Your feet are your prime vehicle when traveling. The very action of travel has always — and hopefully always will — be based on walking. No longer do people regularly walk across continents in migration, but the act of traveling does often get people out into the streets, checking out new things, going to new places, having new experiences — on foot. Therefore, the hiker, the trekker, the tramp, the backpacker, and the tourist alike need to care for their dogs of locomotion — their feet — with a high sense of priority.
External/ surface foot problems
In point, when in travel a minor seeming and easy to ignore blister or abrasion on the foot can quickly turn into a debilitating wound or infection if quick action is not taken. I do not know how many times in my travels I’ve found myself doubled over on the roadside, far from everywhere, simply because I did not care for a blister until it was too late. I have a few incidents logged into my annals travel where I failed to properly clean out a wound on my foot and it became infected — creating a medical problem. I’ve even heard a first hand story of an American traveler in Australia who received a small abrasion on a foot. He did nothing about it, continued wearing sandals and partying, and a week later ended up hospitalized with a major infection — the ordeal costing him his vacation and thousands of dollars.
When it comes down to it, most external foot problems are easy to care for, heal, and prevent from becoming serious or debilitating problems. The trick is that you need to be proactive about even the slightest of external foot injury and not give it the opportunity to grow out of control. Unlike abrasions or blisters on other parts of the body, when on the foot these ailments can become debilitating fast if ignored. Not only are the feet very pliable and movable body parts — therefore inherently encouraging blisters and abrasions — but they are also the point where the human most often meets the earth. Being so close to rarely cleaned surfaces, dirt, feces, stuffed into old shoes and boots, dirty socks, the feet are uniquely exposed to potential threats for infection, meaning that a small and simple wound can easily end up infected.
Many minor foot injuries arise from repetitive rubbing of the foot against footwear– the interiors of shoes/ socks/ or straps of sandles — or from some type of kinetic impact that results in an abrasion or incision of the skin. Both types of injury can be cared for and kept under wraps quickly and easily — a bandage or moleskin placed over an area of redness or a cut often provides enough protection for the skin to heal easily. Though I must admit that it is often difficult to find the gumption to immediately take care of what initially seems like such a minor injury, and washing out and bandaging a barely noticeable wound may seem like moves more fit for hypochondriacs or wimps than a hard as nails world traveler. But, believe me, this preemptive care is well worth the effort.
Internal foot problems
In addition to external/ skin injuries, travelers also expose themselves to potentially more serious internal foot problems as well. Excessive walking around cities, through countrysides, or over mountains — especially if done in low quality or otherwise inadequate footwear– can lead to foot injuries that extend below the surface. Arch, tendon, bone, heel, or even ligament problems are not uncommon occurrences in a traveler’s foot. A day of travel, in the general sense, is a day of walking, and doing this activity to excess often takes its toll.
My feet are flat. I do not have arches anymore. I use to have them, but I don’t anymore. I permanently damaged my feet when younger by walking excessively. In point, I walked so much in my younger days as a traveler that the arch tendons in both of my feet stretched out and the full center area of my foot touches the ground. My early travels were based on walking — 10, 20, or even 30 miles per day were not uncommon as I trod between towns and over mountains. Unfortunately, I often took these trips in cheap or otherwise inadequate footwear. I even did a stint of extended hiking through the Himalaya around Darjeeling in sandals. Being young and having an exaggerated view of my own resilience — as I still have — I would ignore foot pain regularly, would not rest them when needed, and would battle through any difficulty I was having thinking that it would only make my feet stronger. It just made them flat. This has cost me a slight amount of balance, some agility, and now I NEED to wear arch/ sole supports in my boots.
The advice I share here on foot care comes from experience, I’ve learned — and, apparently, still learn — lessons on how to better care for my feet the hard way.
Foot care tips for travelers
Keep your feet clean. Wash your feet. The people of East Asia do this as a daily routine for a reason: your feet get dirty throughout the day, and this can cause medical problems. Though I do not go to the extent of the East Asians by washing my feet in a specified foot basin every night, I do make sure I scrub them well in the shower and am mindful of their hygienic condition throughout the day.
Use footwear in all public areas. There are hippies all over the world who seem to think they are smarter than the rest of the planet and don’t need to wear shoes like everybody else. People wear shoes for a reason that goes beyond fashion: footwear protects the feet. Not only do shoes/ sandals/ boots protect the feet from jagged walking surfaces, things that can cut or harm them, and for basic comfort, but because they protect the feet from fungus, bacteria, parasites, and other microbes that can do a person medical harm. Also, shoes lend arch support which is often needed to not only curb foot/ ankle problems, but those of the lower back as well. In point, sidewalks, roads, stone, and concrete are not “natural” surfaces to walk on, and their rigidly can lead to many bodily problems.
Use footwear in public bathrooms. One of the most common ways that parasites are taken into the body is through the feet. One of the most common places for parasites is in fecal matter. Fecal matter is often disposed of in bathrooms. Using footwear in public bathrooms is a very good idea. Yes, all bathrooms in hotels or hostels — even in private rooms — are public.
Be sure your footwear fits you properly and are comfortable. Discomfort is an indicator that if you may be engaging in something that could eventually do you bodily harm. If your shoes are uncomfortable this often means that they don’t fit your feet properly, and this can lead to pain or injury.
Break in new shoes and boots slowly. Buying new shoes immediately prior to a vacation is a poor move, going hiking with a new pair of boots is asking for problems. No matter how new and fashionable your footwear is, you’re going to look like a dufus if you’re hobbling around because of the blisters they give you. It is better to travel in an old worn out pair of Birkenstocks or clodhoppers than a sleek new pair of shoes any day. Remember, in travel you will often walk A LOT more than in sedentary life, so make sure your shoes are comfortable and well worn in.
If foot pain resulting from new shoes does not abate, maybe you should get new shoes. In this case, one must go, and it is my impression that it is far easier to chuck a pair of shoes than it is your feet.
The moment you feel discomfort coming from your feet, inspect them. It is amazing to me how easy it is to ignore foot problems. Bending over and removing my boots and socks is a simple thing to do, but seems like a real chore in the moment. Though I know that stopping the excitement, pulling over to a bench, and checking my feet over for minor injuries is the first step in preventing a major problem that could put me on my butt for days.
If you experience redness or soreness of any kind on the surface of your feet bandage them and make a buffer against impending blisters or abrasions. The heel, tops and tips of the toes, the ball of the foot, and the inside of the ankle are often prime locations for topical foot problems. Caring for these minor injuries immediately can prevent most of them from becoming debilitating problems. I try to always carry a supply of moleskin and bandages with me for this purpose. If I identify that it is my boots that are harming my feet, I switch them up and wear a different pair of shoes for a few days.
Massage your feet. It is amazing how good a foot massage can feel — they also have direct physiological benefits. Below is a video on how to self massage your feet.
Rest. If foot pain is severe, if you are blistering from toe to ankle, then get off your feet and rest, allow your dogs of locomotion to heal.
Yes, that is my disgusting foot in the photos on this page. These blisters caught me by surprise as I have not lately been walking extensive distances nor breaking in a new pair of boots. But I have been wearing my boots differently, having tied them loosely so my feet can slip in and out of them without needing to be tied up and untied. Apparently, the new position my feet took in these boots was enough to severely blister them — one of which bordered on infection — and make the toe joints swell. I was debilitated for around three days because of this, and it happened through sheer carelessness. Yes, there were signs that my feet were being injured in my boots, but the pain was so slight that I ignored it for weeks. One day the pain was greater than usually, and I looked down to discover that my toes were swarming with festering blisters and were severely swollen. At this point there was nothing to do but rest. This was a problem that could have been remedied from the beginning if given the attention it deserved.
This is a model foot injury scenario, as it is all too easy to ignore foot pain until it is too late. Travel tips come out of travel mistakes.