Thrift Store Shopping for Travelers

Our family has been on the go all summer - a day trip here, a weekend venture there, and all the time plotting for a big trip somewhere else.  When it comes to travel, we appreciate the ability to bond with our kids, explore new places, and get away from household to-do lists.  And with a family of five to consider, we’re often looking for ways to cut down on costs.  We're not opposed to spending on top quality experiences, but like to save money on, say, sippy cups we'll lose in a foreign city.  Enter thrift store shopping, traveler-style.  And after all, when we save money in one category, we can do more traveling in the future.

It’s easy to consider all the ways that thrifting can be great for household needs - dishes, vases, furniture, etc.  But for travel?  It might not be top of mind.  

If you’ve never considered thrifting for your travel-related purchases, you might be missing out!  After all, there are a number of different kinds of items that are great for travel that can easily be found at your local thrift shop.

1. Clothes and Shoes

Pants for my daughter, a rain coat for my son, and a cute tank top for myself?  Yes, please!  

We recently took a family trip to Canada, and found ourselves in need of some more athletic-style options for our kids, because we knew we would be doing some hiking.  Cute shorts in a 4T?  Check.  And they cost me $2.  Designer jeans for a 6-year-old for $5?  Great for cool evenings!  Sign me up.

A different time we were visiting family in Grand Rapids, MI when I discovered that my older daughter’s athletic shoes had gotten too tight.  No problem there, either.  The local thrift stop had just the right pair for her, at a fraction of the retail price.  

I'm choosy about shoes for myself and my family, and if I'm buying footwear second hand it needs to fit perfectly, be of high quality, and be in almost-new condition.  Even with such high standards, I've found Keen, Steve Madden, and Adidas shoes in pristine condition at my local thrift store.  Score.

thrifting for travelers_keens.JPG

2.   Dishes

You’re not going to haul ceramics on vacation, but a thrift store can be a great place to stock up on water bottles and other on-the-go type items for your next trip.  A cooler, perhaps?  Some portable containers for snacks?  

thrift shopping travel sippy cups.jpg

And, bonus, if you happen to leave something behind (not that it ever happens to us!) you aren’t out a ton of money.

3.  Toys, Puzzles, and Games

If we’re going to stay somewhere for more than a couple of days, I like to pack a few small toys for my kids to enjoy while we have some downtime at our destination.  It’s usually nothing too special, and I don’t like to spend a lot on it.  But a couple of dollars on a new toy train goes a long way toward keeping my toddler occupied while I’m in the shower.  Similarly, a new game or puzzle can be great for family evenings together in a camper, hotel room, or house rental.  And at thrift store prices, we don’t worry much if we lose a puzzle piece or forget to bring the toy back home with us.  If it’s a vacation rental, like we typically use, we can even donate those items for other families to enjoy.

thrift shopping travel games.jpg

4. Books and Movies

Before your next trip, why not swing by your local thrift store for some reading material or craft supplies?  We take lots of road trips with our young children, and a couple of new books are always a welcome distraction during long hours on the road.  And kids books don't fare super well on our road trips - it's so easy to step on them, spill on them, lose them, or mangle them in the backseat.  So leave the beautiful new Caldecott winners safely at home, and grab a couple of new (to you) books for a few bucks.

books and movies thrift shopping.jpg

Our kids also appreciate some basic craft supplies, like sticker and activity books.  Do you have a portable DVD player or one that’s ready to go in your car?  Check out the thrift DVD section for something new and exciting for your crew to watch.  What about children’s electronics and hand-held video game players?  We recently scored a Leap Pad for just $30.

5. Luggage

There’s no need to pay retail prices on luggage and bags for your next trip!  Check out backpacks, suitcases, beach bags, purses, and more.  That said, if you're backpacking around Europe for six months, invest in a new one that is perfect for your needs and stature.  No one wants a terrible pack digging into their shoulders for months on end!  But a beach bag?  A child's airplane carry-on?  Thrift fodder for sure.

6. Towels and Blankets

If you're heading for a hostel or a campground, consider snagging a thrifted towel or blanket before you take off.  No worries if they get dirty, stained or lost along the way when you've only spent a dollar or two on them.  Need a blanket for a campfire, cold flight on an airplane, or to nap with in the car?  Consider the thrift store, for sure.  

Also, if you decide to purchase some souvenirs on your trip and are lacking room in your luggage on the return trip, it's easy to leave thrift store linens behind.

Thrift Store Shopping for Travelers: How to Save Even More

Most stores have regular sales - yes, on top of already low prices.  Perhaps your local thrift store sells half-price shirts on Wednesdays, or will give you an extra discount when you bring in  a donation for a food pantry.  Maybe they're just overstocked in a particular category and want to move their inventory.  Check the store's website and get on their email list to be in the know.  And many stores will offer a major sale at the end of a season so they can clear the racks for new merchandise.  No thrift store wants t-shirts and shorts lingering around in late August when their customers are shopping back-to-school, so if you're willing to buy off-season you can really score.

So next time you’re embarking on a weekend adventure, camping trip, or day out, remember to shop your local thrift store before your embark on your trip!  Thrifting is a great way for traveling families to save money and score great items for the trip, as well as to enjoy long after the trip is over.  

That is, if you don't lose them along the way.  Or maybe that's just us.