Shoes: The Most Important Things In Your Suitcase

Shoes are bulky. They take up space in your suitcase. They are heavy and threaten to tip the luggage scale up and over your airline’s weight limit. Because of that, people try to skimp on the number and style of shoes that they pack. Don’t do it.

Nothing you will pack is more important than shoes.

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No matter how comfortable my walking shoes are, when traveling I never wear the same pair two days in a row. Changing from one comfortable pair of shoes to another saves my feet. Ideally, I would only pack shoes that have proven their worth on previous trips. But that isn’t always possible and no matter how comfortable a pair of shoes may be at home, until I travel with them I can’t depend on them. I had better have plenty to choose from in case one or more pair become unwearable.

The shoes I pack are different styles. My favorite is a brown leather flat with a Velcro strap. They are comfortable and they look a bit nicer than the standard athletic shoe when I’m touring museums or visiting shops. I also pack a pair of athletic shoes for those days when I’ll be hiking trails. If I’m traveling in the summer I add a pair of sturdy sandals to my suitcase. I might wear these to the beach or for a casual evening playing mini golf or walking at a park. They need to fit well and securely enclose my foot.

All of my shoes are brown. Everything I pack to wear must coordinate with brown shoes. Some people find it easier to coordinate their wardrobe with black shoes. I just don’t happen to like most black shoes.

What I never pack, and what I encourage you to leave at home are flip-flops, slides, or any kind of shoe that does not keep your foot strapped securely in place. Yes, I know the arguments. You want to be fashionable. And, especially in the summer, closed walking shoes are hot. But I’m not budging. Fashion can be found in a good walking shoe and there are cooling socks you can and should buy to beat the heat problem. Flip-flops have no place in a traveler’s wardrobe unless you are spending hours on a beach or showering in a campground bathhouse.

Many tourist sites are run by the national parks or nonprofit organizations where money is an issue. This means that their trails and parking lots are often dirt or gravel rather than paved. If you wear sandals you will face the constant problem of having sand and stones between your toes. Walking on cobblestones or wooden boardwalks requires a firm footing as does climbing stairs or navigating woodland trails. I was recently at a lighthouse that would not allow anyone wearing flip-flops to climb the circular staircase to the top. Save yourself the aggravation. Wear “real” shoes when you are sightseeing.

But those are just the walking shoes. If you plan to attend dress-up events, even more shoes will need to be packed. I recommend that your dress-up shoes also be comfortable ones. You never really know what you’re getting into when you’re in a strange city. If you need to chase a cab or walk a block to your car you don’t want to be wearing 3” spike heels.

No matter how hard we try, nearly every traveler finds himself, at one time or another, having a shoe crisis. My most recent shoe catastrophe happened on a trip to Michigan.

I had packed two pair of good walking shoes plus a pair of light weight sandals. On our first travel day however, I chose to wear a dress with a pair of dressy flats. Most of the day would be spent riding in the car. I planned an afternoon arrival at a B&B where we would settle in and have a pizza delivered to our room for dinner. I didn’t expect there to be any walking. If only we had stuck to the plan!

But our B&B hostess suggested that we would get a better meal if we walked to one of the nearby restaurants. Although tired and anxious to try out the hot tub waiting for us on our private patio, we headed downtown for dinner. It was only supposed to be a couple of blocks. But they were long blocks and we couldn’t find the restaurant. We walked another block and then another before finally stumbling upon one of those “heat and eat” pizza joints where we resigned ourselves to grabbing a couple of takeout slices. By the time we arrived back to our room, I had a huge blister on my foot.

I should have changed my shoes before heading downtown. But honestly, I have worn those shoes a dozen times with no problem. “Travel walking” is different though. You often walk further and on strange terrain. Shoes that are perfectly comfortable for a day at the office or a trip to the mall can become travel disasters. There I was. The first day of our trip and I was already injured. I knew that getting my foot into a regular walking shoe would prove to be painful.

The first thing to do if you find yourself with foot damage is to examine your schedule. If possible, rearrange it to give yourself a day or two that is light on walking. If a schedule change isn’t possible, you’ll have to suck it up and deal with the situation.

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While shoes are the most important thing that I pack in my suitcase, my moleskin kit is the most important thing that I pack in my toiletry bag. A moleskin kit (or blister kit) is a package of self – sticking felt pads. They sometimes come in a roll allowing you to cut them to size. Other kits contain precut pads in various shapes and sizes. Most of the time I use it as a preventative measure. If I notice a shoe rubbing my foot the wrong way I stop and apply a pad before any damage can be done. But if I’m too late and I do get a blister, the moleskins are indispensable for bandaging up the injury. A kit costs around $10 and is worth every penny. Don’t expect Band-Aids to serve your purpose. A Band-Aid won’t last 15 minutes inside a walking shoe. The moleskin will stick where a Band-Aid won’t and the thick felt will give you the cushion you need. And don’t forget the Tylenol or Ibuprofen. Every little bit you can do to mask the pain will help to keep you on your feet.

Every traveler has their favorite shoes. I am a fan of Dansko and Naturalizer shoes but there are many others you might like. When you do find a favorite pair of walking shoes, for heaven’s sake, treat them like gold! Put them away in the back of your closet to be used only for travel. You don’t want to wear them every day, wear them out, and need to search for a new pair before every travel adventure.




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