Regardless of what kind of trip you’re heading on — a relaxing and quiet beach getaway or a week-long exploration of a few European cities — walking is likely a common denominator. And if you bring the wrong shoes, you might be spending your time suffering from blisters, cuts, or something worse, like a foot or ankle injury, for example. That’s why, before you even start outfit planning, it’s essential to pack the right type of footwear.
We reached out to four podiatrists for their best advice on how to pick the best shoes for your vacation and the steps you can take to make wearing them as comfortable as possible.
Break in new shoes before you travel with them.
“Do not wait until you are on vacation to wear your new shoes,” said Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, DPM (and pretty much every podiatrist we interviewed agreed with her.) “It’s not a great idea to use your own feet to break in the shoes while wearing them for the first time. This can cause cuts, blisters, and pain,” she added.
So what’s the best way to break in a new pair of kicks? Wear the shoes for an hour or so at a time indoors. If there are any tight spots, you can use a shoe stretcher or place some padding, like some rolled-up socks, in the area. That way, by the time your vacation rolls around, your shoes will have loosened a bit and your feet will thank you.
ProFoot Step 1 Stretchers
These easy-to-use shoe stretchers expand tight-fitting footwear to provide relief and comfort. They are ideal to use on heels.
To buy: amazon.com, $7
Pack smart and be prepared.
Just like you wouldn’t pack a winter coat for a trip to the Caribbean, you want to be mindful of the footwear you take with you depending on destination and the activities you’ve planned. If you are going to be doing a lot of walking or hiking, then supportive, comfortable, and protective shoes would be best, according to New York–based podiatrist Dr. Scott Melamed of Progressive Foot Care, P.C.
“If you get caught in the rain and your shoes get soaked, take out the insoles. If you have orthotics, remove them as well, and let your shoes completely dry. It will make your next day more comfortable,” he advised.
If you don’t want to spend extra money on water-resistant footwear before your trip, opt for a waterproofing spray (amazon.com, $18) and let your shoes dry for at least 24 hours before you wear them. And speaking of supplies, Dr. Melamed recommends always carrying a few useful foot first aid items with you, such as Band-Aids, a small tube of Neosporin, or blister-protecting bandages.
Spenco 2nd Skin Dressing Kit Bandages
These bandages protect against pressure, friction, and blisters and could be used on larger areas than a Band-Aid would cover. They are flexible and have a cooling and soothing effect.
To buy: amazon.com, $12
Choose footwear with straps or laces.
Slip-on shoes may be easier to put on and take off, but when it comes to comfort and injury prevention, it is not the best option. Make sure your shoes are firmly attached to your feet: sandals with adjustable straps and lace-up shoes are the best. “Unfortunately, ballet flats look great but will cause you all sorts of problems,” said Dr. Hiren Patel, podiatrist and chiropodist at Flawless Feet Limited. “However, if you do choose to wear them make sure they have straps to hold the foot in place and have a thicker sole.”
As for your flip-flops, we really can’t stress enough that this type of footwear should not be worn for an extended period of walking or standing time. Dr. Melamed explains why: “Flip-flops afford little to no structure or stability. Most are not able to provide adequate protection for longer mileage or rockier terrain. Some sandals like Birkenstock, Teva, or Naot are better constructed, but for a lot of walking, a good, stable, breathable sneaker would be best.”
Wear socks that wick moisture.
If you are heading somewhere hot and planning to do a fair amount of hiking, avoid wearing cotton or wool socks, which tend to absorb perspiration and stay wet. Also, pack some foot powder (target.com, $1) or antiperspirant to decrease sweating, suggests Michael J. Trepal, VP for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean at New York College of Podiatric Medicine.
Do not wear socks that are too thick, either, as they will cause rubbing. Your feet tend to swell in hot weather, which will result in blisters in areas where you normally wouldn’t get any. Dr. Patel recommends using “silver socks” that kill bacteria and fungi thanks to silver-derived particles that are woven into the fabric.
Balega Silver Antimicrobial No-show Compression-fit Socks
These no-show socks provide high-impact cushioning in the toe and heel areas. They have a tighter fit around the arch for maximum support and will not slip down into your shoe. They also use the silver ion technology that Dr. Patel mentioned to keep feet dry and odor-free.
To buy: amazon.com, from $14
Don’t wear the same shoes all day.
Yes, we know — packing more than one pair of shoes takes up precious space in your suitcase, but this may be the difference between enjoying your vacation and staying in your hotel because you can’t take more than 10 steps without feeling excruciating foot pain. “Switch it up from an active morning of sightseeing to a casual, lounge-y lunch and an afternoon of shopping to a dressy dinner and exploration of nightlife,” Dr. Sutera, who is a member of Vionic’s Innovation Lab, suggested. “If you wear the same shoes all day, they may cause injury if not appropriate for long periods of walking and standing.”
For sightseeing, wear sneaker-type shoes, or if you are at the beach, opt for cushioned flip-flops with arch support. For dinner, choose a dressy pair of heels or wedges that you can make more comfortable by adding a silicone insole cushion. Dr. Patel also recommended using toe protectors when wearing pumps. And you may want to avoid stilettos in favor of a pair with a chunkier heel. “The more surface area under the heel, the more stable you will be and you will ultimately not overuse your muscles and [feel more stable],” he explained.
ZenToes Gel-lined Toe Tubes
These reusable, six-inch toe protectors — made of latex-free gel and soft fabric — can be cut to the desired size to help reduce discomfort caused by rubbing shoes, blisters, and corns.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Customize your shoes.
Don’t worry, we are not suggesting you spend a ton of money on a custom pair of shoes. Pads, cushions, and insoles will do the job for a lot less. Gel pads, for example, won't absorb odors like traditional fabric pads. They also last longer and are washable and reusable. “There are also some really great silicone adhesive gel cushions that stick onto feet instead of inside the shoes,” suggested Dr. Sutera.
If you really want to take your comfort and health to the next level, opt for custom orthotics, specialized devices that are fabricated by your podiatrist. “They are custom-fitted to your feet based on molds that are taken in the office. These help place your body in a corrected position, which in turn, decreases stress on of your feet and lower extremities when weight-bearing,” explained Dr. Melamed.
Alice Bow Insoles
Ever wonder how Kate Middleton is able to pull off wearing heels all day? Apparently, the Duchess of Cambridge is a fan of Alice Bow’s leather insoles which are designed to provide maximum cushioning and comfort. They come in a variety of colors and sizes and are also customized according to shoe style, available in either heel or flat.
To buy: alicebow.com, from $20
Hijinx Metatarsal Pads
Especially helpful for heels, these reusable gel pads adhere directly to the ball of your foot to cushion each step.
To buy: amazon.com, $6.
Foot Petals Women's Technogel Amazing Arches Insert
Need a little extra arch support in your flats? Stick a pair of these gel arch adhesives inside for a day on your feet.
To buy: amazon.com, $9