a half shoe size about every decade since I had children. Recently, I've discovered you can get arthritis on the top of your foot.
At the same time, I love shoes. In career days past, I’d often decide what to wear to work by first picking out shoes that would feel good that day, then building the outfit from there, literally from the ground up. For traveling, forget about the specific shoes that you wear with a certain dress. Travel shoes are all about comfort and range of use. Don’t overthink it: style will follow if comfort comes first.
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Three types of women's shoes to pack for every trip
Think of taking three types of shoes for your travels, and you'll be fine. What every distance traveler needs, regardless of shoe brand, is:
- For walking and hiking, a substantial shoe or boot or both
- An attractive yet comfortable city shoe, suitable day and night
- A sandal or similar slip-on that can be worn around the hotel and to the pool or beach.
Of course you get bonus points if you actually hold it to these three types, one of which you are wearing on the plane. But I'm not naive: there are exceptions to every rule. That's why the headline says “four” best travel shoes for women!
For serious walking: trail shoes and hiking boots
This is for active wear, so don’t get hung up on the look or color options. Just add good socks, and wear for lengthy city walks, hiking in rough terrain, and even jogging and running. Maybe your everyday pair of sneakers is sufficient, but you'll want to be sure your hiking shoes offer good support and arches.
The low waterproof Oboz trail shoe, shown at the top of this post, is my current favorite. Besides being a great fit with good support and substance, I like the shoes' hooks for the upper laces. That and the roomy toe box make it easy to slip these on and off during flights or entering shoe-free zones. This is the rare shoe that has the technology and fit for all sorts of terrain, but they aren't gaudy or too sporty looking, so they can double for long days of city walking, too.
Also in my hiking/trail shoe arsenal are another pair of trail shoes and a pair of hiking boots. The La Sportive Ultra Raptor GTX Trail Running Shoe has excellent traction and stability, like a low boot. It feels cooler to me than the Oboz shoe, so I prefer it in summer. In winter, or to alternate with a lower shoe, I don Keen's indestructible boot, similar to this Voyageur Mid Hiking Boot.
I'm now smitten with my Bionica boots, a lightweight boot with rubber sole that looks great for city wear and holds up for hiking and in wet or cold weather. What sold me on this style, the Bionica Everson boot, is that it zips on the inside for easy on/off (sort of like the classic Chelsea boot), yet laces in the front to fine tune the fit. Size up for wider feet.
In the past, Adidas running shoes were my favorite for backup knockabouts. I still wear them around town for casual wear and to the gym. When they wear out, I go to the outlet store and buy two more pair. I've also enjoyed Hoka shoes, made in the U.S.A. I like the height the deep rocker sole gives me, but over time I felt some uneven wear and a bit less comfort. My Hokas, though, worked great for our bike ride through Puglia and Matera Italy. And I even got a compliment on them as I wore them around Paris! Apparently Hokas were the invention of Frenchman and mountain runner Nicolas Mermoud.
Note: If I’m setting out for multiple days of trail hiking, I choose to pack two pairs for hiking. On the Camino de Santiago, I was glad to have my La Sportiva hiking boots (pictured below), great for rocky or uneven trails. I literally alternated these with my Adidas every other day, and loved how thankful my feet were for the new treads each morning. For multi-day hikes, I recommend a substantial boot alternated with a lower, breathable trail shoe. Read all about our Camino de Santiago footwear suggestions here.
City shoes for travel
I always pack what I call my city shoes, the shoes that are versatile around town, fine with jeans or skirts, OK for going out to dinner when you want to shed the hiker look, but still substantial enough for walking all day on concrete or cobblestones. Bonus points go to shoes you can wear with or without socks. My current favorites are these Bernie Mev shoes. They are easy to slip on without socks, offer great comfort in all temperatures, are super lightweight–and they get the most compliments.
The newest addition to my ‘city shoes' options are these super comfortable Shoes by Pandere. While I still don't have many miles on them, I am most excited about wearing these on flights and other long travel days. They are designed to expand in width and heel fit as needed for swelling feet. For those with bunion issues, plantar fasciitis, ankle swelling, wide sizes or any other pedi-oddities, this is worth checking out.
Other favorites include a Mary Jane style NAOT shoe (featured in an earlier post here) and the AHNU brand. For colder climes, these are both fine with socks, have sufficient arch support, but pack small.
Do avoid the cute little flats that aren’t all that comfortable and have thin soles and no arch. They are worthless.
Of course, if active or sandal wear can double as city shoes, all the better. To warm climates, I’ve traveled with Dansko sandals instead of closed shoes. These are heavier to pack than most of my shoes, but offer exceptional support and comfort all day, and look decent.
And for winter, refer to the above Bionica boots which will look great in the big city, too.
Sandals or slip-on shoes for travel
Depending on the destination and the weather, I’d recommend packing either the city shoe or the city sandal, not both. But I’m pretty good at justifying both. I like something that I can step into easily from bed and wear around the hotel like a slipper–something that helps me feel at home.
Both Tom and I have delighted in the cushy-soled flip-flops and OOmg styles by Oofos. Billed as “recovery” shoes, these are exactly that: a great relief for the feet after hikes or runs, and a nice casual shoe for rest days. The OOmg style makes a great boat shoe, too. Runs generous.
Of the sandals pictured above, the Crocs are handiest–both lightweight and transferable to the beach or pool, into a shower, or through the driving rain for that matter. The nubby footbed offers a mini foot massage. Lately, I've left the heavy Danskos (summer city shoes) behind. The popular FitFlops, long-time favorites because they feel great and go into evening without embarrassment, are now looking their age.
So my updated picks for best sandal wear include Oofos flip flops for cushion (think beach, boat or standing around) or these Oboz flip flops with great sturdy soles (think all terrain or city walkabouts). Both are highly recommended. And finally, I splurged on Haflinger sandals to replace my long lost Birkenstocks, for a bit dressier appearance.
Specialty footwear for travel
Water shoes are finally part of my travel wardrobe. They are handy–almost necessary–when snorkeling from shore, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or canoeing. After walking the Virgin River in Zion National park in my trail shoes, I vowed I'd never wade again without proper water footwear. I found a pair of Jambu brand shoes at REI, but they took on a lot of sand. So I've upgraded to something with more coverage and support, the Sea Dogs by Bzees. I love that they are washable and could double as a summer city shoe.
Shoes for home…or to make me feel at home on the road.
I have some favorite footwear that I love to come home to. My moose-skin moccasins (from Minnetonka Moccasins, founded and formerly made here in Minnesota) are my main around-the-house footwear. Warmer than flip-flops, the “driving moc” style can be worn outdoors, too, with a hard rubber nubby bottom that provides good traction and long wear. I would definitely fit these into my bag if I were doing another house sitting gig or other extended stay.
Thanks to the publicist for Therafit shoes, who pointed out that April is National Foot Health Awareness Month (oh, cruel April) and their focus on healthy feet and good posture. At home I enjoy comfortable slip-on Therafit clogs. They are great for standing in the kitchen or running errands. While these might not go around the world with me (I’m going to try the Therafit trail shoes for that), these will be nice for road trips. For long day wear, these are more substantial and versatile than flip-flops.
How to pack your travel shoes
If you stick to the plan above, with three pairs of shoes, it's easy to pack. First, wear the biggest/sturdiest walking or hiking shoes on your travel days so you don't have to pack them. If you are packing an extra hiking shoe, you can stuff your hiking socks in them and pack them at the bottom of your bag, along with your ‘city shoes.' That leaves the little lightweight sandals, which you can toss on top or even pack in your carry-on. I place each pair in a plastic bag before packing–both to protect the shoes and to prevent dirty shoes from spoiling my other clothes. (Note: if you're hiking, consider carrying spare shoes on the outside of your pack so they can air out and thoroughly dry between wearings.)
The trick in packing shoes is NOT to match up various outfits, but to know which shoes feel the best. (And don’t listen to anyone who tells you which shoes to eliminate.) I get it: shoes are the ultimate accessory. But they literally influence how we carry ourselves, how we project ourselves, how we feel. Color, heel, and profile are secondary features–just for outside observers. Only you are walking in your shoes, so don’t hesitate to grant yourself something that keeps your feet and posture healthy. It's a long road.
See our Girls Packing Tips post for ways to simplify your packing for extended travel.
When shopping for shoes online or around the world, click here for a handy international shoe size chart for women's shoes.
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