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5 Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Vacation Thrift Shopping

thrifted furniture items

Alina Hvostikova/Stocksy

For some people, going on vacation means enjoying lazy days by the pool or taking in historic sites. But for the avid thrift shoppers among us, traveling to a new city brings with it the opportunity to hunt for all sorts of decorative gems and goodies to take home.

During my trips across the country, I’ve loved visiting new retailers in search of fun, one-of-a-kind accents for my apartment. Below, I’m sharing my tips for a seamless out-of-town thrifting experience.

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Plan It Out

If you’re traveling alone and truly wish to make your vacation all about vintage shopping, go for it. But if you’re on a getaway with others, your alone time may be a bit more limited, so you'll want to determine beforehand the most efficient way to hit all of the stores on your list.

In addition to taking a look at Google Maps and seeing what types of shops are in the immediate area surrounding my hotel, I of course crowdsource recommendations from friends via Instagram. It’s helpful to know ahead of time which stores are worth checking out and which are total duds—and if your friends have a good sense of your aesthetic, they’ll be able to share suggestions accordingly. It doesn’t matter whether your followers are natives of a particular city or have simply traveled there once before—tried and true recs are always helpful.

Not getting any bites? A quick Google search will also direct you to top thrift and vintage stores in a certain city. Given that many retailers these days have robust social media profiles and websites, you’ll be able to do a speedy “window shop” to determine whether you’d actually like to stop by in person.

Of course, don’t forget to check a shop’s current hours before going. Confirming their schedule via phone is always the best bet, as you don't want to spend your time off driving 45 minutes to a store that happens to be closed on Sundays. 

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Be Judicious

room with vintage furniture


While thrift shopping, it can be tempting to load up an entire cart with little regard to whether you actually need a specific item. But on vacation, you’ll want to be extra thoughtful about which of your finds should ultimately make it to the checkout line. After all, you have to lug everything home somehow.

If you’re flying, consider whether your purchases will fit in the suitcase you brought or if you’ll have to check an additional bag to accommodate everything. In the case of the latter, determine whether your finds are unique or worthwhile enough to merit paying for checked luggage. Perhaps an item you discovered is something that you can easily purchase in your hometown after all.

For larger finds, such as artwork and small furniture, heading to the post office may be your best bet. However, you’ll once again want to determine whether it’s worthwhile to you to spend the time and money doing so. If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime find for a steal, go for it. If you realize you’d rather stick to things you can easily stuff into your tote bag, take a picture of that larger score and move on.

When I’m traveling by train or bus and know that I’ll be doing a bit of shopping on my trip, I always pack a foldable tote or duffel into my main suitcase. Most trains and buses let you board with at least two big bags free of charge, and this method means that I’ll always be prepared to bring home some small treasures.

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Think Local

Take advantage of your specific location. It’s likely that the inventory you come across will reflect the dominant style of a particular region. For example, South Florida thrift stores often carry a surplus of faux bamboo furniture and other chinoiserie finds galore—so if you love the Palm Beach chic look, don’t miss out.

A thrift store in a major city may carry more off-the-beaten-path finds, and each shop within a given area may also be reflective of its immediate neighborhood’s style, too.

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Bring Cash

In my experience, most thrift stores will accept all major credit cards, but of course, this isn’t always the case. You may wish to take out a bit of cash before heading to the thrift shop just in case.

Thrift stores generally won’t hold finds for you once you leave the store, so keeping a few bills on you is never a bad idea. And if you’re visiting a flea market, definitely hit the ATM first. While some vendors do accept PayPal and Venmo, this isn’t a given and can vary from city to city.

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Stay in Touch

thrifted home decor items on shelf

Gillian Vann/Stocksy

If you come across a thrift store you love, see if they have an email list, website, or Instagram. Many shops now ship small items nationwide, so you can continue to support a favorite seller from the comfort of your own living room. Share the word with your friends back home—small business owners will greatly appreciate this type of support.