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The First Step in Packing for a Trip: Making Sure You'll Have Happy Feet


From first baby steps to deathbed, the average person walks the equivalent of 3 1/2 times around the globe (according to the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto). Imagine what a toll it takes on the feet. Still, people don't always give the feet their due when packing for a trip, often throwing inappropriate footgear into their suitcases at the last minute, taking along brand-new, unbroken-in shoes or letting trouble spots turn into blisters along the road to Kerry or Katmandu.

I stopped taking my feet for granted three years ago, on a budget tour of southern Morocco with an English tour company called Explore Worldwide. It included a five-day trek among Berber villages perched beneath the stunning red-rock cliffs of the Anti- Atlas Mountains. One chilly morning, I got out of my sleeping bag to find my hiking boots gone, apparently stolen from the doorstep of the house where we were staying. A friendly Scot in my group lent me his backup pair, but they were four sizes too big, and we had 15 miles to walk by nightfall. When we finally made camp, my poor feet were a battleground. I spent the next few days soaking them in an icy stream while my companions took tea with Berber families and saw the Sahara from the top of a peak nearby.

Now I don't just coddle my feet when traveling; I celebrate them day in and day out, anointing them with lotion and keeping my toenails painted (which makes my feet look pretty even in plain walking sandals). Most seasoned travelers know to pack products like moleskin and Second Skin to ward off blisters, powder for keeping the feet dry and lightweight slippers for long-haul flights and trips to shared bathrooms.

Mary Beth Bond, author of the award-winning "Travelers' Tales: A Woman's World" (Travelers' Tales, $17.95), always clips her toenails before striking out to avoid abrasions, and she sometimes packs walking socks with padded toes. Evelyn Hannon, editor of the online women's travel magazine, uses Peppermint Foot Lotion from the Body Shop ($20) on the road and gives her hard-working feet a rest by lying on the floor with her legs propped against a wall--a trick I learned in yoga class some years ago.

Ministrations aside, the key to happy traveling feet is making sure they're well shod--which poses dilemmas, of course, because shoes are seldom perfect in all respects. Like people, they have good points and bad.

For instance, lots of women travel in athletic shoes for the sake of comfort. But you wouldn't catch me in running shoes (except when running) because it's like wearing a sign that says, "I am an American tourist." Hiking and stylish ankle boots give the ankles much-needed support, but take up too much space in suitcases. Clogs keep you elevated and can be slipped off when you sit down, but are heavy and hard to run in. I found a perfect pair of Sebago walking shoes for a monthlong trip to China several years back, except for the fact that their black suede uppers collected more dust than a mop.

Susan K. Sussman, the CEO of the shoe manufacturer Bally North America, routinely packs three pairs of shoes on trips to Europe to give herself plenty of options--a stylish business shoe, something casual and stiletto heels (for fancy dinners out). Alicia Dunams, who just returned from a backpacking trip around the world, headed off with just her hiking boots, which got so smelly by the time she reached Germany she had to throw them out. Hannon and Bond pack two pairs of shoes that are both attractive and comfortable.

According to Natalie Carlson, vice president for merchandising at the travel gear catalog company TravelSmith, "more manufacturers are offering shoes that combine comfort and looks." TravelSmith imports attractive Mephisto and Ecco women's walking shoes from Europe, and at department stores there are more footwear choices for travelers, such as the Sudini and Taryn Rose brands (available at Nordstrom), designed specifically to look great and feel good.

Another ingenious option comes from Rose Lewis, a Beverly Hills nurse practitioner, who teamed up with an orthopedic surgeon and an aerospace engineer to design the Rose-Lee collection of shoes with sturdy interchangeable heels, from low to high, which can be replaced in 20 seconds with a brass key.

Maybe an aerospace engineer would have some good ideas about how to fit shoes in suitcases too. They are always the bulkiest items on my list and the last things I pack. Carlson says they should be the first thing you think about when building your traveling wardrobe. Hannon conserves space by stashing her cosmetics in her shoes, and Bond keeps her footgear in large zip-lock bags. And it came to me as an inspiration when I finally figured out that it only makes sense to wear my heaviest shoes on the plane (so they don't have to be packed).

Above all, though, make sure that the shoes you travel with fit well and feel good. Never take along new ones, no matter how much you like them or how easy the sales person claims they are to break in. There will be a price to pay in blisters, calluses and pain. And you wouldn't want to do that to your feet--God bless 'em.

The TravelSmith catalog can be obtained by calling (800) 950-1600 or looking on the Internet at The Rose-Lee Collection of shoes with interchangeable heels is available at Rose-Lee of Beverly Hills, 9595 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 600, telephone (310) 385-1818. The Bata Shoe Museum is at 327 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ontario; tel. (416) 979-7799.

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