How to go thrift shopping on vacation


By Krista

Travel & Tech Writer


If you’ve never been thrift shopping on vacation, you’re missing out!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a true thrifter on holiday will seek out the secondhand shops and add them to the itinerary between exploring local attractions and tasting the regional cuisine.

Here’s how to tackle thrift shopping on vacation, plus five items you seriously want to consider buying once when you hit those vacay thrift stores. 

Scoop out the secondhand shops

Repeat after us: Not all thrift shops are charities, and not all charity shops are thrifty. Many charity shops have regional affiliations (Goodwill, for example) while others are run by religious or other not-for-profit organizations.

When thrift shopping on vacation, do some quick background searches to double check which shops you would like to support (or not) before making a list of desired destinations. It’s always a bonus to know that your holiday dollars are going directly into the community that you’ve enjoyed visiting.

Know before you go

If you feel emboldened to embrace a vacation version of yourself, it might be time to give haggling a go. Some thrift stores are willing to negotiate it might even be the standard in the location you’re visiting when thrift shopping on vacations.

By that same token, be sure to take note of any bonuses like receiving a coupon for donating, or a discount for bringing reusable bags. (You can repurpose your packing cubes for the day!)

What to buy when thrift shopping on vacation

Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t mean you can’t thrift like a local. Here are our five favorite things to buy …

1. Unbreakables are best

That gorgeous glassware might be hard to resist but I promise you it will lose its lustre when you find it in pieces throughout your luggage. No shade to the baggage handlers but, unless you can pack those pieces so they’re snug as a bug in a rug, they might not make it home from your travels unscathed.

If you can’t pass up a glass piece, save yourself undue heartache and opt for something sturdy or solid (think: a platter or maybe a mug) over a delicate set of goblets or crystal when thrift shopping on vacation. 

2. Weight matters

If you’re flying, you know that even if something fits in your suitcase (even if you have to sit on it to get the zipper to close) it’s the weight restrictions that can make or break your checked baggage budget. If your thrifted treasure is worth its weight, keep it in your carry-on luggage

3. Always grab the ephemera

Paper ephemera (think: postcards, posters, ticket stubs) are the perfect souvenirs to snag while thrift shopping on vacation. They’re light and easy to slip into your suitcase, plus these types of items often tell a unique story about the location you’re visiting. 

4. In textiles we trust

Escape the homogeneity of fast fashion and find pieces of unique style and quality either those that are produced or sold in the area of your travels or, if you’re extra lucky, vintage items that are representative of regional styles through the decades. 

Not big on clothes? Don’t skip the blanket rack. Crochet throws or vintage wool are always a fun find, particularly if there’s a woollen or textile mill nearby. 

5. Something to read is something you need

Having a book on hand while travelling is always a good idea, but what launches it into something worth snagging while thrift shopping on vacation is when you reach for a read by a local author. Flip through the covers and you might even spot a signed copy or an Advanced Review Copy from a regional press.

Be sure to peruse the cookbook section to find coil-bound cookbooks, often from church or school fundraisers, that feature homestyle cuisine for you to try once you’re back home. Truly a gift that will keep on giving.