Wanna know where to get the coolest souvenirs? Skip out on the stores and find a flea market. No, but really. Confession time: I love markets. I love farmers markets. I love food streets. I even love grocery stores — especially foreign ones. But I really love flea markets. When I travel, I could spend hours and hours wandering through crowded aisles crammed full of knick knacks and treasures, hunting for the *perfect* item.
Pst — Want to spend a whole semester exploring flea markets and crossing off some major cities off your bucket list? ILP volunteers teach English and do all this (& more) so come fill out an application and get your passport ready.
First, you gotta find your flea market. Ask the locals, talk to your hostel staff, check out expat message boards, or see if your city has updates market locations on places like Twitter. You could search online, but that's likely going to put you where all the tourists are...which could be good but we're talking the legit markets here. Or, head out to the city center and go walking around on a Saturday morning (or evening). And once you’ve found one, use these tips and hints to come home with a treasure, what to do with your trinkets and get inspired by some pictures of these markets from all over the world:
- Get There Early
- Pack An Empty Bag
- Talk With The Locals
- Bargain — But Pay For A Treasure
- Oh And Keep This In Mind
Get There Early
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean early in the morning - some of these markets don’t start until the evening or the middle of the day. There’s a rad market in Singapore (Sengei Thieve’s market for volunteers living in Thailand who want to come vacation here) that’s technically open all day, but the vendors aren’t done setting up till 2 or 3. Basically get there right on time because the best stuff goes first.
Oh, and bigger items go first (just in case you want to ship home some rocking furniture or something) then hunt around for your smaller items.
Pack An Empty Bag
Duh, right? I bring my empty backpack if I know I’m going treasure hunting on a weekend, but sometimes these little markets crop up when you least expect ‘em….so I take to traveling with one of those tiny and refoldable reusable grocery bags stuffed in my purse, just in case.
Talk With The Locals
Searching for something particular, like a vintage tin to keep your earrings in? Ask the vendors — these people are here week in and week out, and know what others are selling. They can also help you look for what you are looking for (and might know another place you can find it).
Bargain — But Pay For A Treasure
When you find your perfect find, haggle down the price. Shopping around with smaller bills helps this process along— bargaining works loads better when you haggle down something to 34 yuan and can pay exact change, rather than paying with a 100 and asking for change.
…But don’t be afraid to shell out for a treasure. You can find some really good stuff at these markets; antique jewelry, furniture, real silk, vintage records and just cool, cool stuff. I found this fabulous leather bag that was outta my price range even when haggling, but the sort of bags I found within my pre-decided budget were filmsy and cheap — so I splurged and that backpack has been one of my favorite purchases…ever. And I made friends with the vendor and got bigger discounts whenever I came back. Sooooooo worth it.
Oh And Keep This In Mind
Sometimes I have an idea of what I want when I start digging through piles of things, but be prepared to fall in love with something you never dreamed of owning. I love the challenge of bringing home something really unique for myself (and friends and family) and items at flea markets make crazy cool gifts. Think about finding some old coins or nesting dolls from Russia to use as Christmas ornaments.
There you have it, folks. You’re ready to empty your backpacks to fill with hidden gems, so go out and find the flea market down the street from your fav taco cart, or the one hidden metro stops in Ukraine…..unless you haven’t applied to live abroad yet!
Volunteers with ILP live in countries in Asia, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, have vacation time to explore flea markets in other cities, and teach English to cutie kids when they aren’t haggling down the price on some rad jade rings. If that sounds like something you’d love (but have a couple questions), come talk to a representative!