Best Footwear For Travel

travel in style: made for walking

Comfortable Travel Footwear

Made for walking! Clockwise from top left: ECCO (similar) // Sofft (similar)// Mephisto // Arche // ECCO (similar) // Cole Haan (similar) // Sofft (similar) // Pikolinos (similar) // Aquatalia by Marvin K (similar) // Tsubo (similar)

At the risk of repeating myself 😉 , footwear is THE most important part of a travel wardrobe. Your shoes can make or break a vacation (or a business trip, but for the sake of this post we’re focusing on leisure travel). When planning a travel wardrobe, work from the feet up and if you have to choose between your most stylish or your most comfortable and supportive shoes, go for the latter every time. The good news is that many shoe companies have caught on that comfort footwear doesn’t have to be ugly. Many European brands especially seem to offer a happy medium between style and comfort, and even among stylish Parisiennes you’ll spot plenty of “sensible” shoes.

Even if you’re not relying on public transportation, activities like sightseeing, museum hopping and shopping while on vacation often involve more time on our feet we are accustomed to in daily life. You really want shoes with “walk all day” comfort…and that means being able to put them on and forget about them. Take any shoes you’re planning to travel with out for a few straight hours of shopping, walking and standing before you go. What may be comfortable for a walk to the bus or running lunchtime errands may turn our to be problematic (rubbing, hot spots, slippage) over a longer period of time. Sometimes an orthotic, arch support, padded insole or heel pad will solve a problem, but you want it solved before you start packing.

Unless you are planning activities like backpacking, snowshoeing or skiing that will require special equipment, 2-3 pairs of shoes (including the one worn on the plane) will be plenty. I try to alternate my shoes day-to-day so they have a chance to dry out and breathe. Even if we have a dressy evening or two planned, I no longer bring high heels or any shoes that I can’t walk in for at least 30 minutes.

It’s important that your shoes are supportive and stable on your feet, and this includes sandals. If your feet slide around in your shoes, your legs and feet will tire more quickly. I find that a higher vamp or a mary-jane strap adds to stability. I also find a low heel more comfortable than a flat; your mileage may vary. Be sure that the soles/insoles have adequate cushioning and padding, especially if you will be walking on a variety of surfaces. There’s nothing like feeling every bit of gravel on the soles of your feet to make you regret those adorable ballet flats.

I’d also caution against shoes that are too tight. Yes, leather will stretch, but your feet may also swell during the day. Shoes or sandals with laces or adjustable straps can help with this. Be sure your shoes are comfortable with the hosiery you’re planning to bring, and when it comes to hosiery, you want it snug on your foot with no bunching. Rather than cotton socks, I prefer athletic socks with moisture wicking not only for comfort but also because they can be hand washed and dried overnight.

My own packing light strategy is to select shoes that can go from day to evening (casual to “smart casual” venues), so I haven’t included trainers/sneakers in my selections, but they may be a good choice for you depending on your activities. Although multi-colored athletic shoes may be a hot trend right now, a sleeker more monochromatic style may provide more styling options. If your travels will be during seasons where rain or snow is likely, be sure that you have at least one waterproof/weatherproof pair.

Do you have any tips for choosing shoes for travel?

WALK ON…

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29 Comments

  1. LauraH
    February 19, 2014 / 5:36 am

    I notice that you don’t show any lace ups. Is that to avoid complications at the airport?

    • une femme
      February 19, 2014 / 5:48 am

      LauraH, mostly yes. I also didn’t include any “trainers” as I don’t find them as versatile style-wise. Brogue oxfords are in right now, and some will them wear them with skirts/dresses. I just haven’t traveled with them or found a pair that felt like a good all-day walking shoe.

      • LauraH
        February 19, 2014 / 1:26 pm

        Thanks, I really like that your comments are based on actual street experience.

  2. February 19, 2014 / 5:39 am

    Most of these would make perfect NYC shoes for me! I bought a couple of Birkenstock insoles, and put them in my walking boots – I can go all day in these. The insoles are too bulky for most regular shoes, though.

  3. Amy
    February 19, 2014 / 5:41 am

    Great selections. I’ve been transferred to England for this year, live on a gravel lane, work in the city, and travel every chance I get in the UK and Europe, frequently walking miles in a day.The boots that are getting me through it all with zero foot problems are Aquatalia Undy, bought at the 2012 anniversary sale. Still not cheap but worth it: they’re waterproof, always dry overnight, look good with every outfit, feet never too hot or cold. The flexible shaft fits many calf sizes and packs easily, although I find them comfortable to wear right on the plane or train, even on a long transatlantic flight. My secret ingredient is a Dr. Scholl’s custom fit orthotic insert, which boosts the support of whatever shoe you choose. I bought mine in a NYC drugstore on a blitzing July 2012 pavement-pounding trip when my Arche ‘dricks’ let my arches down. They’re lightweight, transfer effortlessly from shoe to shoe, are virtually invisible, and you’re “fitted” in a few minutes on a machine that tests your walking style. Forty bucks at the time, which I balked at, but they saved that trip and many a trip since. I’m still on the same pair, moving them from sandal to shoe to boot. Have a great trip, and thanks for a great blog!

    • Ellen
      February 19, 2014 / 6:20 am

      Lessons learned the hard way: I avoid shoes with an elastic strap or insert over the instep; if my feet swell during the day, the elastic becomes uncomfortably tight. The same goes for the new fad for putting elastic in the back of the heel to help keep the shoe on (sometimes it actually wrinkles up the leather). I find that the leather wrinkles are blister inducing, and the elastic pushes the foot to the front of the shoe, making the toes feel too tight and/or causing blisters. I look for an easily adjustable strap up top.
      I also always include one of small blister sticks in my day bag or purse. Its a little bit of silicone that rubs onto the foot if you;re shoe is rubbing, goes a long way to stop blisters from happening

  4. February 19, 2014 / 6:39 am

    You’ve got it covered! I find my Birkenstock Gizehs indispensable for any temperatures above 20 C. A day’s walking in those temps, and my feet swell enough that the open sandal with the supportive Birk footbed is the only way to go.
    As a runner, if we’re going for long enough that I don’t want to abandon my training completely, I try to think ahead and have a pair of running shoes that are getting close to retirement. They still provide enough support for a few good runs, but I don’t mind leaving them out of my case on the way home — and I have enough space for my travel shopping! Win-win!

  5. February 19, 2014 / 7:15 am

    I’m very fond of the rather geeky Wolky Argentina Mary Janes with the silver buckle you have shown; they look very similar to the very comfy Mary Janes I have from Josef Seibel (two pairs, one completely finished after a LOT of walking). Has anyone tried them? I’ve not seen these at any comfort shoe stores in Montréal and want as much advice as possible if I have to order online.

    I see that they also come in bordeaux, which they spell “bordo”.

    Birkenstock insoles hurt my feet; the “toes” aren’t in the right position. We are all different, hein?

  6. Cornelia
    February 19, 2014 / 7:23 am

    I buy most of my shoes when travelling to Germany once a year. We walk a lot in Europe and it is very easy to buy stylish and comfortable shoes there.

  7. LaurieS
    February 19, 2014 / 7:46 am

    Looking for suggestions for July with it hot out! Too many straps get slippery. Please advise.

  8. February 19, 2014 / 8:24 am

    I usually buy a new pair of shoes in Paris each year because the walking shoes are beautiful. This year, I am not taking any dresses or skirts to Europe to save on shoe weight.I am often doing a longer walking trip and so this year will be taking a pair of Columbia Gortex walking shoes for the coast of Cornwall. My main shoes for city walks will be my pewter blue Thierry Rabotins.

  9. PW Marcus
    February 19, 2014 / 8:58 am

    I suggest never travelling with new shoes of any kind. Even a pair of new running shoes can have spots that rub or be too tight in the toes after 4 or 5 hours of constantly being on your feet. Since I can’t wear heels at all, most of my shoes work well for travel, but I have some that provide blisters just because of a slightly rough seam or the height of the shank up the back of my ankle. My favorite non-sneakers for walking are Clarks. There are some very un-clunky models that can be worn with skirts or pants, and they provide a blissful amount of toe room for hours on my feet. I like simple beige leather wide-strapped sandals for summer, but they have to be broken it, or there are the inevitable blisters.

  10. Amy
    February 19, 2014 / 11:24 am

    I went through the agony of auditioning good travel shoes last summer in preparation for a two-week trip to Europe. I took three pairs of shoes and ended up wearing my Wolky Strap Cloggys every single day b/c they were the only ones that worked for walking long distances for long periods of time. They were well broken in, however, so I was able to wear them continually without issue. I don’t think they’re the prettiest, but the arch support is good and the shoe is actually quite lightweight despite its appearance. (I also have the Wolky Dazzle, which are cute and light, but they ended up being a hair too narrow across the vamp despite my attempts at shoe stretching.)

    I’m eagerly reading this thread hoping to come across a new brand or style to try! Sometimes I feel that an attractive yet comfortable walking shoe is an urban myth. 🙂

  11. Jill Ann
    February 19, 2014 / 12:08 pm

    Attractive + comfortable is so difficult! For the really intensive walking days on a trip, I wear Clarks Privo shoes, which are basically a slip-on sneaker, but mine are in black nubuck leather with a black sole. So they look much sleeker than a typical sneaker, IMO.

    —Jill Ann

  12. February 19, 2014 / 12:28 pm

    “Work from the feet up…”

    Um, would it surprise you to know that I (almost) always do – even when I’m in my local area? 🙂

  13. Dorothea
    February 19, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    Check out the Jackie slip on shoe by “Ahnu”. You can look at them on Zappos. I have them in the patent “wine tasting” color. I think they’re great and I get a lot of compliments. They are comfortable, all day shoe when I have to run errands and be on my feet. I also have a sportier “summer” pair that I like, that I wear “sockless”…

  14. February 19, 2014 / 10:43 pm

    The search for the right walking shoes is like the Quest for the Holy Grail, as far as I’m concerned! When we went to Venice/Paris/London two years ago, I had a pair of clunky but comfy Reiker sandals, and a pair of Geox ballet flats. Both did me good service, but I haven’t really managed to replace them properly so now I’m looking again. An impulse buy in London at Brick Lane Up-Market of some brogues by a company called Shoe Embassy was a good move – they are now my go-to walking shoes, but I need something to supplement them. I will check out your choices.

  15. February 20, 2014 / 4:37 am

    Terrific post, excellent detailed advice. Have a great trip!

  16. Susan
    February 20, 2014 / 5:17 am

    For warm weather wear, I swear by my Mephisto Fisherman sandals. They have taken me all over the world and I can walk forever in them. They have a slightly wedge sole and an adjustable strap. I sent two pairs to Mephisto last year for resoling and they came back looking like new shoes—after almost ten years of previous wear. I have them in black and brown.

    For winter trips, I love my La Canadienne boots with a wedge heel. They are waterproof and look great with any pants. I can walk all day in them as well.

    I also love my Naot Mary Janes for walking.

    • Liz Nichols
      February 21, 2014 / 4:16 am

      Um shoes are an issue where I live Not much to choose frm. I do love my keens sandals that i wear with a sort of orthodic I swim and walk in them but Id like to get a covered boot for Alaska .But you cant order online incase they dont fit…the search foes on..

  17. February 20, 2014 / 6:08 am

    Shoes are my weakness when I travel. I almost always take 5 pairs every time. Even when I’m trying to exercise restraint. I know that my feet will soon grow weary of a pair after a day so I like to switch them out almost every day. It makes for a heavy suitcase but my husband is a Super Elite flyer so we can take as many bags as we like. I don’t know if that is a good thing though.

    bisous
    Suzanne

  18. Marie
    February 20, 2014 / 8:21 am

    I wear a narrow size and have trouble finding properly fitting shoes of any kind. I also find that wearing shoes without socks (including sandals) is a sure recipe for blisters for me while I’m traveling. Recently I’ve discovered Cole Haan “fashion” sneakers with Nike Air innards. They look more like oxfords and can be worn with skirts in the daytime, and they are so, so comfortable. In the winter, I’m with Susan: La Canadienne waterproof low-heel or wedge boots. One pair I’ve owned needed a gel insole, but the ones I currently have are comfortable as is.

  19. Diane
    February 20, 2014 / 2:54 pm

    The shoes definitely make the trip~ and that’s the one area where my wardrobe is still lacking. Most of our travel is combined business/pleasure, so I need versatile, comfortable, supportive shoes that are at least reasonably stylish. I’ve tried lots… I have a pair of Dansko black leather clogs that are pretty good, but I’m definitely still on the hunt for the perfect shoe. For summer I love my (slightly clunky) FitFlops and I wear them when traveling. I also have FitFlop clogs, but they are just too chunky for under skinny pants or with skirts. Perfect for at home wear, but not what I want to travel, though I have taken them to Amsterdam and they were very comfy…. just had to adjust with my pants.

    We always travel with carry on only, so I try to stick with what I wear plus 1-2 pairs extra. My feet are too touchy for wearing the same shoe day after day, so at least 2 pair are needed. I’m going to check out the Ecco brand. I’ve looked at them before, but many reviews say no arch support, which I need. That complicates getting the right fit, especially if you have to order, because I need to add additional arch support.

  20. Laurie
    February 21, 2014 / 9:25 am

    I cannot wear many Euro brands that do not come in ½ sizes. I just don’t get it – how do people do it? One size will be crazy tight, and the next waaay too big. (I’m talking to you, Ecco!)

    But hands down the BEST travel/walking shoes I have ever owned are made by fidji. I think they are adorable and can be worn with jeans, nice slacks, and dresses. I can walk for days in them and still feel chic and comfortable, even though I have “problem” feet. They make boots that have been tempting me too, but I haven’t tried any (yet). Anyway, I highly recommend fidji.

  21. February 21, 2014 / 12:22 pm

    Shoes that fit and are fashionable and don’t scream “American tourist” are the toughest packing item for me. That and toiletries.

  22. Eliza
    February 21, 2014 / 7:25 pm

    I wore two different pairs of shoes on a trip to Paris last fall. One was a pair of platinum Josef Siebel sneakers and the other was a pair of charcoal gray Converse. They were comfortable and didn’t scream “tourist.” Paired with blister stick, I walked for miles every day without a single blister.

  23. February 22, 2014 / 8:40 am

    Eliza, were your sneakers “Caspians”? I love mine, they aren’t clunky at all but are very comfy.

    • Eliza
      February 23, 2014 / 4:23 pm

      They were the Caspians! Very comfy and sleek:)

  24. February 23, 2014 / 10:51 am

    Ooh, this is so difficult! I’m really fussy about not wearing frumpy footwear and I do get very sore feet from lots of walking so I struggle with this.

    I’m on a trip somewhere warmer next week and I’ve just bought new sandals (they’re the shoe style I struggle the most to find stylish, comfy versions of). They’re leather, but I worry that the ankle strap will start cutting into my puffy traveling ankles…

    I’ll try and bring my comfiest flats as alternatives, though they won’t be as cool as sandals.

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