How to find the best shoes for your summer trip

keen, shoe, sandal, walk, walking, hike, hiking, footwear

It’s often the most overlooked travel accessory — an afterthought to your itinerary that barely registers on your packing list.

It’s your shoes.

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That could be a painful mistake, experts say. The right footwear can make or break your next vacation or business trip, and that’s especially true during the frenetic summer travel season, with its torturously long sprints through the train station or airport terminal.

“Travelers don’t pack shoes based on the function of the shoe as much as its appearance,” says Tim Swartz, a podiatric surgeon with Kaiser Permanente in Washington. “And people are traveling to places where they will be doing a lot of walking, touring and hiking that would require a shoe built for mileage.”

Choosing the right pair — that’s not easy. Because the way you dress is so personal, I wouldn’t presume to tell you what shoe to wear. I have, however, tested some of the best travel shoes, I’ve talked to travelers, so I have some insights that you can take directly to the shoe store. Bottom line: It’s a question of finding the right balance between comfort, function and style.

If you don’t? Well, let me put it this way: I walk about 10 miles a day, and I decided to try some of the shoes I tested on my regular walking path. I discovered that some of the footwear that boldly promises comfort actually does not provide it, and I have the blisters to prove it.

So let’s talk comfort. For Susan Stevens, a retired press secretary who lives in Philadelphia, that means a pair of Eccos.

“They look nice, and they’re good for serious walking,” she says.

I own a pair of well-worn Ecco sandals, too, and have never been blistered or chafed in them. Alas, they can be pricey. Mine cost $130. If you have only one pair of shoes to take on vacation, I wouldn’t recommend sandals, but when it comes to a good fit, they have other styles that work for the road.

Function is also critical. I wear a Keen Oakridge hiking boot ($125) as an all-round shoe when I’m on assignment, a recommendation that Jonathan Ronzio, a fellow traveler and filmmaker, seconds.

“Mine are 5 years old and have kicked dirt through the approach to Aconcagua base camp, spent four months trekking through South and Central America, and now, just a day off a month in Thailand, they got me through a volunteering stint at Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park,” he says. “They’re still going strong.”

Well, that’s a little more adventure than my Keens have seen. Still, my boots hold up nicely to the rigors of travel without being too conspicuous. I’ve worn them to business meetings, and I’m pretty sure I got away with it.

The real wild card is style, of course. I’ve never been accused of having any kind of fashion sense, and rightfully so: I’m a journalist.

For fashion advice, I defer to people such as Linda Anderson, a frequent traveler and a retired florist from Tolland, Conn. She loves her GH Bass Propel shoes ($39.99).

“They’re great for travel,” she says. Not only are they light, but they offer lots of support, and they look good. She’s spent eight hours a day walking around Manhattan with zero blisters and even took them to fashion-conscious Rome, where I’ve personally witnessed a woman in stilettos navigating cobblestone roads without looking down (how do they do that?).

There’s another shoe I tested, Sperry’s new 7 Seas ($89.95), and it didn’t blister, weighed practically nothing and looked sharp. It’s available for both sexes.

Put it all together, and you should feel like moving. “A good pair of shoes not only supports good alignment and posture, but it can translate into a healthy emotional state,” says Erica Hornthal, founder of Chicago Dance Therapy, a movement therapy and counseling service in Deerfield, Ill.

This summer, instead of waiting until the last minute to decide which pair of shoes to pack, give it a little thought. You wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot.

Shoe buying tips from the pros

  • How does it fit? “The most important quality in a travel shoe is comfort,” says Lindsay Cullen, a physical therapist at Chicago-based Athletico Physical Therapy. Don’t buy a new pair of shoes for the trip. Instead, run it through the paces at least a week before your trip. “It should be tested doing similar activities to those you will be engaging in while away,” she says.
  • Think about what you’ll be doing. That’s the advice of Swartz, the foot surgeon. “Many folks forget about the rigor of walking through airports, so they will throw on the flip-flops for a tropical vacation the morning of their flight, but forget that they will be walking through airports and customs all day,” he says. Remember that unless you have TSA PreCheck, you’ll probably have to remove your shoes at the airport.
  • Look for support. Gregory Grant, a foot and ankle specialist at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle, says support, cushion and an appropriate function are the key things to look for. He says running shoes often fit the bill but advises taking at least two pair of shoes. “I recommend you change shoes every day,” he adds. Why? It gives the shoe time to dry between uses.

15 thoughts on “How to find the best shoes for your summer trip

  1. Rule #1: Don’t even think about wearing never-worn shoes as a primary pair on vacation. (This applies even if it’s the same style and size as a pair you already own.)

    Any shoe you plan on wearing for more than an hour or two needs to be broken in over a few days of heavy use before you leave. If you discover that the shoe is uncomfortable (say, cramped toe box), leave it at home. It ain’t going to magically get better on vacation.

    1. I broke your “no new shoes” on vacation rule and surprisingly, came out on top, thanks to a very comfy pair of Merrell’s.

  2. I am obsessed with taking the right shoes on vacation. I swear by Mephistos. Super expensive but built to last. Plus, being French, they blend in when touring Europe. I usually take 4 pairs on a big vacation: 2 pairs walking shoes, a dressy flat (or dressy flat sandal in summer), and a pair of flip flops (double as slippers in the hotel room. The last two pairs weigh very little and pack very flat.

  3. I second Ecco shoes. I haven’t worn their sandals, but last year at the last minute I bought a pair of Ecco Blumas right before a trip to Europe. I also bought a pair of Cole Haan oxfords. Both pairs of shoes were supremely comfortable with no breaking in, they had plenty of cushion for cobblestones, and they look nice enough to go out at night. I would say they were more comfortable than tennies. I have bought a couple of pairs of the Ecco as replacements and I wear them to work.

    I am leaving for vacation next Tuesday (yay!); maybe I will pick up the Ecco sandals.

  4. I am almost crying as I am reading this. Shoes are literally a sore subject with me. I have narrow feet and it’s so difficult to find affordable shoes that come in narrow. I am always on the lookout for the perfect shoe to travel with. I want the lightweight comfort of a sandal, but end up with a clunky New Balance walking shoe because of durability and fit. I can’t stand that it’s white. Not that my shoe fashion sense is all that keen, but I would be happy to find that one shoe fits all situations. Oh yea, did I mention, affordable?

    1. My extremely narrow feet are always a problem. But I suggest you bite the bullet and invest in a pair of Ecco Yucatan sandals–infinitely adjustable, extremely comfortable and well worth the money. For a closed walking shoe, the Asics GT 2000 come in a narrow width and tend to run narrow anyway. Also a bit short. They’re not cheap, but to me the value, the fit and the comfort are priorities. Those of us with aristocratic feet need to give them the shoes they deserve. And, if possible, find a shoe store staffed by someone who knows shoes, not just a cash register.

    2. Goodness. My feet are quite wide & I have the same trouble getting shoes which are wide enough to be comfortable in the toe box. So mostly I wear adjustable sandals at home which don’t hit my toes etc in the wrong place. Not enough support for a lot of walking. Bought a pair of Mephisto high top boots when I first started traveling which lasted me for ages & many miles. Alas, I grew out of them as my feet got wider.

  5. Don’t forget to ditch the heels for your flights. In the unlikely event of an evacuation, they became a hazard to you and others. Plus, unless it’s mass chaos, you’ll be made to take them off and probably will lose them. Of course, who cares, your life is more important.

  6. I always had major foot problems on trips, despite using only broken in shoes, etc. I often had to buy a pair of sneakers half way through a trip so I could walk for the rest, and I learned the word for blister in several languages. I have had no problems since changing to Mephisto air cushioned walkers at an exorbitant price, but they last for unlimited years and can be refurbished. I also learned from a pharmacist in France that ampules are caused by frottage (blisters, rubbing), and this can be prevented with a foot cream (expensive, but it worked), rather than foot powder.

    Mephistos also have removable insoles, and I take a second set and a second pair of socks each day for a midday change, refreshing my feet and stopping further risk of ampules. (Curiously, the same word in French gets you light bulbs.)

  7. I would add Merrell to the list, especially since they offer much more now than their ever popular jungle Mocs that are a bit more stylish. I got a pair of their Isix8 mesh shoes just before going to Rome, expected just to wear them on the plane because they were so lightweight and comfortable, and ended up wearing them almost every day. Not a single blister. I think the pair weighs about a pound, which is especially good with double knee replacements (heavy shoes make my knees hurt like crazy).

  8. I love the Ecco sandals–worth every penny. I have a problem finding shoes that fit–extremely narrow foot–and the Ecco’s are super-adjustable.

  9. I have good luck with my Minnetonka Moccasins. The look cute and they slip on/off easily. I gave up sandals on the plane and in the airport when my toes kept getting squished.

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