Footwear is probably the most important component of any travel wardrobe, and it’s where I always begin when deciding what to pack. There are three “S’s” I’ve learned to look for in travel shoes: Support, Stability and Style. If you can hit this trifecta, both you and your feet should be happy.
Support: I find that I need both some arch support and a bit of cushioning in the sole. While soles should be flexible, there needs to be some thickness so you don’t feel every cobblestone or bit of gravel. A low heel works better for me than a flat, but everyone’s feet are different, so be sure to incorporate what you find most comfortable.
Stability: if your shoes are too loose and your feet slide around, your muscles will have to work harder and your feet and legs will tire more quickly. You want shoes that are snug, but not too tight. If your feet tend to swell over the course of the day, straps or laces that allow for adjustment over toes, instep and ankle may be best for you. And a personal anecdote: when we were in Italy a few years ago I kept tripping on rough surfaces and actually fell a couple of times. I realized after a few days that the mostly non-adjustable sandals I’d brought and had been wearing were too loose on my feet. Once I purchased a pair that fit snugly, I stopped stumbling.
Style: If your goal is to pack as lightly as possible, shoes that cover a range of conditions and venues are optimal to help reduce the number of pairs needed. Over the last few years of traveling, I’ve found that certain footwear styles tend to work best from both comfort and multi-function perspectives. In general, dark shoes will “dress up” more easily than light shoes, and may be the more versatile option.
- Ankle boots. In all but the warmest weather, these are comfortable and appropriate. I like ankle boots for travel days, as they slip on and off easily (helpful when navigating airport security), and provide some foot protection in crowds. Currently Chelsea boots are on trend (even with skirts) and can be an excellent choice. Lower than an ankle boot, some styles of “shooties” are also a good option.
- Loafers or slip-ons. I have found that shoes with either a higher vamp or a strap over the instep/ankle are more stable than low vamp shoes like pumps or ballerinas (YMMV). Many styles of loafers incorporate a higher vamp, and are “smart casual” enough to go from day to dinner. Though “drivers” (with rubber nubs on sole and back of heel) are a popular loafer style, I find them less comfortable and supportive than a low-heeled or walking loafer. Slip-on sneakers (“skaters”) are popular now, and available in a wide variety of styles and prices. They often have a very cushioned sole, though may have less arch support. In a simple design in a dark color, they can also hit that “smart casual” target. You’ll want to be sure there’s no slippage in the heel, or again your feet and legs will tire more quickly.
- Mary Janes. Hear me out. 🙂 These not only have an (often) adjustable instep or ankle strap, but will work with both pants and skirts/dresses. They allow more ventilation than a fully closed shoe, which is helpful in warmer weather. Look for a toe that’s more almond-shaped than rounded if you’re wary of a “little girl” look. I’ve included several styles below in a variety of shapes.
- Sandals. If sandals are within your comfort zone, there are many workable options. Again, look for a snug fit, adjustability, a solid footbed and whatever support works best for you.
- Lace-ups/Sneakers. I’m not a big wearer of lace up shoes or sneakers at home, though for many people this is the most comfortable shoe style and if that’s the case for you, go with it. Brogues can be very “tomboy chic.” I did take this pair of Taos sneakers to France last spring and was very happy with them (cute and excellent arch support). They’re on my short list for this year’s trip.
One big trend this season that may be a good travel shoe for warmer weather are shoes with perforations or cutouts. Especially in a softer leather or a nubuck, they can be an excellent sandal alternative, providing some ventilation while keeping the foot mostly covered. These from Arche are lovely (and washable!) and Munro also has an option (available in multiple widths including Wide). I’ve included more perforated styles below.
And, per Tish Jett of A Femme d’un Certain Age, “sparkly” shoes are a hot trend in Paris. 🙂 So don’t be afraid to pack a pair with a metallic finish, if they’re among your most comfortable. I’m still reviewing my options; trying to keep it to 3 pairs, but that Bordeaux leg of our trip (where it may be quite warm in early June) has me thinking I’ll need to include a pair of sandals.
Be Prepared: You’ll want to road test any potential travel shoe candidates for spots that rub or any other points of discomfort (ideally a few consecutive hours walking around, on a variety of surfaces if possible). If your shoes have leather soles, before you travel I’d urge you to get them to a cobbler and have rubber half-soles added. These will not only give you better traction on slick surfaces, but will extend the life of your shoes. While you’re at it, have any plastic heels/tips replaced with rubber ones. Suede (no longer relegated only to autumn and winter) can be given an extra water/stain repelling treatment.
I’m anticipating some questions about socks and hosiery, and will cover those in a separate post. I’ve been test driving a few new (to me) options.
Below are more suggestions for travel shoes (click on image for link to product), and for other travel wardrobe basics please have a look at my SHOP page. What kinds and styles of shoes do you prefer for travel?
Linked up: Shoe And Tell
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