Over the last dozen years of full-time travel, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons about what makes for the perfect travel sandal. Here is a summary of some of the best, worst, and ongoing sandal debacles I’ve had.
Please read and glean from my experience so that your next pair of travel sandals are the ones that get you through thick and thin.
This article has been massively updated (basically, rewritten) from its original incantation in 2013.
Attempt #1: Crocs
Crocs were my go-to for many years – specifically the Cleo style, which is both fashionable and functional.
Because Crocs are waterproof, they survived dodgy hostel showers and muddy walks, and the arch support meant they made it through many a long walk without causing me pain.
The style I chose combined fashion and function, and as such I could dress them up or down with relative ease.
They pack up like a dream, since they’re lightweight and relatively thin.
If the Cleo (pictured above) isn’t your style, no problemo; Crocs makes a gazillion different styles to choose from.
Basically I lived in these shoes, for many years.
Or rather, I lived in (many pairs of) these shoes, for many years. Unfortunately because I wore them daily (and I love to walk), I wore through a pair about every year.
Although Crocs aren’t horribly expensive, this did mean dishing out cash for a new pair each year – and finding a place to buy them or have them delivered to (which isn’t always an easy chore when traveling full-time or staying somewhere obscure).
Even more distressing, was how unbelievably slippery Crocs were on wet surfaces. Certain types of sidewalk, stone, and any inside flooring when wet, became major hazards. I took a few spills in these shoes, especially as the tread on the bottom started to wear. (It’s ironic, because Crocs were originally designed as boat shoes).
Lastly – and this is good and bad – the Cleo and other slip-on styles are uber-easy to use on a daily basis, but if you are doing any kind of trail walking or water sports, this style of Crocs will slip away entirely.
This can be solved with a different style of Croc however; I’m currently testing out the Isabella Flat, which is very stylish and still a slip-on, but also won’t come off the foot. (Only problem is I’ve had trouble breaking them in, and they wouldn’t be great for any hard-core sport activities. Scroll down for sport sandal suggestions).
I owned three pairs of Crocs in the first few years of my full-time travels, and I’ve recently tried them out again. They definitely earned their place in my travel bag.
But keep reading for some alternatives and different viewpoints, since what I need may not be the same as what you need in the perfect travel sandal.
Attempt #2: Naots
I love Naots. I had a pair of them when I was a teenager, and they survived almost 10 years of solid abuse. So when Naot contacted me and asked if I wanted to reunite with these lovely babies (I received a complementary pair to review), I could hardly wait to get my tootsies into a new pair.
Although Naots come in many different styles, they specialize in a footbed that is akin to Birkenstocks; they offer full support, customized feel, anti-microbial properties, and a fit that only gets better with time.
I chose a pair that suits my style, knowing I could dress them up or down as I wished.
They were great for walking miles and miles on the city streets without a hint of foot fatigue. I got many (many) compliments on them!
Because I was in Grenada at the time and I have oddly-shaped feet (bunions in the making), I didn’t have a chance to try on and properly fit my perfect pair of Naots. As such, the pair that was sent to me wasn’t quite a right fit, and ended up being uncomfortable, and since the footbed on the style I chose was so deep, I regularly came down badly on the footbed and rolled my ankle.
The large deep footbed also meant they weren’t very compact or lightweight. However if you don’t want a deep footbed, Naot has a few different styles of footbed to choose from, like this one and this one. I’m currently salivating over their Marita style.
Lastly, I must say this pair of Naots didn’t wear in nearly as gracefully as the pair I owned 20 years ago. Perhaps, because the fit wasn’t perfect.
Incidentally, my Naots were destroyed a head-on collision I had in Grenada before I really had a chance to put them through their paces. I owned them for a few months.
I still love Naots. But I chose a bad style for my needs and foot shape, and I didn’t have a chance to try them on first. (If you order them online, best to ensure you can return them easily if they don’t fit). Choose the right style, and they could make for a great travel sandal.
Attempt #3: Taos
Taos makes high-quality shoes and sandals in an astonishing variety of styles.
I was contacted by Taos to test-drive a (free) pair after being bereaved of my Naots in the accident, so I tried to apply all the lessons I learned from the above pairs of shoes and choose what would be the perfect pair of travel sandals.
The footbed is high-quality with contouring, support, custom fit over time, and anti-microbial properties. (You can also choose different types of footbeds from the deep bed similar to the Naots above, to a more sleek version as shown here).
I chose the Trophy style (pictured above) because they can be dressed up or down, they’re fairly light and compact to pack away, and the ankle straps make them way more stable for walking, running (as in, to catch a bus), and even taking to (light) trails.
I also like the velcro adjustments on the ankle straps as well as both toe straps; this makes the fit always comfortable (even if my feet swell), and getting them on and off is almost as easy as having slip-ons.
If the microfiber footbed gets wet, it’s bad news. After living in them for a couple of years, I got them wet. After that the footbed pilled (uncomfortably so), and started smelling bad. Other readers have had similar troubles. If you suffer from sweaty feet, you might not get a couple of years out of them (as I did) before they start pilling and smelling.
I can’t say for sure, but perhaps the Taos 2nd Tour style could be a bit better; it’s almost identical to the Trophy, but with a “Taos Soft Support premium footbed with Cool Recovery Foam”.
And, um….well, I don’t have anything else bad to say about these shoes.
In this comparison, Taos wins hands-down as the perfect travel sandal.
But I also encourage you to read between the lines here; it’s not necessarily (or entirely) the shoe itself; it’s the choice and style of shoe.
I learned from mistakes past, and ensured I had a fashionable, compact, stable, solid shoe that – like so many of the items in my full-time travel entourage – serves many purposes. (See also: The Ultimate Packing List for Full-Time Travel)
Qualities of a Perfect Travel Sandal
Learning from my experiences above, here are some of the qualities that – for me, and likely for you – make for the perfect travel sandal:
- Water resistant
- Comfortable footbed for walking
- Good sole for walking on multiple surfaces
- Ankle straps to hold the foot in place and increase versatility
- Stylish for multiple occasions
- Easy to put on and take off
- Lightweight and compact for packing
Hold the Phone! Attempt #4: Wiivv Custom Sandals (and Insoles)
Hot off the press (as of September 2018) – quite literally hot off the press – come my latest favourite travel sandals: custom sandals made by Wiivv. These puppies are 3D printed according 200 mapped points on your feet that they get from some simple smartphone pictures you take of your feet using their award-winning app. While I had to retake the photos a couple of times, it was effort well-expended; I have a pair of 100% customized sandals (right down to the colours) that are basically like having custom orthotics – without the price tag or the ugly shoes.
This is important, because about a year prior I wrecked my feet with some poorly fitting shoes that caused incredibly painful plantar fasciitis in both feet. For months, walking (anywhere, anytime, even to the bathroom and back) required painkillers. When that pain finally subsided, I was nailed with a case of fallen arches. And my shin splints also came back with a vengeance. (If this is what aging it like, stop the boat: I wanna get off).
So when Wiivv approached me offering me a pair of free custom sandals as well as custom insoles, I jumped at it. While it took a bit of time for my feet to adjust to the new shoes and real arch support, now my feet actually crave to be in these sandals. They get tired without them.
Wiivv sandals are completely customized! They are designed to fit your feet perfectly, from the arch support to the placement of the toe thong. You also choose the colour of the straps and the arches. You can even order extra straps to change out according to your outfit/mood/astrological reading of the day.
A properly supported foot not only means no foot fatigue after lots of walking, but there’s also a trickle effect; this means no knee pain, hip pain, back pain, etc. Whether you have high arches or flat feet, Wiivv has you covered.
And for $130……a customized pair of travel sandals is a steal. Their custom insoles for shoes are also very well-priced and well-made. This means you can have proper foot support year-round. Oh yeah, and Wiivv makes close-loop recyclable footbeds, which mean they don’t have to end up in landfills/oceans. Wear them out and send them back so Wiivv can use them to create future sandals.
MEN: These are for you too! Wiivv makes unisex sandals and insoles.
If we use the list of criteria under “Qualities of a Perfect Travel Sandal” above, Wiivv comes up short with no ankle strap for 100% security. What surprised me was how well the Wiivv sandal stays on the foot, with the adjustable straps. In fact, there’s a guy who ran a marathon in these things. These are flip flops that don’t flip or flop.
Secondly, while they’re stylish, they’re not dressy. Don’t get me wrong: Wiivv sandals look great. But no matter how you slice it, they’re casual.
I absolutely adore my Wiivv custom sandals, and so far they’re holding up well. They include a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty, which gives me confidence that they’re gonna be great for the long haul. I will NOT pack for a trip without taking my Wiivv sandals and insoles.
Crocs, Naots, Taos, and Wiivv are far from the only travel sandals out there; they’re simply the brands I’ve test-driven. Here are some other travel sandal recommendations; tried and true according to both readers and travel colleagues. If the shoes above don’t float your boat or suit your travel style, perhaps the ones below will.
And Men, rejoice! Many of the sandals below offer Unisex and Men’s styles as well.
Waterproof Travel Sandals (Sports Sandals)
While Crocs are waterproof, they’re not the sort of “technical” sandal you might be looking for if you’re into water sports and muddy hikes. Personally, I can’t stand the classic original “Teva” style of sandal, but some people don’t mind it, and I must admit, these waterproof sport travel sandals have come a long way since their single-style beginnings.
For example, the Teva Kayenta (pictured here) is cute, waterproof, has a yoga mat inspired footbed, and a sole that will help you go the distance.
The Teva Tirra Athletic Sandal comes extremely highly reviewed, and has a compression-molded EVA midsole with some impressive looking arch support.
Chacos also carries an extensive popular waterproof line of sport sandals (along with some more stylish leather and rubber styles).
Do you like the Birkenstock style and wish they had a lightweight waterproof version? Well, wish no more; it exists, and it’s called Birkenstock EVA (pictured here). They’re relatively cheap, and they come in a few different styles and a gazillion different colours. They’re not sport sandals per se, but they’re waterproof and are apparently great for walking.
Jambu also makes a fun slingback sport sandal called the April Gladiator sandal that appears to combine fashion with function. However I don’t believe they’re totally waterproof; at least not as much as the styles above.
Barefoot shoes in general are all the rage, and they’re the ideal travel sandal in that they’re lightweight….ultra lightweight in fact. While I adore my Vivobarefoot Trail Running shoes (which I use as my hard-core hiking shoes), I’m not as big a fan of barefoot sandals.
Barefoot sandals in general offer absolutely no support (not surprising; it’s kind of the point), and that’s not great for my shin splints or walking miles on concrete sidewalks. And gravel roads can be downright awkward and painful if the gravel is coarse.
The styles available are also very limited and I don’t particularly like what’s out there (I’ve looked around).
Having said that, you simply can’t deny how amazingly lightweight and packable barefoot sandals are. If I were in the market for a pair, I’d look at Xero barefoot sandals (pictured above).
Shout Out to the Flip Flop
All over Asia, it’s common to take off your shoes everywhere; especially when entering temples, but even when entering some restaurants and stores. (And certainly when entering anybody’s home).
In these cases, flip-flops are invaluable. They’re comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and you won’t be upset if somebody else walks away in them (as commonly happens in public places).
While spending a month “suffering” in Koh Phangan Thailand, I watched my boyfriend struggle with his clunky Tevas every single time we entered or left a restaurant or store. We were both relieved when he finally caved and bought a cheapo pair of flip-flops.
Flip-flops are also great to have on hand for shared showers and other situations where you want some waterproof foot protection. And they’re so lightweight they can easily fit in your luggage. Regardless of the travel sandal I am using at any given time, I always have a pair of flip-flops stashed in my bag as well.
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