Smart Shopping: 5 Tips for Navigating the Flea Market

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Last Sunday was the monthly Alameda flea market just outside of San Francisco and we emerged from the day happily clutching our finds and sincerely wishing that we had brought some sunscreen. Here are a few takeaways from the experience.

1. Read up. Knowing what to expect before you show up is half the battle. Is there free parking nearby or a shuttle to the site? Is there a cover? Should you expect 50 or 500 vendors and what is the loading policy? Checking the event site and Yelp can help answer questions in advance so you can prepare accordingly.

2. Pack smart. While you aren't heading to the beach you might as well be. Packing sunscreen, a light layer, water, reusable bags and a tape measure will help you be prepared for the day (and hopefully avoid leaving with a oh-so-rosy glow.) Snacks are also a good idea as I usually catch myself spending as much on lunch as I do shopping.

3. Make a list. While by its very nature you can expect to find the unexpected, walking into a flea market without some direction can be a dangerous thing. Aside from being massively overwhelming it can also lead to coming home with some pretty whacky items. Need something to fill the bookshelf or some art on the wall? Snap a picture of the space for reference and take a few measurements. It'll help you in the long haul.

4. Bring cash. Small bills are helpful for haggling and while there might be an ATM nearby you can expect to get hit with some hefty fees for using it. Be prepared to pay for parking or admission in cash as well.

5. Pace yourself. I have a tendency to want to examine every item in the 1st several booths, then burn out and breeze through the rest. Walking a lap to get a feel for what is there before you dig in can help avoid this and help you make the most of your time.

(Image credits: Kim Lucian)

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