5 tips for finding the perfect summer travel shoes

Several weeks ago, I began a search for the perfect summer travel shoes. Good travelers know that shoes take up way too much packing space, so it was important in my endeavors to search for that one pair that could do it all, without leaving bleeding blisters to contend with. One challenge for the summer, however, is finding sturdy, comfortable shoes that are fashionable, can be worn without socks, and can transition from a walking tour to a sit-down dinner.

Many suggestions were made, lots of shoes were tried, and now I have the results of my often painstaking, blister-inducing research. Below are five tips for finding the perfect summer travel shoes with my final recommendation for the one.

1. Look for suede or soft leather uppers

Suede and soft leather mold to the foot rather than rub against it. Patent leather, hard leather, and stiffer, coarser fabrics located anywhere near the heels or ankles may start off feeling comfortable, but when heat, perspiration, and miles combine, blisters are sure to follow.

As an example, I wore the Merrells pictured below for a two-mile walk for coffee. At first they seemed fairly comfortable, but by the end of the first mile, I had blisters on the backs of both heels and the undersides of my ankles. The fabric on these shoes is very coarse. The stiffness and height of the ankle collar and heel support dug into my skin. By the time I finished the second mile, my feet were bleeding. I have not worn them since.

Merrell’s Mimosa Emme Mary Jane are cute, but they rubbed some of the worst blisters I’ve received all summer.

2. Avoid slingbacks and thin straps on sandals

Slingbacks and thin straps not only cause blisters, they can dig into toes and heels, leaving the skin with terrible gashes. Ouch!

I love these heels from Aquatalia, but I can’t wear them very far before the cut-outs start to dig in. The shoes themselves are comfortable, but the longer I walk in them, the more my skin rubs against the cut-outs in the leather. Within a half-mile walk to the theater, I had blisters the shape of some of the cut-outs in these cute shoes–but trust me when I tell you, my foot was far from cute when it was all over!

I love these shoes, but the cut-outs in the leather, which make them so unique, dig into toes and cause painful blisters.

3. Make sure the shoe is flexible

The stiffer the shoe, the more likely you are to develop blisters and callouses at the points where the shoe should naturally bend (near the joints of the toes and ball of the foot). If you cannot bend the toe toward the center of the shoe without a lot of effort, that shoe is stiff and inflexible. Put it down and walk away.

One example of this was a pair of TSUBO brand shoes I tried. The support and cushioning inside the shoe were good, but it was incredibly stiff and unbending. As I foolishly walked two miles to dinner in them, the plasticky top of the toe box creased over my big toe and created a nasty blister. Sadly, they were also stiff around the ankles and heels, so I got blisters there too.

I liked the sportiness of these TSUBO’s and envisioned wearing them all over town. Sadly, they are quite stiff in the toebox and rubbed blisters onto the tops of my toes, as well as on my heels and ankles.

4. Give your toes some wiggle room — but not too much!

Toes shouldn’t squeeze together into the shoe, nor should the shoe be so large that it dangles off your foot when you walk. A tight toe box can rub your toes and cause blisters and callouses, if not also other aches and pains, whereas a floppy, wobbly shoe (such as a flip flop or a shoe that is too large) is not stable enough for two-mile walks over uneven terrain. Make sure the shoe fits secure, but not tight. Don’t wear flip flops or other shoes that you have to hold on to with your toes.

Although the leather is super soft on the 1-inch pumps by Cole Haan shown below, they are just narrow enough to pinch my toes and cause discomfort over the course of an afternoon. If your foot is particularly narrow about the toes, this style of shoe might be just the thing for you this summer. My toes, on the other hand, had to cram themselves into a tight space. Although the leather has some stretch and give, I still ended up with a blister on my smallest toes because it was too tight.

Cute 1-inch sandals from Cole Haan pinch the toes.

The ECCO sandals below are some of my favorite shoes for wearing when I know I’m not going to be going very far–less than a mile. Beyond that, though, they require too much effort to keep them on. My toes start to ache and the strap that goes in between my toes starts to rub.

For flip flops, these are very comfortable and fairly stylish. Unfortunately, they aren’t secure on my foot such that, when I walk long distances, I have to hold them on with my toes.

5. Look for rubber soles with texture for traction

Textured rubber soles grab the earth and keep you steady, unlike smooth, inflexible wood or some other hard materials out there. Rubber soles are also the best for cushioning the hard earth beneath your hard-working feet.

The Ecco Yucatan sandals are the near-perfect specimen for summer travel shoes. If they weren’t so sporty I could wear them inside restaurants and other fancy establishments. Still, they come so close to perfect that I chose them as a summary example, before revealing to you my final choice for THE summer travel shoe.

First, notice that they are made of soft leather and fabric uppers. Their straps are thick and padded–no blisters. They are also adjustable at the heel, the top of the foot, and the toe areas, so I can tighten or loosen them depending on what my foot needs. The soles are made of lightweight rubber and the bottoms are textured so I never worry about losing my footing, whether I’m walking down a broken sidewalk to the Farmers Market or along a gravelly trail in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The only thing keeping them from being perfect summer travel shoes is that I wouldn’t wear them with a dress or skirt to a sit-down restaurant in downtown Toronto, St. Paul, or Austin.

Ecco’s Yucatan Sandal.

My top pick for the perfect summer travel shoes

It is without further ado that I introduce you to the most versatile summer travel shoe I could find: the Naot Kayla sandal. It’s not the most gorgeous shoe I’ve ever owned, but it is the one I pack when I am packing the lightest. They rank up there as the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.

The leather straps are soft enough and thick enough that they do not dig into my skin. There is an adjustable strap that goes over the top of my foot, so I can secure it tighter or loosen it up. The leather gives way to my feet and hugs them gently. I have walked miles in these shoes and never gotten a blister. The footbed is made of cork, latex, and suede, so it molds to my foot, providing personalized support. The soles are textured EVA, so they are shock-absorbing, as well as stabilizing.

My feet have also never felt fatigued or achy after wearing these shoes. My biggest complaint about them is a complaint I make about any sandal: they are masters at collecting rocks when I walk over gravelly pathways. Still, they can truly go the distance when walking all day. Their style is as flexible as their soles. I can go anywhere in them and experience pretty much any activity under the summer sun. And that is what sets them apart: the Naot Kaylas are a pair of shoes I can wear in a variety of situations.

The Naot Kayla comes in a variety of colors. The ankle strap is adjustable, the footbed molds to my foot, and the sole is a textured EVA that allows for flexibility while providing stability.

Now it’s your turn

Have you found a perfect pair of summer shoes that can walk the miles and see you through lots of situations? Post the information here and help us compile a better list for travelers around the world.

Walking St. Paul: Planning a footloose and car-free vacation to Minnesota’s seductive capital

We eloped at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota!

More than 15 years ago, Hubby and I lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. It never occurred to me until recently that, back then, we walked everywhere because of the Skyway system which connects most of the downtown buildings. Those little “high rise habitrails” keep the cold out in winter and the humidity out in summer, and I knew them like the back of my hand. At the time, though, we didn’t have pedometers or a weight problem. We were fit and fabulous in our mid-20s, just settling into married life.

Having just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, we are, of course, 16 years older. And, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that we’ve made lots of changes in the last year which have taken us back in time somewhat, to bodies that are fit and free from the rituals of “middle aged medicines”. In fact, we both weigh less today than we did when we first met!

As a result of these positive changes, we’ve been drawn to traveling to places where we can get 10,000 steps a day (or 5 miles) simply by walking to places we need to go, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural sites. Over the next several weeks, this blog will be devoted to sharing everything we learned on those trips, city by city.

The series is called “Walking America” and it takes us across the United States and into Canada. Each adventure will demonstrate the car-free travels we took with resources for planning a similar trip. Just imagine the cash you’ll save not having to rent a car!

Let’s get started.

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Walking St. Paul

In early July of last year, we hitched a flight from steamy Phoenix, Arizona to the cooler but more humid Twin Cities in Minnesota. It was the first of several trips we took that summer, but we were not headed to our old stomping grounds in Minneapolis. Our destination was St. Paul, the other sister of the Twin Cities.

St. Paul Power Plant at sunrise. (Photo by JT Miller Photography.)

St. Paul rarely registered on our list of places to go when we lived in Minneapolis. My impression back then was that it was the boring sister of the two twins. Minneapolis seemed vibrant, sexier. Take, for example, Nicollet Avenue, a long pedestrian-only road in the heart of Minneapolis which, during the summer, boasts a thriving farmers market. Year round, there are shopping and dining options open for shoppers and diners of all financial means. It is protected from hard summer sun by the mirrored skyscrapers. And, on all sides are options for entertainment of all shades and varieties.

Nicollet Mall: The corner where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air in the opening credits of the vintage television show with the same name. (Photo by jpellgen.)

St. Paul, on the other hand, was always a jumbled mystery for me. It seemed fragmented and confusing. What I didn’t understand in my youth, however, is that, while Minneapolis is attractive with its youthful glitter and nouveau sophistication, St. Paul is all slow-simmering seduction. It unravels itself to you in quiet, sultry come-ons, keeping hidden under the lushness of her old-growth trees all of her delicious secrets.

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. It has inspired famous states men and women, radio essayists, cartoonists, musicians, artists, and novelists. To name a few you may have heard of, there’s Garrison Keillor, known for his tales from “Lake Wobegon”, who still owns a home and a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Charles Schulz, creator of the long-standing Peanuts cartoon, grew up there. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such Jazz Age books as The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, was born and raised there. In fact, you can find a couple of the places he lived still standing and commemorated with a plaque. It seems like everywhere you look you come across another familiar voice inspired by St. Paul.

This city is perhaps best known by its seedy gangster history from the 20s and 30s, when tough guys like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson hid out there. There are even tours in St. Paul based solely on the exploits of such criminals and, when visiting certain watering holes and coffee shops, if you tap the right shoulder, you’ll get an earful of myths and mysteries associated with this past.

In the two weeks we spent there Hubby and I were seduced by St. Paul’s cool limestone mansions, its smoothed cobblestone alleyways, the stories  and myths of its juicy past, and innumerable  buildings brimming with character. We were drawn by the delicious aromas wafting down Selby and Grand, and smitten by the intellectual murmurings carried on over meals and cocktails. It is a place with its own rhythm, one which is punctuated by a slow, sultry Jazz saxophone, and it is easy to get lost in the flow of it. Before long, you find yourself tapping your finger and swaying to that rhythm. Then, when the spell is cast, you find you simply can’t get this daring twin out of your head.

Where we stayed and why:

Front of The Berg House in St. Paul. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

The Berg House is a vacation rental located at 128 Saint Albans St. N in St. Paul. We stayed there because it is within about a half a mile to almost everything we wanted to do. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with extra futons and pull-out sofas for  larger families and groups. It has a kitchen equipped with enough essential tools that I made Breakfast Cookies for Hubby when the need arose. All I had to do was buy the ingredients.

Kitchen equipped with lots of great tools for cooking and baking. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Also important to our stay was access to high speed internet and a desk or table on which Hubby could do his work. The Berg House actually has high speed and wireless, along with two office areas with large desks to spread out computer equipment and papers.

Third bedroom upstairs with perfect desk for getting work done. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Having a choice of desks meant we were able to work while we played in St. Paul. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

My favorite space was the upstairs bathroom. It was recently redone with a claw foot tub and separate shower. The vanity was charming. It appeared to have been a dresser at some point, but was repurposed for the sink and its fixtures.  The morning light filtered through white shutters onto the sage colored walls and white tiles and, when listening to Carmen Cuesta’s Mi Bossa Nova album on my iPhone, the outside world melted away.

Upstairs bathroom--very spa-like. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

During our two weeks there the sun shone brightly almost every day. Temperatures flirted with 90-degrees Fahrenheit. We kept cool with plenty of window air conditioning units located throughout the home, and in the late afternoons, we chatted under the trees on the patio.

Sunny days were lovely in the shaded backyard. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Groceries:

Mississippi Market on Selby. (Photo provided by Mississippi Market website.)

Just a couple of blocks from The Berg House at 622 Selby Avenue was the Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op that provided us with fruit, veggies, milk, and all the other necessities we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at home. The Bergs gave us their member number so we were able to get membership rates at that store.

Mississippi Market = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Drug store:

Because this was early on in our walking experiment, Hubby was still taking cholesterol medication. We ended up extending our stay but one of his prescriptions ran out while we were there. I was able to fill it about half a mile away at the Walgreen’s at 734 Grand Avenue.

Walgreen’s = 800 steps one way (.4 miles)

Coffee:

On my return walk from Walgreen’s, I stopped in to Caribou Coffee for two Americanos and took them back to The Berg House for both of us to enjoy.

Caribou Coffee is a Minnesota-born chain, which I believe has expanded its territory beyond the confines of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This one is located at 757 Grand Avenue.

Caribou Coffee = 800 steps one way (.4 miles).

Other coffee places nearby:

Nina’s Coffee Cafe: This is my favorite coffee shop to visit while in St. Paul. It is located in an historic building and named for Nina Clifford, a woman famous for the brothel she ran in the late 1800s. It is also known for being a great place to write and, while sitting back and watching the ebb and flow of its visitors, I can vouch for it being an inspirational place. It is located at 165 Western Avenue N.

Nina’s Coffee Cafe = 1200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Nina's Coffee Cafe. (Photo by Jordon Whitney.)

Caffe Latte: This cafe has a coffee shop further into the building, on the back side of the cafeteria style restaurant. I have eaten in the cafeteria twice for lunch and had coffee there after dinner elsewhere on Grand. It is a sunny place to enjoy coffee, dessert, and/or breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One thing I appreciate is the variety of options on their menus. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas available to people with all eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and meat eaters! It is located at 850 Grand Ave.

Caffe Latte: 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

There is often a long line at the cafeteria because the food is so good! (Photo from the Caffee Latte site.)

Dunn Bros.: Dunn Bros coffee is another favorite place to stop for some java, but it is, unfortunately almost two miles away from The Berg House. We didn’t take any integrated walks there, but it is worthwhile stopping in for a growler of iced coffee should your adventures take you past one. The closest one to the Berg House is located at 242 W 7th St.

Growler of iced coffee from Dunn Bros.

Other:

Had we wanted to cook more while we were there, my friend Rhonda showed me where the Coastal Seafoods market was with all things fresh fish. It is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Snelling at 74 S. Snelling.

Coastal Seafoods = 4,000 steps one way (1.9 miles)

Restaurants:

Visiting St. Paul is always a culinary delight. We are lucky enough to have friends in the area who know St. Paul’s restaurants very well. My friend Rhonda is an expert in great food. During an earlier visit, she introduced me to Salut and La Grolla, which I, in turn, introduced to Hubby. Fortunately, both of these restaurants are within walking distance to The Berg House. See below for descriptions and distances for these and other restaurants we enjoyed during our stay.

W.A. Frost's patio at night. (Photo by Sharyn Morrow.)

W.A. Frost: Located at 374 Selby Avenue, across the street from Nina’s Coffee Cafe, is a restaurant which describes itself best on its website: “casual upscale American cuisine”. The reason to go there is not only the amazing soups, but the patio. (The other food is good too, but the soup was a stand-out.) Oh! The patio! It is wonderfully shaded all around and a great place to unwind after a long day. The service was so-so. One time we went there, the service was impeccable. The next time it was carelessly slow. Still, we go back because the food is good and the patio is divine.

W.A. Frost = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Pazzaluna: This yummy Italian restaurant, located at  360 St. Peter Street, is just on the outskirts for the distance Hubby and I will walk for a restaurant. My friend Rhonda took me there during a separate visit a year or two ago. I discovered that, not only could I find many delicious vegetarian choices, I might run into a celebrity! My friend’s husband stood side-by-side in the restroom with Prince once.

Pazzaluna = 3,800 steps one way ( 1.9 miles)

Salut Bar Americain: Located at 917 Grand Avenue, this little brasserie will make you feel like an American in Paris. It offers hearty French-style food and lots of it. For those of us watching our waistlines, it can be a little tricky, but all of their fish items have the option of being cooked “simply grilled”, which is what Hubby opted for. At the time, there was a delicious watermelon-mint salad on the menu that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maintaining weight loss tip: order items you can split with one another so you don’t eat the whole thing by yourself.

Salut = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

La Grolla: This restaurant is located at 452 Selby Avenue. It is, as you can guess from the name of it, Italian cuisine. I usually had one of their vegetarian pasta options (staying away from cream-sauced choices) and a side salad. They offer some great fish options as well.

La Grolla = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles away)

Punch PizzaThis is good, quick thin-crust pizza on 769 Grand Avenue.

Punch Pizza = 800 steps one way (.4 miles away)

Chipotle: This build-a-burrito-style Mexican chain is a staple for Hubby and me. It’s fresh and, because you choose what you want every step of the way, it is easy to make the meal Weight Watcher’s friendly. The one closest to the Berg House is at 867 Grand Avenue.

Chipotle = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

Broadway Pizza: There is really only one restaurant in the area for which I would break down and use a car. It is Broadway Pizza. I have loved their pizza since we lived there so long ago. The location at 2025 West River Road in Minneapolis is the original (and my favorite). It has the whole kitschy railroad theme still intact after all these years. Left to my own devices, I would eat a whole cheese pizza on my own. Thankfully, I’ve always gone with others so I could keep my discipline in check.

Broadway Pizza = In case you do eat the whole pizza and need lots of steps, it is worth 16,400 steps one way from The Berg House (8.2 miles).

Things to Do:

Tours

Human on a Stick Magical History Segway Tour: If you have never taken a Segway tour, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken two tours with this company–the St. Paul tour and the Minneapolis tour. The next time I’m in town, I’m going to do the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tour too. For the St. Paul tour, the meeting location was at the parking lot behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. We got our helmets and our Segways and were off! Had this been our first tour, we would have also gotten the safety instructions and about half an hour to try it out before heading onto the streets and sidewalks. For $80 per person, plus tip, we got the gear we needed and more than six miles worth of up-close-and-personal history.

Segway Tour meeting location = 1,400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Look closely to see me on my Segway under the War Memorial for those who served in Korea.

Twin Cities Tours: Doug Rosenquist customized a tour of St. Paul for me a year and a half ago when I was doing research for a book I’m writing. I can’t say enough good about his personalized, private tours. If you’re uncertain about what to see in St. Paul, check out the themes he proposes on his website, or talk to him about what is important to you. He will help you customize something that will leave you with lots of great memories of your time in St. Paul.

Doug’s tours are set mostly in his comfortable tour van. To get your steps in, see if he would be amenable to a walking tour. Or, he will pick you up wherever you ask, so have him meet you at a location that you walk to. One suggestion? Ask him to meet you at the Minnesota History Center located at 345 Kellogg Boulevard West. Then, when your tour is over, you can eat lunch at the cafe there and go explore the exhibits at the center.

Minnesota History Center = 2,800 steps (1.4 miles)

"Vision of Peace" by Carl Milles was seen on my tour with Twin Cities Tours in the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. It is three stories tall!

If you do any of the tours mentioned above, you will either come across and/or go into all of the below, so I will not spend a great deal of time detailing what they are and why you should go there. In fact, you could use the list below to take your own walking tour since it is the “basic” list of what to see in St. Paul. But if you’re like me, you want to know more about a place before visiting there, so check out the links to each one for more information. Step counts from The Berg House to all of these locations are provided.

Brain Candy

Ax-Man Surplus: Once you’ve skimmed the intellectual side of St. Paul with great historical and architectural tours, give your brain a party by taking it to Ax-Man Surplus. This is something you might want to do on a day when you have time to walk there and spend the rest of the afternoon looking at all the cool stuff they have. It is located at 1639 University Avenue West.

Ax-Man Surplus: 5,400 steps one way (2.7 miles)

Shops on Grand AveFor retail therapy, a good place to eat, or just in the mood for strolling and people watching, Grand Avenue is about half a mile (1,000 steps) from the Berg House. If you walk it, starting at Dale Street South and walking all the way to Lexington Parkway, you will walk a mile, or 2,000 steps one way.

This list, of course, is in no way exhaustive for what there is to do in St. Paul. Each season brings its own set of ideas too. For July 4th, go to the 7th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks going off at Harriet Island. In the winter, you cannot miss the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which celebrates the cold out in the cold.

No matter when you go, St. Paul is sure to lead you in a dance of seduction you will never forget–especially if you remember that this dance requires walking shoes.

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Coming up: Walking Toronto