There are few things us Brits love more than sniffing out a bargain. But what if you could combine this love of treasure hunting with our other national passion – the weekend away?
Foreign fleamarket or brocante breaks are fast becoming one of the most fun and pocket-friendly ways of stocking up on antiques, furniture and other homely treasures and the ideal way to furnish a house for less.
If you’ve a sense of adventure and a few quid to spare, a weekend away with a van can be a hoot, especially if you’re well prepared and ready to haggle. It’s even more fun if you take a friend and they can help you lift bulky items.
It’s also an excellent excuse to grab some much needed sunshine after what feels like weeks of rain. Interested? Then follow our top tips for picking up a lorry-load of fantastic finds:
France is the obvious choice for fleamarkets, but check out Holland and Belgium too.
Serious about stocking up on bargain antiques abroad? Start planning even before you leave the UK. Ask the local tourist office for details of any fleamarkets you intend to visit – opening times, maps, specialist stalls – anything to give you a head start. Don’t rely on the internet alone, as times and dates can change and it’s a long way to travel for nothing.
Book your transport. One of the easiest ways is to fly out and drive back. Europcar, for example, let you collect a vehicle in one country and drop it off in another (www.europcar.co.uk).
Always overestimate the van size you’ll need – you can drive a Luton van on a normal car licence so there’s plenty of room for all your treasures. Don’t be afraid – they are quite easy to handle.
Take measurements of every room in your house before you fo. You might be planning to buy a dining table but what if you see a French armoire you simply can’t resist? Include doorway dimensions too. These measurements are absolutely crucial as if you can’t fit your find through the door you’re in trouble.
Antique dealers arrive at the crack of dawn to bag the best bargains at flea markets. Beat them at their own game and get there as early as you dare. Bring a tape measure, foreign language dictionary, currency converter and a few plastic bags for any small purchases.
Do a quick sweep of the flea market to get your bearings and suss out what’s on offer. Then do a second, more thorough tour, taking time to browse at your leisure. If something really special catches your eye on the first circuit, however, get it. Leave it until later and sure as eggs is eggs, it’ll have been snapped up by another keen-eyed bargain hunter.
Use your imagination when it comes to furniture. Look at the design and the practicality rather than the colour. You can always paint or revarnish.
Avoid antique firearms and weapons, ivory, furs, bone and other animal products – you can get into all sorts of bother at customs or airport security and you might be supporting an illegal trade.
Leave the credit card and travellers’ cheques behind. All but the biggest stallholders will want cash. Take small denomination notes as vendors don’t carry lots of change. Keep any cash in a money-belt or cross body bag as flea markets are a favourite with pickpockets.
A few words will go a long way with stallholders. Learn key foreign phrases to help you haggle. This is expected and all part of the fun.
Remember to factor in overseas freight if you’re not driving back to the UK – the stall holder may be able to organise this for you but it’s more likely that you’ll have to get a reliable international courier such as FedEx to do arrange collection and delivery.
If you have any left over buys then think about selling on eBay or hiring a stall at a vintage fair. There are lots of fairs and French vintage items are especially saleable.