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The Best Shoes To Pack When Traveling

Posted by Emily Henkel on 9/11/19 10:28 AM

ILP Adventure

Wondering what shoes you'll need before you go serve abroad in Europe or head out for a semester of volunteering in Central America? Don't worry — we can help.

If you're headed out on your first trip abroad (or even more exciting), your first semester abroad, you're probably wondering about a billion things when it comes to packing. One thing you'll need are shoes ... but how do you know how many pairs to bring? Or what kind are going to be best for your country? No sweat, we're here to help. 

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Just so you know, this post has affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we earn a small commission). We only share products that we ourselves have used and loved, that other volunteers have recommended, or that we think just look like they'd be pretty useful!

Here are a few guidelines and suggestions to consider while you're packing up shoes for your semester abroad with ILP: 

Go For Quality 

No matter where you travel to, you're going to be walking way more than you ever expected. Probably the best investment you could make your international trip is to pack comfortable, high quality shoes. Personally I would spend a little bit more when choosing the shoes I'm going to be wearing the most because I don't want blisters or sore feet every night.

Quality doesn't mean it has to be crazy expensive though. We're going to suggestion some of the more better quality shoes and they are a bit pricier than maybe you've spent on shoes before. But, you can also find great deals on sites like Sierra Trading Post, Campsaver and Backcountry.  Sign up for their mailing list and they usually email you a coupon to get a certain percentage off on top of their already lower prices.

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What Kinds Of Shoes To Pack? 

Shoes are bulky, take up a lot of precious space and add a lot of weight to your luggage, so you won't want to pack more than you need to. Save yourself the trouble of paying those hefty airline fees for overweight bags and just the headache of getting to a country and realized you have overpacked (and now have less room for souvenirs or yummy European chocolate). Alumni and everyone here are ILP really recommends not overpacking, which is why we recommend keeping your shoe selection to a minimum for your trip. 

Volunteer are going to need a few different pairs of shoes, no matter where they are volunteering. Feel free to make some adaptations, but in general, you will need: 

  • Walking Shoes 
    Athletic Shoes 
    Dressy Shoes 
  • + give or take another pair

Keep This In Mind 

Your walking shoes may be the same as your athletic shoes: maybe your Nikes are the most comfortable thing to wear on vacation and when you go for a morning run with your ILP group before class. If you're volunteering in a hot and humid climate, maybe your walking shoes are the same as your sandals because you love love your Chacos or your Tevas. Even if you're volunteering in a cold country (hi European volunteers!) you'll want a pair of sandals for beachy vacations and for when the weather warms up.

You'll also want a pair of nicer, dressier shoes for special occasions like a night out at the opera or the final day of classes when the parents come to class. Keep in mind that you'll be doing a lot of walking no matter what shoes you're wearing, so we suggest not packing up heels for the ladies no matter what. Volunteers who brought high heeled shoes tended to regret packing them. 

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Some Recommended Brands

This aren't requirements, just suggestions based on what ILP alumni have let us know they love traveling with. Many volunteers go with a similar type shoe (like another brand of adventure sandals but not a name brand like Chacos or Tevas). These brand recommendations are here to help you out, but don't feel like you have to buy them! 


Chacos are a favorite of travelers in tropical countries; they have good grip so they are a good pick for trekking, but they are sandals, which means you're free to traipse through mud, puddles and dust. Keep your eyes out and you'll see them everywhere! We love Chacos because:

  • They are durable and last foreeeeever. 

  • They are comfortable with awesome arch support for all the walking.

  • They are awesome for being outside. You can hike in them, get them wet, walk through mud with them on ... you name it.

Chacos can be a bit pricey, so if you're on a tight budget these might not be what you're looking for. Keep in mind, they are a good investment that will last you awhile, but plan on spending around $70-$100 for a pair. You can actually find really good prices on Amazon (I love this pair). 

You can also order a larger child's size if you have smaller feet as an adult. The child sizes are less than the adult sizes which can save you money if you can make it work. 

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Tevas are also a total favorite for warm weather countries. There's a bit of discussion between Tevas vs. Chacos with lots of supporters on both sides. In the ILP office, there are people who swear by their Tevas and are the "only shoe they ever pack" and the same goes for those who have Chacos. If you are looking for a cheaper option than Chacos with a lot of the same benefits then these are a great go, here are just some of the reasons why: 

  • They are super light- which means they won't add a lot of weight to your bags and your feet won't get weighed down as you are walking all day.

  • Waterproofish. They can get wet, and they dry really fast.

  • Comfortable! Here's what Auvi had to say "recently went on a 2-week backpacking trip to Europe and Tevas were the only shoes I wore the whole trip. We walked a ton and my feet felt great." 

Buy them here — I love the classic black (I wear them every single day in the summer) or shop around for some fun prints. 

Sorels + Similar Brands 

If you area going to be in cold weather (like Eastern Europe in the fall and winter), boots will save your life. They are an absolute must for volunteers heading to countries where you'll encounter snow, slush, and ice streets. This is really a place where we recommend quality: you'll want very comfortable boots that not only keep your feet warm, but also keep them dry. No one wants to spend time with wet, cold feet which is why we recommend volunteers do their research and get quality boots for their semester. 

Here's what one ILP volunteer said about here Sorels: "I loved my Sorels during my ILP trips to Ukraine and Lithuania, my feet stayed SO warm and I never had to worry about my toes freezing." 

Check out the Sorel website to find what you are wanting and look around to find good prices. While Sorels aren't the only brand you can go with, we love them. 

Here's a guide to buying boots for cold weather (we also have a few other brands to check out). You'll want to read it before purchasing anything!

Saltwater Sandals

Alright, I'm a total convert to these sandals. They are waterproof (seriously!), very cute and comfy. I love that I can wear them as a dressier option or just walking around — they look great with a skirt, a dress, a swimming suit, running shorts, you name it. Huge huge huge fan. They come in a rainbow of colors (Check them out here) but I suggest ordering on Amazon for the best deal. These shoes come in kid's and adult sizes, so make sure you aren't ordering the child's size. 

Something to know:  they don't have as much support as other sandals on this list, but I can do quite a bit of walking in them without getting sore feet.

Athletic Shoes 

Whether you love Nike or hang with Adidas or have another favorite tennis shoe brand, we highly recommend packing up your favorite pair (or two) for your semester abroad. You'll want them for working out, they're comfortable walking shoes which are great for vacations and your typical "day out exploring). They are relatively okay in wet weather. You won't want to wear them in pouring rain or won, but if it starts to rain when you're out exploring, it's not the end of the world. 

If you have something like a Nordstrom Rack near you, or an Outlet Mall you can typically find discounts on brands like Nike and Adidas.  I found my pair of Adidas on Amazon and looooooove them. 

For All Of Your Shoes ... 

Break Them In 

Be sure to break your shoes in before you go! You don't want to read reviews on a pair of nice walking shoes, go out and buy them, and pack them straight into your suitcase without wearing them around town a few times before taking them along with you, unless you love blisters.  

We suggest breaking in all of your shoes weeks in advance before packing them up for a semester abroad. Take them out for a long walk or job to get you used to walking around in them for long periods of time. You may want to carry around some bandaids to help with any rubbing that may happen when you're breaking them in at home, or the first few times you wear them abroad. 

Weatherproof 'Em 

I highly suggest your main set of shoes are prepped for the weather — make sure your adventure sandals are waterproof for those tropical rainstorms you'll see in your semester. And all of our volunteers going to snowy countries, make sure your boots are waterproof not just water resistant. It's also handy to weatherproof your other shoes that may not be waterproof in the first place.

When I went to
Europe with ILP, I was so glad my main pair of boots were completely waterproof, but was also so glad I sprayed down my other "in between season booties" with a waterproofing spray.  You can find waterproof sprays on Amazon (like this one) — be sure to test the shoe fabric before spraying the whole bottle in case there is a weird reaction. 

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You've got the shoes, now let's go!

Click the button to learn more about ILP and what your experiences will be like as you volunteer abroad for a semester and make a difference in children's lives.

Topics: Asia, All The Travel Tips, Central America, Europe, All About ILP + Volunteering, Caribbean, Africa

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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