Feet First

Follow these tips to help keep your most important travel tool—your own two feet—in good shape on your next trip.

By Hannah Wallace | Illustration By Benedetto Cristofani

Vacations can be tough on your feet. Besides all that sightseeing—often on uneven cobblestones—you tend to engage in activities you don’t typically do at home, like hiking, running on trails and playing tennis.

We interviewed podiatrist Martin G. Ellman at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, for his tips on how to help prevent and treat minor foot ailments, such as blisters, corns, calluses and warts—and keep your feet in tip-top shape.

Wear the right shoes.

This may seem obvious, but many injuries occur when people wear inappropriate footwear—say, sandals on a hike. Hiking shoes offer great ankle support, court shoes have more side-to-side support, and running shoes have excellent shock absorption. “Try to use shoes for the activity you’re doing,” Ellman says.

Break in new shoes.

Don’t wear a new pair of hiking boots for the first time on the day of a hike. “You always want to break in a pair of shoes weeks before you go on a trip,” Ellman says. This way if you do get blisters or corns, you can treat them at home, and they won’t mar your vacation.

Socks matter.

If your feet tend to sweat during physical activity, invest in moisture-wicking socks. “Cotton socks are okay, but they stay damp,” says Ellman. “A damp environment on skin causes friction, which can lead to blisters.” You can find moisture-wicking socks—made of merino wool, synthetics or PLA (a corn-based fiber that’s more eco-friendly than polyester)—at most sporting goods stores.

Be prepared.

Be sure to pack Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment in your Dopp kit. If you get a blister that’s smaller than 0.2 inch, apply ointment and a Band-Aid and leave it alone. But if it’s bigger than 0.2 inch, Ellman advises draining it with a sterilized needle (leaving the “roof” of the blister there to offer some protection). Then apply antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid to the area.

See a podiatrist.

Corns and calluses are thick, hardened layers of skin caused by friction or pressure. The only difference is their location: Corns appear on or between your toes, and calluses occur on your heel or the ball of your foot. Ellman says you can generally keep both in check by using a pumice stone or a skin file and applying lotion to your feet at night. (Do not do this if you’re diabetic or have nerve problems in your feet—unless you’ve been instructed to do so by a medical professional.) If you have a corn or callus that’s causing you pain, however, Ellman suggests seeing a podiatrist. If it’s the result of a foot abnormality, such as a bunion or hammer toe, the solution is often as easy as getting your shoes stretched at a shoe repair store.

Warts and all.

“Warts are viruses, and they’re very unpredictable as to how they respond to treatment,” Ellman says. For this reason you’ll want to start treatment at least a month, maybe more, before your trip. Usually over-the-counter or prescription medication will do the trick, but sometimes your doctor will recommend freezing the wart off with liquid nitrogen or using a laser. Also, whether or not you have a wart, Ellman suggests wearing flip-flops or sandals by the pool or in the locker room—it just may keep you from getting one.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Summer 2014