Squeeze cubes. Dopp-kits. Garment bags. There are many quality products on the market to help you organize your suitcase when you travel.
But one crucial type of item helps with organization and perhaps more importantly, hygiene. We are talking about shoe bags.
While some people feel comfortable just throwing their shoes away with their clothes and other luggage, the more germ-conscious among us might think twice. After all, do you really want the dirty bottom of your trainers or work shoes to come into contact with your clean clothes?
Why are shoe bags important?
“I think it’s a good idea to put your shoes in something like a plastic bag from the grocery store or one of those reusable zipper bags you can buy before you put them in your suitcase,” said Philip M. Tierno, professor of microbiology. and pathology at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
He noted that the level of “germination” of a pair of shoes depends on several factors, such as the design of the shoes, where you walk and how often they are washed.
“If the bottom of the shoe has ridges or there are ridges on the side or other areas that can pick up material, then think about what they’re picking up,” Tierno explained. “Depending on the city you live in, you’re probably walking on sidewalks and streets where people are coughing, spitting and vomiting. There’s urine, human and animal feces, and a whole host of other things that are relatively germinative.
Studies have shown that a single pair of shoes can harbor millions of bacterial organisms, including E. coli and other types of illnesses. And in addition to the soles of your shoes, the inner area can also harbor germs.
“Some people sweat more than others and they carry Staphylococcus aureus, which can spread from the inside of the shoe, in addition to anything you might find on the bottom,” Tierno noted. “Sweat also gives off an odor, which can spread around the suitcase.”
What is the level of risk associated with not putting your shoes in a bag?
“People do the weirdest things in public, and walking down the street you can pick up all sorts of things that can be contaminated. But it’s still a relatively low risk of causing an infection,” Tierno said.
He pointed out that for most people, our immune responses and barriers like skin tend to protect us from infections, even when we’re exposed to germs carried by our shoes.
“It would have to pierce the skin for there to be an intrusion of many germs,” Tierno added. “And even if you have microorganisms on you, you will have to pick up a lot of cells in sufficient numbers to cause an infection. You might step on dangerous organisms, but in general I characterize it as low risk.
Even if your risk of getting sick is low, you probably don’t like the idea of mixing your clothes with your sprouted shoes in all their microscopic glory covered in spit, urine, vomit and feces. Sometimes family members pack the same suitcases when traveling together or share the same luggage which they will alternately use for separate trips.
And while your suitcase might have a separate outer compartment where you can put shoes, chances are you’ll need to use the inside of the bag as well. This is where shoe bags come in. From washable packing cubes to colorful drawstring bags, there’s no shortage of options for holding your shoes.
If you’re looking to invest in shoe bags before your next long flight, we’ve rounded up the options below. HuffPost may receive a share of purchases made through links on this page. Price and availability subject to change.
Compakt shoe bag
Pack All Water Resistant Shoe Bags
DIOMMELL transparent travel shoe bags
The shoe cube
YAMIU Travel Shoe Bags
Mossio shoe bag