by Nick Marshall
Those travel pictures look great in the brochures or on Instagram, but no one tells you about the walk it takes to get the shot. Let’s face it, your first travel day can come as a shock to limbs that were just fine curled up on the couch. If you’re flying, the schlep between terminals followed by low-pressure cabin environments can cause foot swelling and soreness. Once you’ve arrived, it’s easy to forget that your legs are on vacation too. How many of us launch straight into long walks on the trail or between landmarks? Women in particular are likely to suffer, because nine out of ten women wear shoes that are too small for their feet.
A little preparation, however, can coax your legs into action, and you’ll benefit from some low-impact exercise that leaves you feeling invigorated.
Here’s Why Your Feet Hurt after Walking...
On your home turf, you know how long it takes to get from A to B. When you’re traveling, however, it’s easy to lose track of how long you’ve been walking. If you set off in flip flops, sandals or other casual footwear, your feet and ankles will soon let you know there’s a problem. Pick a pair of shoes that offer plenty of support and cushioning. You only need hiking boots if you’re out on the trail and there’s a risk of turning an ankle. For the city, lightweight and breathable sneakers will do. Since your feet swell up as the day goes on, try on any new pair in the late afternoon to get the most comfortable fit.
Start by Stretching before Walking
The idea of warming up for a stroll might seem dramatic, but hey, it’s your walk, and you’ll get more out of it if you do. At rest, your muscles tighten up, so launching straight into a brisk walk around your destination can lead to muscle soreness. Limber up for just a few minutes by stretching the hamstrings, rotating your feet to warm up the ankles and loosening the muscles in your calves and groin. A pre-walk foot massage also takes preemptive action against one of the most common causes of foot pain, plantar fasciitis, which causes pain and tenderness in the heels or arches.
When to Wear Compression Socks
If you’ve found the sharpest, most advanced sneakers for your feet, don’t stop shopping! You need a quality pair of socks to feel the most benefit.
To prevent foot blisters and swelling on your walk, choose wicking socks that draw sweat away from the feet. If you’re likely to be standing for long periods or clocking up the miles, treat yourself to some compression socks. These improve the flow of oxygen through the muscles and help get the deoxygenated blood away from the ankles and calves and back to the heart quickly. As a result, lactic acid is removed faster from tired muscles, which will ultimately reduces fatigue.
Remember to Eat and Hydrate
Here’s the good news: Walk for an hour and you can expect to burn over 500 calories. Here’s the small print: A strenuous walk can reduce your blood sugar levels in a relatively short period, and you’ll also be at risk of muscle cramping as your body runs low on minerals and salt. Take a break every half hour to an hour to rest, and top up your tank with a snack high in carbohydrates for quick energy release. (Bear in mind that high-protein snacks can leave you feeling dehydrated.) Budget at least a half-liter of water for every hour of walking, and that’s if conditions are mild. If the sun is out and you’re sweating, double your water intake.
Why it’s Important to Cool Down
Once you’ve reached your destination, it’s tempting just to flop down in the most comfy chair available and relax. That won’t do you any damage, but if you can take a few minutes to gently warm down your muscles, you’ll thank yourself for it the next day. Come to a sudden halt and you’ll leave lactic acid in tired muscles, making them sore later on. Bring your pace down gently and finish with a few stretches and you can work out the lactic acid completely. Likewise, a gentle massage of tired feet will soothe the muscles and work out any knots or stiffness. Slipping into a fresh pair of compression socks for the evening will also temper any swelling or inflammation in aching muscles.
Follow these easy tips over the course of your trip to build stamina and alleviate any niggles or twinges that tend to pop up after a long hike or walk. Take care of your feet, and they’ll remain your best vehicle for exploring a new destination up close.