A podiatrist weighs in on popular shoes — and whether they're good for traveling

flickr

My Birkenstock sandals are a must-have for pretty much any trip I embark on. The black leather straps of these cork-soled sandals match both athleisure outfits and party dresses, and I feel like I'm walking on a cushy sidewalk every step of the way. In my opinion, they are the very best travel shoes — I like to wear them with quirky patterned socks on the airplane — but would a foot health specialist agree? 

"The important things to look for [in travel footwear] are fit and arch support as well as the materials used to make the shoe," Dr. Timothy Swartz, chief of podiatry of Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic said in an email. "Make sure the shoe is comfortable, but unless you are just going to the pool or the beach, avoid the traditionally 'comfortable' sandals or flip flops if you are going to be walking or standing for an extended period of time." 

Because flip flops offer no natural arch support, flip flop walkers can be more prone to injuries and falls. Even if you're going on a beach vacation, you'll want to pack supportive shoes for travel days, Swartz said. Walking through airports can be strenuous, especially if you're rushing to catch a flight, but also because going sockless through security is never a good idea.

Another big mistake: saving new boots to break in on vacation. "[They] should be worn for a few weeks leading up to travel to confirm [they are] comfortable," Swartz said. 

If you only bring one pair of shoes, Swartz recommended a broken-in sneaker, especially one that is easy to take on and off and made from soft materials that are comfortable and breathable. Skip the high-fashion sneakers that you don't want to scratch up, and go for something your parents would endorse for a long day of walking. Swartz was hesitant to make specific brand recommendations, but I had the foot health expert critique the shoes I bring most often, to find out whether they're actually good for traveling. 

Birkenstock Arizona sandals

A photo posted by (@) on

Because of the "nice deep heel cup," Swartz said these shoes are podiatrist-approved, especially because the cork sole makes them comfortable. He did not comment on their aesthetic value, which is timelessly stylish, clearly. 

Timberland hiking boots 

A photo posted by (@) on

"Hiking boots are always a good choice for those with ankle problems like instability," Swartz said, noting that this style is a good choice anywhere you may be walking on uneven terrain. I'm an infrequent hiker who has a similar pair, and fully endorse them for all your mild-to-moderate adventures.

Sperry boat shoes 

A photo posted by (@) on

These Nantucket-ready slip-ons might be stylish, but are they supportive? Because these shoes have a soft sole and a soft upper, and are also lightweight, Swartz said these should generally be comfortable for your summer strolls. They lack arch support, however, so some wearers may want to add a supplemental supportive insert.

Charleston Shoe Co. sandals

A photo posted by (@) on

Swartz wasn't familiar with this style of shoe, but luckily, my feet are, and let me tell you that the elastic on these shoes is perfect for days full of walking. Instead of rubbing against the top of your foot, the elastic moves with you, so you won't get blisters. The shoe can also be tossed in the washing machine to clean it up after a long trip. 

Adidas slides

A photo posted by (@) on

Slides may be the shoes of the moment, but don't bank on wearing them for a day of exploring. Swartz said they are "a good alternative to being barefoot," so if you own any other pair of comfortable, supportive shoes, walk in those. Save these for a day shuffling around your neighborhood.