I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: why does it have to be so hard to find great travel shoes? Sure, there are well-made, comfortable outdoor shoes that hold up to rain, cobblestones, and hours of walking…but it seems they are only worn by Americans! No woman in Brazil, Italy, or Japan would wear them, so I look for a travel shoe that combines comfort and style. Let me tell you, it’s not easy (for women, that is. It seems like kids and men can get away with a pair of brown Keens and sleek sneakers).
Let’s break down travel shoes by type and see what we have:
1) Mary Janes
Since my first pair of Mary Janes in high school (red satin ones from a Chinese store in Sacramento), I have loved the feminine look of the many pairs of Mary Janes I’ve owned. The good news is that there are comfortable Mary Janes, like these from Hush Puppies:
The bad news? Mary Janes are not appropriate for all types of weather because the top of your foot is exposed. Without being able to wear socks or have your whole foot covered, these shoes won’t work on cold or rainy days.
Boots are a wardrobe staple for me but are a mixed bag while traveling. The good news about boots is that they are great in rain and cold weather, and they can dress up an outfit. And if you shop carefully, they can be comfortable–I have found that boots a half size up are best because they don’t pinch and allow room for socks and/or gel inserts for extra cushioning.
The bad news? Boots take up a lot of space. They also are great at pinching your feet after too much walking. When I wore my boots to work, they were great, but when I tried to walk around the cobblestone streets of Florence last year, they took on a life of their own and suddenly left me with blisters. I learned that boots for travel must be chosen very carefully.
3) Desert boots/low boots
Low boots seem to be popular right now, not just in the U.S., and I’ll admit that I’m a fan. I have two pairs that I like and will take with me on trips.
The first one is a pair of desert boots purchased for $40 in Brazil 12 years ago. Yes, I am still wearing them, and even though they are on their last leg, they look good with everything. If you can’t go to Brazil to buy some, try Clark’s, J. Crew, and Eddie Bauer. The good news for travel is that these can be worn with just about anything and are inconspicuous, but the bad news is that they do not stand up well to rain or cold weather. For lots of walking, I need to add insoles.
The second pair of low boots are from Old Navy. I know, I never thought a decent pair of shoes could come from Old Navy, but after seeing them mentioned on Hither & Thither, I decided to give them a try. They’re now my favorite weekend shoes for fall. The good news is that they dress up an otherwise boring outfit and can be worn with pants or a dress; they are also comfortable enough to be worn for a few hours out. The bad news is that these boots are not comfortable enough for an entire travel day of walking.
Even though I wish I could gush about my cute pair of flats for travel, I have nothing to say because I have never owned a pair that I could use for that purpose. I find flats to be too thin in the sole to provide enough comfort, but because I love a cute pair of flats with skinny pants, I am on the lookout for ones that look good and are comfortable.
Another tricky type of shoe because most sandals don’t have sufficient support for the walking that comes with travel. To make matters worse, people who live anywhere that’s warm enough to wear sandals are probably used to seeing only flip-flops or cute, thin sandals, which are OK if you’re going to the beach but don’t suffice for days of travel.
The most comfortable sandals I know of are Chacos. The good news is that they are amazingly comfortable–I can walk all day in them and have even used them for running! They’re also adjustable, which is handy in case your feet need a little more room along the way. The bad news is that they’re not really cute…I wouldn’t wear them with shorts or a skirt because they’re a bit bulky for my short body (but I have a friend pulls off a brown pair with skirts and looks great in them).
I normally try to use boots or a cute flat for dressing up while on the road. However, even though heels are not typically thought of as good travel shoes, there are some places and occasions that call for heels. Comfortable heels have alluded me, but one lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that inexpensive heels are a waste of money–they need to be well made and have some support in the sole. These Italian made heels from J. Crew are the best ones I own, but I’m still searching for a versatile pair of well made heels.
In the end, it comes down to a combination of shoes for every trip. Going to Italy in the fall? I would take my most comfortable high boots, desert boots, and Mary Janes (or cozy flats if I had any). Going to Brazil? I’d pack Chacos for hiking, low boots for day outings, and heels for evening, and I’d buy Havaianas when I get there.
Help me find better travel shoes! What are your favorite travel shoes and why? What kind of shoes do you wish you could find for travel?
And remember, until Dec. 1, I will donate $1 to UNICEF for every comment left on my blog, so please start commenting!
I asked this question over on Facebook and got many answers from readers. Here are some of their picks for great travel shoes:
Clark’s (so comfortable!), Born, Toms (good support!), Tieks flats (worth every penny!), Vasque hiking shoes (lightweight!), Josef Siebel sneakers (totally European!), Keens (these had a few votes), Merrells, & Cole Haan’s line with Nike soles
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