The best travel shoes for any age & activity
By Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Ph.D.
Why your shoes matter – whatever your age
Everything starts with your feet. If something is wrong with your base, then other parts of the body suffer – hello ankle, knee, hip, and back pain! Body alignment starts with the right shoes.
If you are young and smart, you’ll start now with the right shoes to offset future foot pain. Clinical research has found that women’s past shoe wear is associated with future hind-foot pain. From my anecdotal perspective, all I have to say is “duh!” I wish I could convince my younger self of this!
But for you older gals, it’s never too late to start with the right shoe. I practically changed my life when I changed my shoes!
It’s not just the young who choose style over health. In its latest public opinion research on foot health and care, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) found some surprising findings. The foot ranks low in importance for general health and wellness; yet, 8 out of 10 Americans have foot problems, and more than half of those admit that it affects their quality of life. In addition, those who experience foot pain on a regular basis are much more likely to have problems in other parts of the body.
The APMA says high heels are the No. 1 culprit of foot pain, and women in the poll agreed that high-heeled shoes hurt their feet. Nonetheless, the average woman who buys high heels owns around 9 pair! The heels don’t have to be really high to cause problems. A 2 1/2 inch heel can increase the load on your forefoot by 75 percent.
Better choices for foot health
Choosing the right shoes for travel used to be a choice between style or comfort – either take the pain or break out your grandmother’s tan orthopedic shoes. Fortunately, with advances in shoe design, comfort and style are no longer mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s the new hotness.
3 easy tips from the APMA can help you on the road to buying better shoes:
- Stiff heel. If you press on both sides of the heel counter, it shouldn’t collapse. A heel counter, located in the back of the shoe, is usually a little plastic insert that reinforces the heel cup of a shoe. It anchors the foot to the midsole by locking it into place.
- Toe flexibility. Basically, the shoe should bend with your toes, but not too much. If the toe box is too stiff or bends too easily, avoid the shoe.
- Rigid middle. If your shoe twists in the middle, that’s bad.
I’ve had so many agonizing experiences with finding the right shoes that it’s somehow comforting to think I might save you some discomfort.
The recommendations below are the result of those experiences, but I’ve also updated this post with suggestions from readers who are also experienced explorers.
Let’s start with a few disclosures: First, I’ve had foot reconstruction surgery. The surgery worked – mostly – but I’ll always be wearing shoes with excellent arch support. For those of you without prior foot surgery, strong arches prevent arch collapse in regular people too, and they can help with Plantar Fasciitis.
Second, the shoes I recommend are not cheap. But considering that shoes can make or break my trips, I gladly spend the money. Third, the suggestions below contain *affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase an item. This helps me run my site but costs you nothing, so thank you!
The shoe list
I generally pack three shoes for my trips. If I’m traveling somewhere warm, which I usually am, my first shoe is a sandal. The sandals that I have work well for walking, standing, and even dressier events.
Next, I make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes, which may either be sneakers or a shoe that can double as professional wear such as the Finn Comfort brand.
My last shoe is some sort of clog, which are designed to keep your legs and back in an ergonomic position while standing. They are perfect for shopping and visiting museums. If I’m going to stand a lot, I’ll often opt for the clog.
Dansko is my first among favorites – their shoes have saved me a lot of pain over the last few years. Someday, I’ll write to personally thank them! In addition to my three main shoes, I often add flip flops (thong sandal) to my packing list. They are indispensable for short jaunts, kicking back, and can double as house shoes.
Here are my suggestions in no particular order. I love all of them! The style is up to you; it’s the brands that I’m recommending.
I choose Alegria sandals on those days when style is just important as comfort. The bonus with this brand is that many of the shoes come in styles with a little extra bling. Their thong sandals, such as the Valentina below, are also dressier. Click on one of the photos below to explore more style and color options. Next up: Dansko — keep scrolling on down.
Given my foot problem, I thought I would never wear flip flops again. Shouldn’t be a big deal, really. But for travel, the flip flop was my all-around go-to shoe. In Thailand, for example, you take off your shoes, a lot. The flip flop was so easy to kick on and off when visiting temples. Not to mention shopping trips! In the summer, the flip flop makes trying on clothes so much easier. In winter, I opt for the easy on-and-off clog.
My all-time favorite flip flop is the Dansko Katy, which has incredibly good arch support. I started with the first generation Katy. A few weeks after my first purchase, I bought 4 more in different colors. When I travel, they double as my house shoes. In some cases, I even wear them in the shower. I’m a little particular on what floors my bare feet touch!
Now, Dansko has introduced the new Katy 2, which features an adjustable hook-and-loop closure.
Next up, the Dansko clog, which I apparently also collect — even more so than the flip flops. The clog market is getting flooded with different styles and brands, and I’ve tried many of them. I keep coming back to my trusty Dansko clogs. They are my go-to shoes for activities involving a lot of standing, such as shopping or exploring galleries and museums. I even have fancy clogs for a night out on the town.
If you’ve never worn clogs, be prepared for some adjustments. For me, it took about a week to get used to my heels moving up and down as I walked. Now, I don’t even notice.
Tess Tip: Any shoe with strong arch support requires an adjustment period. Start by wearing the shoe for 2 hours the first day and gradually increase wearing time.
My latest discovery is the renowned luxury shoe brand made in Germany – Finn Comfort. The company understands the importance of the feet to our overall health and comfort. These shoes are carefully designed and crafted so that our bodies are ergonomically supported as the shoes gently “reposition the heel, arch, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones in the feet.”
My first Finn shoe was the slip-on Galway. The price tag could be a shocker, but for me, the shoe is an investment that is already paying dividends in keeping me on my feet longer without discomfort.
Finn sneakers are quite stylish as well. This pair works well in cooler months with slacks: Finn Comfort Soft Soho Fashion Sneaker.
Last, but not least, is my favorite sport sandal, the Chaco. I find plenty of excuses to wear these sandals. Excuses that have nothing to do with hiking a mountain stream. Typically, I wear these on the beach and for casual shopping days. Anyone can benefit from wearing Chaco sandals, not just the active traveler. Chacos can be a better choice than flip flops for those who need the extra support and balance provided by these sandals. Here’s the type I wear:
I”ll update this post from time-to-time with new shoe discoveries. For my 2017 Christmas present, I’m picking out a new pair of Finn’s. If you have recommendations, please let me know on Explore with Tess social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader recommendations: (Join our explorers in a private Facebook group — Tess Explorers)
Although I haven’t personally tried the Mephisto Sano brand, I’m recommending the women’s Volodia Walking Shoe based on a suggestion of fellow traveler Kim C, who is located in Athens, Greece. Kim is a childhood friend who’s been traveling the world for more than three decades.
Teresa, my cousin who who works with her physician husband, says that Merrell shoes have taken them around the world as well as long days on their feet in the health clinic. She says that Terry likes the support and quick-drying fabric of Merrell shoes. “He wears lace up for the ability to tighten or loosen them according to the terrain he’s walking,” Teresa says. “Terry also checks the wear pattern regularly, probably due to his profession because that can have an impact on stability.”
Sandy, a writer with knee issues, likes good support for daily use and also for traveling. “I like Naots for their softness, but not all of their styles have great arch support,” she says.
Jolynn Reed, a photographer and co-creator of BBQ Highway, is often on the road traveling with her husband, Daniel. She has a go-to flip flop – the Lindsay Phillips Switch Flops. Jolynn likes being able to switch out with different color straps to match her outfit. She also loves her Corky’s shoes. “I was shopping in Houston at this cool boutique & could hear all these women oohing & ahhing in the shoe area,” she says. “They were trying on the Corky’s with woven elastic tops. I tried on a pair & joined them in the oohhh noises! I now own 3 pairs! And they are affordable! (I’m bold enough that I wear the muti-color ones & get tons of compliments.”
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