Okay, so maybe I fibbed a little. These aren’t really ‘top secret’ tips. In fact, if you’ve ever been to a flea market stateside, chances are you’ll have a pretty good handle on things abroad. It generally goes a little something like this: 1) you find something you like, 2) engage the seller in a conversation about the item, and 3) agree upon a price and take your prize. I’ve collected flea market finds from Geneva, Paris, Chiang Mai, Amsterdam, and more, and I can tell you that while the format is essentially the same across the board, finding success is not always a piece of cake. To help you wrangle some amazing goods on your shopping adventure, I’ve put together some of my tested and approved tips for flea market shopping abroad.
- Be pleasant. No one wants to deal with a stuffy/snobby/frowny tourist.
- Ask before you touch. Some people are funny about that sort of thing, but better safe than sorry.
- Be interested, but not too interested. Unless you get the impression that the seller will be more likely to work with you when he/she knows how much you want it. This one’s tricky… try to feel it out through conversation. A little restraint may pay off.
- Know your budget. Especially if you’re shopping early in the trip!
- Prepare to haggle, but don’t insult the seller with a too-low ball offer.
- Time is your friend. If you show up to the market early, the supply will be ripe for the picking. Go late, however, and you might be able to snag a better deal.
- Come prepared with cash. I have yet to encounter a seller with an iPad and square at a flea market in [anywhere abroad].
- Have your money ready to go before agreeing upon a price. Only want to spend 10£ on the leather bag? Spare the chafed look from the seller by having that 10£ ready to go. You don’t want to be rifling through a wad of larger bills in front of them. Awwwwkward.
- Be prepared to walk away. If it’s just not meant to be, try not to be too heartbroken. I assure you, life will go on.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by foreign currency. You might be dealing with large numbers, but do the conversion and understand how the local money equates to yours. 300 THB sounds like a lot, but it’s really just over $9.
- Do as the American Pickers do: bundle! Buying more than one item? See if the seller will give you a bit of a discount.
- Consider how you’ll transport your treasure. Will it fit in your suitcase? Is it fragile? Can you manage to carry it around for another however many days/weeks/months are left on your trip?
- Make sure you know what you’re buying. Some markets are notorious for knock offs. Don’t care if it’s fake? Fine by me… just don’t pay an arm and a leg for it.
- If you don’t speak the language, learn it. No, not all of it, silly. Just a handful of words/phrases that will help with the transaction. At the very least, you should know how to say ‘hello’. Believe it or not, that goes a long way. Prepare a cheat sheet to keep in your pocket, or better yet, have a calculator on hand.
- If you can find it at home, skip it. UNLESS it’s a really amazing deal, in which case buy away.
- If you reeeeally love it, and you can afford it, buy it.
Now, get to wheelin’ and dealin’!