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 about travel shoes?” Even my doctor asked, wanting to pass on the information to her inquiring traveling patients. What are the best travel shoes and the best walking shoes? Let's face it. Travelers walk a lot.
So, finally, on these last days of National Foot Health Awareness Month (oh, cruel April) I reveal the shoes I love and how I narrow down the selection for travel. Thanks to the publicist for Therafit shoes, who pointed out this month’s focus on healthy feet and good posture. I’m sampling a pair of their Therafit clogs, now my go-to slip-ons. They are great for standing in the kitchen and for the frequent errands I’ve been running while I unpack and try to settle into our first home spot in six years. While these might not go around the world with me (I’m going to try the Therafit trail shoes for that), these will be great for road trips.
My feet are weird, with super bendy ankles and loose joints. I’ve had two foot surgeries, spent a small fortune in Dr. Scholl's aids and orthotics, have moved up a half shoe size about every decade since I had children, and 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.
A simple plan for packing best travel shoes for women
For serious walking: a trail shoe
This is for active wear, so don’t get hung up on the look or color. Just add good socks, and wear for lengthy city walks, hiking in rough terrain, and even jogging and running. Adidas are the my current favorite. When they wear out, I go to the outlet store and buy two more pair. I'm also checking out HOKA shoes, made in the U.S.
Back-up walking shoes(optional)
If I’m setting out for multiple days of trail hiking, I choose to pack a second hiking boot. On the Camino de Santiago, I was glad to have my La Sportiva hiking boots (pictured above), great for rocky or uneven trails. I literally alternated these with my trail shoes every other day, and loved how thankful my feet were for the new treads each morning. Since I wore the Sportiva boots out, I’ve migrated to Keen, almost as good. Both keep the water out on rainy days over puddly paths.
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 hours on concrete. 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. 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, 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.
For warm climate destinations, 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.
Occasionally I’ll wear boots for city trips in the winter, but they have to be comfortable for traveling through airports and across towns. In the mix are my cowboy boots (most comfortable), the Mephisto boots I bought in Berlin, or the old, old Taryn Rose boots that look a bit dressy even without the FMB heels.
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. The Dansko is nice enough to serve the open shoe role in more well-dressed setting. But my favorite sandal is currently the FitFlop. They feel great and go into evening without embarrassment.
Finally, I always pack something that I can step into easily from bed, to wear around the hotel like a slipper–something that helps me feel at home. This could be a cheap flip flop. For travel, my current favorite is the Crocs sandal which can be worn at the beach or pool, into a shower, or through the driving rain for that matter. The footbed offers a mini foot massage. At home, I've taken to my new moose-skin Minnetonka Moccasins, founded and formerly constructed here in Minnesota.
Water shoes are finally part of my arsenal. I picked up my Jambu brand at REI last year–after having to walk the Virgin River in Zion National park in my trail shoes. Water shoes are handy–almost necessary–when snorkeling off shore, and are great for kayaking or canoeing. Update: I've upgraded my water shoes this past year to something with more coverage and support, the Sea Dogs by Bzees. See more about my latest show selections here.
The trick in packing shoes is 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.
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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