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The Advantages And Dangers Of Wearing Sandals When Traveling

A little cut or abrasion on your foot can easily lead to an infection and an otherwise unnecessary medical situation if wearing sandals.

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I bought a pair of sandals the other day in Xiamen. This is an island one tick north of the tropics. It’s warm here year round, there is beach in every direction. One thing that I think all humans despise equally is putting a sandy foot into a sock, shoe, or boot. Sandals are called sand-als, for a reason: they are the ideal footwear for sandy places.

As far as aesthetics go, it is my impression that it’s difficult to take a man seriously who’s wearing sandals. A sandal-clad tough or intimidating man is just not in the catalog of mental constructs of my culture, and flip-flopping around a city makes me feel slightly foolish. But just about everybody who’s not going to work wear sandals in Xiamen, and practicality takes precedence over aesthetics in 9 out of 10 cases.


Though I was onerously reminded of the practical negative aspects of sandal wearing a couple of days ago.

As my sandals were new I was just breaking them in, and the heel strap and the part at the front of my foot began wearing at my skin. They left little red blisters, but it was nothing to complain about: they burst almost immediately and only left little sores behind. I did not think at the time that it wa necessary to bandage them up.

Then I went for a walk and it began raining. I was in a low-lying part of the island and the water erupted out of the sewers and pooled up around six inches above the road surface. There was really nothing to do other than plow through it, the putrid water rising up over my ankles.

I got through it, remembered the open sores on my feet, and an onslaught of travel memories hit me: wearing sandals with cuts, abrasions, or blisters on your feet is an invitation for infection.

I’ve met or heard of many travelers who’ve ended up with huge medical problems just because they wore sandals with minor wounds on their feet. One guy in Australia ended up hospitalized for weeks with a staph infection because of it.

Your feet walk on the ground and the ground is full of bacteria and other crap that can cause infections. If you have an open sore it’s going to serve as a big glove to catch this bacteria, and it can sometimes lead to serious infections.

The last thing anybody wants when traveling is to end up in the hospital because they didn’t properly care for a little boo-boo. But it happens.

So I disinfected the blisters on my feet and hoped for the best. They flared up for the next couple of days but, luckily, did not get infected.

The takeaways:

  1. Sandals are good for the beach, elsewhere not as much.
  2. If you have cuts or sores on your feet either bandage them up or don’t wear sandals.
  3. Even small wounds can lead to big infections.
  4. As a general rule, carry a small medical kit with you in the event that you need to disinfect or bandage a small wound on the go.


Filed under: Clothing, Health, Travel Gear

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

4 comments… add one

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  • Jack October 4, 2013, 11:01 am

    True story: I took off walking through the streets of Manila wearing my boots and socks. The inevitable happened and I stepped in a covered hole that put me up to my calf in sewer water. I had to slog into those boots until I got back to the hotel. Wounds on my feet got the sewer treatment as well. Had to toss the socks and tried in vain to clean the boots, ended up tossing a very good pair of boots because days later they still smelled like sewer.

    I’ll stick to my Tevas in the tropics because even if you get a dose of sewer water on the feet, you can quickly get it cleaned off without any lasting damage to the sandals.

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    • Wade Shepard October 5, 2013, 3:53 am

      Wow, that’s disgusting. But, as you put it, it’s also inevitable. I can remember slogging through the sewer water that rose two feet up over street level in Calcutta. I guess I appreciated the fact that I was wearing sandals. Though, generally speaking, I prefer a good pair of water resistant boots.

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  • gar October 18, 2013, 1:26 am

    Man, I love my sandals. I wear Keen’s. They are sturdy, comfortable, cool, the material is waterproof so it won’t soak up water (or sewage as the case may be) and, last but not least, they have toe-caps to protect the toes when walking on rough streets, sidewalks or jungle trails.

    I will be buying a new pair the next time I’m back in the states. The Keen’s I have now are almost ten years old. I think I got my money’s worth.

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    • Wade Shepard October 20, 2013, 1:33 am

      Right on, sandals can be a great piece of travel footwear. I can remember hiking into the Himalaya with a pair. At first I was a little nervous about not having more sturdy footwear, but once I got going I didn’t want for anything more. It’s just the crap and grim that turns me off of them in an urban environment.

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