The Only Two Pairs of Shoes You Need For Travel

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Awesome Tips   Gear and Gizmos  

  The Perfect Travel Sandals

If you’re interested in long-term or full-time travel, you need to get creative with your packing list, since the weight of your bag is equally proportionate to misery on the road.

Shoes are a necessity – but too many pairs are an inconvenient luxury.

There are only two pairs of shoes you need to travel with. Here’s what to look for so you can choose your weapons.

Varying Situations

How do you prepare for everything? Here are a few things you might do while traveling:

  • Hike on snowy mountainsides
  • Walk in urban environments
  • Tramp through muddy jungles
  • Loung on sandy beaches
  • Attend a nice event
  • Be outside in hot, cold, and in-between climates

What Doesn’t Work

The following items have no place in your long-term/full-time travel entourage:

Hiking boots

They’re heavy, bulky, and are too purpose-specific to be useful in multiple scenarios. I started traveling with hiking boots, and I didn’t use them enough to warrant lugging them around – but when I needed them they were invaluable. (My ingenious replacement described below has worked a charm).

Flip Flops

Notwithstanding my note below about flip flops (which I don’t really count as shoes), they’re cheap and cheerful, but they’re not sturdy or capable of handling much more than shuffling around in warm climates.

Birkenstocks

I’m not knocking Birkenstocks per se; their iconic style makes for great long-lasting walking shoes. But the deep footbed and weight makes them a bit bulky and heavy for happy packing. Also, the slip-on style of shoe won’t cut it in all scenarios; you don’t want to lose your shoe in the mud or running for the train towing heavy bags.

High Heels

Ladies, I’m really hoping I don’t need to elaborate on this.

What Sort of Works

These shoes work – and may work well for you – but they don’t quite reach the mark:

Running Shoes

They can handle light hikes, city walks, exercising, and cooler temperatures. But if you like more difficult hikes, running shoes aren’t hardy enough – which then forces you to also have hiking boots (see above).

Tevas

Teva has actually extended their range to include many appropriate travel shoes, but in this example I’m referring to the old classic style of Teva, with the velcro webbing and rubberized footbed.

They’re light, hardy, waterproof, and thus can suit many scenarios from light hiking to white water rafting to city walking and sailing. What they lack (and this is subjective) is style – at least for women.

But like I said, they’ve expanded their shoes to include many practical and stylish options, some that probably suit my perfect travel shoe criteria below.

The Only Two Pairs of Shoes You Need

PAIR #1: SANDALS

Sandals are necessary for warm climates, and if you have the right pair, they can do everything you want to do – from light hiking to cafe hopping in style. Here’s what to look for:

Footbed

Look for a solid footbed with anti-microbial properties, and ideally one that will mould itself to your foot over time. Nothing too thick though; think easy packing.

Sole

You want a well-grooved rubber sole (Vibram makes soles for many high-quality shoes) that can take a beating, and that will help you grip the terrain (important for hiking).

Straps

Adjustable or foot-moulding straps are nice, and a strap holding the heel and foot in place is essential. There will be times when you need the extra stability.

Style

You want to dress them up with nice pants (or a dress, for girls) for dinner on the waterfront, as well as get down-and-dirty at a beach party, and then go hiking in the jungle. It’s a tall order, but there are sandals out there that can satisfy the above criteria – and make you look good doing it.

My Personal Favourite

Taos Trophy I’ve recently discovered the Taos line of shoes, and I’m hooked. I have the Trophy style, which suits all the criteria above. (The sole isn’t made by Vibram, but it’s equally sturdy).

They’ve got a wide offering of shoes, including many other styles of sandals that will fit the bill.

Guys – sorry, Taos is only for women. You might want to check out what’s on offer with Teva, Keen, or Chaco for high-quality multi-purpose sandals.

PAIR #2: SHOES

There’s no more descriptive word than “shoes”, because they’re ideally part ultra-light hiking boot, part runner/exerciser, part walker, and even subdued enough to be worn under long pants without looking ridiculously casual.

Footbed

A high-quality footbed with anti-microbial properties, good arch support and removable insoles (for drying) is ideal.

Sole

Again Vibram is a favourite brand of sole for me; otherwise choose something with good tread and a sticky feel.

Material

A simple mesh cover over your foot won’t keep you warm or dry. Conversely, leather doesn’t breathe, dries slowly, and adds weight. Something in between is perfect, made all the better with GoreTex waterproofing.

Style

If you plan on any moderate to difficult hiking, ankle support is essential. But not too much; extra height equals bulk, weight, and less multi-functionality. Athletic shoes tend to be brightly coloured; but the more subdued the colouring, the better they’ll blend in for multiple scenarios. Solid black is the most versatile colour.

My Personal Favourite

Salomon Fastpacker I spent a few years in outdoor stores around the world asking for a shoe that satisfies all the criteria above, and they all acted like I was asking for the moon. Finally one day, the sales clerk patiently listened to my rehearsed list of needs, and without missing a beat, handed me this Salomon shoe. (cue angelic music)

They’ve served their purpose for three years, many countries, some mountains, trail running, walking, hiking, and exercising – and they’re still going strong. The base is that of a trail running shoe so it’s light and supportive, and with the mid-rise ankle support (they don’t go up as high as the image might lead you to believe) you also get the sturdiness required for unsteady terrain. I can even wear them with long pants in smart casual situations. (Admittedly if it’s too cool for sandals and I want to be fashionable, I prefer a fold-up pair of ballet flats…see below).

Caveats: Flip Flops and Ballet Flats

I just hinted that I might have a fold-up pair of ballet flats in addition to the “only” two pairs of shoes I need. Because of their light weight and volume, I buy inexpensive replaceable shoes. They’re almost more “accessories” than shoes!

In addition, I often stash a pair of cheap flip flops in my bag. In places like Asia where entrance to temples and businesses require leaving your footwear outside, an expensive pair of shoes will likely be stolen. Flip flops are useful in these and other situations (like the beach) where you might end up losing your shoes – and they’re a nice precaution if you’re facing a grimy shower.

Not Just For Women

This has been written from a female perspective, so of course style preferences and product recommendations won’t apply to men. However Salomon offers equivalent shoes for guys, and the principles remain the same; you only need two pairs of well-chosen shoes to travel long-term, and cover all the terrain you want (literally and figuratively).

 

About the Author: Nora Dunn

Nora Dunn is The Professional Hobo; a Canadian who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 and has been travelling the world in a financially sustainable way ever since. She is an internationally published freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.

Comments:

  • Hi Nora,

    Finding multi-use light-weight travel shoes has always been a challenge. And, still is. Neither of these styles come in my size.

    As a woman with rather generous feet (US 12) neither of these shoes come in my size. Since you may have an ‘in’ with the manufacturers – can you put in a good word for us gals with generous feet? Pleaseeeeee. Guy shoes are usually too wide.

    On the other hand (or foot,) I don’t need water skis, snow shoes, and hearing ‘your feet don’t look THAT big,’ never gets old…

    Thanks for your great blogging.

    Safe travels,
    Elizabeth

  • I travel full time with flip flops only, all day, every day, walking as far as you like. Maybe I’m just used to them after 6 years in the tropics.

  • @Elizabeth – I feel your pain! I don’t have an “in”, but I’ll do my best to advocate for all sizes… 😉
    So what DO you do for decent footwear?

    @Alyson – When I’m living in the tropics (such as when I’m spending time in Grenada, as I often do), I often live in flip flops too. But I generally find when I hit the road, I need something sturdier.

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