NOVI, Mich. -- "Feet, don't fail me now."
It happens all the time at the Walking Company shoe store in Novi.
"People come in and say, 'I'm leaving next week for Europe, what have you got?' " says district manager Brandon Bennett. They try to help by selling them extra comfortable best-sellers like Naot flats or Ecco Yucatan sandals.
But new shoes aren't the best shoes for traveling, those who travel for a living say. You don't want to wear old clodhoppers, but you don't want them fresh out of the box, either.
"Buying new shoes right before a trip is like buying new shoes before you go to a party. You won't be able to dance," says Dariusz Wesolowski, director of travel for Nomads Inc., a metro Detroit travel club. "Break them in."
What are the world's best travel shoes? The question goes deeper than new vs. old.
People who travel for a living wear different brands. But the common theme is comfort.
"You can be up to the current fashion standards, but that will last only a couple of hours until you have blisters on your feet," Wesolowski says. "You should wear what is comfortable. All our European tours require walking. There is no other way." He wears red Pumas.
Lynn Staneff is the marketing director for Magellan's travel supplies company based in Santa Barbara, Calif. She is partial to Privo by Clarks, and for men, Bolton Lightweight Loafers. Her definition of a great shoe?
"The shoe you can walk all day in and you don't get that achy arch," Staneff says. They should be cool, too: "Nothing makes me more tired than my feet getting hot."
Travel guide writer Jim DuFresne's most cherished travel shoes are basic Teva sandals with Velcro straps.
"After a long day trekking in the mountains of New Zealand, when I get to the next hut I take off those heavy hiking boots and put on wool socks and Tevas and my feet are revived," says DuFresne. "Yet they're lightweight and can just hang on the backside of your backpack."
Most American travelers may be loath to wear white sneakers abroad for fear it screams "unsophisticated American" in stylish world capitals. But that's old news, Wesolowski says. In fact, "when Europeans travel, they wear sneakers all the time," the Krakow, Poland, native notes. Besides, the hope that nobody will know you are an American because you wear European-brand shoes is naive, Staneff says.
"I don't think sneakers are the only thing that pegs us as Americans. ... There is very little chance that people don't know we're tourists," she says.
Bennett said most shoes they sell are black or brown, not white.
How many pairs of shoes should travelers take along?
"Men might be able to get away with one pair," Bennett says.
Kerina Rowley, Asia destination specialist for Journeys International in Ann Arbor, takes two or three. She wears lightweight hiking shoes for her trips to spots like Bhutan and Nepal. "I usually bring a pair of walking sandals. In warm-weather destinations, I also bring a pair of lightweight stylish sandals to wear for dinner," she says.
The sole lesson for travelers? If you don't want your feet to fail, don't fail your feet.