Oh my God, Shoes: European Edition

By Abigail Fowler
Special to The Arkadelphian

After our years in quarantine, 2022 is set to bring on the best vacations. Discussing travel with friends, I’ve noticed a lot of people are using the money saved during the pandemic to travel Europe. For those who are visiting for the first time, let me say: Congratulations! You will love every second. As someone who’s traveled to over a dozen countries in the EU (pre-Brexit) I cannot explain my joy for your travels. Yay!

With my adventures, I have seen some highs and lows. The biggest mistake made can be summed up with the phrase, “Oh my God, SHOES!”

European countries are so traditionally minded about history preservation that the streets, walkways, and tourist spots aren’t catered to your feet. In America, we make sure to have sidewalks on heavily pedestrian-crowded areas, place a bench every few feet away in our parks, and seal over cracks in our roads with as much gravel and pavement as our state can budget. Europe could be summed up to “the streets are how they are: figure it out yourself.”

Let’s break that tradition, though, and save our feet. Here is a basic guide to help you cater your footwear for each section of Europe and the UK:

Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands: These countries are very focused on efficiency. This is the place you must worry about your footwear the LEAST due to their excessively paved roads and easy sidewalks. Benches are not abundantly placed, however, so make sure your cute shoes are comfy and that you have a jacket you’re prepared to place on the ground to sit on if you need a rest.

Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales: Bring hiking boots. Unless you plan on staying in metropolitan areas the whole time, you’ll realize very soon that most of this region’s beauty is in nature: specifically the cliffs. After slipping multiple times at Carrick-a-Rede and, much to my mother’s dread when I told her after, nearly falling off the cliff in my Grecian leather sandals, I cannot emphasize enough that being on a grassy cliff in a rainy-climate area is terrifying. Most of these countries are very much like Arkansas with their food, love of beer, and hiking culture. You will not look out of place with some Timberlands. Mama said it was okay.

France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Austria: These countries pride themselves on their culture which means to be prepared for cobblestones. Simply because you see someone in high heels on these streets doesn’t mean that you should follow suit. They have spent their whole lives perfecting that walk. You maybe have a week. It is not worth a sprained ankle and a first-hand look at how amazing their free health-care system is to test out cobblestones in heels. The metropolitan areas here do pride themselves on fashion. For Gen Z and late Millenials, you can get away with a pair of Stan Smiths or streetwear Nikes. You’ll look more “in-touch” with the locals and will seem more approachable than trying to dress in an American mindset of “European Posh.” Honestly if you wear anything “Emily in Paris” styled or Lily Pulitzer, you are a mark. Older generations: wear whatever is most comfortable. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone and there will be at least 10-12 miles of walking… so don’t underestimate that. If you are going clubbing or to a nice restaurant, you can do the New Yorker habit of putting the cute shoes in your bag and changing out of your sneakers before you enter the building, but depending on your company, a small purse might be a fashion requirement. In that case, just pay for a cab.

Greece, Beachside Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta: The biggest “no-no” is wearing sandals outside of the beach. You can get away with it in the Grecian islands, but not in Athens. It will mark you as a tourist with immediate pickpocketing. Barcelona is very perceptive of tourists. With their location in Catalonia, not only seeing tourists, but seeing tourists speaking Spanish can sometimes make them aggravated. It is an affront similar to gentrification in Hawaii and Mexico with the resort industry. If you want to meet more locals, be approachable to them by leaving your sandals in your beach bag. Yes, I do mean sandals, even the cute ones. Don’t even consider bringing flip flops. They are not common unless you have a pool simply because they are horrendous to walk in.

These tips may fluctuate as all travel plans are different, but the best way to travel is by learning the mindset and the culture of the place you’re traveling to. You’ll never get the full experience if you travel with your USA blinders on. These tips will save your feet, protect you from pickpocketing, and give you a better experience overall.

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