Before donating and selling basically my entire life to travel the world like the clichéd blogger that I am, I had some 40 or 50-odd pairs of shoes cluttering up my New York City apartment closet.
You could say that I had a bit of a problem.
Since I was a teacher before I was a traveler, I often spent 6+ hours of my day actively on my feet, and so finding shoes that were comfortable yet not dowdy was one of my favorite treasure hunts. I may have had an obsession with shoes, but I was not about to sacrifice comfort for style points.
When I started traveling full-time, I had the problem of condensing my massive shoe collection down to just a few travel-friendly shoes. I’ve gone through a few iterations of my shoes – cycling some out and adding some new ones to my collection. Here are my top favorite women’s travel shoes broken down by category.
Best Women’s Travel Sandals
#1 Pick: Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals
I was resistant to Birkenstocks for so long. I thought they were a clichéd stereotype, perfect for people who smell like patchouli and make their own granola. Turns out I was dead wrong. Birkenstocks simply makes one of the best women’s travel shoes — and one of the most comfortable walking shoes, period.
I can’t express enough how necessary it is for a women’s travel sandal to have appropriate arch support. I was driving myself miserable with flip flops that looked cute but offered no support. While my shoes didn’t actively hurt my feet the way heels do, after 5 hours of walking around I’d feel like I needed my feet amputated.
My friend suggested I borrow her pair — and I hated them. They felt insanely uncomfortable and I had no idea why people raved about Birkenstocks. Then she explained to me that Birkenstocks come stiff and the heat from your foot ends up “melting” the arch until it perfectly forms to your foot (I’m great at explaining science things, I know – can you believe I was a teacher?). So borrowing hers felt like trash, but if I owned my own, I’d fall in love.
After beating the pavement for 6 hours in a pair of shoddy flip flops in Budapest one summer afternoon, I decided I had had enough — it was time to invest and try out a pair of Birkenstocks. After a day or so of breaking them in, I was in love. And I’ll probably never go back. These shoes are so form-fitting and so comfortable, and they go with literally everything. I wear them with jeans, I wear them with dresses, I wear them with shorts. I have the taupe-brown color and they are just so versatile that I can’t think of a single thing I own that they actually look bad with.
And isn’t that the dream travel shoe?
To recap, here are the top perks of my Birks (sorry, I couldn’t help myself):
- Form to fit your foot’s arch: Birkenstocks core warms up under the heat of your foot and “melts” to form the exact shape of your foot. Which basically means that you are getting a custom-quality fit for a mass-production price, which is pretty freaking awesome.
- Insanely versatile and surprisingly stylish: Honestly, my Birks go with just about everything. I wear them with dresses with leggings, dresses without leggings, skirts or shorts, jeans or loose pants. Birks come in lots of fun colors but I prefer something in a neutral shade of brown if it’s your primary travel shoe. However, I do like the black and the silver pairs as well.
- Hold up well in rain and bad weather: Birkenstocks aren’t technically waterproof but I’ve worn mine through some pretty gross surprising flash floods and they hold up well and don’t get messed up in the water. I bring mine to the beach and rinse them off afterward. I wouldn’t completely submerge them in water or like, walk through a river in them, but every surprise bit of water I’ve thrown at them – which has been a surprisingly high amount – they’ve taken in stride (HA)
Check out my favorite travel sandals, the Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals, on Amazon
Runner Up: Easy Spirit Ramanda Comfort Slingback Sandals
These aren’t the exact Easy Spirits I own because they have been discontinued but they are pretty damn close. The main difference is that the ones I had before had a complete back whereas these have a strap back, but the style is the same and it’s the same brand.
Basically, I like having a pair of shoes that I can dress up, but are still decidedly sandal-y and insanely comfortable. That’s where comfort brands like Teva, Aerosoles, Easy Spirit, Clarks, etc. come in. While 90% of their selection will be too orthopedic and ugly for my tastes, there’s always at least one or two surprisingly cute options that will offer supreme comfort and awesome arch support while also not being aesthetically hideous.
Best Women’s Travel Boots
#1 Pick (Ankle): Dansko Maria Boots
I discovered these ankle boots in 2015 and have worn them obsessively for the last three years. They were fantastic when I was teaching and running around on my feet all day. I could literally run in these – which was important in my past life as a special ed teacher who was always corralling hyperactive kids.
I wear these shoes nearly all winter long, alternating them with my other top pick, the Blondo waterproof riding boot below. They’re so comfortable and low-key cute that I actually get a bit excited at the end of summer each year because it means ankle boot season is back.
These shoes have a slight heel (2″) but it’s offset by the 1/2″ inch platform so it’s not really much of an incline. The cushioning in the Danskos is so comfortable however that I never get that feeling like I’m standing on my toes like I do with most heeled ankle boots.
I wear these with black tights or leggings and dresses, black or blue jeans and a sweater, or occasionally on their own with bare legs in the transition between summer and fall for a chunky ankle boot look. They are super versatile and I actually used to own the taupe pair as well but I gave those to a friend when I started traveling full-time.
My top favorite features of these boots:
- They’re scuff-proof and super easy to clean: Nubuck leather is amazing, ultra-soft and nearly impossible to scuff. They’re treated with a stain resistant material so they hold up well over time. They do occasionally collect dust and particles from all the walking around, but I simply brush it off with a lightly damp paper towel and they are looking good as new.
- Rubber sole with a wooden look: I wanted a pair of Swedish Hasbeen clogs for years but couldn’t justify the expense – especially since when I tried it on, I found the wooden sole really clunky and unforgiving. The Dansko sole is made of forgiving, cushy rubber but has the look of a wooden sole which I think is super cute.
- Insanely comfortable: The Maria boots literally have the American Podiatric Seal of Acceptance for being good for foot health. There’s a reason why Dansko clogs are beloved by teachers and nurses everywhere — basically, they’re shoes designed for people who live on their feet. I really liked how these are stylish and polished too, whereas their standard clog design is a little too orthopedic/medical looking for my personal taste.
Check out my favorite travel ankle boots, the Dansko Maria Boots, on Amazon!
Runner Up: Lucky Brand Women’s Basel Ankle Bootie
While not quite as cushiony and pillow-soft feeling as the Dansko Maria boots, I’m equally obsessed with my Lucky Brand Basel Ankle Booties. These are another pre-travel shoe that I loved enough to bring with me on my first backpacking trip, and I wore them countless times in the 5-odd months I spend traveling through Europe.
They are roomy which is good for me as my feet tend to be wide and I often find the toebox of shoes to feel too tight. If you have super narrow feet these may not be for you. They have a padded insole and a rubber flex sole, two important features that increase the comfort of these shoes while they are still quite cute.
One word of warning, though – these don’t hold up that well in rain unless you waterproof them, so either treat them with a waterproofing spray or only wear them on dry days.
Check out one of my favorite travel shoes, the Lucky Brand Basel Ankle Bootie, here on Amazon!
#1 Pick (Tall): Blondo Vassa Waterproof Riding Boot
I don’t think I’ve ever loved any pair of shoes as much as my Blondo boots. I bought these for the first time in 2008, when I was new to New York City and desperately needed a stylish boot that was durable, waterproof, but sleek enough to not make me feel like a total loser in a city with a cruelly high number of models per capita.
I splurged on these Blondo boots in 2008 and it is probably one of my best clothing investments ever. I wore these boots nearly every day in winter for years and years, and despite all the abuse — all the long walks, all the rainy days, all the questionable slush puddles — I have only gotten the boots resoled once and they still are in fantastic condition. We’ve survived 10 years together and I imagine we’ll go another 5 or 10 more, easily.
The quality of the leather means that the boots age fantastically, weathering the leather without making it look scratchy or scuffed the way cheaper imitation leather often does.
These shoes are great for traveling in Europe in winter – I brought mine to the Arctic Circle, no joke, because I wasn’t about to invest in a brand new pair of snow boots for a weeklong trip.
Yes, I even went dog-sledding in them (though you can’t see it well in this picture – this was taken before I was a dedicated Instagrammer).
Their waterproofing is excellent and the soles are really grippy, making them great for walking on slippy surfaces and through snow (to a reasonable degree). The lining is thin which I personally like because I can wear them in fall and spring as well, but in peak winter, I pair them with a pair of warm wool socks otherwise they can let a bit of cold in.
A few of the best perks of these boots:
- They’re sleek and classic: I hate feeling like a garbage monster when I travel, so having cute black boots that will never go out of style
- They go with everything: Black leather is a classic combination for a reason. These boots go great with leggings (thin cotton ones in spring, warm fuzzy fleece-lined ones in winter), jeans, or just socks and a dress for lighter spring and fall days.
- They’re comfortable as hell: Blondo boots have a fancy activated carbon foam insole (yeah, I don’t know what that means either) and a gel pad heel, adding cushioning and comfort so that you really won’t notice that you’ve been walking all day long
- They withstand basically everything: My boots have seen it all: giant salty, slushy ice puddles every New York winter, bog-shoeing in the Estonian wilderness, dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle. They’ve withstood pretty much everything I’ve thrown at them with almost no maintenance (I did get them re-soled as a preventative measure about 6 years into owning them – for $60, it’ll at least double the life of my favorite shoes, so it’s worth it)
Check out one of my favorite travel boots, the Blondo Vassa Waterproof Boot, on Amazon here!
Best Women’s Hiking Boots for Travel
#1 Pick: Ahnu Women’s Montara Waterproof Boot
I used to hike in sneakers all the time and always had aching ankles and knees at the end of the day. I finally got a pair of hiking boots before my trip to Central America in 2017 and did a ton of research before settling on Ahnus.
I tested them pretty seriously with some volcano hikes in Nicaragua (one of the most annoying terrains to hike because of all the slippery gravel) and mountain hiking in the Balkans and they’ve always stood up well, basically eliminating my ankle pain and taking a lot of strain off my knees in the process.
If you do a lot of hiking, here are some of the perks of having these vs. another pair of shoes.
- They’re waterproof: I’ve done too many slogs on what I thought would be dry hikes that end up being total mud pits. When your sneakers get wet and muddy, they become well and truly miserable to hike in and it pretty much ruins the rest of the hike for me. If you want to do outdoorsy things on your trip, it’s best to invest in a pair of waterproof boots, trust me.
- The ankle support is clutch: I never knew that I needed ankle support until I tried it. It truly brings your hikin to the next level and makes you feel like a superhuman. I do a lot of hikes on loose scree and rocks that wobble under your feet – having your ankles be supported is a true gamechanger, trust me. Especially if you are doing volcano hikes like I did – you’ll want a pair of hiking boots, sneakers just won’t do the trick (plus it’s too easy for rocks to get stuck inside your sneakers, which is no fun)
- Ahnus come in some fun colors: This is silly but I really love my combination of navy blue and magenta details – they make my hiking boots feel less “serious” and more fun and even perhaps a tad bit cute?
- Ahnus are owned by Teva: Teva is one of the #1 travel shoe companies in the world, so you know they take comfort serious. Ahnu is a Teva brand so the same comfort you can expect in your sandals you can expect from these! They use Vibram soles which are some of the most comfortable in the hiking world (yes, Vibram makes those creepy toe-shoes, but truly, the soles they produce for hiking boots are awesome)
Check out my top pick for travel hiking boots, the Ahnu Montara Waterproof Hiking Boot, here on Amazon
Runner Up: KEEN Women’s Targhee II Hiking Boot
I usually don’t recommend products I haven’t personally tried but as I’ve only had one pair of hiking boots in my life – I’m going to borrow a recommendation from a friend. I’ve traveled with two friends who swear by Keen for their hiking boots, so I feel comfortable suggesting these as a runner-up with the caveat that I haven’t personally used them!
Best Women’s Travel Sneakers
#1 Pick: Nike Women’s Flex Experience Running Shoe
I love having a pair of black Nikes with me at all times – they’re great for light hikes where I don’t need my proper running boots, but they’re also just great city shoes. On any given day, there’s a 90% chance I’m wearing either my Birkenstocks or my Nikes when I’m traipsing around the city.
They’re so comfortable that I can wear them for hours upon hours while walking around a city and never once think about my feet. And my favorite thing about these sneakers is just how well they go with everything. I have a lot of dresses and skirts in my travel wardrobe and these sneakers actually play surprisingly nicely even with my girlier outfits.
Top perks of these shoes:
- Super lightweight and easy to pack: These sneakers take up barely any space – they squash up to fit super well in my backpack without ruining their structure
- Insanely comfortable and go with everything: These shoes can be worn for hours with just about anything – I even pair these with dresses, skirts, etc. because they’re just that versatile and give a nice city/urban vibe to girlier clothing.
- Hiking-friendly: I summited a 2,600-meter mountain in these so they’re pretty badass. While they don’t have any ankle support, they’re great on your arches and lightweight so they’re actually a pretty good choice for light day hikes if you don’t have room in your bag for a traditional hiking shoe
Check out my favorite travel sneakesr, the Nike Flex Experience Sneakers, here on Amazon!
Runner Up: Red Skechers You-Shine Sneaker
So, funny story with these shoes. Greyhound had lost my luggage with my black Nikes inside it, and I had just come from the Nike store in Vegas where I had bought basically an exact replacement for the above shoes.
I then wandered into a Skechers with my friend Janet, not feeling particularly hopeful – I remember Skechers from my 13-year-old wandering around the mall with a flip phone days. But then I found these adorable red sneakers and pretty much fell in love immediately with how cute they were.
I tried them on and instantly fell in love – it was like I was wearing a sock, not a sneaker. The fabric was super soft and breathable and it hugged my foot in a super comfortable way. The sole is thick and sturdy but super bendy (again, how great at words am I? #crushingit), which makes it actually surprisingly great for hiking – and I should know as I took these shoes on quite a few surprise hikes, as I was road tripping around the Southwest at the time. They even took me up Angel’s Landing, one of the most notorious hikes in the U.S.
Sadly, I have since lost these shoes on a trip around Ireland – RIP – but they performed so well while I had them that I’m quite tempted to replace them. Also, I found that red shoes worked surprisingly well as a ‘neutral’ and I actually didn’t have that much trouble working my red shoes into my outfits, and I really liked the pop of color they gave my travel photos.
So, to recap, here’s why these shoes are the freaking greatest.
- Colorful yet surprisingly neutral: I had underestimated how well red integrates with most wardrobes. It played nicely with maroon, purple, black, brown, navy – pretty much every color I threw at it.
- Sock-like comfort: As someone whose favorite feeling at the end of the day is peeling off her shoes and throwing them dramatically across the room, having ultra-comfortable shoes that feel like socks while I’m wearing them was a delight.
- Surprisingly ready for hikes: I did a handful of hikes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks while wearing these sneakers and they held up to the challenge. While they are not hiking shoes in any way, shape, or form, they did the trick when Greyhound lost my proper hiking shoes and I needed to stock up on the road, and I never had any issues walking in these even on longer hike days.
- Flexible and sturdy sole: These shoes can bend like crazy which means that they go with your foot, not against it. It’s pretty great.
Check out my other favorite travel sneakers, the Skechers You-Shine Sneakers, here on Amazon!