This post was most recently updated on February 10th, 2020
Maybe you’d rather not talk about it, but if you have sensitive feet, it can affect everything you do. And you can only ignore it for so long, especially when you travel. (Makes you cringe to even think of walking barefoot on rocks, doesn’t it?)
So much of traveling relies on walking, from navigating an airport to taking a city tour to exploring a museum. Or maybe you just want to be able to go on a beautiful hike.
I’ve been traveling for years with plantar fasciitis and other foot sensitivies. Sometimes I have quite a bit of discomfort, but I’m not willing to let that keep me from seeing and exploring new places. I’ve had to figure out ways to deal with my sensitive feet and ameliorate the pain. Perhaps you can benefit from what I’ve learned, too.
Note: This is NOT a sponsored post, but it does include some affiliate links. I am sharing with you products I use that have helped me. If you click through any of these links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a few cents at no extra cost to you.
Itinerary plans to accommodate sensitive feet
I’m primarily addressing the discomfort of plantar fasciitis, where the thick muscle that connects the heel and toes becomes inflamed and causes heel/toe pain. My feet are also sensitive to friction and heat, so I’ll address that as well. You may have other feet issues, so I invite you to share your tips in the comments below.
1. Break up walking with rides
It’s okay to take a walking tour of a city, but plan to use public transportation too. Walk for a spell, then travel by subway — but do try to grab a seat!
Or take a short Uber ride to give your feet a break. You can also stop for meals and eat where you can sit for awhile, rather than taking your food to go. When I took a bicycle tour of the Toronto Islands, that really made my feet happy! Most cities have bicycles you can rent in stands all over the city.
In San Diego, there are lots of pedi-cabs congregated near tourist attractions to give you rides back to where your cars are parked. It’s a great idea!
2. Avoid standing in lines
The worst thing for my feet is to stand still in one place. It’s always better if I can keep moving, so I do everything I can to avoid standing in a line. Look into buying memberships or buy your tickets online for popular galleries/museums/attractions so you can skip the queue line to get in. Or pay a little extra to take the elevator to the roof instead of the stairs, like I did at the Milan Duomo.
At places with infamously long lines, like Disneyland, arrange to occasionally trade places with someone else in your party who will hold your place in line. Take advantage of low walls and railings you can sit on or lean against to take some of the pressure off your feet. Lightweight folding stools could also be used to sit on while you wait in line.
3. Keep moving AT MUSEUMS
Don’t spend too much time reading the fine print on museum placards. I’ve found that I can do a lot of study ahead of time online, so I have a pretty good idea what to expect at each museum. That way, I can keep moving. If the rest of your group is slower, arrange to meet them somewhere at a specified time, or find a bench and rest. This is a good time to catch up on your travel journal or write a few postcards. (Does anyone still mail postcards?)
4. Plan regular times to stretch your feet
One of the best times is while walking up stairs. Stand with the ball of your foot on the edge of a stair; allow your heel to drop towards the stair below until you feel a stretch of the arch of your foot and hold it. You can get the same stretch by leaning against a wall with both feet together, as if you are holding up the wall.
My podiatrist suggests that you stretch your foot arches before standing up from a seated position by pulling one foot up onto the opposite leg’s knee and pulling your toes towards you. If you hold this stretch for 30 seconds, it will help avoid foot pain.
5. Don’t be ashamed to call a “time-out”
Just. Sit. Down. And don’t be embarrassed to sit wherever you can. I’ve been known to sit on the steps in Venice’s St. Mark’s plaza long enough to eat a gelato. Or lay on the grass in Madrid’s Retiro Park. You can sit on the edge of a fountain or planter box. Believe me, you won’t be the only one.
6. Find some cold water
I’ve soaked my tired and aching feet in ocean water at the beach, a stream on a hike, or sitting on a lake dock. It really helps a lot.
Specific aids for sensitive feet
1. Wear the best shoes and insoles.
You don’t want me to tell you to sacrifice style for comfort, but you might have to. At least, don’t wear completely flat shoes with no cushion or arch support. And don’t wear stilettos! Purchase shoes that are made well and will support your heels and arches. This is one time you don’t want to skimp on your budget, because typically, the better shoes for your feet will cost more.
I personally love my Asics athletic shoes. There’s plenty of room for my toes, they are cushioned well, and the insoles are removable so I can insert my own orthotics (store-purchased like the green ‘SuperFeet’ insoles or doctor-prescribed).
I also travel with a pair of slightly dressier shoes that I can wear with a skirt. But again, they have to be comfortable and support my arches. I really like these Skechers I found. I feel like I’m walking on air because they have memory foam and are so comfortable. They definitely look cuter, don’t you think? Skechers also allow you to replace the insoles with your own.
When my feet are bothered by the heat of wearing enclosed athletic shoes, I switch to a sandal or more open shoes so my feet can “breathe.” In fact, I often carry an extra pair of shoes with me in a day bag so I can change shoes midday.
Oh! And just don’t walk barefoot. Worst thing ever for plantar fasciitis and probably a lot of other foot sensitivities, too.
2. Use cushioned socks
If you have sensitive feet, the last thing you need is to develop blisters on top of everything else. I like to wear no-show running socks with my athletic shoes. They have seamless toes, too, to prevent friction-caused blisters.
I once took an urban walking tour in Toronto and my guide had great advice. He told us to bring an extra pair of socks and had us change our socks halfway through the tour. I don’t know why, but it does make your feet feel better!
3. Baby Powder to the rescue
I am too vain to wear socks with my dressier Skechers, so my solution here is to sprinkle baby powder liberally inside the shoe. This keeps my feet cooler and avoids friction or heat. Large containers of baby powder are not allowed in carry-on bags, but these travel-size containers are super easy to carry in a purse or carry-on. And I never travel without one!
4. Use a blanket-lifter
A what?! I know this will seem odd, but using a blanket lifter at the foot of your bed each night will take all the pressure off your sensitive feet. If they are sore from a day of walking, this will allow them to recover more quickly. And you will sleep better too. There are a few different styles out there on the market, one that sits on the end of the mattress and another that slides under your mattress. You can easily make your own with PVC pipe from the local hardware store. I have a very talented son who designed a collapsible travel version for me. He printed the parts on a 3D-printer!
What to do once your feet are in pain?
This is what we have been avoiding, but invariably, your feet are going to start hurting. Because seriously, you are probably walking several miles a day and spending a lot of time on your feet. Even if you didn’t have sensitive feet, they could get sore.
1. Ask for a foot massage
Just grab that little bottle of hotel hand lotion and ask your partner (or bribe your child) to give you a simple foot massage, rubbing lotion into the soles of your feet. It feels amazing.
2. Apply something cold
Buy a can of cold soda from the hotel vending machine, lay it on the floor, and roll your foot back and forth on it. You might not want to open this can of soda(!), but you can chill it and use it again. It helps with the inflammation.
3. Take two ibuprofen
I don’t like to use a lot of pain-killers, but I do carry ibuprofen with me when I travel for just this reason. At the end of a long day of walking, I take two ibuprofen before I go to bed. It makes a big difference for me. If I don’t, my feet might not completely recover before the next day, and then the pain gets compounded. By the third day, I can hardly walk at all.
4. Use an analgesic cream
When all else fails, I use this pain-relieving foot cream. It has a strong smell of menthol so it’s not my favorite, but when everything else fails, this works. And like I said, I am not willing to give up my travels!
Take the pain out of traveling
I hope that your sensitive feet are not keeping you from enjoying all of the blessings and fun of travel. Please try the methods I have used here to control and reduce the discomfort of plantar fasciitis and other foot sensitivities. And please let me know if you have other tips to share!