Can you travel with just one pair of shoes?

Finding the best travel shoes for men

I’ve seen a million products claiming to be “perfect shoes for travel,” and 90% of the time it’s laughably inaccurate and deserves a smack upside the head. Finding travel shoes should be incredibly easy, and it just goes to show these marketers have no idea what travel shoes are, or just want to play pretend.

Merrell Element travel shoes for men
These were my “one and only” travel shoes for 7 straight months. The Merrell Element. Classy and comfy, the perfect combo.

Now it’s not that they’re terrible; much of the time they’re fine, and will last for a decade and stand up to all sorts of trouble and still be comfortable. That’s fine for hiking, but travel shoes aren’t just for hiking. They’re also about pretending to be a classy person whilst attempting to project some semblance of respectability. And this is where so-called “travel shoes” fall tragically short.

It’s not all their fault. Many travelers think they need hardcore, do-it-all, super-tough hiking boots to take them through the wilderness and come out the other side with nary a scratch on them. So they buy them every year, and encourage outdoor companies to keep making more. But you don’t need hiking boots for travel. Even if you’re going hiking.

Allow me to elaborate.

And/or rant.

Qualities of the perfect travel shoe

The world’s most spectacular travel shoe will perform magnificently in the following categories:

  • Comfort: Sooner or later, you’re going to get stuck walking around all day in these things. And I mean all day. In fact, you might even have to run. You’ll want a pair of shoes that’ll give you all-day comfort, on cobblestones, gravel roads, and unforgiving concrete.
  • Durability: It’s unlikely that a pair of shoes will fall apart after a few months of use, but, obviously, you want something that’ll stand up to frequent use. This also means it’s nice to find shoes that’ll be easy to clean, since you’ll probably get mud all over them sooner or later. Imperviousness to puddles is also a plus.
  • Style: That’s right, I said style. What’s a scruffy backpacker doing talking about style? Shouldn’t we care about function rather than form? Well, yes. But if you’re working to pack as little as possible, form is function. If your shoes look good and feel good, you only need a single pair of shoes, whether it’s for a night out or an all-day hike. Win win.

And so, what does the outdoor industry offer us when it comes to “travel shoes?” Well, pretty much this:

So-called travel shoes for men
If you find yourself saying “I’ll need some nice-looking shoes ALSO,” then find something else.

Ask yourself (or someone else) if any of the above options pass the style test.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and I’m not saying you have to look like you’re going to prom, but when you’re traveling, you’re eventually going to go out for the evening, and you’ll want to look presentable. I don’t particularly care about looking really fancy, but at least presentable.

If your “travel shoes” only work for hiking or daytime walking, then they’re not really great travel shoes. They’ll only suit certain purposes, when they could very well suit all of them.

Case in point:

Travel shoes for men
Comfort + style = good travel shoe. Pictured: First row: Clarks Street Lo GTX, Clarks Portland 2, Clarks Rockie Lo GTX. Second row: Not sure, Teva Cedar Canyon. Third row: Merrell Realm Lace, Merrell Realm Moc, Rockport Rugged Bucks Mudguard. (Styles go in and out, but just flip through Amazon’s “customers also viewed these” suggestions)

Now again, I won’t bother to point out favorites, since it’ll be up to you to pick out which travel shoes look and feel the best, but my point is that you don’t need outdoorsy shoes for travel. You only need casual shoes.

And if you bring casual shoes…you only need one pair of shoes.

Why casual leather shoes are the best travel shoes

Remember the list of qualities we’d like to find in a perfect travel shoe? Casual leather shoes do it all:

  • Comfort: Find something that fits nicely and feels good, and these’ll be your new favorite shoes. Plus, any high-quality leather shoe will handle a hike just fine. In fact, that’s the only kind of shoe that was used for hiking back in the days before fancy high-tech stuff. It’s the sole that matters most for comfort anyway.
  • Durability: I will make the case that leather shoes are actually more durable than certain outdoor shoes. The smooth surface has very little that can get snagged, and can be wiped clean with a wet towel. No meshy outdoor shoe can do that.
  • Style: There’s nothing more stylish for a guy’s feet than a nice pair of leather shoes. Go ahead, I’ll bet you a beer.

Two caveats:

  • Don’t I want sneakers? Well, maybe. Some people just really, really want comfy, soft, pliable sneakers, maybe resembling Converse canvas shoes, and if you really enjoy having those too, go ahead. I’m just here to make that point that you can easily get away with having just one pair of shoes, and it makes a very, very big difference in terms of pack weight, with practically no downside.
  • What about breathability? It’s true that leather shoes will be warmer than meshy hiking shoes or light sneakers, but in my experience, no shoes are breathable enough for me, and sooner or later I’ll slip them off to air out anyway. The ladies love it.

(Pro tip: Turn any pair of shoes into a pair of slip-ons with Synch Bands. They’re elastic laces that don’t need to be tied, and they make it a lot easier to kick shoes off and yank them back on, and fit is still really good. Great for slipping off a pair of shoes on a long bus ride in hot weather to air out, for example.)

One final point of debate:

  • Should they be waterproof? Maybe. Although I definitely love waterproof shoes, you might not need to worry too much about it. Some people stay inside when it’s raining, and if that’s you, then waterproof shoes won’t do much for you. But if you’re the type who adventures out into the rainy wilderness because you’ll only be in Italy once, then by all means, go for the waterproof ones. Also, puddles and snow will be powerless against you. Powerless I say!

So there it is. High-quality, nice-looking casual leather (or fake leather) shoes are hands-down the best travel shoes for men anywhere to be found. And luckily, there are just about a billion of them out there. And they’ll allow you to travel with just one pair of shoes. It’s part of how I managed to get by for 9 months with just a 20 liter daypack.

I’d certainly recommend a pair of sandals as well, for hot days, beach visits, and shower trips. Flip flops are fine, if you can find comfy flip flops…but I prefer a little more security. I like to go hiking in them too.

And thus:

Ultimate travel shoe setup:

Best travel shoe setup for men
Pictured are options from Clarks and Chacos.

I actually met a guy who was traveling with one pair of dress shoes, one pair of walking shoes, one pair of hiking shoes, and one pair of sandals.

You can do that if you want, but as long as you find a great pair of comfy, classy, do-it-all travel shoes, you won’t need to. They’ll do everything you’ll ask of them, and your back will thank you for it. Have fun!

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook or Twitter.

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125 Comments on “Can you travel with just one pair of shoes?”

  1. As a casual shoe, what do you think of the brand Born? I was looking at the Sierra II. I really like the looks. Have you ever worn Born?(that rhymes, Ha!)

    1. I don’t have any experience with them, but they look nice. I didn’t want to get too specific with suggestions, since any well-built leather shoe will be great, so it’s just a matter of finding one you enjoy.

  2. I was looking for shoes for different occassion and I landed up here, I have to say that it is good to be style conscious but I give priority to all those shoes you have mentioned above as “you should not” as I feel comfortable wearing them.

  3. I do understand the point about style, but feel this article is missing one important consideration. As a European, I like to travel to hot countries and hence wear shorts the majority of the time. The shoes listed above would NOT look good with shorts (wearing socks or otherwise) and, as the article makes very clear, sometime you want to look smart-ish and therefore the shorts/flipflops combo just won’t be appropriate. For my upcoming trip to Asia I’ll be packing a unassuming pair of shoes from the first photo and not the second.

    1. That’s understandable. Fancy shoes with shorts would be weird. For me, whenever I’m wearing shorts, I wear sandals (not flip-flops) which look at least a little more serious than beach footwear.

      1. I agree with Jim; this seems like an aspect of casual sneakers that you’re undervaluing: they generally work well with shorts, while many brown leather shoes do not.

        What happens when you want to visit a nice church on a day when you’re wearing your sandals, or some other sight where it’s not appropropriate for men to wear sandals? What happens when your entire trip takes place in warm weather, so you’re in shorts and sandals all day every day? Are the Chacos really that comfortable?

        That said, I’m no more fashionable than the average guy, so maybe there’s a way to make brown leather shoes work with shorts? I’m sure there’s a thread out there somewhere about this, on some fashion blog or forum…

        I would be interested in seeing a blog post on casual shoes that are comfortable enough for walking around all day, dressy enough (when paired with the right outfit) for dinner at a reasonably nice restaurant, and look good (with the appropriate socks) with shorts. I realize that this is pretty subjective, but to me that’s the holy grail of shoes.

        1. Casual sneakers are really great, and I actually prefer wearing them at home instead of leather shoes; it’s just that shoes are the most annoying things to pack, so if there’s a way to cut something out, I’ll try to do it. Traveling with three pairs of shoes (leather, canvas, and sandals) works nicely, but I think if you’re going to cut it down to just two, I think leather + sandals is a little better than sneakers + sandals, even though I’d much prefer to wear lightweight, canvas sneakers in most conditions. And I’ve found certain Chacos more comfortable than regular shoes, except that the straps are scratchier than they need to be, and I need to switch back to shoes and socks after maybe two or three days of use to prevent pressure point buildup.

          And the holy grail of travel footwear would be a pair of nice-looking sneakers made with nylon canvas instead of cotton; something like Cordura. It would be super strong, highly weather resistant, and the right type of nylon would be breathable as well. Chrome actually makes something called the Truk, made of ballistic nylon, but it didn’t fit me right, and the casual look is just too casual for certain situations. It’s always driven me crazy how sneakers have that white band around the midsole. It’s super bright and kind of unnatural, and gets dirty in about 5 seconds. I had a pair of shoes that had a taupe/sandy colored midsole, which always looked great, but they’re not made anymore, and I’ve never been able to find a worthy replacement. I was hoping Tyvek shoes would work, and they have plenty of advantages, but I think woven nylon canvas would be nicer-looking, last longer, and not have the crinkly texture. But for whatever reason, 99% of canvas shoes are made of cotton, so they’re no good in heavy rain, and they’re made of bright colors, mostly for teenagers and other young people. It would be so easy to make something suitable, but I keep looking, and can’t find something like that.

        2. This is what I’m looking for too! I never go anywhere fancy enough to require leather shoes. I just want one pair that will work with jeans and shorts, walking all day and nice-ish dinner at night. 90% of the time I could travel with only the shoes on my feet!

          these eccos are nice:


          maybe a bit too casual;

          I dislike sandals so don’t own a pair. What do you use them for? Except the beach I guess..?

          1. Where I’m from, and most of the places I’ve been, all three of those (in wisely chosen colors) would be considered appropriate shoes for church. Seriously. Only the pastor would be required to wear anything fancier, and even that’s negotiable depending on the denomination. And despite loving good food I’ve never been to a restaurant that would chase a customer away for wearing those shoes.

            Rugged sandals are useful for any situation where you don’t want to have to wash socks all the time. I practically live in my Keens and Chacos outdoors in hot weather. Also, cheap semi-disposable sandals (what my family calls flip-flops) are a great idea in communal showers and for wet/damaged/missing shoe emergencies. I keep a pair of those in my backpack. Saved the day once when I drove to a store and somehow forgot to put shoes on first. Oops.

            It’s your call though. I’m not really qualified to offer the latest fashion advice. I’d wear wool socks with my Keens all winter if my female friends would allow it.

  4. Hi, I’ve always been a traveler that packed too much. I’m going to Egypt in about three weeks. I’m trying minimal packing. Maybe not your extreme, but a big reduction for me. I’m looking for a pair of shoes. The Merrell shoes you mention don’t seem to be made any more. The Clarks are nice, but can’t find then discounted or on e-bay so they are $150. A little pricey. What are you wearing now? I already have about four pairs of Chaco’s so I’ll take one of them. Thanks, John

    1. I don’t have a favorite shoe at the moment, though I’m also testing out Tyvek shoes as an alternative. They only make them in very casual styles at the moment, but that might be good enough for most people anyway, but not quite fancy enough for classy suit and tie evenings, though that doesn’t come up so often. But if you’re looking for leather shoes, just hang out in a store and try some and pick whichever one looks and feels good. It’s hard to go wrong with a well-built leather shoe. I avoid specific recommendations on shoes because they just disappear quickly, but just about anything like that will do.

  5. This has proven to be a good combination – New Balance Minimus and Luna Monos.

    They are versatile and pack super small.

    When I am out at night in Europe or South America, most people are wearing fashion tennies so the NB Minimus in black work pretty well – yet also are great for hiking or the gym. And the Luna Monos are hands down the best travel sandal I have ever owned.

    Buen viajes chicos!

  6. That basic pattern is what I’ve developed over the past few years too. I would add that the shoe choice somewhat depends on local culture and what all you plan to do. In Hawaii old-school Chacos and a pair of VFFs (for beach snorkeling) worked out very well. In Costa Rica I had some dusty blue-grey Keen sandals and a pair of black Sockwas. The Keens were practically made for Costa Rica, and Sockwa is the male answer to ballet flats for evening wear.

    In Japan I alternated between two pairs of canvas Converse high tops. Though this was in my pre-minimalist days. That trip I brought a suitcase almost big enough to hide in…

    I try to look presentable given the expected setting, but I have a general rule: if a bouncer is going to turn me away due to my shoes – fine. My money is going elsewhere. I was never their customer to begin with.

  7. This site has been an absolute revelation for me – thanks so much! Not sure on this one though… I have a 5 month trip involving at different points snow and trekking. I don’t think leather shoes are going to cut it, I wouldn’t even risk trainers. I’m happy to barely scrape by in terms of resaturant acceptability though, and as you have me utterly convinced that carry on only is the way forward I’m going to have to come up with a single shoe solution… Maybe there’s a leather walking mid-boot that looks acceptable. Will post back if I find something. Those Saloman’s looked idea…

    1. Lately I’ve been looking into high-quality work boots that can be re-soled to be used over and over again. Certain styles look even nicer than shoes, and certain brands last a good 20 or 30 years. A good resource is here, where they post photos and discuss quality issues and so on. Heavy boots wouldn’t work in the summer, but on a colder trip where you’re wearing them the whole time and never have to carry them in the pack, they’d work quite nicely. Obviously you can just get high-quality hiking boots, but they usually have meshy panels and other additions that look out of place in a formal setting, whereas boots made only of smooth leather can look great, and the ability to re-sole will extend their lifespan.

      1. I have owned a couple of pairs of workboots, and whilst they’re reasonably comfortable, they can’t compete with walking boots in my experience, and I wouldn’t really want to be doing 15 miles a day in the mountains in them.
        I have found these though – what do you reckon? I think these might just about pass as ok in a restaurant if you had trousers on?
        Not too heavy, shouldn’t be too hot or cold. Think we might have a winner, even though they’re a bit expensive. Can get them much less than RRP, but still close to £100. They also do a smooth leather one, and reviews say very comfortable…
        Or if you want even classier looking, but I’m guessing at the expense of performance, these:
        I’m quite impressed, will let you know what they feel like if I get some.

        1. Definitely love the 3rd one on your list. With long pants they’d be indistinguishable from just nice-looking shoes, and the slightly-high ankle is kind of a nice look sometimes anyway. It would be very versatile in town. I don’t have experience with the brand, but they look good.

  8. I just discovered your website yesterday and am very impressed. Your writing is clear, insightful, well-organized, and packed (pun intended?) with useful information. Anyway, to the topic of travel shoes. This is always a tough issue for me because I agree that if you have to pack a pair of shoes, they take up a lot of space (unless you’re my wife, whose possessions always seem to be half the size of mine — she’s 5-1 and I’m 6-1). The biggest dilemma for me is when I’m going on a trip and want to go for runs. I’ve had plantar fasciitis issues and so running in shoes without great support is a non-starter for me. In fact, I started running last year in Hoka One to One shoes. They’re pretty ugly in any context other than running, as they have fairly wild colors and patterns in general, and massive support that can make them look like clown shoes. Still, the support is incredible. I’m not disagreeing with anything you’ve written, but just saying that when running gets introduced into the mix, things can get more complicated. Thanks again for assembling a great website — the best I’ve found for the topics you’re addressing.

    1. Thanks for reading. I definitely agree that certain situations require extra footwear; several weeks of continuous hiking would require “real” hiking shoes, and going for a run a few times a week would require running shoes. I suppose you could try running in sandals…it would work in certain weather conditions, but not others, and then the sandals could be your regular sandals too. I haven’t found any that I like (the “barefoot” running sandals seem insane to me, with no cushioning whatsoever), but there might be something out there.

      1. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true for me when running. For me “barefoot” shoes are mandatory. But there are a few differences in my situation:

        1. My problem is not plantar fasciitis. It’s knees that track slightly wrong and thus tend to explode under stress.
        2. I don’t jog. Jogging hurts my knees. I alternate minutes of hard sprinting and easy walking instead.
        3. I’ve never been any kind of serious athlete so I have no cumulative damage to my feet.
        4. I’m always barefoot at home and only put on shoes to go outside so my feet are used to it.

        Whenever I try to run in anything but super-thin shoes my knees fall apart after a few minutes. With VFFs or Sockwas I can sprint/walk about 45 min before I get tired and my form suffers. Bonus: they take almost no room in my pack and work fairly well as casual trail walking or shallow water snorkeling shoes too.

        If you’re a serious jogger with good knees then maybe your needs are different.

        1. Charlie: You make excellent points. I know this is not a running or exercise forum:-), so I’ll be brief. Suffice it to say that my physical needs/requirements are different than yours, but certainly you are absolutely correct that there are many runners/exercisers who do very well with “minimalist” shoes that don’t take up much packing space. I’m envious of those for whom this works as it’s a packing space blessing.

          1. I wish I could use ’em too. They’re so damn tiny, but I feel like I might as well be walking barefoot for real, for all the protection they offer me.

          2. Hey, I wish I had the discipline to go running on any kind of regular schedule. You’re way ahead of me there.

            Now here’s the problem with ultra minimalist shoes: YOU CAN FEEL EVERY DARN ROCK. Especially the sharp ones. Gotta be careful on the nature trails.

        2. I started minimalist running two years ago when I was having back and knee problems and everything has been great since. I always run when I travel since I think it is a great way to see a place and get a lay of the land. I have a pair of the Xero shoes, which are super light and really easy to pack instead of sandals. The lacing deal can be a little bit tricky at first though. Since I started doing more trail runs I use the Goretex Merrells. They are super light, keep out the rain (not good for really wet weather as once water gets in, does not get out) and durable. I just wish Merrell would do away with the silly silver junk on the side and the colored soles. Just make them all black and they could almost work as the everything shoe, even for the office. If they made them without silly colors, they could just about pass for casual dinner as well as be good for walking and running. Then I wouldn’t have to pack any other shoes!

          I have a pair of casual Lems shoes (9to5) as well, which are my everyday office shoes. Comfortable, light and totally bendable. They also contour the shape to the actual shape of the foot, not like the fancy shoes that squish your toes together. But if the Merrells didn’t have the silly silver, I would just wear them! I will be traveling to Europe this year and will probably just wear the Lems and pack the Merrells for running.

      2. Being a runner can pose the need for some compromises. I’m planning on Europe in late summer/early fall and giving thought to a different direction. I’m considering packing lighter weight leather shoes, comfortable enough for evenings and city sight-seeing, then wearing a good pair of trail running shoes that will cover me for hiking, walking and running. Solomon, Montrail and others have some good running shoes that don’t look too gaudy (I’m still shopping) and I’ve found leather (or synthetic) upper walking shoes that are acceptable to my feet for not too much at places like Kohls. As for sandals, I’m not likely to do many beaches at that time of year. If I need flip-flops, I’ll go cheap–buy ’em there/leave ’em there!

  9. Nice and helpful article. The “pro tip” about laces is a good one, except Synch bands are NOT available in brown, and therefore might not look right with the lace colors offered by Synch. Most of the shoes you display in the “These are travel shoes” are brown and would look best with brown laces. Perhaps Synch will offer a brown lace someday.

    1. I agree. Most of their product photos show Converse shoes and that sort of thing, so they focused on bright colors, but I hope they do brown and maybe tan at some point.

    2. Hey j.valentino and Eytan,

      You guys spoke and we listened.

      We’re excited to announce that we have just released two shades of Brown Synch Bands :)

      In keeping with our unique color naming style, they are called Chocolate Thunder (Dark Brown) and Gnarly Brown (Leather Brown).

      Hope you guys dig them.

      Synch Bands

      1. I just saw those a couple days ago while I was placing an order for some new laces, and I was happy to see them. I pretty much refuse to wear anything else, except maybe when it comes to serious things like hiking boots. I even bought new shoes lately and barely wore them, because I would just reach for the pair with elastic laces every time.

  10. I’m struggling to find a workable 2 shoe solution. The next trip is to Europe, so I will need something that will work for restaurants, clubs and walking during the day. So a casual leather shoe should fit the bill.

    For sandals, I’ve used the Keen Newport 2 in past. They are comfortable, durable and work well for hikes. However I find them bulky to pack and aren’t crazy about the look for wearing out. I always bring a pair of flip flops as they pack easily and are versatile (showers, beach, hotel room, etc.).

    The challenge is I like to run. The Keens don’t work. I do like minimalist running shoes and was considering something like a Nike Free with a collapsible heel for easier packing, but that puts me at 3 if I keep the flip flops. Or I need a pair of shoes for running that are suitable for wearing out…don’t think that is possible?

    Any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. I think you’re stuck with the 3 shoe scenario if you need running shoes. I’ve never seen running shoes that are nice enough for a restaurant, or dressier shoes that are comfortable enough for running. The good news is that if you’re choosing to go with minimalist running shoes, they’re going to be pretty small, and the same is true for the flip flops, so it won’t be so bad. The other option is to get sandals you can run in, but I’m not a runner, so I don’t have specific tips…just some conceptual ideas.

      1. Adidas used to make Black on Black Sambas — they were classy, minimalist good for office, soccer and dining. For some reason Adidas is not selling them in the US anymore.

    2. This thread is old but here is a suggestion. Try Allbirds for one and vivobarefoot for the other.

      The Allbirds are an all wool runner that should not stink too bad if you run one day and then walk around town the next. They have a nice gray color that looks nice. Has about as much cushion as Nike frees and a much cleaner design.

      Vivobarefoot makes the Porto Rocker, a re-soleable leather dress shoe. If you wear long pants it dresses up and it’s low cut enough that with no-show socks (wool, of course) you can rock it with some shorts. Keep in mind that any of vivo’s products are minimalist so you might have to look at other options if you need your leather shoe to be a real sturdy hiker. (they make hikers as well but more “technical looking”.

      So, for two very packable shoes you get:

      A casual shoe for breakfast at a cafe or strolling around a city, even in shorts.
      A leather shoe for a nice dinner or night on the town.
      A running shoe in without too much stink (great for running then packing up and moving)
      A couple of walking shoes that don’t look too touristy.
      Lightweight and minimal space.
      One is re-soleable (At least in the EU it is, not sure about if you mail from the USA)

      1. I’ve got the Allbirds and there’ll be a review coming up soon. They’re pretty great, although my favorite part of them is actually the sole, rather than the merino. Finding lightweight sneakers with actual cushioning is almost impossible, and these work in that regard. The merino is good, but if you were wearing merino socks to begin with, it’s not radically different to use the Allbirds.

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