I have always had trouble finding shoes I can travel with. Tennis shoes are comfortable, but for women, there are situations you simply can’t wear them (e.g. the opera). Other times, you simply don’t want to wear them. I love wearing skirts while traveling to hot climates, and tennis shoes make me feel like I am a walking fashion disaster, flip flops make me feel like a slob, and anything else almost always causes blisters or twisted ankles. I also have an orthopedic problem where one of my legs is 1 cm longer than the other and I need to wear a heel lift in one shoe. If I don’t, I have severe pain in my knees, hips, and neck. To hold the lift in place and still be comfortable, this requires a shoe with a reasonably high back. No cute sandals for me.
My first trip to Europe, I wore my tennis shoes and packed some super comfy and super cute backless shoes that had a 2 inch heel with a wide base. Unfortunately, as soon as I tried them out on cobblestone, I knew I had problems. Add in my husband who wanted to walk at least 10 hours per day without returning to the hotel – I had previously only walked 2 hours in them, pain in my knees from my orthopedic issue, and the cobblestone, my problem turned into complete disaster. On another trip, I decided I would go less dressy, but not a complete fashion nightmare, and bought some black Ecco sandals as my second pair of shoes. After about 5 hours of walking, my feet were completely torn to shreds, and because I wasn’t wearing a heel lift, my knees and neck were in a lot of pain. On another trip, I bought some Keds, wore them with my skirts, and ignored the fact that I didn’t feel super feminine, but I also didn’t get any blisters.
Recently, I have discovered my magic shoe: Rothy’s, and I am unlikely to go back. Even though the shoes are made out of recycled plastic bottles – made into superfine thread and knit into incredibly soft shoes, I have successfully walked day after day with very minimal blistering. The one time I did get significant blisters, was on a beach day where the sand on my toes and heels got inside the shoes and the shoes acted like sandpaper. It was so bad that I had to stop and buy a pair of flip flops to get back to the hotel. It took about 5 days until I could wear my Rothy’s without severe pain again, but I chalked the experience up to lesson learned.
For the last 10 months, I have taken my shoes everywhere. I broke them in with short, 1-2 hour walks at home. Next, I took them to India. I cannot say how much I loved these shoes there. I wore long skirts and had super cute shoes to wear. The streets were dirty, but knowing I could wash the shoes, if necessary, was incredibly satisfying. The proof of this was on the day that we visited a mosque at closing time. A guard had us take off our shoes, and quickly whisked us around. One room was completely covered in bird poo and I found myself walking barefoot through it, then I had to put my shoes back on. You can probably imagine my relief when I was able to thoroughly wash both my feet and my shoes at the hotel. The hand sanitizer I had in my purse just didn’t cut it.
The only real problem I have had was about 4-5 months in, when my first pair mysteriously shrunk while traveling in Bali during 100 degree plus weather. I thought was doing everything right, so the problem seemed to be that I was traveling in hot weather. I’m not sure if my suitcase overheated on the plane, or if they were accidentally placed next to a heating vent – unlikely that one would have been on in that weather, or if it was simply too hot outside. I contacted a customer service rep, and after a lot of back and forth, they told me that they had never seen environment related shrinkage, but that they would replaced them free of charge even though they were confident that it was not their problem. They did say that leaving them in a hot car could shrink them, but since we didn’t have a car, this was not the issue. Anyway, now I am somewhat obsessively paranoid about heat, but have not had a problem since.
The Look: A+
Rothy’s are classically cute, and come in four options: the flat, the point, the loafer, and the sneaker. I personally love – and have only tried – the solid black flat, but they come in many colors, so odds are that you can find something that you like.
The Fit: A
Comfort! They don’t have ankle or arch support, but since they are a flat, not a tennis shoe, what do you expect? If you get the right size, they don’t rub unless your feet get really sweaty, in which case, a bandaid or some moleskin fixes the issue if you are doing extended walking. They are flats, which means that you aren’t going to break your ankle if you try to walk across cobblestone. If you are walking across really pointy rocks, they are a bit uncomfortable on your soles, but again, what do you expect unless you make the sole the thickness of a tennis shoe. Additionally, after I trimmed it a bit, my heel lift fit underneath the insole with only minimal changes to the comfort of the shoe, the primary disadvantage being that it is difficult to run across a street when the light is about to change. My heel lift tends to come loose in this case. While I haven’t tried it, I could imagine someone requiring an arch support insole also having success. The main problem I have had is when my feet are coated with sand and there is nowhere to completely wash it off. In this case, the shoe will act as sandpaper and rapidly destroy your feet.
The Care: A- to C+, depending on the environment and your attention to detail
Rothy’s are machine washable in COLD water! This completely removes any odor issues. Simply take the insoles out, toss both the shoes and the insoles into a machine, then let them air-dry overnight. If I am doing a cold cycle load, I will even toss the insoles in with my regular clothes. Do not expose either the shoes or the insoles to heat while drying. If you are traveling and need to hand wash the shoes or insoles, expect at least 12-24 hours to dry the insoles, and 24-48 hours to dry the shoes – you can’t squeeze them with a towel in the same way that you can with the insoles. You can mitigate this by buying a second pair of insoles and washing/swapping every 24-48 hours. Wait until you have access to a machine to wash the entire shoe – you need a good spin cycle, unless you don’t mind walking in wet shoes. While doing a ton of walking while traveling, I will hand wash or machine wash the insoles every day, and the shoe as needed. While at home, I will machine wash the insoles at least once per week, more if I am doing significant walking. The shoe typically gets machine washed every month or so.
You do need to be careful about where your shoes are placed. Don’t put them in hot water, the dryer, in a hot car, or in front of a heater vent, or they will shrink. Something mysterious caused my first pair to shrink, but customer service was really good about working with me on the issue. They probably wouldn’t be as kind the second time, so I am trying to avoid testing their generosity. The good news is that after I received my replacement shoes, I made a trip to Israel, and even though the temperatures were as high as 105 degrees, there was no shrinkage. Note that I did take care to wear them on any plane trip where I thought that the bags may be left somewhere super hot, and packed my tennis shoes instead. Slightly inconvenient, but less risky.
The Cost: B-
These shoes are pricy. Not as expensive as Tieks (another shoe I would love to try), but still pricy. At time of writing this they started at $125. If you are a careful person, one whom is unlikely to shrink the shoe with heat exposure, then they are definitely work the price. On the other hand, if you are a type of person that might forget and shrink them every month, you may want to look elsewhere. If you want to wash the insoles frequently to reduce odor, but are worried about them not drying in time, consider buying an extra pair of insoles, currently $10.
These are a great shoe, IF you can avoid shrinking them. The all day comfort is fabulous. The washability feature is amazing! If you have a spare set of insoles, you can treat them like socks and completely avoid odor issues. I highly recommend considering them as both an everyday shoe and a travel shoe.