When planning a travel wardrobe, there probably is no more important component than shoes. Shoes can make or break a vacation, as anyone who's ever hobbled around with blisters all day can attest. Some of the best packing advice I've ever read was "start with the shoes" and that's how I approach travel wardrobe planning these days. For our upcoming trip, I fully intend to limit myself to what I can fit into a carry on bag, which means that my shoe limit will be three pair (two packed, one worn on the plane). In this series of posts, I'm limiting myself to items that would be worn/used for a relatively urban travel destination. If your next vacation/travel plans involve backpacking through the Alps or sprawling on an uninhabited stretch of beach somewhere in the South Pacific, my recommendations probably won't apply. Likewise, I'm leaving out any coverage of footwear for extreme winter weather, as it's not an area of expertise for me.
Comfort and joy
It goes without saying that unless you plan to take taxis or limousines door-to-door everywhere you go, or plan to only walk between your hotel room and a poolside cabana, your shoes must be comfortable enough to accommodate hours on your feet each day. But there's "comfort" and there's comfort. On our first trip to Paris, I made the mistake the first day of wearing thin-soled ballet flats and was absolutely miserable within an hour. Sure, they were soft and felt like slippers, were broken in and fine for casual work days, running errands and the like, but the soles were far too thin for walking on cobblestones and gravel, and there was no arch support. The rest of that trip, I wore my somewhat clunky but very supportive plain black loafers and my feet thanked me for it, though I probably didn't win myself a spot in the Stylish Traveler Hall of Fame. However, ignore those who chatter on about les Parisiennes tottering about in their stilletto heels. I saw very few women out and about in Paris wearing any heel much over an inch and a half in height. If you look at the on-the-street pictures over at A Femme d'un Certain Age, almost to a woman they are wearing very low-heeled, sometimes sturdy, but walkable shoes.
Supportive comfort doesn't have to mean big plodding trainers or frumpy lace-ups. Unless you exclusively wear high heels and/or the latest trends, you probably already have shoes that will work for your next vacation, or at worst, won't have to sacrifice too much style to find some.
Here are some of une femme's recommendations for relatively stylish walking shoes for urban destinations.
Mine are a few years old, made by ECCO. These are very versatile, can be worn with pants or skirts, and have a wedge heel and a sole that's sturdy enough to handle gravel, cobblestones and hours on concrete. What I like about a mary jane style is that they stay securely on the foot without heel slippage, and the strap can be adjusted for comfort if feet swell over the course of the day. These also can be dressed as much as is usually required. (Though people in Europe tend to dress up more than in the US, a more casual standard of dress has taken hold there too in recent years. Very few venues still require jacket-and-tie/cocktail dress levels of formality.) I wish ECCO would bring back this style, but here are some similar options.
|Ecco Kent Mary Jane, $96|
|Pikolinos Dinamarca mary jane, $93.50|
|Pikolinos Ginebra mary jane, $109.90|
|ECCO Groove Gladiator, $130|
In the past, I haven't packed sandals for our European travels as our previous visits have occurred during cooler months. But by late May it's probably not unreasonable to anticipate some hot days in Italy, so I'm planning to pack one pair. Again, versatility is key. These are sturdy enough for a day of walking but could also be worn with slacks or a skirt out to dinner. Here are some other options for walking sandals that don't sacrifice all style for comfort.
|Dansko Sigrid sandal, $115|
A note about the vamp: while a lower/smaller vamp may win on looks, it's my own experience that a vamp high enough to cover the instep will give shoes more stability and support for walking. If the heel slips at all and you have to grip with your toes to keep the shoes on as you walk, your feet and legs might tire more quickly.
(I've done well with Cole Haan loafers; they are comfortable, durable and stylish with almost any outfit. Great choices for men too.)
|Cole Haan Air Penny Tantivy, $148.50|
|Clarks Timeless loafer, $90|
|Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, $45|
I started wearing Converse All-Stars with more casual ensembles a couple of years ago once I discovered they accommodated my orthotics (couldn't wear them otherwise, too flat!). I don't know about other European cities, but if you wear these in Paris you'll fit right in. I'm considering taking these instead of my loafers this trip as they may be more suitable for warmer weather. TBD. "Trainers" or big athletic shoes will peg you as an American tourist, but so will consulting a map, taking pictures of everything in sight, etc. If you really prefer athletic shoes for walking but want to up the style quotient, look for a sleeker version like one of these below. (And leave the Skechers Shape-Ups at home!!!)
|Puma Drift Cat III, $68|
|Puma Future Cat Remix, $80|
Do you have a favorite pair or style of shoes for travel? Any styles you've learned to avoid?