World's Best Travel Shoes
Like a free upgrade or a perfectly packed bag, the ideal pair of travel shoes is one of the most elusive, sought-after prizes in travel. So it's only natural that we travel writers are a little obsessed with what we put on our feet. Many of us have, after years of trial and error, stumbled upon the Holy Grail of footwear: the kind of shoes that offer slipper-grade comfort without looking sloppy, endure muddy hiking trails, and are lightweight and easy to pack.
The following are styles and brands that have held up on the feet of some especially well-traveled people. Here are the top shoe picks from SmarterTravel staff editors, as well as travel writers from Travel + Leisure, National Geographic, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications that cover travel.
L.L.Bean Men's Comfort Mocs (Photo: L.L.Bean)
From moccasins to Mary Janes, a quality pair of casual flats can take you from the airport to lunch to a miles-long walk on cobblestone streets—all without any trace of blisters. Mark Orwoll, international editor of Travel + Leisure, told me, "I pack light and focus on comfort, and I never have more than two pairs of shoes when I travel. For the plane and casual sightseeing, I tuck my size 11s into a pair of water- and stain-resistant L.L.Bean Men's Comfort Mocs. They slip off and on quickly in the airport security line, they're affordable ($44.95), and they're rugged enough to handle nearly any kind of weather a traveler can expect."
Travel writer Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals is "a big fan of Mary Jane-style shoes when traveling because they are versatile. Dress them up with a skirt for dinner, or [go] more casual with capris or jeans for sightseeing. Plus, and this is most important, I refuse to go through airport security barefoot. … With my Mary Janes I can slip on peds and usually you can't see them, or I'll wear full-on trouser socks (and jeans or yoga pants) with my Mary Janes—even if I look mildly dorky." Chris Gray Faust of Chris Around the World recommends Clarks Privo Mary Janes.
J.Crew Cece Ballet Flats (Left) and Madewell Skimmers (Right) (Photo: J.Crew and Madewell)
For Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com, oxford shoes in a neutral color work well for more formal occasions. Says Winship, "For dress-up, any black leather lace-up oxfords will do, although those with lighter-weight soles get preference since they'll be adding less weight to my carry-on bag." Oxfords work for women, too. These Lacy Suede Oxfords from Anthropologie are incredibly soft and forgiving, and they're dressy enough to wear to, say, an evening at the theater.
A good-quality lightweight ballet flat or skimmer will also earn style points in upscale restaurants, trendy nightclubs, or chic boutiques. Several SmarterTravel editors—myself included—recommend Madewell skimmers, which, I've noticed, go on sale pretty regularly. My go-to dressy shoe? I swear by J.Crew's Cece ballet flats. Paired with washable Sheec peds, Cece flats are cool and comfortable and keep my feet free from blisters no matter how many miles I log.
When it comes to hiking boots, look for shoes that can do double or triple duty for walking, hiking, and a semi-dressy night out, such as Clarks Quantock Run GTX shoes; read a review of them here.
Travel writer Anne Williams of National Geographic recommends Lowa hiking boots for men and women. They feature GORE-TEX lining and are manufactured in Europe with eco-friendly materials. Another top option is Vasque Talus UltraDry hiking boots, which keep feet dry and are lightweight.
(Photo: Finn Comfort Shoes)
Travel-consumer advocate Ed Perkins, who believes that "comfort trumps style," calls Birkenstock Arizonas "the most comfortable shoes ever." (I think they're quite stylish too.) Arizonas are available for both men and women.
Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times travel editor, touts Finn Comfort shoes, available in sandal in closed-toe varieties. Says Hamm, "They're handmade German shoes for people who have—how can I say this nicely?—stupid feet. Which is to say flat and wide. Finns are expensive, so I often buy secondhand or lightly worn ones. They wear like iron. I have several pairs, and, in fact, have never worn one pair out. They look good enough for business attire but they are actually a great walking shoe too. As you know, shoes can really weigh down luggage, so my goal, besides being comfortable, is to keep shoe-age to a minimum."
(Photo: New Balance)
According to travel photographer Tom Robinson (see his work here), Converse makes the best sneakers for traveling. Robinson says, "They've got a good sole, pack down pretty small (although [they] could be lighter), and look pretty good too." Converse also makes sneakers for women, including the Chuck Taylor Dainty Ballerina, which is a dressier kind of sneaker/ballet-flat hybrid.
New Balance is another sneaker brand that gets rave reviews from globe-trotting experts: Travel writer Millie Ball says she laces up a pair of black leather New Balance sneakers when dressing casually on the road.
Salomon Light Amphib 3 W (Photo: Salomon)
Steven Jermanok of ActiveTravels packs Salomon light amphibian water shoes on his frequent adventure trips. "They're breathable sandals with a great tread, so I can go mountain biking through rivers, sea kayaking, or whitewater rafting, and not worry about my shoes getting wet," says Jermanok. The shoes are available for men and women.
Additionally, we're big fans of Wellies here at SmarterTravel. But the knee-high boots tend to take up a ton of suitcase space. The perfect solution: foldable rain boots. Hunter makes good-quality packable rain boots that can be squished or folded up and easily tucked into a carry-on.
On rainy, wet trails, I wear Keen water sandals, which allow me to slog right through streams and puddles without fear of soggy socks. They're perfect for rain-forest hiking.
Camper Allegra (Photo: Camper)
Comfortable heels do exist—and, as every lady traveler knows, they're essential if you're going to be on your feet for a good part of the day. For optimal comfort, choose a shoe with a cone-shaped or wedge heel such as Camper wedges, which have the softest, cushiest suede footbed. Camper shoes, including these easy wooden-wedge sandals, will hold up to heavy walking. And the shoes' ultra-soft leather straps won't cause blisters.
To keep your feet happy, go low. A medium-height heel, like J.Crew's Miri Midheel Pumps or the impossibly cozy Regina Pump from The Frye Company, offers the look of a stiletto but won't mangle your feet.
Reef J-Bay Eva (Photo: Reef)
Here are a few suggestions for flip-flop fanciers who want to wear good-quality, comfortable thongs (on their feet). Travel editor Spud Hilton of the San Francisco Chronicle recommends OluKai brand flip-flops, which are available for men and women. Hilton says they offer "great arch support and good footbed, and they last."
Travel writer Sarah Sekula has had good luck with Reef flip-flops, which come in leather and fabric varieties and are a step up from your typical drug-store rubber thongs. Says Sekula, "They have a cushy, foam footbed that makes it feel like I'm walking on a pillow." There are Reef styles for men and women.
Naturally, we have to include a pair of hearty Birkenstock flip-flops. "If you're a Californian, I think it's required by law that you have a pair of Birks," says Catharine Hamm.
What are your favorite travel shoes? Tell us!
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