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Comfortable Feet, Shoes Are the First Step to a Happy Walking Vacation

October 08, 2000|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Taking care of your feet and wearing shoes appropriate to your activity can save your vacation, whether you are sightseeing in Seattle or hiking the Andes.

Terry Seidler, the owner of See Seattle Walking Tours & Events, knows from experience: He offers sightseeing trips that aren't exactly for marathoners or even the very physically fit. In all, he takes his tourists less than three miles on foot to see the city sights--and that's if they do the optional part of the tour.

Because of the relatively short course, some of his customers don't think about wearing walking shoes. "About one of 20 of my walkers comes in inappropriate shoes," he says. Among their foot gear: shower clogs or thongs, sandals and even high heels. At the end of the tour, those walkers are sorry and likely to be complaining of sore feet and blisters.

Even though the course is short, Seidler points out that there are bad sidewalks, staircases and dirt paths to negotiate, all the more reason to wear a good pair of walking or hiking shoes.

Blisters, sprains and strains aren't the only fallout from wearing inappropriate shoes. Going barefoot in certain locales can put you at risk for exotic but painful diseases and parasites. With a little planning, travelers can keep their feet happy and healthy on the road.

Travelers who love to go barefoot should think twice in some places, says Dr. Victor Kovner, a Studio City internist who provides travel medicine services. He recently cared for a woman who had walked barefoot while visiting Isla Pequena del Maiz in Nicaragua.

"She picked up hookworm," he said. The hookworm larvae are found in feces along the streets in developing countries, he says, and can enter the bloodstream through the skin. From there, they can travel to the lungs and intestines, causing coughing, diarrhea and other symptoms. Two doses of a powerful anti-parasitic drug could cure her, but meanwhile she was in misery, Kovner says.

Kovner advises travelers not to go barefoot, especially in developing countries, to avoid exposure to parasites, and to be sure their tetanus immunization is current.

For less exotic treks--say, hikes in the local mountains or scenic walking tours in Britain--the best insurance against sore feet is proper footwear.

Don't choose the first hiking boot you try on, advises Nancy Golden, a product manager for Maupintour, who field tests hiking tours. "When I bought my last pair of hiking boots, I tried on 50 pairs before buying," she says. She looks for a boot that feels perfect immediately.

Before deciding on a type of boot or shoe, consider the terrain you'll cover: Cobblestone? Dirt paths? Mountains? Then you can decide which features, such as gripped soles or ankle support, are needed, says Dr. David Mazza, a podiatrist in Chula Vista, Calif., and a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Assn.

Break in new hiking boots or walking shoes at least a month before your trip begins, Mazza advises. If you plan to wear hiking shoes or boots you already own, check them out before the trip in case they need repair. Try them on to be sure they still fit.

If possible, take two pairs of walking shoes or hiking boots so you can alternate them and allow perspiration to dry.

Choose socks made of a blend of materials, such as cotton or wool with some synthetics. Studies have shown that socks made of blended materials result in fewer blisters than all-cotton socks.

Travelers with existing foot problems should consider checking in with their foot doctor or family doctor before a walking or hiking vacation. If you wear orthotics, it's a good idea to have them checked to make sure they fit properly.

Take along a foot first-aid kit, Mazza suggests. It should include moleskin to place over sore spots, a topical antibiotic in case of infection and corn or callus pads if you are prone to those discomforts.

If you have a long plane ride to your hiking or walking destination, take care of your feet en route, Mazza suggests. Try to walk around the plane for five minutes every couple of hours to minimize ankle swelling. And wear lace-up shoes, not slip-ons, because you can adjust their fit.

Healthy Traveler appears twice monthly. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at

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