Everyone who has traveled will tell you the importance of comfortable shoes. Not a guide book exists that doesn’t mention sensible shoes in its list of what to pack. And sensible shoes are important, I agree. But can anyone define sensible travel shoes? Is it practicality? Comfort? Arch support?
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel as much as I have, including covering hundreds of miles of trails with a backpack for days on end. The most logical shoes for a trek like that would normally be a set of hiking books, purchased with great attention to planned distance, weight, sole construction, waterproof qualities, hiking terrain and myriad other person preferences like color, type of lace, and ankle height. All that before ever starting out . What fits one person’s foot and another’s view of trek travel can vary greatly. And, in the case of hiking boots, nobody else really cares what you choose to wear unless, like a few I’ve known, NO thought was given to the all-important boot. If you caught Reese Witherspoon in Wild, you saw first-hand how lack of planning can mess things up. Losing toenails with miles to go is more than a small setback, and it affects everyone around you. Hikers who don't plan like that, well, you simply don’t want to hike alongside. But if your boots are pink or you prefer the five-finger version of cross-country shoes, it doesn’t matter to anyone else as long as you know they work for you. (Local rattle snakes may have a preferred ankle height, to be sure, but they aren’t warning you much.)
Trails aside, what other people think can matter. Don’t spend a lot, don’t pack 12 pairs, but do think about where you are going. For safety at the very least. Standing out as a tourist often comes down to foolish shoe choices. Flip-flops in Russia – it’s rare, so don’t do it. High heels at the Grand Canyon? People, please (and I have seen this).
Cobblestone streets may not stop all Italians from wearing 6” stilettos, for sure. But I do recall one embarrassing shoe incident in Rome. It was a long travel day, and I did wear my beloved, practical Asics. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
As planned, we boarded a local bus at the Rome train station to get to our apartment. Because of the luggage and Roman street driving, I lost my balance and stepped on another woman’s toes. In broken Italian, apologies were profuse, but nothing could stop the glare at the ugly American shoes and, therefore, the ugly American—me. I had no idea that a steely stare at my farthest appendage could feel so personal. Never again, I swore. Something more stylish would have earned admiration and forgiveness. And for that, it’s worth a different sensibility. Keep trekking.