I went vintage shopping across Europe. Here’s how it went
5 January 2024
Maddy’s trip to Paris looked a little different than most travellers' experiences exploring the iconic French capital.
Sure, as a first-time visitor to Europe, she visited fabled sites such as the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower.
But she also browsed the racks of Chinemachine, a thrift and consignment shop just 400 metres from the ivory reaches of Sacré-Coeur. And Gaijin Paris, which specialises in Japanese vintage clothing. And Predilection, which brands itself as a “post-modernist’ secondhand shop.
In total, Maddy visited at least 25 vintage clothing shops (and three flea markets) while in Paris – plus many more secondhand shops as she travelled across Europe with her Eurail Pass last autumn.
It might sound impossible, but not if you’re Maddy. Passionate about thrifting and secondhand shopping, she created The Essentials Club, a creative hub offering tutorials on how to make clothing from scratch, tips for sustainable living, and beyond.
In October 2023, Maddy and her partner Darcy visited Europe for the first time, spending two-and-a-half weeks hitting flea markets, secondhand shops and vintage sales across four countries with the Eurail Global Pass. Beginning in Paris, they travelled through northern France to Belgium and the Netherlands, ending their journey in the United Kingdom.
“The way that everything is connected here in Europe is insane to us,” said Maddy, who visited from Australia as part of a paid partnership with Eurail.
“Coming from Australia, it takes days to cross even just one state. The fact that we could be crossing multiple countries potentially within a day – and being able to sit at a train window and take it in, rather than flying and skipping it all – has been such a highlight.”
We sat down for a conversation with Maddy at the Utrecht Central Library during her visit to the Netherlands. She shared her insight into vintage shopping in Europe, her tips for packing for a Eurail trip, and her deep appreciation for slow travel.
“We've gone to a few major cities, but we've also really enjoyed slowing down and seeing the in-between places,” Maddy said. “We’ve loved getting to visit and support smaller towns, try the local food, and learn about each place’s history.”
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
I’d love to start by hearing about your Eurail journey. Where have you travelled so far?
It’s been a big goal of ours to explore Paris – that’s where we began. We did all the touristy things and then started to explore more of the back streets, cafes, thrift and vintage shops – places we didn’t really have on a specific list.
I’ve learned it's great to have an itinerary of things that you want to see, but it’s nice to be open to stumbling across places that you might not have known existed. Doing this in Paris was really exciting.
After Paris, we hopped on the train and travelled to Amiens. That was incredible – we walked around and saw all the beautiful houses, experienced the cafe culture, ate lots of pastries, and met some of the people. We've been so lucky that everyone has been so lovely and welcoming.
Lille was our final stop in France. It is such a quaint town with so much character. We really found that, coming out of Paris, we could just breathe a bit more going to these smaller towns. We could just slow down and take it in.
In Belgium, we went to Antwerp and Ghent, which was magical. It's been so nice getting a little taste of each of these places and knowing that when we come back, we can delve into these places even further.
We then went to Brussels, returning back to a big city. There was lots to do and see, but we could also escape into the back streets or hide away in a cafe.
Next came Rotterdam, and now, we're here in Utrecht, excited to kick off our final few destinations in the Netherlands.
How have you enjoyed vintage shopping on your Eurail journey?
The flea markets and the vintage shopping in Europe is just amazing! In my everyday life, I like to prioritise buying secondhand or supporting businesses that are using ethical or sustainable practices. It's naturally what I'm drawn to, so it's been exciting to explore how I can access that in different countries.
The secondhand shopping and thrifting in Brussels was just insane. There were a lot of streets and hubs for secondhand shopping, and even more outside of the main city centre. I've had to resist filling up my suitcases with all the magical, amazing secondhand pieces that are available over here.
I can't wait to share what I have found and continue to come back and discover new places each time.
What have been your favourite vintage finds so far?
I’ve been really excited to stumble across clothing from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The quality is still there, and I will use and love the pieces for years to come – and I know that they were probably used and loved for decades before I found them. It's just so exciting that I now get to give them a whole new life and story.
I’ve found a few retro jackets that I’ll layer and use to add a bit of colour and personality to my outfits. I can't wait to rep them back at home in Australia.
In your opinion, what is the overlap between slow travel and slow fashion?
Sustainability, to me, is about using what you already have. And, while travelling, you must be creative with what you have in your suitcase. I think that is really a good reminder that you don't need much to be happy or have beautiful experiences.
I've enjoyed the creativity of putting together outfits and knowing that everything I have is all I need. It makes me slow down and be intentional about introducing new items to my wardrobe, which overlaps with slowing down and accessing new places by rail. It’s about embracing the slow mindset of being conscious about what you introduce into your life and what you sign up for.
I know firsthand how easy it is to over-consume while shopping on a trip. How do you resist this urge?
While travelling, it’s easy to get into the whole rush of finding new stuff. So, before buying more clothing, it’s important to ask yourself: Do I really need this, or is it just adding more stuff to my life? Will I love and use this piece for years to come?
It’s all about slowing down and knowing that you don't need to buy more stuff to have a fulfilling travel experience.
I read on your Instagram story that you fit 40+ outfits into one suitcase while packing for this trip. What’s your advice for those of us who feel lost when it comes to packing?
It's good to be practical when you are living from a suitcase. We all have pieces that we think we're going to wear while travelling, but we've got to be realistic. I ask myself: If I haven't worn this piece for months at home, am I going to wear it on a trip?
Packing the staples is important – some good pants, good tops. It also depends on what season you're travelling in. Be smart with your layers; I've got some good basic thermal layers and externals that I can put on top that have a bit more character.
Obviously it’s fine to outfit-repeat, but if you feel like experimenting with combining different pieces, it might be good to refine the colours and the textures so that you have lots of options.
I'm very lucky that I can make a lot of my own clothes, so I was able to create some custom pieces for this trip that are simple and timeless but also suit my personal style.
Overall, just be considerate of what your true style is and what you can wear over and over again. And don’t forget, you might stumble across some great pieces as you are travelling, especially if you are thrifting or secondhand shopping or supporting local businesses along the way.
One last question: what is the moment (or moments) from this journey that will stick with you forever?
Connection moments are always the thing that stands out for me. Getting to talk to people and hear about where they come from and how they experience life in the places we travelled. Slowing down, meeting people, being open to new places, and just taking it all in.
It's hard to put my finger on just one moment – but, for example, there was this one time where we were walking through a market and got to chat with some locals. We got their tips and found out about a local cafe that they like to go to. It was a true moment of connection.
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