Two summers ago, while visiting the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, I was awoken in the middle of the night by a knock on my hotel door. It was a student in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she replied it was her feet! Yes, that’s right, her feet. After two weeks of traversing medieval cobblestone streets, her feet were sore, blistered, and swollen to point that the pain was keeping her awake!
Last summer another student was reduced to tears in the middle of a square in Florence when a giant blister on the bottom of her foot burst just before climbing the amazing duomo. She was basically incapacitated for several days while her foot healed.
Sadly, this happens every year. Most American students are simply not accustomed to walking long distances on a daily basis (I would say I average 8-12 miles a day when on tour in Italy). Not only are their bodies not physically conditioned to navigating uneven surfaces and climbing lots of stairs, they often bring the wrong shoes. Because we live in a country dependent on cars and that has a more sedentary life-style, most students don’t give much though to their footwear beyond style.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one shoe I can recommend for every to wear to avoid blisters and sore or swollen feet when traveling. Everyone’s feet are different and everyone will find a different shoe more comfortable. For example as a Floridian, I spend a lot of time in flip-flops and I am comfortable walking long distances in them. I have also found soft canvas flats like Superga, Toms or Soludos don’t rub my feet and their soles are soft enough that I can stand on hard stone surfaces all day (my favorite cold and/or rainy weather footwear is the Hunter Tour Boot).
The point is that you need to give some thought to the shoes that you pack. If you blister easily, think about which of your shoes never give you blisters. If you need arch support, don’t wear flip-flops! Finally, test the shoes you want to bring. Put on your favorite pair of sandals and go for a brisk three-mile walk. If you are limping by the third mile, don’t bring them! Moral of the story—know thy feet!
Steps to avoid foot discomfort while traveling:
I always recommend travelers bring a variety of shoe styles. That way if the shoes you thought would work are killing you; you can try another pair. If you want to wear ballet flats or boat shoes I highly recommend you wear socks with them. And never bring brand new unworn shoes! I also suggest bringing one pair sneakers. When all else fails, you might have to suck it up and wear tennis shoes while your feet recover.
No matter what shoes you bring, it is likely that you will experience some discomfort the first couple days abroad. Blisters are the most common complaint. I recommend packing some moleskin and Band-Aid blister block. Finally, the more physically conditioned you are, the more comfortable you will be. Make an effort to walk 3-5 times a week the month prior to departure.
You can shop some of my favorite shoes for travel below: