Okay, men (we’ll get to the ladies in a moment) here’s a question:
If you’re only flying with one suitcase – say, your scuffed but trusty black wheelie bag that you always shove into the overhead bin – how many pairs of shoes do you think you ought to pack in it?
The answer: Zero. Ideally, the only shoes on that trip should be on your feet, especially if you’re one of those dudes with really large feet.
You’re welcome. But don’t thank me, thank Susan Foster. Author of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler, Foster explained to me that the “profile” of a shoe makes a significant space difference – boots naturally take up more suitcase space than loafers, for instance – and by and large, “men’s shoes are larger in profile and take up more space than women’s shoes,” she says, “so some men must travel with only the pair on their feet. A pair of size 15 men’s shoes will fill a 22” carry-on bag, so a second pair of shoes forces many to check a larger bag.”
And since many of us refuse to check a bag for any reason, what’s the answer, especially if we don’t have that one perfect pair of all-purpose shoes in our closet?
“Wearing comfortable shoes that can meet all the needs of a trip requires smart shopping for the right pair,” says Foster. “Select light over heavyweight, small profile over large, and a basic color and style that goes everywhere and with everything.”
For the ladies
For the ladies, shoe packing is often not as easy as finding one versatile pair. Where you’re going, of course, must factor into the decision. “An outdoorsy trip calls for sturdy shoes that can manage the terrain, while a city trip suggests a more sophisticated style,” she says. Foster begins her own packing planning with her shoes, which in turn dictate the style and color of whatever clothes she packs. She told me that for most trips she travels with three pairs of shoes max, one pair on her feet and two in her bag.
Consider your destination’s weather when packing shoes. A critical consideration (for guys, too) are shoes that match the weather, she says, so if she’s flying in cold and wet weather, she’ll “wear a pair of comfy slip-on ballet flats that are my dressiest shoes,” and “packed in my bag are two pair of very comfortable walking shoes so I can alternate.”
If she’s flying to a warm weather clime, Foster says the ballet flats on her feet “give way to slip-on sandals,” which are still her dressiest shoes, and her packed walking shoes “are replaced with comfortable walking sandals,” adding that “flip-flops are versatile and take up so little space, I don’t count them.”
Do a thorough spit shine before you go
Check any shoes you plan to bring for wear and tear, Foster says, getting any necessary repairs done before you go, as “a broken part can force shoe shopping when time was not planned for it.”
Polishing and cleaning your shoes thoroughly also can’t hurt, and for good measure “spray shoes and leather soles with Scotchgard to minimize water absorption,” Foster says, cautioning that suede and nubuck require a different product. And if your shoes do get wet while you’re traveling, in lieu of just kicking them off into the corner before bed, “dry shoes each night with a hair dryer or by placing them near a heat source overnight,” she says.
How to actually pack your shoes
Foster reckons she’s packed and unpacked her suitcase more than five thousand times over the last 30 years, and she sticks with some basic techniques, first “filling each shoe with rolled up socks, underwear, belts,” and anything else small and rollable “to take advantage of every inch of space in the suitcase.”
Also, she notes, “shoes are dirty. I tuck them into a clear plastic baggie, one per bag, for maximum packing flexibility,” and "heavy shoes should be placed at the bottom of your suitcase to make carrying or rolling more balanced.”
And after 30 years on the road, Foster has one absolute prime directive about shoe packing: “Never, ever travel with a pair of new shoes.”