Updated August 28, 2022.
How are your feet? It’s not your typical conversation starter, but it’s an important question! I’ve been seeing more and more questions lately from travelers about their feet: “What shoes are best for so much walking?” “What cute sandals are out there that won’t hurt my feet?” “How do you deal with blisters?” “Help! I have plantar fasciitis, and I still have two weeks of travel!”
Having inherited less than perfect feet, I chose to have bunion surgery on both feet, just a few months apart, when I was 29. I was having sharp, shooting pain in both feet, even when I was sitting still with my feet propped up! In the process, I learned more about foot health than I every realized I wanted to know, so this post is all about sharing those tips, tricks, and suggestions in collaboration with my fantastic podiatrist!
The Best Footwear
When thinking about walking around all day, whether it’s on cobblestones, brick sidewalks, concrete, hiking trails, or on ancient marble floors, your walking shoes can make or break your trip. I always go for neutral, lace up running shoes instead of slip-on shoes or something else with less structure and support. The more secure your walking shoes are, the less your feet have to work to keep them in place!
The photos below are links to Amazon, and they are my husband’s and my preferred travel-walking footwear. However, everyone’s feet are different. My podiatrists recommends going into a running shoe store that can fit to your unique foot needs. If the salesperson recommends that one particular brand is always best, walk out! Try on as many shoes as you need to until you find the right fit.
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I’ve tried dozens of running shoes over the years, and Zoots are by far the best for me. This style has plenty of room in the toe box, so they’re not too tight. They feel more like an extension of my foot as opposed to something strapped to my foot. I’ve also re-discovered Asics, which provide great cushioning and are my preferred cross-training shoe as well! As stated above, get fitted for the shoe that’s right for you!
More here: How to Run Anywhere on Travel
I searched far and wide, high and low, for the perfect travel sandals. Flats are no good for arches, flip flops are definitely out, and I knew I needed to find some nice enough sandals that both provided arch support and featured an ankle strap. Your toes have to do a lot of work to keep your flip flops and backless shoes on while you walk, so save your feet some effort and energy and try these cute sandals on for size.
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After my second foot surgery in January 2015, I just couldn’t wait to get well and enjoy my husband’s and my first anniversary on O’ahu, Hawaii! I just couldn’t wait to feel my toes in the sand. But my podiatrist told me, in no uncertain terms, not to walk on the sand barefoot–much less run! When you walk on the sand, your feet and especially your toes are working much harder than you realize at the time.
But the solution is simple: water shoes! While they don’t provide long-term support, they made all the difference for both walking on the sand and protecting my feet from coral fragments and sharp rocks under the sea!
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Inside Your Shoes
My podiatrist strongly recommends Superfeet or Powerstep inserts. I didn’t see what the big deal was until he showed me how my (unnamed) store-bought inserts bent with just pressure from his thumb. If a thumb can compromise the “arch support,” what is my bodyweight doing to it? These inserts have very firm support but are still comfortable to wear all day long.
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Who knew a little piece of silicone could make such a difference? One of these go between your toes, and they just serve to keep your toes aligned, which in turn keeps your feet aligned. I use them when walking or running, and if ever I forget, I can definitely feel a negative difference, mostly in the joint just below my big toe.
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To relieve general foot and leg pain and tiredness, wear a pair of compression socks on flights of about four hours or more. After four hours in flight without my compression socks, I notice that my feet, ankles, and calves start to swell, and the longer that happens, the more uncomfortable I become. And the longer my legs and feet are uncomfortable like that, the more tired they become as well. Compression socks are a very easy fix for all of that!
Read on: How to Survive Long-Haul Travels
Solutions to Common Problems
I keep a few Band-aids and Hydroseal Blister Band-aids with me when I travel, so when I feel a blister starting, I can take care of it before it becomes too painful and problematic. I recommend you do, too!
For severe blisters, this comes straight from my podiatrist: “With regards to blisters, you will find a wide array of advice. I recommend taking something such as a safety pin and after sanitizing it, pop the blister just to drain it. Go at it from the side and not the top so you only pop the dead part (the roof) of the blister. You want to leave the roof intact to protect the immature skin underneath. Betadine (povidine iodine) can be applied, which is antiseptic and a good drying agent.”
More here: How to Travel Safely
Again, this comes straight from my podiatrist: “With regards to plantar fasciitis, stretching can be done anywhere and should be done, especially at the end of the day. Nobody wants to lug a bulky night splint while traveling, so I recommend the Strasburg Sock for traveling. Throw a tennis, golf or lacrosse ball in your suitcase to roll your arch and heel over at the end of the day.”
If your foot discomfort is not causing you to limp, my podiatrist says it’s ok to push through it and enjoy walking around. However, if your pain is causing you to limp, don’t ignore it. Take it easy until you get home and schedule an appointment with your podiatrist.
If you forgot your compression socks on a long flight or just notice some swelling after a long day of walking, pick up some epsom salts at a local pharmacy and soak your feet with the salts in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes.
Also relevant: How to Practice Self-care on Travel
Fitness for Your Feet
It’s important for your feet and their tiny muscles to be strong enough to support you. I’m not saying you need to be able to lift 500 lbs. with your pinky toe, but balancing skills are definitely helpful no matter where you are or what you’re doing, and having your own strong arch lessens the strain on your feet even with good arch support in your shoes. Here are a couple of quick, easy exercises you can do anytime, anywhere!
With your shoes off, stand on one foot for 15 seconds, then the other foot. Do this three times on each foot. Add five seconds at a time, and work up to one minute at a time on each foot.
Want to make it more challenging? Perform the balancing act on a thick yoga mat or other soft mat.
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With your shoes off, put one hand on a wall for balance and raise yourself up on your toes, then slowly lower back down. Repeat 10 times, perform three sets. Work up to 30 raises. Want to make it more challenging? Perform the repetitions on each foot individually!
This one can be done sitting down! Simply write the alphabet with your feet. Start with capitals, then move to lower case, then cursive. Write the alphabet once with each foot. This is also good to do on a flight to get the circulation going in your feet and legs.
Roll up a towel, find a small step, or purchase a half-round foam roller like the one below, and place the front half of one foot on it. Lean forward, and feel the stretch in your calf. Hold for 10 seconds on each foot; repeat each foot three times.
Big thanks to my podiatrist, Dr. Eric Masternick! If you happen to live in the Northern Virginia area and find yourself in need of a podiatrist, I can highly recommend him!
Foot and Ankle Specialists of the Mid-Atlantic
1860 Town Center Drive
Reston, VA 20190
For more about traveling well and staying healthy, check out my Health and Wellness Page!
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