Looking for emergency winter wear, vintage trinkets, or even a read for your next flight? Hit some thrift stores to make your shopping more sustainable – and maybe even fund a good cause.
Shopping is undeniably one of the pleasures of travel, one that constitutes a lucrative chunk of tourist spending. Think of all the Christmas markets, airport duty-free shops, and museum souvenir stores. We naturally delight in finding cool stuff that’s unavailable or much more expensive at home.
As concern grows for the sustainability of our planet, however, our consumption habits need to come under scrutiny. Tourism may boost a destination’s economy, but it’s also destroying environments and communities. Do you really need that souvenir that was most likely made in China, or a brand-new sweater from Zara to tide you through unexpected weather?
Thrift shopping is getting cool
Charity shops or thrift stores have traditionally been associated with poverty and unwanted, inferior goods; it doesn’t help that nonprofit organizations hardly have the manpower and financial resources to make them look as good as high street boutiques. Fast fashion, in particular, is one of the most labor- and resource-exploiting industries.
Fortunately, things are changing, in part thanks to the economic situation faced by today’s under-40 adults. Lots more well-curated thrift stores now make it easier to find one-of-a-kind goods at a bargain, so why not add thrift shopping to your travels? This is also a great way to explore local neighborhoods and know a city more intimately.
Whether you’re a budget traveler or of more comfortable means, check out these thrift shops and flea markets in major cities around the world – recommended by fellow travel bloggers – for a more rewarding local shopping experience.
Bekah Maloney (A Little Bit of B) shares that the Netherlands is one of her favorite countries; one of the reasons is that they have such fantastic and quirky places to visit. After living and working in Amsterdam, she got to experience the city from a local’s perspective. And that meant shopping too.
“My favorite thrift store in Amsterdam is definitely Episode, which has endless amounts of fantastic treasures. This store has been multiplying by the minute around the city, but my go-to is on Spuistraat 96 which is only a short walk from Dam Square.
“I think everyone loves Episode as they’ve built up such a great reputation now for having high quality pieces from Ralph Lauren to Tommy Hilfiger – but always at a steal of a price. Here, I scored my favorite pair of Levi’s shorts and a unique brown leather shoulder bag, which became my staple in Amsterdam.”
Another fantastic spot right around the corner Bekah recommends is Bij Ons Vintage at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 150. It’s perfect for visitors because it’s in the heart of the city’s action and is on the way to/from Centraal Station.
Helsinki is a great destination for bargain-hunters, vintage lovers and thrifters, says Lesia Joukova of Dutch Wannabe.
“My favorite recommendation for second-hand goods would be the UFF thrift store chain in Finland. UFF is a non-profit organization that has 10 stores in Helsinki. The quality of the items is always great: my friend got a red leather backpack in one store 5 years ago and is still using it daily. The stores run special offers as well but it’s best to show up early to get a chance at finding the best items.”
Lesia also recommends several open-air flea markets for rewarding thrift shopping in the Finnish capital. One of the most well-known is on Hietalahti Market Square. The market is open all week long with varying hours on weekdays and weekends.
Another great market where you can score a lot of goods is called Kattilahallin Kirppis on Sörnäisten rantatie 22; the market is located indoors with more than 140 vendors selling their goods. Market days change often so you can consult the website to check the next event.
You’ll find the term “op shop”, short for opportunity shop, used for thrift stores in Melbourne and everywhere else in Australia. Melbourne is a great city for thrift shopping (and coffee): in addition to Red Cross and Salvos Stores (that’s Ozzie for Salvation Army), there’s a whole bunch of eclectic op shops for books and bric-a-brac too.
For Madhurima of Orange Wayfarer, New Delhi’s Sarojini Market has become an icon, first among the South Delhi college-goers and now among millennials. The market is situated close to Sarojini Nagar Metro station.
“The items on display are dirt cheap and stylish. Even if the shopkeeper quotes a price of $10, your bargain would start from $2 and it is highly likely that you will get it at that rate. Products are not branded and can often have defects like stitching issue or fit issue. I suggest a thorough check before you decide to buy a product.”
Madhurima’s first winter in Delhi caught her unprepared and she went to Sarojini in search of warm clothes. She got two trench coats at INR 100 (a little more than $1) each.
“It has been more than 7 years and they are my constant companion for any trip to the Himalayas! My dad calls them ‘Mora Saheber coats’, suggesting a foreigner died and their belongings were brought out on sale! I suspect some items are sourced from excess relief support.”
We all know how expensive Iceland is, but luckily Kelsey of MLMR Travel is always on the hunt for a good thrift store. For her, one of the perks of traveling is experiencing fashion of different countries and bringing it into her fashionista routine. Being both a minimalist and an environmentalist, going to thrift stores is the best way to update her wardrobe and dress like a local.
While in Reykjavik, Iceland, Kelsey found one of the four Icelandic Red Cross stores located there on the Main Street of Laugavegur. In her words, “I fell in love instantly. The store set-up feels more like a boutique than a thrift store and it has a huge selection of wool or knit sweaters to keep you warm.”
Even though Kelsey’s focus was on the clothes, the store was also equipped with household essentials, books and other miscellaneous items. She ended up scoring a grey wool cardigan and a dark turtleneck crop top, both of which she immediately wore when sightseeing.
“If you are ever in the Reykjavik area, try to find the closet Icelandic Red Cross Thrift store by you as you will not be disappointed.”
Angelica of Things to do & Eat shares that Seattle is home to many quirky, high-quality and well-curated thrift shops, whether shoppers are interested in clothes, books, or random household items. Here are her recommendations for the best thrift stores in Seattle:
Pretty Parlor is a vintage thrift store with clothes and accessories from past decades- the 20s, 50s, 80s, etc. It’s perfect for anyone going to a costume party or looking for unique vintage outfits.
Twice Sold Tales is a used bookstore in Seattle with an amazing selection of books across all genres and a daily happy hour discount, but the best part of this thrift shop is the resident cats. There are four cats who live in the bookstore and some love to be petted!
For a thrift shop with more of a social justice mission, Lifelong is a mostly volunteer-run thrift store whose proceeds go towards helping people with AIDS. They have not just clothes, but also furniture, books, and home supplies.
Vancouver convinced me that the best bargains are found in the thrift stores! It helped that James’s cousin’s wife was a seasoned thrift shopper; I got a free ride around town while visiting the best local restaurants and thrift shops on the way.
It was at the Salvation Army’s North Vancouver thrift store where I found what is probably the best bargain of my life: a pair of Vera Wang high heeled leather boots, in great condition, for only CAD 10 ($7.50). As a size 9/40 woman in Asia, it’s nearly impossible to get shoes that fit well, look good, and don’t cost a bomb – so thrift shopping is definitely worth adding to your travel itinerary.
Vancouver has an amazing number of thrift shops that will surprise you with their quality – check out this comprehensive guide by The Georgia Straight that even comes with a map.
Have you shopped at thrift stores while traveling? How did you find the experience?