Deciding which shoes to pack for a trip can be very difficult. Shoes can be bulky, heavy, and, if not carefully chosen, a complete waste of space in your luggage. This post is meant to help you choose the best travel shoes for you, and avoid wasting that precious space!
A pair of shoes does not make the cut into my carefully packed carry-on unless it fits all of the following golden guidelines:
- Absolutely necessary
The right assortment of shoes first depends on your lifestyle, and then on weather and activities in your destination(s).
Three Essential Travel Shoes
Start with these three essentials, and then add shoes only if your planned activities or lifestyle requires them:
- Flip flops
- Walking shoes
- A pair of versatile boots or sandals (which could also serve as your walking shoes)
Any special activities beyond your everyday walking and going out may require special shoes, like running or hiking shoes, dance shoes, water shoes, etc. but this short list should be sufficient for those who are interested in packing light and making it count.
Bring shoes you need, not shoes you think you might need.
In the next section, I outline the shoes I always bring when I travel and why, and then we get into suggestions and favorites from several other expert travelers, along with practical shoe packing tips.
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Shoes for Long-Term Travel
When I was nomadic, which meant I traveled all over the world long-term through all kinds of climates, without going home in between to repack (i.e. I had to be prepared for everything), I traveled with five pairs of shoes. That may seem like a lot, but with these five pairs, I was prepared for everything:
1. Flip Flops: Don’t think twice about flip-flops, I never leave mine at home. Even if you aren’t headed to the beach, you will want these just for the showers or to use as slippers, plus they pack small. I’ve used real Havaianas for over a decade and swear by them.
2. Comfortable Boots (walking shoes): Through being nomadic, I learned to always bring nice, comfortable boots, partly so I could feel like I was dressed decently, partly so I could walk for days in them. A good pair of travel boots is harder to find than you might think. I look for lightweight, super packable, nearly collapsible, comfortable, versatile, neutral color boots. I’ve used BareTraps in the past, and my new favorites are by Dr. Scholl’s (specifically the Janessa boot), win-win because they are SUPER comfortable to walk all day.
Update 2019: I have discovered what I believe to be “the unicorn shoe” (that doesn’t exist). A fully waterproof, super lightweight boot, stylish and goes with anything, great tread. The Elba by Bionica Footwear. I am in love.
3. (Toms or) Non-Toms: These are my favorite go-to travel shoes. I call them non-Toms because they are nearly identical to Toms, but they came from Target, which has tons of fun designs and options. This is my second pair, and I can attest to their quality even though they’re only $20. They are great travel shoes because they pack down, they’re lightweight, comfortable, and easy to walk in, plus they go with absolutely anything, even when boots don’t.
4. Nice Sandals: A flat pair of dress-up-able sandals is a must. They pack easily, are super lightweight, yet can be great for a night out dancing, or dressing up in a warm climate. The ones pictured here are also from Target.
5. Running Shoes: As a trail runner, avid hiker, and outdoor enthusiast, I want to be ready for all the sports and activities. I can’t leave home without these. I’m on my fifth pair of Brooks Cascadias, in fact, I’ve discovered how amazing the waterproof trail running shoes are, and they’ve been a great all-in-one solution for me.
Best Travel Shoes According to the Experts
We asked several expert travelers to weigh in on the hard decision of choosing just the right travel shoes to pack, and these are their suggestions:
Best Flip Flops for Travel
BMT Community members love Crocs flip flops. Here’s what they had to say about them:
“They are super lightweight and kind of cute. But most importantly, because they are rubber, they don’t absorb any water (unlike other flip-flops with the foam type base) so it means I can wear them in hostel showers and shove them in my backpack 2 minutes later without worrying about my stuff getting wet!”
“They’re so versatile they can dress up or down, they are sturdy enough for a day of walking, and you can just rinse them off.”
Best Walking Shoes for Travel
Daisy, from Beyond My Border, recommends Skechers for all day wear:
“My favorite pair of shoes for travel are the Skechers Women’s You Slip-Ons. These shoes are super comfortable and easy to pack.
As someone that averages 6-8 hours of walking a day when visiting a new city, I find comfort the most important thing during my travels. With these shoes, I’ve never had a problem with blisters or sore soles. They are simple in style and not attention-grabbing, which is a huge plus since I often travel alone.
Additionally, they are really light in weight and don’t have much structure, meaning that squeezing a pair into my luggage has never been a problem. Best of all, they go with a wide range of outfits!”
Cindi, from Traveling Later, recommends a pair of easy slip-on Vans:
“My favorite travel shoes are my black leather slip-on Vans. Slip-on! That’s a win in so many travel ways I should just stop there. They’re fast and easy through airport security, and they look great with jeans or leggings. Some trips they’re the only pair of shoes I bring!
This morning I looked at my Van’s in the closet and thought about how they’d gotten me through a recent cold and rainy trip to Berlin. My feet didn’t get wet or tired, and those 2-year-old Van’s seriously look like they’ve never taken a step. You definitely can’t tell I spilled an entire beer stein on them.”
Chris C (@chriscorbaz) shared this great advice for men’s walking shoes:
“Good shoes are a very important part of travel. So important that I would always put in a little bit more money into a good, solid pair than another travel item. You cannot travel well without the proper shoes.
I go for comfort, durability, and reliability so I prefer any Nike or Adidas running shoes. They last, you can do plenty of activities with them comfortably (hike, walk, dance, etc.) and are easy to pack in your backpack if you have more than one pair of shoes.
Right now I have the Nike Flex Contact 2 and they are great as they check off all the points I listed before.”
I (Jackie) have to add these, because they are a classic pair that I used to swear by. They are super comfortable while still looking decent in photos, and they have great traction for city streets and natural surfaces.
The only reason I’ve left them behind is because they can’t double for good walking shoes in cold weather, and I simply can’t spare luggage space for an extra pair of walking shoes. If you’re heading for a warmer destination, I highly recommend them!
More from the BMT Community:
Versatile Sandals for Travel
Denny, from Lazy Road Trips, recommends Birkenstocks for travel:
“When I moved to Germany several years ago, I noticed that most Germans love wearing very practical outdoor outfits. In summer it is impossible to go out on a walk and not meet at least a dozen people wearing Birkenstock sandals.
With absolutely no doubt I bought the Mayari Birkenstock and I intended to wear them on my 3-month long Central American Lazy Road Trip. I wore them in the pouring tropical rain on the streets of Mexico and I wore them on the blazing sun in Belize. And I must tell you – they never let me down.”
More from the BMT Community:
Best Multipurpose Shoes
Danielle, from Wanderlust While Working, shares her recommendation for multipurpose hiking shoes:
“Last year I finally splurged and decided to buy a pair of brand new hiking shoes instead of wearing my sneakers on hikes. I decided to go with something waterproof that still looked sort of like sneakers and landed on these awesome new North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX Low Hiking Shoes.
The best part is that the shoes are tough with a good grip for hiking, but also comfortable enough that I can just as easily wear them walking around a city as sneakers. Since I tend to do a good bit of hiking on my travels, it means I only need to pack one pair of shoes for all my typical needs.”
This style also comes highly recommended for men by Chris from Pubcast Worldwide:
“They’re great for hiking, as well as a long day of hoofing it around a new city (i.e. rather than wearing out a pair of more…umm… “fashionable” tennis shoes). Also, I’ve always been more of a “shoe guy” than a “boot guy,” so these meet the outdoor practicality that a boot would provide without sacrificing something I’d wear in a city.”
Andy Austin, from Andy and the Van, has this to say about his favorite pair of travel shoes:
“Danner Mountain Light II!! These beasts are not the lightest travel shoes, but I wanted something that could stand up to abuse on the trail and still look great for wandering around urban areas. Two years and over a thousand miles of abuse and these babies are still in one piece, although in need of a resole.”
More from the BMT Community:
Tips for Packing Shoes
When packing up your shoes:
- Wear your largest/heaviest pair of shoes in transit, but save room in your suitcase for them just in case.
- Alternatively, if you plan to buy souvenirs abroad, pack your biggest pair of shoes in your luggage for the flight on the way there, and plan to wear them for the flight home, so you’ll automatically have some extra space in your pack.
- Use thick rubber bands to help collapse them and hold them together.
- Pack them inside plastic grocery bags (to keep them from dirtying other items).
- Pack socks, electronics, or other items inside them.
If you are going on an open-ended trip that could lead anywhere, you need to be ready for anything. If you’re going on a short trip for a specific itinerary, you should already know what activities and weather to expect, which makes your choice easier.
In cold destinations, you can skip the warm weather sandals. In hot destinations, you probably won’t wear boots. If you’re athletic, you’ll always need running shoes. DO NOT bring shoes that you “think” you “might” wear someday, “just in case.” NO.
Pack smarter, not harder! When it comes to shoes, remember to think versatile, lightweight, and absolutely necessary.
If you have discovered a favorite pair of travel shoes, please share in the comments!
By Jackie, with help from Brittany, the BMT Community, and beyond!