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It's often the most overlooked travel accessory — an afterthought to your itinerary that barely registers on your packing list.
It's your shoes.
That could be a painful mistake, experts say. The right footwear can make or break your next vacation or business trip, and that's especially true during the frenetic summer travel season, with its torturously long sprints through the train station or airport terminal.
Travelers don't pack shoes based on the function of the shoe as much as its appearance, says Tim Swartz, a podiatric surgeon with Kaiser Permanente in Washington. And people are traveling to places where they will be doing a lot of walking, touring and hiking that would require a shoe built for mileage.
Choosing the right pair — that's not easy. Because the way you dress is so personal, I wouldn't presume to tell you what shoe to wear. I have, however, tested some of the best travel shoes, I've talked to travelers, so I have some insights that you can take directly to the shoe store. Bottom line: It's a question of finding the right balance between comfort, function and style.
If you don't Well, let me put it this way: I walk about 10 miles a day, and I decided to try some of the shoes I tested on my regular walking path. I discovered that some of the footwear that boldly promises comfort actually does not provide it, and I have the blisters to prove it.
So let's talk comfort. For Susan Stevens, a retired press secretary who lives in Philadelphia, that means a pair of Eccos
They look nice, and they're good for serious walking
I own a pair of well-worn Ecco sandals, too, and have never been blistered or chafed in them. Alas, they can be pricey. Mine cost $130. If you have only one pair of shoes to take on vacation, I wouldn't recommend sandals, but when it comes to a good fit, they have other styles that work for the road.
Function is also critical. I wear a Keen Oakridge hiking boot (keenfootwear.com, $125) as an all-round shoe when I'm on assignment, a recommendation that Jonathan Ronzio, a fellow traveler and filmmaker, seconds.
Mine are 5 years old and have kicked dirt through the approach to Aconcagua base camp, spent four months trekking through South and Central America, and now, just a day off a month in Thailand, they got me through a volunteering stint at Chiang Mai's Elephant Nature Park, he says. They're still going strong.
Well, that's a little more adventure than my Keens have seen. Still, my boots hold up nicely to the rigors of travel without being too conspicuous. I've worn them to business meetings, and I'm pretty sure I got away with it.
The real wild card is style, of course. I've never been accused of having any kind of fashion sense, and rightfully so: I'm a journalist.
They're great for travel, she says. Not only are they light, but they offer lots of support, and they look good. She's spent eight hours a day walking around Manhattan with zero blisters and even took them to fashion-conscious Rome, where I've personally witnessed a woman in stilettos navigating cobblestone roads without looking down (how do they do that).
There's another shoe I tested, Sperry's new 7 Seas (sperry.com, $89.95), and it didn't blister, weighed practically nothing and looked sharp. It's available for both sexes.
Put it all together, and you should feel like moving. A good pair of shoes not only supports good alignment and posture, but it can translate into a healthy emotional state, says Erica Hornthal, founder of Chicago Dance Therapy, a movement therapy and counseling service in Deerfield, Ill.
This summer, instead of waiting until the last minute to decide which pair of shoes to pack, give it a little thought. You wouldn't want to get off on the wrong foot.
Shoe buying tips from the pros
• How does it fit The most important quality in a travel shoe is comfort, says Lindsay Cullen, a physical therapist at Chicago-based Athletico Physical Therapy. Don't buy a new pair of shoes for the trip. Instead, run it through the paces at least a week before your trip. It should be tested doing similar activities to those you will be engaging in while away, she says.
• Think about what you'll be doing. That's the advice of Swartz, the foot surgeon. Many folks forget about the rigor of walking through airports, so they will throw on the flip-flops for a tropical vacation the morning of their flight, but forget that they will be walking through airports and customs all day, he says. Remember that unless you have TSA PreCheck, you'll probably have to remove your shoes at the airport.
• Look for support. Gregory Grant, a foot and ankle specialist at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle, says support, cushion and an appropriate function are the key things to look for. He says running shoes often fit the bill but advises taking at least two pair of shoes. I recommend you change shoes every day, he adds. Why It gives the shoe time to dry between uses.