It took me years to find the perfect combination of women’s travel shoes. Every trip I would stare dubiously at my suitcase, trying to figure out how the heck I was going to cram in the number of shoes I needed to achieve the various activities I wanted to do – you know, adventurous things like walking without hobbling in pain or hiking without hobbling in pain – while also trying to maintain a basic level of not-hideous-ness.
Squeezing shoes into my luggage was a battle every time I went on a trip.
But today, that’s all changed. After trying on, returning, trying on again, and field-testing like crazy, I’ve found FOUR absolutely amazing pairs of travel shoes for women. And what’s more, they’re all lightweight and easy to cram into your luggage without taking up a ton of room! With these four shoes, I’m able to cover all of my bases and not think twice about what shoes to pack for trips. It’s changed my travel game, and I’m about to change yours, too!
Table of Contents
Psst: Looking for more travel tips to upgrade your next trip? Take a look at some of our other helpful posts, and don’t forget to read our men’s travel shoes guide!
- The 3 Best Travel Pants for Women: Functional, Cute, & Field-Tested
- The Ultimate Guide to Makeup & Beauty for Backpacking
- Long Haul Flight Essentials & Travel Tips for Economy Fliers
The Problem With Women’s Travel Shoes
I think a lot of the problems with women’s travel shoes actually mirror the problems that women generally face every day, namely the creeping feeling that society doesn’t want us to be able to move very quickly. While some of us are surely able to do things like run from a charging Tyrannosaurus Rex while wearing heels (by the way – if you haven’t seen this Jurassic Park YouTube parody yet, please stop reading right now and go watch it – I’ll wait), the vast majority of us really just need like, comfortable walking shoes. And while your cutest pair of flats may be perfectly adequate for a long day at the office, walking 10+ miles as you explore on cobblestones or sand is a whole different ball game.
Tell me if any of this sounds vaguely familiar in your search for your favorite pair of travel shoes:
✔ There are the shoes that give your feet cramps if you walk in them for more than 20 minutes
✔ There are the shoes that you can totally walk in all day long! … But you have to pay for later with those miserable midnight Charlie Horses (UGH WHY) and a full day of post-exploring hobbling
✔ There are the shoes that are absolutely perfect in every way except for that 1 very specific spot that rubs your skin until it’s a miserable, aching blister. You regularly carry around pieces of Moleskin, bandaids, and duct tape just to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible
✔ And there are the shoes that you loved to pieces … literally, you wore them on 1 trip and they fell apart. You can’t bear to get rid of them because they were so beautiful and perfect, so now you just have a pair of shoes with a giant, gaping hole just mocking you from your closet
Yeah. Things are bleak.
So bleak, in fact, that I literally injured myself in my search for shoes I could wear to do what is currently my full-time job (that would be running around in heels being chased by t-rexes. No, just kidding, it’s travel blogging).
Story time! Years ago, back when this blog was merely a twinkle in my eye, I got myself a cute little pair of trainers and thought I’d pick up running as a hobby. It sounded fun. It sounded athletic. It made me think back nostalgically to scenes from Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, where Blake Lively gallops like a gazelle on foreign beaches, blonde hair flying behind her as every leg muscle rippled in beauty and power. I wanted that REAL bad. So I picked up the cutest pair of sneakers I could find, laced them up, downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and hit the road.
2 weeks later, I couldn’t walk. I was in SO MUCH PAIN. Every step felt like I was jabbing a nail into my heel, and the very arches of my feet were so cramped up I started rolling them on frozen water bottles every night just so I could hobble into bed. It got so bad that I started wearing sneakers to work. And I worked in the corporate fashion world, so that was a HUGE faux-pas.
Turns out I had a raging case of Plantar Fasciitis. I had it for nearly a YEAR. A year of ugly sneakers, hobbling around, rolling my feet on stuff every night, and waking up in horrible pain every morning. It was awful. I was desperate to find a solution, and I was willing to go extremes to relieve my pain.
No, this isn’t the story of how I developed a raging addiction to nutella. This is the story of how I found barefoot shoes. OK WAIT – I can feel you heading up to click that X in the corner because you’re imagining me wearing those ugly, awful 5-finger shoes. But that’s not what I’m talking about at all!
When I say barefoot shoes, what I mean are shoes that allow my feet to have a full range of motion – thin, flexible soles, WIDE toe-boxes, and no heel at all (the technical term is “zero drop”). When I first started testing these kinds of shoes, I was freaked out by both the fact that I could kinda feel the ground beneath my feet, and the fact that I couldn’t walk more than 5 minutes at a time without feeling like I had just run a mile – my calf muscles were so underdeveloped from years of wearing cute, fashionable shoes that my body had essentially forgotten how to walk. It was eye-opening.
But as I worked my way up by adding a few more minutes of walking in barefoot shoes every day, my plantar fasciitis started going away too. It was like just walking around was stretching my feet out in ways that the ugly foot-cast contraption I’d started wearing every night never could.
A year later, my feet had developed muscles I never knew they had. I could stand and walk for miles and miles with no pain at all. I could do things at the gym I’d never been able to do before. And I even went full granola for a minute and started hiking and rail-running completely barefoot. Yes, that bit is definitely a bit nutty and no, you don’t have to go quite that far. Today, I even work at a standing desk: I stand all day long whether I’m at home on my computer or running around having adventures, and my feet NEVER slow me down.
So, here’s the point I want to make: every single shoe that I wear for travel allows my feet their full range of motion. So before you run away screaming from the word “barefoot,” consider trying something different – especially if you struggle with foot pain like I did before I changed my attitude towards shoes!
OK, now that I’ve given you my cavewoman spiel (I’m KIDDING they’re not that granola, I promise) let’s get to the actual shoes!
The Best Travel Flats
Bet you didn’t think they made barefoot ballerina flats, didja? Well, they do! They being VivoBarefoot, my favorite barefoot shoe company (psst: they have a 100 day trial so you can anxiously test out that crazy barefoot science for yourself, risk-free). The VivoBarefoot JingJing flat is absolutely adorable and my go-to travel flat. They’re perfect for exploring cities, going out at night (on the rare occasion that I manage to drag myself away from Netflix & drooling on myself to actually do something after dark, that is) and doing ~professional things.
I wear them at conferences, where I walk upwards of 15,000 steps per day as I hustle from booth to booth to beg brands to throw money at me (HAHA just kidding I love my sponsors being a travel blogger is so glamorous whee). I wear them when I’m speaking onstage at those conferences, I wear them when I attend the networking parties that always last all night and cut into my Netflix & drool time, I wear them constantly. Because they are adorable, and I can walk a zillion miles in them and never feel any pain whatsoever.
The Jing Jing flat is deceptively simple but masterfully created. I’ve had my pairs for 3 years now and worn them all over the world on multiple trips, and you guys, they don’t even have a scratch. They’re kinda stinky, but that’s pretty much my own fault.
They’re incredibly thin and light weight, and roll up so small they fit in the palm of my hand. I never give a second thought to packing them, because they don’t take up any room at all. But unlike most thin flats, which wear through in a few months and inevitably fall apart, the Jing Jing is made to last. They feel and look just as good as they did the day I bought them.
To summarize, here’s why I love the VivoBarefoot Jing Jing flat for travel:
✔ Super cute with everything from jeans to dresses
✔ Lightweight and easy to pack
✔ Roll up into teeny palm-sized mini shoes
✔ Comfortable enough to walk in for miles and miles
One more thing, though. And I’m gonna throw in a TMI warning. I tend to get kind of sweaty feet on hot days, so I found a really good little sock to wear with my Jing Jings that helps with the whole absorption issue. They’re made with wool, which is naturally antibacterial (aka anti-stink) and they’re the perfect size and shape for these or any other travel flats! Pick up a pair to match your flats.
*If you find them sold out on the VivoBarefoot site you can also find them on Amazon
The Best Women’s Travel Boots
Here’s the thing about most boots: they’re adorable, but they’re totally impractical. There is NO GOOD REASON why I should need different boots for different conditions. Snow? Rain? Cold weather? Just cuz I want to look cute? I want the same boot for ALL of those things. Ain’t nobody got closet space for multiple boots.
Enter the VivoBarefoot Gobi Hi, the lace-up ankle boot that does it all. I have literally worn these babies everywhere from professional events to snow-shoeing. Yes: I actually went snow-showing in these boots. I slipped the snow-shoes right on top of them, and actually I was kind of terrified that it might ruin them. But it didn’t, and my feet stayed toasty warm and dry!
These are the kinds of boots that make you WANT to walk through puddles when it’s raining, just to show the world that you’re UNSTOPPABLE, dammit! They’re the kind of boots that make you excited for a cold day so you have an excuse to wrap your toes up in the cozy faux shearling lining. They’re the kind of boots that you wear every single day all season long, year after year after year.
Oh, how I love these boots. Let me count the ways:
✔ Legit adorable, especially with lil’ socks on some leggings or tights
✔ Waterproof AF in both snow and rain
✔ Lined with faux shearling so it feels like you’re walking on a warm cloud of baby sheep
✔ Comfortable enough to walk in for miles and miles
✔ Lightweight and easy to squish up into your bag for travel
If you live somewhere cold, plan to travel somewhere cold, foresee rain at some point in your life, or just get cold feet sometimes (hopefully not on your wedding day! Ba-dum-ssh, I’ll see myself out) the VivoBarefoot Gobi Hi are the boots for you.
*If you find these wonder boots sold out on the VivoBarefoot website head over to Amazon for a pair (or 2!)
The Best Women’s Sandals for Travel
My love for the Teva Ysidro Sandals can only be described as “cult-like.” I’m currently on my 4th pair of these babies. They comprise the entirety of sandals in my closet, and when I bring them on a trip to somewhere hot, they’re all I wear.
I wore pair #3 for 6 months straight during our year-long honeymoon. I hiked in them. I rappelled down a waterfall in them (and then got rescued in them). I went white water rafting in them. I stomped through cities and frolicked on beaches in them. We had some really good times together, but every couple of years, it’s time for a new pair.
I’ve been buying leather Teva sandals regularly for the past 8 years. Here is a photo of my very first pair of Teva sandals, taken 8 years ago with a cutting-edge cell phone camera on a trip to the Grand Canyon:
I still have those sandals in the back of my closet. I couldn’t bear to throw them away – we’ve been to so many places together! I’m slightly verging into hoarder territory with the Teva shoe cemetery in my closet…
It’s not just me who’s obsessed with these sandals, either: one time I was getting mani/pedi and noticed that someone else was wearing the same pair of Teva sandals. We struck up a conversation and spent a solid 20 minutes loudly fan-girling over how much we loved these sandals, much to the irritation and bewilderment of the rest of the salon.
But you guys: they’re SO GOOD. Here’s why I think the Teva Ysidros are the best travel sandals:
✔ Durable leather straps and a flexible cork sole make these one tough, rugged pair of sandals
✔ Legit cute. I know “Teva” used to be synonymous with those unattractive sandals at 8th-grade summer camp, but they’ve grown up and matured and blossomed into some truly adorable, stylish shoes
✔ As good at being water shoes as they are at being walking shoes and city shoes
✔ The most comfortable sandals for travel that I’ve ever tried – and I’ve tried SO. MANY.
✔ Will give you the coveted “Teva Tan” which is like a wearable souvenir from all of your travels (at this point I think mine is permanent)
I’m obsessed and I want you to be obsessed too! Grab a pair and try them out. You’ll never go back to regular sandals again!
The Best Women’s Lightweight Hiking Shoes
I used to think you needed big, chunky boots to go hiking in – for ankle support and snake protection or whatever – and I thought that the best boots of all were waterproof and cost hundreds of dollars for good reason. For years as I explored the best hikes in Northern California, I wore whatever clunky hiking boots I found on sale at REI, nursing my feet after long hikes, aches and blisters and sore calves and all.
I assumed that my problem was that I couldn’t afford to drop bands on a pair of good waterproof hiking boots, not hiking boots themselves. And I avoided taking my hiking boots with me on trips, because they weighed a zillion pounds and took up half of the space in my suitcase.
Then somebody told me about trail runners, and it changed everything.
Trail runners are like the shoe that sits directly in between regular sneakers and massive, clunky hiking boots. They have the grip of hiking boots with the light-weightedness of sneakers. They’re build to stabilize your foot as you run through forests and unstable terrain, leaping over logs and probably doing the occasional Tarzan swing through the trees, and they’re excellent for hiking.
Once I laced up my Altra Lone Peak Trail Runners – with some lacing tricks I’d learned in my years-long quest to make hiking boots actually work for me. – and hit the trails, I knew I’d never hike in clunky, inflexible boots again. Without the weight and bulk of those boots on my feet, I felt light and free – and yes, I even went trail running a few times out of sheer excitement. (It’s actually REALLY fun, and I usually hate running! Don’t believe me? Read Born to Run and tell me it doesn’t make you want to gallop off into the mountains somewhere for a casual 50-mile run.)
Here are a few of the reasons why I love my Trail Runners:
✔ They’re zero drop, so there’s no risk of re-aggravating my plantar fasciitis
✔ Flexible sole, so my foot can move with full range of motion and flexibility to keep me stable even on tricky terrain
✔ The upper is made of lightweight mesh, which is incredibly breathable, keeping my feet sweat-free. This does, however, mean that whatever socks you wear might get a bit dusty!
✔ Who needs waterproof boots? My trail runners dry lightning-fast, so that if I have to wet-foot portage (that’s hiking nerd speak for “walk through a puddle or something”), my wool-blend hiking socks and shoes are dry not even 15 minutes later. If I end up hiking in the rain, I just pull out the pair of waterproof socks I keep in my Camelbak and pull them on over my regular wool hiking socks to keep my feet completely dry (yes, I’ve done a full submerge test just to check).
✔ Have never given me even close to the inkling of a blister. They’re soft and comfortable and lightweight and wonderful and nothing rubs or sticks out or irritates my feet at all!
✔ The perfect hiking shoes for travel. They’re lightweight and the mesh upper collapses to nothing at all, so you can smush these in your bag (or in my case, in the mesh cup-holder on the side or the front pocket) and hike anywhere your heart desires! I’ve taken my trail runners hiking everywhere from the Andes Mountains to the Inca Trail and they’ve never once let me down.
Oh, and as for ankle support? Turns out that the whole thing is a myth, much like the concept of “arch support.” When you let your feet do their thing naturally, your feet and calf muscles develop into the super-strength Wonder Woman feet you were born to have, and your muscles do the job of stabilizing your ankles just fine. And arch support? Since when have arches, the strongest shape in the world, used throughout the history of mankind’s greatest architectural achievements, needed support? What happens when you stick something under an arch? Does it help make the arch stronger? No. It does not. The term arch support is a non sequitur!
If you’re still hiking in hiking boots and take for granted the fact that your feet will hurt after a long day of hiking, let me tell you: it doesn’t have to be that way! Trail runners changed my attitude towards hiking and helped me develop a 1-hike-per-week habit during the year leading up to our year-long honeymoon (which I haven’t exactly picked back up again now that we’ve returned, but it’s not my shoes fault – they’re miraculously as good as new).
*This version of trail runners has now been replaced with the 4, so if you want more variety in sizes check them out here
If you’ve struggled finding the women’s travel shoes, vent to me in the comments! What are your frustrations? What are your concerns? What questions can I answer for you about these 4 best travel shoes for women?
Psst: Looking for more travel tips to upgrade your next trip? Take a look at some of our other helpful posts – and don’t forget to read our men’s travel shoes guide!
- What to Pack for a Beach Vacation: the Curvy Girl’s Beach Vacation Packing List
- The 3 Best Travel Pants for Women: Functional, Cute, & Field-Tested
- The Ultimate Guide to Makeup & Beauty for Backpacking
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Disclaimer: This post was created in partnership with VivoBarefoot, a shoe brand that we’ve actually high-key fan-girled for years (dreams came true writing this post, y’all). That said, we purchased all of the shoes in this post with our own money several years ago, and have been testing them on trips ever since, slowly becoming more and more obsessed. All opinions, bad jokes, and strong feelings about shoes are 100% our own and absolutely nobody else’s fault.
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