How-To Find Foreign Thrift Stores & Flea Markets

When I started planning my first trip to Italy this spring, the Wardrobe Refashion Challenge seemed like an excellent excuse to seek out ways to buy used and handmade garments as souvenirs. Thrift stores and flea markets are some of my favorite places to shop at home, and at first, finding these options abroad was proving challenging. I like to shop in smaller cities with an eye for bargains and an element of the hunt, but many of the shops whose information was available in English or had been blogged by foreign tourists seemed a little pricier and in major cities. Our trip was through Venice, Bologna and Ravenna. Since Venice is both expensive and very touristy, and Ravenna was only a one day stop, we decided that Bologna, a famous college city, would be the place to shop. I had trouble finding anything there to suit my taste until I discovered a few foreign language search tricks.

Here are two ways I used to find places to shop using Google Translate.

1. Translated Search - Easier for people who don't like language puzzles. Very simple and straightforward, but I found that the end results were a little less good. Just use the search terms you might normally use (e.g. flea market Bologna) to search the web, but choosing the English -> Italian options. Keep in mind that you might need to try several variations of word combos, since what is a "recycle shop" in one language might be a "thrift store," "ops shop" or "used clothing market" in another.

La Piazzola
This open air market was found using the first method. Every Friday and Saturday there is a huge market that has sections devoted to both new and used items. There were housewares as well as clothing and accessories, but one big surprise was the number of counter-culture type booths.

I purchased a fabulous handmade vintage dress with sailboats for only 10 Euros. My partner who is not doing WR Challenge got a new Italian belt and underwear.

2. Hybrid Search - In this method I translated many different phrases for what I was looking for into Italian, and put them into a regular Google Search.

By scanning the search results in Italian for repeated phrases, I picked out new search terms that were more natural in Italian such as "usato e vintage," "negozio dell'usato," & "mercantino dell'usato." I looked at the translated versions of these sites to see what I had found. Repeat the process until you find the best search terms. While doing this, keep in mind that if the search page prompts, "Did you mean...?" and gives an alternate phrase, the answer is probably yes.

Since this one was part of a chain, it seemed like a jackpot choice. There were 4 just in Bologna, and if we ever went to Italy again they seem to be everywhere. The selection was like a lower end thrift shop in the U.S., but I did see some amazing things such as the handmade vintage dress that I purchased for 6 Euros.

Cose d'Altre Case
Our biggest haul was from here! They had a great selection of very nice housewares, clothing, jewelry, books, etc. They also had framed and unframed prints that would make excellent souvenirs. We picked up a hand-blown carafe, an enamelware pot, a men's shirt and a women's shirt for just 20 Euros.

We had a great time shopping in Italy, and will probably continue our thrift store adventures on future trips. So if you have any suggestions for the best search terms in other foreign locations, please add them to the comments!