Traveling isn’t just about the destination. Carry On
is our series devoted to how we get away in the digital age, from the choices we make to the experiences we share.
I am always in transit. Right now, I’m wedged into economy seats in the butt of a plane. It’s not the most comfortable experience, but the perfect pair of kicks (and maybe a few mimosas) lightens the load.
The right gear is important to smooth sailing, and even spontaneous types should come prepared. As you come out of winter hibernation, check out our compilation of the best travel gadgets. Look at our picks for pet accessories perfect for vacation. If you like to stay connected at all times, check out our favorite smart luggage.
Even if you don’t need to track your dog’s every step or charge your phone from your suitcase, chances are you’ll need shoes. And you need to put a lot of thought into those shoes.
To tromp through the terminals, I like a comfy pair of shoes. Slip-ons are my favorite for a quick run through security. Plus, don’t forget socks. Otherwise, you’ll be putting your bare feet on the scanner after thousands of strangers.
Your perfect pair depends on your trip. Off the beaten path, you’ll need a heavy-duty shoe. If you’re packing light, look for something that can lay flat in your carry on. Beach trips need flip-flops.
Think of the terrain. Will you be along old, uneven brick sidewalks? Look for pairs that protect from stubbed toes and thicker soles. For camping and hiking, look for traction and a stiff ankle to keep you from sprains.
The best fit should be snug but with wiggle room. Check for any rubbing or friction as you walk. If you have rounder bunions, aim for a wide-fit shoe or one with straps that avoid the problem area. Not every shoe will be made for your feet’s proportions.
For this roundup, I went shopping. I picked up so much footwear, pressed into the insole, bounced around, and sauntered around the stores. I also ordered myself a pair of Allbirds, all in the name of research (and maybe a bit of consumerism).
I also asked in Facebook groups dedicated to fibromyalgia, a chronic illness I’ve dealt with for a few years. Those of us with nerve pain are experts in comfort, and our feet are really sensitive. So, I called on my fellow fibro friends for their suggestions.
The following shoes are chosen for comfort, with style being a bonus. Fashion is subjective, but comfort is fairly universal. I’m not going to recommend any eyesores, but not every pair is worthy of an artsy blog photo.
Not a real fashion statement
Ditch your flimsy flops for these.
I upgraded from my five-dollar Old Navy flip flops for something that doesn’t violently whack my heels, and I’m never looking back.
The thick sole provides cushion and is softer than other sandals. My feet sink into the flip flops like they dig into my mat during sun salutations.
My mom is also a fan of yoga mat flip flops. She has a lot of problems with her feet and is often seen sporting Sanuk alongside an ankle brace. It’s so comfortable to her that she wears them into the Missouri winter for as long as she can justify it.
The straps are a light, cushiony fabric that don’t dig into my skin. They are sewn securely into the foam, avoiding that weird rubber post that anchors between toes.
My pairs have lasted years, and pages of reviewers share the same experience. Amazon reviewer Julie Nguyen says:
“I LOVE LOVE LOVE these sandals! I keep coming back to them and repurchasing. I always buy them for myself and as gifts. The reason why I keep returning is due to the complete comfort and support they hold. I can wear them all day anywhere. I have actually went hiking in these babies and did not slip a bit. They are not thin, the base will completely sustain the lifespan. I appreciate how they are not tight like where they leave imprint, I just appreciate the reliability of these. It truly does feel like a yoga mat, the feeling of tranquility in a pair of sandals. If you plan on going vacation or walking a lot I completely recommend these.”
Comfortable • Washable • Sustainable
Comfortable shoes that don’t look geriatric.
I first saw Allbirds on the basketball court. My roommate’s brother was striding to the basket in shoes unlike the other intramural players. They didn’t look like basketball shoes or even running shoes. His wife laughed, “He refuses to wear anything else.”
Then, the Instagram ads haunted me. My phone knew I wanted a pair of Allbirds. It was time to finally try out these wool kicks.
Now, I’ve been stomping the streets of San Francisco in my new Allbirds. I’m surprised that I haven’t ached to rip off my shoes during this whole trip. The shoes feel like socks with some support, and the laces haven’t need to be tied over and over.
And bonus: Allbirds are made from recycled materials. I love a sustainable wardrobe and shop secondhand a lot, though I like to buy my shoes new. So Allbirds satisfy this need for green sneakers.
The recycled wool is washable, so go ahead and get a cream pair. Pop them in the wash at the end of a trip and get ready for the next adventure.
Comfortable • Variety of styles and colors • Available in most shoe stores
It’s a great casual option for tired feet.
I’m a little embarrassing at shoe stores, but it helps me find the most comfortable shoes. I walk through the rows and sink my pointer and index fingers into the soles of every display shoe. This is how I found Dr. Scholl’s line of slip-on shoes, and they’ve been a staple of my closet ever since.
I first bought these at TJ Maxx for 25 bucks, and they’ve lasted a few years of heavy usage. They’re now my mowing shoes because they’re so comfy and easy.
Since they slip-on, it’s quick to shove my feet in and start my day. They are great for going through security at the airport, no fiddling with laces as people push toward the metal detector.
Most shoe stores carry a few Dr. Scholl’s styles, so try them on to look for your preferred level of support. Some have stiffer heels or thicker fabric, but I love the perforated suede for breathability.
Fashionable • Comfortable
A pricey pick, these flats are ready to work with layers of comfort.
For those of us with normal arches, business means a good pair of flats. Sure, my calves may not look sculpted, but I can rock some loafers.
Birdies are praised for work-ready flats that feel like your favorite pair of sneakers. The insole has seven layers, supporting your arches and heels and cushioning the rest. Quilted satin tops off this parfait for your feet.
There are leather, velvet, and suede options with prices starting at $120 for suede. These are expensive, but the reviews affirm their worth.
Birdies reviewer Sarah M. says:
“This is my second pair of Birdies and the urge to fill my closet with these shoes is overwhelming. I bought one of the Ken Full pairs first, which are so comfortable I travel in them, and I feel like a mother-f***ing princess everywhere I go. My new leather pair are heavenly, buttery soft and again, so polished and yet so comfy. I’m packing them for a conference – they’re great loafers for looking (and feeling) put together without sacrificing your feet.”
Waterproof • Breathable • Comfortable • Supportive
My roommate lives in her hiking boots. She isn’t afraid to wander off the trail and get knee-deep in mud. And while she’s usually thrifty and frugal, her hiking boots are an exception. She recommends springing for a waterproof pair and investing in heavy traction.
The Merrell Moab boots are a tried and true pair loaded with features. Experienced hikers wear ‘em, and they’re accessible enough for entry-level explorers. They need less wear-in time to achieve hike-ready comfort.
The mesh adds breathability to a heavy-duty shoe, letting your feet sweat out. Yet patented M Select Dry membrane keeps water from flowing into the shoe.
The heel has airy, cushiony comfort that absorbs shock. A stabilizing strap holds the sides in tight, important for uneven terrain.
Here’s what a Merrell reviewer labeled as “Arkansas Hikers” says on the website:
“[I] hike in Merrell boots since I have [Rheumatoid Arthritis] in my feet. I’ve had five pairs of Moabs in the last 10 years, and they really are the best. We hike a minimum of 20 miles a week and with training for skiing, usually more. We are training for the Classic Inca Trail as well as ski season and these boots are the best for comfort and support. Did part of Cinque Terre in Italy and sections of Caminito Del Rey in Spain last spring, and the Moab’s kept my feet mostly dry during rain storms. Recommend to all my hiker friends. My husband who has no feet issues loves them as well. Great boots for these two senior citizens who still hike!”
Too short for large puddles
Your friends will all want them too.
I have a problem with most rain boots. They feel clunky, and I have trouble walking with even a pinch of swagger. Joules Rainwell boots are different, though. They combine waterproof rubber with the style of a sneaker, so I can saunter through puddles instead of clomping like a small horse.
The elastic sides and the pull tab make it easy to throw the boots on and off. If you’re like me, impatient to get out the door to explore, it’s nice not having to slow down and fiddle with shoes.
The short sides on the Joules Rainwell make them comfier and less obtrusive than other rain boots, but just don’t splash around too much. The smaller footprint (no pun intended) is also easy to pack up at the end of your trip.
Great sandal for a variety of ages.
I always thought Born was for middle-aged women. And then I realized $10 sandals are pretty awful for your feet.
This pair is stylish enough to be found among a younger crowd but comfortable enough to attract arthritic feet. The x-shaped straps hold feet secure while not rubbing straight across bunions. You can walk a long way with diagonal straps and not get blisters.
I’ve bought a few pairs of Born and Born Concepts sandals over the past eight or so years, and they last a long time. The cushion stays light and cushy, setting it apart from tamped-down foam sandals.