Ask seasoned travelers what their biggest packing challenge is and you’re likely to hear: shoes! This is how it goes: we throw in a pair for walking trails, another for city strolling, at least one fancier pair to wear to dinner, beach flip flops, sturdy boat shoes. We love our super-comfy worn-in hiking boots, but they take up so much room and are as stylish as — well — old, worn-in hiking boots. Still, we might need them. By now, the suitcase is bulging. Really? Can’t we get comfort and style, without packing half a dozen pairs?
Orietta Piazza, who leads Country Walkers hiking tours in Sicily, says yes, just select the right pair. “You can pick shoes that are versatile, comfortable, and stylish,’’ Piazza says. His test: “If you get to your room after a long day of walking and standing, and taking off your shoes is not the first thing you do, you have the right ones!’’
We asked tour guides and avid explorers to recommend their favorite shoes for traveling, and then we (and a few of our men friends) gave them a workout. Here are some of the best.
How we love our Sanuks: playful and comfy, with a bit of bouncy attitude. The company (part of California-based Deckers Brands, which includes UGG, HOKA ONE ONE, and Teva) has early roots in the Southern California surf culture, and it shows with their laid-back designs. BTW: Sanuk is the Thai word for “fun.’’ The Pair O Dice slip-ons, with the company’s Yoga Mat material in the foot bed (soft and flexible) and rubber soles (decent traction) are among our favorites (starting at $45). They come in a variety of colors and fabrics (suede, leather, and washed canvas), and are less expensive than other high-quality slip-on brands. For casual trips and around town walking, we also like the Sanuk Vee K Shawn ($55), a casual lace-up chukka-style sneaker.
Our male testers couldn’t say enough about the slip-on or lace up Sanuk Nu Nami ($55), with stylish stitching, frayed edges, molded foot beds and rubber soles. They’re “super light,’’ “really comfortable,’’ “my go-to shoe.’’
Shopping in Milan, bistro-hopping in Paris, beach strolling in Anguilla, rushing to work in Boston? Your M. Gemi Cerchio sneakers have you covered ($228). There’s a reason these shoes sold out almost immediately, with nearly 1,000 people joining the waitlist. The Boston-based e-company gets it right with these high-end, leather sneakers, which are hand-cut and handwoven in Italy, and come in several colors. They’re high-quality, stylish, easy to slide into, and ultra-comfortable.
We also like their city-chic, moccasin-like Staccato ($228), perfect for slipping on and off through airport security and hitting the streets upon arrival. The suede Veloce ($228) is the men’s equivalent, and also received rave reviews from our testers.
If you like a ballet-style shoe, you’ll love Rothy’s flats, which come in classic pointed ($145) and rounded toes ($125). They’re made from recycled water bottles, but feel soft and flexible. The seamless knitted fabric means there are no rubbing surfaces or hard edges, and the rubber sole provides stability, without being too rigid. They’re very feminine-looking, and come in a slew of trendy color designs (Red Camo! Cherry Birdseye! Black Python!) What more needs to be said? Oh, this: they’re machine washable. Just throw them in the washer in cold water and air dry. There’s a pair of Rothy’s in our suitcases all the time.
They’re like slippers (that you can where outside!) That’s what we said when we cozied into these babies, made of super fine New Zealand merino wool. We keep a pair of Allbirds in our carry-on, especially for long flights when we want something super cozy. And then we end up wearing them all day because we just don’t want to take them off. There’s a padded insole and a foam and rubber outer sole that is both supportive and giving. The easy slip-on Wool Loungers are our favorite ($95), but we’re also thinking of ordering the sneaker style Wool Runners ($95). Both styles are available in men’s and women’s sizes and a choice of colors. They’re machine-washable, too.
Here’s the plan: After a long flight, we’ll eat at a popular lunch spot, then go kayaking, and meet up with friends for a sunset boat cruise. We might squeeze in a walk on the beach, followed by dinner at a local fish shack. It’s Teva time! The Original Universal sandal (starting at $50), with adjustable Velcro straps, a thick foam foot bed and rubber soles, is a must-have for outdoor enthusiasts. When it comes to trips involving water, camping, light hiking and beaches, we wouldn’t be without them.
Hey guys: if you’re going to buy one all-around travel shoe, consider the men’s Clarkdale Jean ($170). It’s the epitome of style and comfort. The leather low boot, with classy stitching, looks good. It also feels good, featuring a “triple-density ortholite™’’ removable foot bed, a rubber sole for traction, and a leather midsole that adds a bit more style. These shoes can go just about anywhere.
Clarks offers a variety of top-rated women’s shoes. We like the feel of the women’s Lillia Petal shoe for traveling ($80). They’re part ballet, part sneaker, easy to slip on, easy to pack, and easy to wear.
The classic 7 SEAS boat shoe (starting at $89.95), in both women and men sizes, has a lot of fancy high-tech stuff: Razor-Cut Wave-Siping™ and Terrain Traction Pods for super traction, MocFit construction and a SeaBound integrated energy return system for comfort, and mesh uppers with water-repelling technology for faster drying and breathability. Sounds good; they feel even better. When the trip includes a lot of outdoor activities, these are one of our go-tos.
A dash through the airport, a long eight-hour flight, a misguided, way-longer-than-it should-have-been trek to catch public transportation, a three-hour tour on uneven, cobblestoned streets and bumpy alleyways, a meet-up for dinner with local colleagues and friends, and an after-dinner stroll to the top of an observation deck. When we returned to our rooms that evening, our good-looking Filipina ankle boots ($399) were NOT the first things we took off. These babies are comfy and stylish. The handmade leather boots feature a patented SOFT-AIR midsole, shock absorbers in the heels and sturdy rubber soles. They’re soft, flexible, supportive and chic. The Valentina lace-ups ($349), which come in a variety of colors, were equally up to the challenge on this trip. The company offers a variety of women’s and men’s styles, and we suspect you can’t go wrong with any of them.
When our feet need some extra loving care, we turn to our Kuru Quantum leather sneakers ($135), dubbed as the “world’s most comfortable shoes.’’ We’ve all had shoes that are hard and stiff, and others that are soft and floppy. These are just right. The company claims that its patented foam insoles mold to your feet, while the specially-designed sole distributes your weight evenly. Whatever. All we know is that our feet are happy in them. Our men tested the black leather Kivi sneakers ($140), and gave them high marks, too. Our only complaint: They’re a little clunky looking, not as fashionable or streamlined as we’d like. Next time, we might go with their Quantum Mesh sneakers ($120) or maybe a pair of the very cute Bella ballets ($140).