running_shoesWhen you pack for a trip, the biggest space-hog in your luggage is always your shoes. My dad wears a size 13 shoe and my mom half-seriously jokes that they need an extra suitcase if he wants to bring more than one pair. And we all know an extra suitcase now means an extra $50 (each way) on most airlines.

For this reason, I was wowed by the Westin hotel chain’s recent announcement that they’re teaming with New Balance to let guests borrow — at no cost — workout gear so they can exercise either outside or in the hotel gym. The items include new running shoes with disposable insoles, workout shorts or pants, T-shirts, socks and even sports bras. The industry term for this is “gear lending.”

The program started in October in 10 Westin hotels and will expand to more than 170 Westin hotels worldwide in 2011. The Fairmont hotel chain does a similar partnership/offer with Addidas.

Brilliant, right? That was my initial response. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “I don’t know if I’d ever do it.”

Would you?

A Westin spokesman was quoted in a newspaper article saying they are very diligent about laundering the clothes, spraying the shoes with disinfectant and replacing the shoe insoles after every use. I’m sure they are. It’s not like they’re going to hand you some unwashed, old gear with sweat stains on it. But there’s something about wearing someone else’s workout clothes that I’m a little uncomfortable with, you know?

I surveyed my family over Christmas and the young people were all in favor of it but the older ones were a little more hesitant. The stumbling block wasn’t borrowing the clothes, it was the shoes.

“If you have clean socks, who cares about the shoes?” my 23-year-old niece said, defiantly. “If I can workout when I’m traveling, I’ll wear anything.”

“But people’s feet sweat through their socks,” my brother-in-law countered.

I, personally, feel a little weird wearing other people’s shoes. And I’m also a little suspicious about ANY hotel’s cleanliness claims. While they are all well-intended in their cleaning efforts, and often do a very good job, haven’t we all found ourselves in less-than-clean hotel rooms over the years? Even in swanky places? No to mention the bedbug outbreak that still creeps me out to this day.

But applause to the Westin and Fairmont hotels for their creative, please-the-guest thinking. They are definitely on the right track (get it?).

And hey, if it helps me to fit my weekend travel clothes into a carry-on bag and allows me to squeeze in a little time on the treadmill, I might just give it a shot.

Anyone else have mixed feelings about this?