Travel Shoes 2016
The long-awaited Travel Shoes blog is here! Finding the perfect pair of travel shoes is a challenge, but a challenge that I've been fairly dedicated to figuring out. In all of the packing presentations that I've given, the most common question is always about travel shoes.I've given you some shoe options on this blog, but as the seasons come and go, so do shoes and styles. So, along with my bestie Heidi, we went on an adventure to the mall to shop for travel shoes--shoes for you! (For 2017 recommendations, see my exhaustively researched Travel Shoe Spreadsheet)The number of pairs you bring will be up to you, but I suggest a minimum of two pairs for everyone-- a walking shoe and a sandal. I tend to take three or even four pairs if I can manage it.And how do I manage it in my tiny carry-on backpack? By weighing them. In fact, the weight is one of the top criteria I've used in selecting these travel shoes. Break out the scale, bring it to the store with you or check for weight online before buying. It's nuts but it's worth it.My suggestions are based on the criteria I use for myself in choosing my travel shoes. I am on the road in Europe for up to four months per year and typically walk 5-10 miles every day, sometimes more. My criteria are, in this order: comfort, weight, style, durability, price.Not all of my suggestions will work for everyone, but this is intended to be a good place to start. If you have problem feet, I suggest looking for shoes with removable insoles. This way, you can buy custom insoles that address your particular foot issue. Two of the brands I suggest, New Balance and Mephisto, are well known for being good for troubled feet.I like to shop online, that's mostly because I have enormous feet and cannot find my size anywhere. I like Amazon the best because of the selection, price and return policy, but have had good luck with Shoebuy.com as long as I can find coupons. Many people like Zappos because of their fantastic return policy, but I find their prices to be the highest by far.
For the ladies, I suggest 3-4 pairs of travel shoes. For summer season travel I typically bring a minimum of a pair of black athletic shoes, sandals and flip-flops. If I can manage an extra pair, I bring slip-ons. Here are my choices in each of those categories....
My shoes last year were Asics Metrolyte. I wore them for 9 tours, and they still look good and will be going with me again in May after a bath in the washing machine. They are ultralight, but don't have a particularly supportive sole. No problem for me, I just ripped out the included insole and added Superfeet, which worked perfectly for me. I don't think I've ever had a pair or shoes make it for more than a season, so I'm happy to recommend them again.Many, many people on my tours are wearing Sketchers these days. I've even converted some of my stylish Italian colleagues to wearing them. They make a whole range of shoes with Memory Foam soles, and boy, are they comfy and super light. I don't own a pair of the Sketchers athletic shoes, but I do have slip-ons that I love. I can heartily recommend their athletic shoes, I particularly like the style called "Loving Life" but they have a whole range that would work well. It's also nice that they are inexpensive.I've even got my sons wearing Sketchers now, and they are a tough audience. As an aside, my 11 year-old did get some flak from the other boys at school for not wearing the latest $200 Nikes. He told them "Unlike you, I'm no corporate puppet! I like comfortable shoes!" Got to love that, especially as his shoes are way cuter than the ugly Nikes that are the rage in Middle School.
As with my athletic shoes from last season, I still really like my sandals from last year. I suggested Earth Orchid sandals, and they still work pretty well. I chose the light brown color, which goes with just about anything, but there are other colors too. I'm considering buying something else before I depart, I'm a little concerned that the straps are too stretched out.I ran into a brand on my shopping trip I'd never seen before, called Cobb Hill, which is a New Balance brand. New Balance shoes are good, although they tend to be frumpy, but their new line of sandals is adorable. I'm particularly smitten with a pair called "Helen" and, even if they go up only to 11 and I'm a 12, I think I might give them a try. Amazon is pretty cool about returns.In my shopping, I happened upon some Birkenstocks that surprised me. I owned a pair a few years back and liked them, but have felt that they are a little too crunchy/frumpy to wear in Europe. Styles have changed, they now sell cute and fashionable models in all kinds of colors and patterns. I've seen tons of travelers and locals alike wearing them all over Europe, even some of the picky Venetian divas that I know.A couple of models that I liked were the Gizeh sandal, which is a like a thong and a little more stylish than your typical Birke, and these colorful and crazy plastic foam models. They are kind of bright, but super cushy and come in at a much better price point than the traditional sandal, about $40. They are also light as a feather, so I'd consider these as a great extra pair.
I guess you normal people call them flip-flops, but I'm from LA originally and I know them as thongs. I always carry a pair in my bag, they are so light and are perfect as an alternate when my feet can just not take my other shoes anymore. Only problem with them is that they are really not something that I feel comfortable wearing on the street in Europe. They are great for the beach, wearing in the water or for around the hotel, but that's about it because they are too thin and way too casual for normal wear. To solve that problem, I've found Teva Mandalyn wedge flip flops which have lots of straps and can kind of pass for respectable shoes. I honestly don't need any extra height, I'm already over 6 feet tall, but the wedge gives them more structure and stability on uneven streets without adding weight. I've loved my old pair to death, so a new pair is already on the way for the summer tour season.
This is the optional shoe that I suggest if you have weight and space available. There are lots of choices here, and I change what I bring depending on the clothes I take. My suggestion from last fall is still one I stand by, Sketchers Yes Please, but this style is getting hard to find outside of online retailers. This season's model, Sweetpea, is also cute, and is basically the same thing. All of the Sketchers memory foam travel shoes are great, and are big favorites of my tour groups. I actually found the sole of these shoes to be better for hiking than my running shoes! I'm sure I won Italian style points by hiking up a mountain in Sicily in them, although I once saw an Italian woman do the same hike in stilettos without even wobbling.I am a fan of Tom's shoes, along with a big chunk of American travelers I've met. They are everywhere, and for good reason. They are probably the lightest shoes I can recommend, and surprisingly comfortable. I wear the wool felt style in the winter and a crochet lace style in the summer.My only caution here is that the soles are really slippery, with zero traction. I learned that the hard way, I slipped on the steps to San Clemente church in Rome and tumbled down about 5 feet of steps, causing a leg injury and greater injury to my ego. To solve this problem, I went to the hardware store and bought $1 worth of the slip-resistant tape that's meant for stair treads and slapped it on the bottom of each shoe. Problem solved, architect-style!
I'd suggest a similar mix of travel shoes for men, at least an athletic or walking shoe and a sandal. Add in a flop-flop or slip-on if you need.I like both New Balance and Asics Onitsuka Tiger shoes, both are lightweight and can take a custom insole. They are reasonably fashionable, and can pass with a decent pair of pants at a nicer restaurant. I have Onitsuka Tigers that I wear when I travel, and I was surprised how light they were, and also how popular they are with Europeans.I found my first pair by searching the internet for shoes based solely on weight. You can choose from a variety of color-ways, from drab to snappy, depending on your fashion level.New Balance offers a wide range of sizes and styles, which works well for problem feet. A tour member recently raved about his New Balance shoes, which were a nice cross between a walking and athletic shoe. The Sketchers I suggested above are also available in men's sizes and are very popular.If you're looking for something a little more stylish and hip, Mephisto shoes have the perfect mix of comfort and Euro style, although it comes at a cost. Most pairs start around $150. Their shoes keep your feet cool with some sort of magical juju. These tend to be the gold-standard in walking shoe comfort and will likely last a long time, so I'd pick a sleek black pair that goes with everything for good travel shoes and work shoes alike.
There are many different kinds of sandals that men on the road have recommended to me. I'd suggest choosing a sandal based on what you plan to do with it. If you're hiking, I'd pick Keens. I'm not much of a fan of them, I find them to be a little too outdoorsy, but they do have a couple of models that are a little more elegant.If swimming in the Mediterranean is on your list, you may be sorry to find out that soft sand beaches are not the norm. You will want shoes you can swim in, either sandals or cheap flip-flops. Traditional Tevas are a winner in water, trails and cities even if they tend to get smelly. And yes, they really do stink and I've tried everything to end the Teva funk. They are very versatile shoes though, and are great if you tend to be a stink-free kind of person. One request, though, resist the temptation to wear them with socks!Slip-ons and Flip-FlopsAs I suggested for women above, I recommend a third pair if you can manage it. Men's shoes are typically heavier than women's so it might be hard to fit something extra, so my suggestions in this category are ultralight and very packable.Teva makes good, durable and light flip-flops. I wouldn't wear these in the city, but they would be good for the beach or around the hotel. You can wear them in the water and they tend to be less prone to the Teva stink than the traditional Tevas.I've already suggested Tom's shoes for women, and I suggest them for men as well, as a spare pair. They weigh practically nothing and are comfy, but are probably not fit for extended days of walking or for rugged terrain. They are unisex and come in a huge range of colors and patterns.The Sketchers line that I suggest for women also exists for men, and their sandals are light and good looking. The unisex slip-ons are the travel shoes of the moment and are decently rugged. If you want something ultralight, comfortable, rugged and versatile enough to wear to the opera, I'd buy a neutral pair of slip-ons in black.
I suggest finding something that fits well and buying them at least a few weeks in advance. Neutral colors are always best, I'll bring a at least one black and one beige pair to match all of my clothes.Take your new travel shoes out for a walk and break them in. By break them in, I mean walk several miles, try standing in one place for an hour, replicate any scenario that you can imagine. Do they rub you a weird way? Are your feet unstable or achey? It's much better to discover that they won't work while you're at home rather than have bleeding feet wrapped in moleskin abroad. Trust me on this one. And if it all goes wrong and your feet are wiped out, try my son's trick and use the bidet in your room as a foot soaker.And what about that totally impractical pair of shoes you love? Cowboy boots? Stilettos? Go-go boots? Well, I'm not going to judge. I've had many people come and ask me at my talks, with big puppy dog eyes, if they think their favorite pair of impractical shoes will work. I always say yes. Bring what makes you happy and comfy. You love those hot pink platforms? Fine, go with it. For me, this summer it may be red high heels....if you're in Rome or London, just look for the 6'5" woman.