How to Avoid Blisters When You Travel

Nothing ruins a trip like a painful blister! Whether you're hitting the trails or strolling city streets, these tips will help keep your feet blister-free and ready for exploring.

One of the essential rules of packing light is to limit the number of shoes you bring on a trip. They often take up the most space and are easy to overpack. But that makes it all the more important to pack the right shoes and to take care of your feet so you can spend more time exploring. These tips will help you avoid painful blisters and what to do in a pinch if you do get one on the road.

BEFORE YOU GO

1. BREAK IN NEW SHOES.

While an upcoming trip can often be a reason to buy a new pair of shoes, saving them to wear on your trip for the first time is like asking for a blister. Shoes naturally stretch and shape to our individual feet over time, so the breaking in period, which varies depending on the type of shoe and how often they're worn, is when you're most likely to get a blister. Here are a few tips for how to break shoes in faster.

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Close up outdoor shoes of a female hiker walking on log.

Photo by: iStock / RuslanDashinsky

iStock / RuslanDashinsky

Take a walk. If you're planning a backpacking trip, wear new hiking boots on a couple of local hikes in the weeks, or even days, before your trip. It's best to start with a shorter distance and work your way up to longer distances, closer to how far you plan to go in a day on your trip. Wear a backpack with a similar weight to what you plan to carry on your trip, too, so your feet will get accustomed to the right amount of pressure in the new shoes.

Use wool socks and heat. Flats are supposed to be the comfortable alternative to high heels, right? But several flats cause feet blisters from friction, especially if you're walking 10+ miles a day exploring a new city. If you plan to bring some chic new flats on a trip, get out some wool socks and a hair dryer. Don't worry, the wool socks aren't for fashion purposes. If you haven't had time to wear new flats multiple times before your trip to break them in, slip on some thick wool socks and the flats to wear around your house to speed up the process. While wearing the wool socks and flats, point a hair dryer in blister-prone areas like heels and toes to apply heat, which will help stretch the shoes.

Just add water. Another tip for speeding up the breaking-in process and stretching shoes is to use water. Fill plastic sandwich bags with water and insert into the toes of a pair of shoes. Place in the freezer overnight. The next morning, the ice will help expand the toes. You can use this hack on many different types of shoes like boots, flats and sneakers.

2. PACK A TREATMENT KIT.

It's always best to be prepared. While you don't want to overload your luggage or backpack with items you hopefully won't even end up needing, it's smart to pack these items, especially if you think you they could be difficult to find in the location you're visiting. 

  • bandages of multiple sizes, including hydrocholloid bandages
  • moleskin padding
  • anti-bacterial ointment and/or petroleum jelly
  • extra pair of socks
  • ibuprofen
  • green tea bags
  • aloe vera gel

ON YOUR TRIP

3. WEAR TWO PAIRS OF SOCKS.

The two biggest factors that cause blisters are friction and moisture. Particularly for hiking boots, it's a good idea to wear two pairs of socks to minimize the room your foot has to slide around in your boots. Wear a pair of synthetic liner socks with a pair of wool socks over them. Stick with synthetic and wool fabrics as opposed to cotton, which doesn't dry as well.

4. KEEP FEET DRY.

There are several ways you can reduce moisture on your feet while traveling. One way, which might sound a little strange but works like a charm, is to apply deodorant to your feet the night before you plan to do extensive walking or hiking. Another way is to stop at least once a day to remove socks and/or shoes and air them out. If you're hiking and your socks get wet, change them to a dry pair as soon as possible.

5. IT'S PETROLEUM JELLY TIME.

If you experience rubbing on the go, especially when wearing flats or casual shoes, prevent friction by applying some petroleum jelly in blister-prone areas to work as a lubricant. Petroleum jelly also works as a moisturizer for hands and lips, so it's a great multi-use product to bring on trips.

IF YOU GET ONE ANYWAY...

6. ADDRESS ASAP.

If all else fails and you do start to feel a hotspot, treat as soon as possible to prevent it from turning into a full-on blister. Get out your treatment kit and apply the appropriate bandage to be a barrier between your shoes and the skin. A simple bandage works fine, but a hydrocolloid bandage usually stays in plays better and provides cushion. If you've already started to develop a blister, you can use doughnut-shaped moleskin around the blister and cover with a bandage to prevent direct pressure on the raised blister.

7. APPLY TOPICAL TREATMENT.

Topical treatments can help relieve pain and help blisters to heal. Aloe vera gel is anti-inflammatory and soothing. Tea tree oil is antibacterial and astringent, which can help accelerate healing. Instead of bringing entire bottles, pour a small amount of tea tree oil and aloe vera gel in an empty contact case for easy transport. If you don't have either of these products, borrow from your toiletry bag and apply toothpaste in a pinch. Toothpaste contains ingredients like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and menthol, which can all help to reduce moisture and pain. But be careful not to use whitening, gel or colored toothpaste.

8. DO A SOAK OR COMPRESS FOR RELIEF.

If you're staying at a hotel with access to a bathtub or something to soak in, epsom salt or a green tea soak would be a soothing way to end the day. If you can't do a soak, try a warm compress with green tea, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Simply make a warm cup of tea and either apply the tea bag directly to the blister or apply with a wash cloth.

Don't let blisters ruin your adventures anymore. Happy feet = happy travels!

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