Happy Feet: Travel Shoes 101
Shoes can make or break your travels. (Trust me – I worked in footwear retail for four years. I know my shoes).
You don’t want to be limping down the Champs-Élysées in Paris from a pair of poorly chosen ballet pumps, or sweating in a clammy pair of hiking boots at a temple in Southeast Asia. There’s no fun in mourning your drenched suede desert boots in the depths of muggy monsoon season, and you certainly won’t enjoy cutting off the circulation in your toes after squeezing into shoes that are a half-a-size too small.
So once you’ve got your music playlists sorted and you’ve swotted up on the importance of embracing cultural sensitivity on your travels, what exactly should you be wearing on your feet to get your trip off on the right track?
First things first… how many pairs should I bring?
“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery
Travel experts say you should bring no more than 3 pair of shoes on your international journeys (but you should be able to squeeze in some flip-flops too!). Shoes take up a lot of space when packing and can be the heaviest items in your luggage, so bring pairs that can double up for different activities in neutral colours – the right flats for exploring cities during the day could easily double up as dressy footwear for nighttime!
Of course your footwear choices will vary on the duration of your trip, and the type of travelling you’re planning on doing. Have a think about what sort of destinations you’ll be visiting, what kind of climates you’ll experience and the types of activities you have in mind. If you’re an adrenaline-seeker, you’ll need closed-toe shoes for adventures like rock-climbing and zip-lining. And even if you’re not planning any moonlit strolls on the beach, flip-flops are perfect for dodgy hostel communal showers!
What should I wear at the airport?
You need to start your travels right! Get yourself a pair of shoes that you can slide off quickly for getting in and out of security in the airport – it’s not ideal to be messing around with buckles, straps or laces at this time, plus they’ll come in handy for situations where you may need to take your shoes off for respect, such as homes or temples in Asia.
Chelsea boots are a perfect choice. They’re easy to slip in and out of, and you have plenty of choice when it comes to material; something durable like leather if you’re planning on serious walking and weather, or a more lightweight suede or man-made upper if your travels are going to be less intensive.
Alternatively, if you’re planning on bringing relatively heavy-duty shoes on your journeys and are concerned about the weight limit of your bag, another good idea is to wear them when travelling to free up space in your suitcase!
These boots were made for walking… or were they?
Not everyone will need to bring a pair of boots on their travels, but if you do, make sure you’ve got the right ones. Do you really need a pair of serious hiking boots if your biggest trek will be the journey from the hostel to the local cafe for a spot of brunch?
Can’t stand getting your feet wet? Does your idea of travelling consist of listening to bands play live in muddy fields? If you’re planning on heading to a festival or anywhere in the world where there’s going to be a considerable about of rainfall, plonk for a good pair of waterproof rain boots, like unisex Hunters which are known for their premium durability as well as their iconic style. If you want to avoid looking like you’re ready for a tsunami, try one of their more ‘fashionable’ ankle-length models; they have several styles that look like biker boots, chelsea boots and come with laces so can easily double up as a pair of casual boots both on your travels and at home. Don’t be afraid of the white chalky effect that may appear – it’s actually a sign of good rubber quality, and can be easily buffed away.
A top outdoor apparel company, Patagonia’s roots are in rock and alpine climbing, but they also offer a diverse mix of attire for you skiers and surfers. If you’re looking to make your way over mountains on your travels, then you should check them out – their hiking shoes are some of the best in the business. Plus, they’re eco-friendly! Patagonia’s green construction includes recycled EVA midsoles, soles sewn-on rather than glued and laces made from scrap leather.
A desert boot in suede or leather is compulsory for every traveller, thanks to their lightweight style, casual smartness and their easiness to slip on and off. Based on boots which the British military wore in Cairo during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, the classic Chukka is timeless, unisex and versatile. Desert boots were popularized in the 1950s by UK shoe company C. & J. Clark, and Clarks remain the iconic and original desert boot style. Even Anthony Bourdain gives them the thumbs-up!
Timberlands are a dream for travelling offseason. A lot of Timberland styles are waterproof (check the description if purchasing online or ask your sales assistant if shopping in-store), offer shock absorption, a cushioned interior, rubber gum soles for maximum traction, anti-fatigue technology and a padded collar for ultimate comfort and ankle support. While they can be heavy duty and aren’t the cheapest, you should look at them as an investment, as they offer longevity without being overly sturdy and the hiking boots and classic styles are timeless (and something of a fashion statement).
No matter where you’re planning on visiting, a high quality pair of running shoes will set your journey off on the right foot.
Despite their feather-light appearance, Skechers GoWalks are a a fan favourite for travelling as they come with cushioned support via GOGa mat technology and a shock-absorbing sole, are super-flexible, slip-on AND go with jeans. They also come in men’s and women’s sizes so should suit almost every traveller, weighing virtually nothing in your luggage and super comfortable to wear to and from the airport. They’re also easy to wash – some of the styles (without the memory foam insole) can even be thrown in the washing machine safely.
Nike carry a huge selection of lightweight sneakers that provide support, look stylish and won’t weigh down your backpack. A minimalist, slim model like the Free Run or Roshe is great – they were my shoe of choice when I spent long hours on my feet in retail. However, keep in mind that the reason these styles are so light is because they’re made of mesh, so I wouldn’t advise them for serious hiking as the material could snag, but they’re perfect as a comfortable pair for exploring cities.
Merrell make a wide range of classic, comfortable walking shoes, many of models being waterproof and breathable with soles that are specifically designed to withstand slippy ground, ideal for Italian cobblestones or Scandinavian hills. More substance than style in comparison to the Nike, they should be your go-to choice for serious adventuring.
Toms are deceptively comfortable, with a light, bouncy sole. Perfect for urban travel, they’re a more stylish option if you’re not completely willing to sacrifice style for comfort and are easy to slip on and off once they’ve stretched after the first wear (they fit very tight at the start but loosen out a lot). Plus, they’re an ethical purchase; for every pair you buy, TOMS donate a pair to a child in need.
Walking is the best way to explore a new environment, and just because you’re not wearing runners shouldn’t mean you have to compromise on comfort. A good pair of sandals should be comfortable, durable, lightweight, versatile and water resistant/waterproof if you can swing it. Get yourself some walking sandals with a decent sole so you won’t feel every cobblestone or piece of gravel, avoid your toes getting wet from puddles or brushing off dirt and most importantly of all, don’t give you sore arches.
OK OK, they might not be the *coolest* shoe out there, but hear me out!
Crocs have moved from the clunkier clog style that first made them famous (or infamous) with slimmer, more wearable styles. With built-in arch support and a slip resistant sole, they’re ideal for almost every sort of travel, and they’re super lightweight, completely waterproof and really comfortable. As well as being reasonably priced and pretty durable, they’re also unisex! Men should check out the Santa Cruz fabric loafer sandal or the Yukon Sport, while for women, their flip-flops are very minimalist and discreet, while the Huarache style is quite pretty and dainty for evening wear. And you don’t have to take my word for it, either.
Flip-flops are a traveller’s best friend, and no flip-flops have been as loved by travellers as Havaianas. A Brazilian brand of rubber flip-flop sandals and the most popular in the world (150 million pairs are made every year), the pattern on the soles is designed to resemble the straw soles of Japanese zōri sandals. Havaianas are great for airing your feet and have a comfortable bounce, and because they’re rubber, they’re easy to clean and super light and flexible, so they won’t take up much space in your bag. Havaianas are unisex and fit true to size, so they suit pretty much everyone, plus they can even double up as travel slippers!
Geophysicist Mark Thatcher developed Teva from his experience working as a rafting guide in 1982. Noticing the lack of proper shoes for river activities (sneakers become heavy when wet and take a long time to dry, whereas flip-flops slide off feet very easily) he added a nylon ankle strap to a traditional thong-style sandal, creating the first sports sandal. The Teva has since become a shoe icon after becoming popular with young Americans. The unisex Hurricane is the original model, but try the Universal for something slimmer and more packable. An ergonomic shoe, they’re made from rubber so they don’t tend to get slippy and are really cushioned, plus the velcro strap means you can adjust the fit if your feet swell from heat or after walking long distances.
Whether you favour the classic Gizeh, Madrid or Arizona model, or you’re a man or a woman, there’s a Birkenstock out there for you. With leather insoles, cork latex midsoles and shock-absorbing EVA outsole, they’re comfortable, practical and durable and mould to your feet to ensure maximum arch support and a ‘custom’ fit. Birkenstocks also come with adjustable buckle straps so you can fasten to your liking. They do tend to run large, so I would recommend trying a size smaller than you usually wear, and make sure you take the time to break them in before you start your travels. And if you’re the kind of person who’s unwilling to sacrifice style for comfort, then you’ll be happy to hear they’re on-trend!
- Break in your shoes! Get yourself a fluffy pair of socks and walk around the house in your new pair (maybe even sleep in them, whatever works for you!) – after all, it’s better to get a blister in your living room than halfway up a mountain in Norway.
- If you are planning on buying shoes on your travels, make sure you take into account the destination you’re visiting and the style of shoes that are popular over there. Remember that in areas like Asia, people tend to have smaller feet, so you might struggle to find a pair if you normally wear a bigger size!
- Unless you REALLY need to wear heels on your travels, leave them at home – they’re not the most practical shoes to pack as they take up a lot of space, and it’s unlikely you’ll wear them as much as your other pairs.
- You’ve bought the right shoes… now do yourself a favour and buy the right socks! A good pair of high-quality socks are just as important as your footwear and will help prevent blisters and keep your feet comfortable.
Now that your shoes are sorted, what next? Our Content Manager Clarissa gives you 8 tips to pack savvier for your travels (remember, roll, not fold!).
Emma is a 23-year-old copywriter at GoCambio. With a BA in English and History, plus an MSc in Creative Advertising, she’s your go-to girl for words, ideas and the occasional pun (not even sorry). Some of her favourite things include fashion, travel, writing, film and social media. And tea. Black, no sugar. Want to connect with Emma? Try her LinkedIn, Twitter or e-mail.