Figuring out which travel shoes to bring on a trip is a tough decision. Read (and see) how 10 travel writers define the best travel shoes for women over 50.
One of the biggest packing dilemmas faced by women of a certain age is figuring out which—and how many—pairs of shoes to take with them when they travel.
Most of us are wise enough to know that we need something far more practical than stilettos for city walks and country hikes. We also realize that traveling light is smarter so we try to limit what we pack. It can be challenging to figure out a mix that combines daytime comfort and looks with something that can transition into dinner.
Every once in a while, I’m reminded of the importance of taking care of your feet. Most recently, it was the coincidence of receiving a press release from Kaiser Permanente on the importance of foot care while I was nursing a blister on my left foot from wearing the wrong type of shoe for too many hours.
The press release with Tips for Healthy, Pain-Free Feet began:
It’s easy to take our feet for granted, but consider this: there are 26 bones and 33 joints in the human foot, and those small bones must take us where we need to go every day.
By the time Americans reach the age of 50, they’ve logged 75,000 miles on their feet — that’s three times around the planet…
Feet must last a lifetime, so it’s important to practice good foot care.
Since I don’t have very good answers to the travel shoes for women dilemma, I asked 10 of my fellow travel writers over 50 about the shoes they pack for trips and asked them to send photos:
1) Ruth Read
We travel VERY light so I only take two pairs. One is my hiking boots, which are worn most of the time. They are very comfortable and we hike A LOT. For hot days of relaxing or for wandering around towns on warm/hot days I wear a comfortable pair of sandals. We don’t got out to fancy places very often but if we do and I need to dress up and my sandals wouldn’t be appropriate then I would go out and buy a cheap pair of shoes and afterward I would leave them behind for someone who could use them.
2) Maria Michelle
Wandering and Searching Island Girl
I usually try to limit myself to four pairs of shoes total. Shoes weigh a lot. I take one pair of heels although I rarely wear them. I try to keep the colors neutral. I always take sneakers as I walk and hike A LOT. I have a pair of flat black boots for rainy weather and a cute (I think) pair of black flats with a bow on the front. They are comfortable and stylish – better than sneakers IMO.
3) Suzanne Fluhr
I try to balance comfort and “looking good” or at least “looking good enough”. On a recent month-long trip, I packed four pairs:
(1) Slip-on flats have been my “go to” airplane shoes for at least nine years. They’re actually slightly big which is good for when my feet swell on a long flight. Unfortunately, they’re not great for walking around too much when my feet aren’t swollen.
(2) When traveling in the summer or to somewhere warm where I expect to do a lot of walking, I bring one of my two pairs of Clarke’s old lady walking sandals.
(3) I packed sneakers, which I probably didn’t need.
(4) I brought a pair of black strap shoes with two-inch heels because we ended our Southeast Asia trip with a 13-day cruise. I bought these a few years ago at the Walking Store. I can walk for about a mile in them and more importantly, I can dance the night away, at least the night up until 10:30 p.m. My dress up travel wardrobe consists of black slacks and a little black dress, so these shoes come in handy.
4) Billie Frank
Santa Fe Travelers
Depending on the season and where I’m going, I try to do two pairs. But if it’s a rainy climate and/or colder weather, I may have two pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots. My favorites for travel are mules or an elastic pair called Vivanz that I think are made in Guadalajara, Mexico.
My mules are made by Acorn, the slipper people. They can go to dinner but aren’t elegant. I tend not to dress up and so they work and I love walking in them. The other pair has elastic at the ankles, which is great for flying as my ankles want to swell and these control them. I’ve owned many pairs of these since I discovered them in 2007 and try to stay a year ahead in case they stop making them. They can go to dinner or anywhere else (as long as it’s not a hike) because they’re very comfortable.
5) Marilyn Jones
Travel with Marilyn
I have made the mistake of taking too many shoes and weighing myself down. Unless I am heading for snow, I just take season-appropriate shoes, usually a black pair of shoes and a lighter colored pair. Flip-flops, sandals and dress flats pack easiest…I always wear sneakers on the plane because they are the heaviest.
6) Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Until just recently, my very favorite traveling shoes were my Mary Jane-style Mephistos. What I liked was that the Velcro straps were easy on, easy off—perfect for airport security–and the crucial heel was totally adjustable with Velcro. Also, they were black and grey and looked good, even in business situations. I wore them for at least 10 years–until they died, and I was unable to replace them. I’ve ordered around 20 potential replacements from Nordstrom but had to send them all back.
Currently, I am back to some old grey suede Merrells that adjust with Velcro over the top of my very high instep–also no longer available, but fortunately mine still have some life in them. I don’t like them as well because they aren’t easy on, easy off, and after a few hours I start feeling discomfort in the heel.
I use good-looking grey felt Merrell slip-ons for air travel. They’re easy-on, easy-off but not good for serious walking so I have yucky looking but comfortable white New Balance tennis/walking shoes for getting me around town.
Whenever the situation is right, I wear my fabulous Vasque hiking boots. In warm weather, I embrace my lightweight Teva Velcro-strap sandals—they go everywhere, but they do massage some skin off the bottom of my feet, though that doesn’t hurt. For dress up, I discovered a wonderful pair of metallic Toms—they look great and they feel great and their purchase does great deeds. The search continues. On a weeklong trip, I take two or three pairs of getting-around shoes (so I can micro-adjust my comfort), plus flip-flops, hotel-style slippers, and a dressy pair if needed.
7) Suzanne Stavert
Although I want to be comfortable, I still like to be somewhat fashionable. For just a week, I try to stay with three pairs. It actually depends upon the time of year. Flats are easier to pack than boots, for example.
I wear a pair of ballet shoes that have great cushioning and are patent leather, which makes them water resistant too! If I need a high heel, I bring a wedge shoe. It can be worn with dresses or pants. In the winter I wear a pair of comfortable, yet stylish riding boots.
When I go to a rainy (winter) climate, I have a great pair of stylish, rubber rain boots I wear almost exclusively. They are actually super comfortable and with the correct socks are very warm.
I have very high arches and flat shoes can be very uncomfortable, however I have recently discovered Super Feet ‘Delux” Insoles for my flat shoes at Nordstrom’s. They also make them for high heels.
8) Sue Reddel
I’m always looking for shoes that are attractive and comfortable – emphasis on comfortable as I always do a lot of walking no matter where I go. I also have some back trouble so good support on the feet means my back will hold out for a much longer time.
My favorite brand is Rieker AntiStress, a German company that makes the most comfortable and attractive looking shoe. I’ve had several styles but my latest is the Doris. All feature European-styled looks. The Doris I chose is black leather with black patent leather accents. I’ve walked around town in it all day and wore them with skirts and pants for evening wear as well. These are great summer and spring shoes as there’s plenty of ventilation to keep your feet nice and cool. These are also great to slip off at airport security. (Just be sure to have a pair of little socks on hand so you don’t have to walk barefoot in the airport.)
For fall and winter, I like Keen’s Toyah. They are super comfortable although not nearly as stylish as the Rieker’s. They are water resistant which make them great for rainy and even snowy weather. I wore them traveling for a week of Christmas markets in Germany last December, and they held up really well and my feet and back never complained. They are a bit heavy and clunky but I quickly got used to them.
I also love the black patent leather loafer from Anne Klein these and the Keen Toyah’s make a perfect match for travel.
I typically pack two pairs of shoes, one at bit more casual and one more dressy. I also always wear black shoes so they go with everything. If I think I’m going to be working out I’ll also take my Brooks purple athletic shoes although they are also very comfortable I don’t walk around in them while exploring. If I’m going to a spa or somewhere with a pool I have a black pair of Toms canvas shoes, which are comfortable, lightweight and pack easily not taking up much space.
9) Jo Castro
I travel with far too many shoes because I hate being uncomfortable. I have comfy shoes for walking, such as trainers. I add on a pair of boots if I’m going to be doing serious hiking. Then there’s a pair of comfy sandals that will take me for long hours sightseeing and into restaurants if I’m in towns. I will possibly add a pair of crocs (argghhhh!) or a pair of flip-flops for beach wear, and then a pair of shoes I can wear out at night – such a small wedges. I have been known to travel with trainers and sandals… but only if pushed very, very hard.
Another favorite is the black pair that I take on my travels to wear at night to a restaurant. Low-ish heels go with jeans or dress and are comfy to wear.
10) Linda Fairbairn
I take two pairs:
(1). A pair of strappy sandals that stay firmly attached to my feet and are comfortable (and suitable) for walking on rough tracks as well as being designed to get wet so I can wear them kayaking…and being strappy, they look OK with a skirt.
(2). Runners for more serious hiking and sightseeing.
TRAVEL SHOES FOR WOMEN OVER 50
The Take-Away Lessons
- When traveling, comfort trumps fashion.
- A comfortable pair of walking shoes is essential for active travel.
- Stick with tried-and-true shoes rather than trying out new ones on a trip.
- Be cognizant of the weather and season at your destination. It will impact footwear decisions. Don’t presume every day will be sunny.
- Try to avoid packing shoes you are unlikely to use.
- Your feet may swell when you are traveling; bear that in mind when selecting shoes.
- Velcro and elastic both offer easy-on and easy-off—and accommodate to size fluctuations.
- Consider wearing your heaviest pair on the plane so you don’t have to carry them.
- Don’t forget it’s likely you’ll have to take your shoes off to pass through airport security.
- Neutral colors allow for more flexibility (and are also less conspicuous). When in doubt, opt for versatile black.
- Strappy shoes provide an easy transition into the evening hours.
Other helpful resources on the web:
- Have bunions? Read this recent article in the New York Times.
- Helpful article in the Mayo Clinic newsletter on what to look for in a walking shoe.
- Post about shoes made for walking on Beverly Burmeier’s Going On Adventures.
Linda ~ Journey JottingsAugust 31, 2014 at 6:19 pm
What a great post Irene –
Shoes are most probably the most important item to get right on your packing list –
Uncomfy shoes and the trip is ruined! 😉
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 6:24 pm
I agree, Linda! Thanks for contributing. Your illustration is, of course, a standout!
The worst shoe experience I had was when I packed a comfortable pair of new sneakers to take my then-young son to Disney World.
When we woke up early to hit the park, I discovered that the salesman had put two left shoes in the box. It delayed our entry until I could new sneakers at a nearby shoe store. A near-ruin:-)
Suzanne FluhrAugust 31, 2014 at 7:33 pm
Linda, love your drawing of your strappy sandals — and they look really comfortable.
santafetravelerAugust 31, 2014 at 7:18 pm
Thanks for including me and my shoes in the post, Irene. Love seeing everyone’s shoes and hearing about their shoes and travel. I’m going to check out those insteps from Nordstrom.
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 10:58 pm
They’re also available on Zappos, Billie.
Wyoming travelerAugust 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm
Keen makes some very cute, lightweight, partly mesh Mary-janes. They weigh next to nothing and look good with a casual dress or capris/pants. I discovered them right before a trip to Morocco this spring and walked on cobblestones and through Roman ruins in them. SO versatile!
Irene S. LevineSeptember 1, 2014 at 7:28 am
Thanks for adding this option to the list~
Suzanne FluhrAugust 31, 2014 at 7:32 pm
There’s definitely a pattern here — over 50’s go for comfort. At my son’s wedding, they provided a basket for of flip flops in the Ladies Room. As the night wore on, more and more of their young friends traded their impossibly high spikey shoes for a pair of flip flops—-including the bride!
Donna JankeAugust 31, 2014 at 8:20 pm
Comfortable shoes are a must for me at all times, but especially when traveling. I love to walk around and see the sights. As I’ve gotten older and developed arthritis in the big toe joint on one foot and a heel spur on the other foot, finding comfortable shoes has become a challenge. I will be looking into some of the shoes mentioned in this post. Thanks.
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 10:57 pm
Gosh, Donna, maybe you diagnosed my big toe problem!
Kay DoughertyAugust 31, 2014 at 8:22 pm
I’m lucky that I have feet that are fairly agreeable so I don’t have to go crazy looking for the perfect shoes. However, my sister (and travel companion) has feet with all kinds of major issues. It’s very hard for her to get remotely stylish shoes that she can walk in. I’m going to pass this along to her. Both of us have recently fallen hard for Skechers! They’re inexpensive, super comfy and look fine with pants. Probably not so much with a dress! I’m packing tonight for a trip to Peru so this was a good distraction from what I should be doing!
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 10:56 pm
I just got a pair of Skechers Go Walk on Zappos. They are as comfortable as bedroom slippers.
Michelle DunnerSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm
I took only one pair of Go Walk with me on recent US trip & a pair of wedges for going out. Bad mistake. After a week my feet were constantly aching and tired. I obviously need more support!
Carole Terwilliger MeyersAugust 31, 2014 at 10:19 pm
I had the same experience as Suzanne Fluhr at my daughter’s wedding. They passed out souvenir flip flops after the dinner. I had thought ahead and brought my own lovely flip flops that matched my dress and had a diamond-type decoration. And now whenever I actually wear heels, I always take the flip flops along just in case.
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 10:55 pm
Whenever I wear heels, I feel like I need to take along a backup:-)
www.travelwithkevinandruth.comAugust 31, 2014 at 10:52 pm
Nice job on the post Irene! I think this is a great topic to discuss. It is fun to see what others take with them and it has got me thinking about the Tevas that Carole was modeling. I was looking at a pair of those the other day to replace my last pair of sandals that have just about given out on me. Thanks for including me in your post.
Irene S. LevineAugust 31, 2014 at 10:54 pm
I just want to say that this post cost me big time! I purchased one pair of shoes and the insoles Suzanne recommended! 🙂
AlysonSeptember 1, 2014 at 2:10 am
Love this! My shoes are like Ruth’s we do a lot of walking and carrying packs when we travel. If I’m not in my hiking shoes I’m in flip flops. But I’m a youngster at 48, or a very mature backpacker, depending on how you look at it.
Betsy Wuebker | PassingThruSeptember 1, 2014 at 2:11 am
I was so interested to see what everyone chose. I’ve lived the last two years in Locals “slippas” (flip flops for you mainlanders), and that’s all I’m taking RTW , as we will be chasing warm weather. I did buy a pair of ballet flats and some Ugg knockoffs for winter in Europe and left the flats in Russia with a new friend. The boots were left in our last hotel room. I am spoiled and don’t like shoes any more. 🙂
Irene S. LevineSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:15 pm
I’m happiest in bare feet, too, Betsy!
Audrey van petegemSeptember 1, 2014 at 2:36 am
Check out Geox shoes. Stylish and soooooo comfortable
Gail LeichtSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:57 am
I highly recommend onesole.com. Pack one pair of shoes instead of several. Can be worn day into night. Only the tops change color/style. Very lightweight. No blisters. Good for extensive walking or for a fancier night out on the town. (I originally saw these on Shark Tank.)
Irene S. LevineSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm
What a novel idea!
Samela DingusSeptember 1, 2014 at 10:11 am
My challenge is that I wear a size 11.5 shoe and can rarely find all these ‘good walking shoes’ in my size. I mostly end up with a solid pair of sneakers and a pair of size 11 uncomfortable black strappy heels that I can barely wear for 2 hours. (See Suzanne Fluhr’s photo) I suggest to the powers that be the need to start making these shoes go to size 12 for women without ‘petite feet’.
Irene S. LevineSeptember 1, 2014 at 10:15 am
Now that I’m a “shoe expert” by virtue of having written this article and having spent a great deal of time checking out the Zappos website, I noticed that while there are fewer options you can search the Zappos site by shoe size.
Emilie C. HartingSeptember 1, 2014 at 10:33 am
The Aeosoles shoe chain–stores are all over and they are inexpensive–has lots of attractive ballerina type shoes that pack well because they are flat. Even the fancy ones have corrugated soles that keep one from tripping on slippery sidewalks. Some of the more expensive brands at high end stores have smooth soles that are dangerous on pavements and dance floors.
Irene S. LevineSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:17 pm
Will stop there next time I pass one of the stores in Manhattan!
AmySeptember 1, 2014 at 11:15 am
A few years back I found a pair of crocs that are mary jane style. They are black and you would never ever be able to tell they are crocs. I have worn them everywhere, from beach to dressy. Found at Dicks sporting goods.
Claire WalterSeptember 1, 2014 at 11:24 am
Wish someone had asked me. On my last three trips to Europe (most recently returned on Saturday evening), I have taken ONE (1) pair of all-purpose shoes (+ low hikers when required).
Carole Terwilliger MeyersSeptember 1, 2014 at 12:54 pm
Re. #4 post, Billie Frank, love those shoes. They remind me of some I bought in San Miguel. I wonder if it the same maker? This post of mine might interest you, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2011/02/sights-to-see-san-miguel-shoe-store-san.html
Sue ReddelSeptember 1, 2014 at 1:03 pm
Thanks for including my sensible shoes in your travel shoe round-up. It’s fun to see how other frequent travelers deal with the “which shoes do I bring?” dilemma we face with every trip. Loved Linda’s painting of her red strappy sandals!
dianamccSeptember 1, 2014 at 3:44 pm
What a great POST!! Sure wish I would have read it before our 18 day trip. I, of course, packed too many shoes. Dress boots, two pair of tennis shoes, two pair of sandals, flip flops and rain boots. Only used three of the packed items. Lesson learned.
SherylSeptember 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm
I love my patent leather black patent leather Birkenstocks, which are super comfy and can take me from day into night. That’s if the weather is warm, that is. Haven’t figured out winter footwear just yet.
Sand In My SuitcaseSeptember 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm
A very fashionable lot of travel women here! And nary an “old lady” pair of shoes (well, maybe just one pair :-). Janice wears copper Birkenstocks for casual evenings – they look really cute. And soooo comfortable. She also has a pair of silver Eco sandals (Roman-style) – they also look great with capris. The European brands seem to be the most comfortable – and now they’re making “comfort” shoes much more stylish. For winter travel, she’s found a pair of suede ankle boots with a flat little heel that look good with skinny jeans and pants. For running around and touring? Runners (now they make them so they don’t look like running shoes, but more like walking shoes).
Denise ReynoldsSeptember 2, 2014 at 1:10 am
As a shoe diva, I refuse to sacrifice style for comfort at any age. That doesn’t mean I have to suffer though. Au contraire! But the options do narrow when you insist on comfort and style. And I find those shoes that tick both boxes tend to cost quite a bit. But it’s money well spent because if your feet aren’t happy, you aren’t going to enjoy your trip. You’ve invested money in traveling, so don’t short change your feet.
I pack super light, and insist on carrying all my bags with me whenever I fly. I limit myself to two pairs of shoes, both in black. One pair of dressy flats pack practically flat and work with dresses, skirts, pants and even black premium denim. For this pair, my current favorite is a Prada leather pointy toe flat with a little bow, done in black patent. They are equally at home on cobblestone streets, garden paths, museums and even at opera performances.
For the other pair, I opt for a square toe Mephisto in black croc-embossed patent leather, which is a slip-on shoe. The heel is about three inches high, but very sturdy because it’s a wedge. I can wear these shoes for twelve hours of touring a day and my feet feel just as good at the end of the day as they do when I started. The rubber soles make them ideal for tromping through vineyards and barrel rooms with wet floors. Because they take more room to pack, these are the shoes I fly in.
I also keep my shoes in drawstring shoe bags when I pack them, which ensures the rest of my clothes aren’t snuggled up against soiled soles. One shoe per bag.
And I toss a little tube of foot refresher in my TSA baggie to pamper my tootsies at the end of the day. There are many products that work for this purpose. My favorite is a French gel by Thermes Marins Saint-Malo called Gel Fraicheur Jambes Legeres (Cool Leg Toning Gel). Ingredients include horse chestnut, seaweed, rosemary, sage and menthol.
There’s definitely a strategy to selecting travel shoes that are perfectly paired to your lifestyle. This is what works best for me. YMMV.
Michela of Rocky Travel BlogSeptember 2, 2014 at 4:39 pm
For my outdoor travels I pack my Timberland walking boots, they are so comfy, I can wear them with any kind of weather and temps. I then pack strappy sandals. Like the onesole idea, very practical indeed.
JohannaSeptember 3, 2014 at 1:51 am
Wow what a super helpful and interesting post Irene. I think if you don’t get your footwear right it can ruin a traveling escape, so best to get it right. What some great respomses! Thanks for including me 🙂
SarahSeptember 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm
What a fun, interesting and informational post! I always struggle with which pair of foot gear to pack when traveling, but have mainly stuck with 2 pairs of Teva sandals (one has a 1″ heel that could work for a nice night out, the other is great for casual walking when I might get wet) and Merrell hiking shoes. I’d definitely like to try some of the brands mentioned here!
Theresa RussellSeptember 4, 2014 at 9:59 pm
Great article. All shoes – or 99.99% of them- hurt my feet. I had a pair of the Combat Cocktail shoes and even though I had been told that everybody finds them comfortable, I did not. Shoes are always a challenge for me. I used to buy expensive shoes and then a friend recommended I try cheaper shoes since I wouldn’t feel so bad when they felt uncomfortable after 10 minutes and I couldn’t wear them anymore. I am hesitant to spend over $100 on a pair of shoes that feel fine for the two minutes that I wear them at the store, but become painful after I wear them for five minutes at home. I don’t like going barefoot and can’t stand thong flip-flops. I always hope that maybe one day I will find the most comfortable and practical shoe ever.
I will admit to finding some Sketchers water shoes that are quite comfortable.
Irene S. LevineSeptember 5, 2014 at 8:21 am
And I thought I was alone:-)
It’s reassuring to hear from so many shoe-challenged travelers!
LeylaSeptember 5, 2014 at 7:55 am
I’m a two-pair traveler… one pair to walk in and the other to go out in… and both have to be comfortable. To go out I try to get some ‘disguised’ sandals, something that is really a walking sandal but looks like a going out one. For walking I wore down a pair of Eccos in a year across Africa but they were so comfortable the company obviously stopped making them and replaced them with something ‘better’ – that I could walk in for five minutes or less…
Irene S. LevineSeptember 5, 2014 at 8:16 am
So hate when we find a product we like and it’s discontinued!
Cate AdairDecember 8, 2014 at 1:16 am
Here is a suggestion for how to travel in style and comfort: http://www.fash365.com/2014/12/just-plane-cozy.html
katyMarch 27, 2016 at 12:24 am
I am 70 and need good walking shoes.love the comfy black suede sandals from clarks. What is the name of that style? I have been searching for a sandal for a long time and they look so comfortable.
Irene S. LevineMarch 27, 2016 at 10:16 am
I checked the Zappos site for you for Clark sandals (http://www.zappos.com/clarks-sandals~i).
I don’t see these exact ones but several styles look quite similar. With free returns on Zappos, you could order a pair and see if they are to your liking.