When you have limited space (backpack, duffel, suitcase, carry-on) it’s hard to visualize which types of shoes you should take on a trip. Chances are that if you’re traveling or working remotely, you don’t have your entire closet with you, and shoes can start to get heavy if you pack a few pairs!
How to maximize different types of shoes for travel
I’ve learned to maximize my uses out of various types of shoes while traveling. At this point, I’m currently traveling with four pairs - wait, it’s not that crazy! These four pairs will always include a pair of flip flops (you’ll see why), and flip flops are light and flat, so they barely weigh anything.
To me, the shoes I pack for traveling fall into a few categories:
- Comfortable: sneakers, tennis shoes or running shoes for walking, hiking or for rainy days when streets can be messy
- Decent and casual: for a summer trip, I’ll go with cute shiny sandals, and for spring, fall or winter, a pair of flats, as they pack up quite small, or Sperry boat shoes, which are both comfortable and decent
- Practical sandals: this means sandals that don’t make my feet hurt if I want to have breathable footwear while potentially walking 10 miles a day in a warm destination. In the past, I went with Tevas, and now I wear Birkenstock sandals
- Flip flops: for wearing to a beach or wearing in a shared bathroom for the shower
- No shoes: this one isn’t anything you can pack in your bag, because you already have your feet, but keep in mind that for going in a pool or ocean you’ll ditch your shoes, and you also might be shoe-less at temples and religious sites in parts of South and Southeast Asia, like Vietnam!
- My shoes wish list: I only traveled once with hiking boots (Peru) and since then, I’ve made do with running shoes while hiking (it’s not the best idea, actually). If I were going to another hiking destination, I’d invest in new hiking boots.
Shoes to pack for traveling in cities
Given that cities involve a) walking and b) sometimes looking decent (bars, restaurants, parties), I pack four pairs: comfy sneakers, a pair of flats (probably black ones for winter, to match with any given outfit, and for summer, light-colored or linen flats), flip flops (for potentially having to share a bathroom in a hostel or guesthouse) and my Birkenstocks in case I may wind up in a park or beach where I want to take my shoes off and not deal with socks.
Shoes to pack for traveling in Central & South America or Southeast Asia
Central America and Southeast Asia are rather warm (save for the north of Thailand and Vietnam, and places at higher altitudes) all year round, so on a trip to these regions, I’ll take sneakers, Birkenstocks or gladiator sandals, flip flops and summer flats.
Shoes to pack for traveling during fall or winter
While I am no fan of the cold, I’ve traveled within the US and China during colder months, and this is where my feet will get numb! To combat the cold, I’ll pack sneakers and probably wear them on most days with leggings. I’d bring hiking boots if I’m going to be doing any hiking activity, flip flops (again, for hostels and guesthouse bathrooms or to use as slippers) and winter flats like black ballet flats to wear with jeans on a night out or to any sort of event. Instead of bringing flats, depending on the type of trip I think I’ll have, I’ll bring Sperrys.
Shoes to pack for an adventure trip
For a trip to a country where I don’t think I’ll be engaging in any sort of activity where I need to dress business casual, like my trip to Medellin and the Zona Cafetera of Colombia, I’ll take sneakers for walking, running and hiking, flip flops (for accommodation and to wear outside if my other shoes get soaked through from rain), gladiator sandals as something to look cute in at night or on a day with relatively little far-distance walking and my Birkenstocks or Tevas, to wear for farther distances in cities or towns.
How to pick which shoe is the best for travel
The shoes I pack for travel are either durable and multi-purpose or take up minimal space in my bag. I’ve learned to buy shoes in colors that will go well with a lot of the clothes in my bag, so I mostly choose blacks and grays, and base my sneaker color off of the leggings or shorts I like to wear.
I was late to the Birkenstock sandal game, but I’m glad that a pair of Birkenstock sandals are in my bag these days when I travel to summer destinations.
I feel like my feet are in good hands (feet?) when I slide into a pair of my Birkenstock sandals, and that’s because I know there’s a high arch for support, sturdy sole and the materials are durable. The thong style Gizeh sandal is the style I own, and although I had to get used to getting tan lines from this design, I like that the design of the sandal material itself goes high up on the foot for ankle support. This is how I’m able to walk around ALL day in these sandals and my feet don’t hurt even after sweating.
Another style to consider is the original and timeless Arizona, which is a unisex style and is good for slightly wider feet (in my opinion, having tried them on).
The last style I’d consider as a future travel sandal is the Mayari, for the same reason with the material reaching higher on the foot for more support and less twisting of your foot while walking, especially downhill or uphill. I’d also consider the Milano, which is like the Arizona, but with a back strap (another great feature for potentially long walking distances in cities).
Travel flats for women travelers
I have black ballet flats that fold up flat and small in my bag. They’re great for a night out, a date, switching an outfit to looking more decent or a religious event while I’m traveling. I love the Felicia black ballet flats by Sam Edelman and the Charlotte ballet flat as well.
Travel sneakers and running shoes for women
At different points in time, I’ve had sneakers with rugged grips on the bottom for trail running like the ASICS Frequent Trail Women’s Running Shoes. These running shoes came with me on all my hikes with Dan in Sri Lanka, and in Colombia. For trail running shoes, I also like the ASICS Women’s GEL-Venture 5 Running Shoe and ASICS Women’s Gel-Kahana 8 Trail Runner.
When I got more into running, starting after getting back from Sri Lanka and into our trip across Europe, I went with a flatter running shoe, the New Balance Women’s Fresh Foam Arishi V1. These shoes are really lightweight and don’t add much weight to my bag. I got them in dark purple so that they wouldn’t show too much dirt or mud, and I put them through a washing machine three times after muddy hikes in Medellin, Colombia, alone. They held up well.
If you like a cooler design and unique combination of colors, a similar running shoe is the New Balance Fresh Foam Cruz V1 Running Shoe.
Women’s Teva sandals for travel
The only people who can make Teva sandals look good are Israelis, but I tried anyway (for a few years). What I like about Tevas is you can do lots of activities in them, from using them as beach shoes to wet-dry hiking shoes (hiking to a waterfall that you want to also swim in, for example). I wore Tevas on my Guatemala and Peru trips for lots of walking and for use in weather with frequent short storms.
The Teva universal sandal is a great starter sandal, and it holds up in all sorts of warm weather (your feet don’t slide out of them during a rainstorm or monsoon), and they also compress pretty flatly in your bag.
A style like the Women’s W Sanborn Sandal has a stronger, more adventurous sole, with cushioned comfort, and I like the woven straps. I’ve owned both.
Cute gladiator sandals for travel
While my gold gladiator sandals were from Zara in Kuala Lumpur and are no longer made, there are lots of very similar ones made nowadays like this gold flat-bottomed gladiator sandal and this sandal with a slight heel and a back strap. Both are similar to what I used as my ‘cute shoe’ to wear with dresses while traveling in warm climates, from Central America to Southeast Asia.
Lightweight travel flip flops
I’ve had pretty basic flip flops like these from Old Navy for most of my travel years. There’s no need to be fancy with these, as I usually even wind up buying a new pair during most trips if my current ones have worn through or if I leave them somewhere (oops).
If I were to step it up, I’d probably get a flip flop like the Teva Olowahu, which are more durable and likely last longer than anything else. In the past, I’ve also had the [Rainbow Sandals Women’s Single Layer (Premier Leather)[https://geni.us/d8drcM), which are a strong flip flop-style sandal that you virtually cannot wear through. The only thing with these is that I didn’t want to wear them in the shower.
No shoes or barefoot!
No shoes = your feet! I hope you have these when you pack, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
If you want shoes that are close to being barefoot, they do make women’s trailrunners for that!
My travel hiking boots wish list
If I had to buy new hiking boots tomorrow, I’d be going with Columbia waterproof boots with ankle support or these mid-rise waterproof boots, which look closer to sneakers and would be better for hot weather when you may heat up while trekking.
Choosing versatile travel shoes
Given space in bags, chances are you will only be able to choose three or four of the above suggestions. The good news is that you can find so many ways to make these types of shoes versatile.
A cool idea for if you are traveling long-term and will be in all types of climates, you can offload a pair you no longer require and give it to a person in need! Most travel destinations have stores and markets, so you can always replace and buy along the way.
Last updated on January 8th, 2021