We always say that Flea Market Season is our favorite season. Hands down. (It’s just luck that it coincides with summer, right?) We love it so much that we wake up early for it – like, 5 AM early! – and the day follows a ritual of sorts. Fresh brewed coffee and flaky croissants. Loading up our backpack for jackets, snacks and cash. A good podcast for the drive. But I’ll be honest and say that we hadn’t been to a proper flea market in well over a year, and we have one very good, very little reason – Lucy!
In Lucy’s first year of life, we stayed close to home or Tree House, soaking up our weekends with lazy Sunday brunches, long family walks and kitchen renovations (as you do). But now that Lucy is almost a year-and-a-half old – a toddler (sniff, sniff)! – she’s much more engaged in our activities, and as her personality emerges more and more, we’ve realized that – although shy at first – she is a lover of people. Of crowds! Because of this, we knew the time was right to initiate her into her first flea market experience – a day we’ve been waiting for. Wanting to set ourselves up for success, we planned our adventure day around her routines (the secret to her happiness, truly), and it was a success! Our favorite flea is in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, an hour and a half drive from Chicago, which we actually used to our advantage. Below, I’m sharing what we did to successfully navigate a flea market with a toddler – and have a blast doing it!
Make the Drive During a Nap
Don’t mess with naps! Just… don’t do it. Lucy is a clock to the minute, and although the old Kim and Scott would have been on the road by 6 AM (you know what they say about early birds!), this time, we paced our morning as usual. We had breakfast together as a family, we read books and played with toys. But once the clock hit 9, we buckled Lucy into her carseat and began the hour and a half drive to Wisconsin! 5 minutes in, she was ready for her nap and fast asleep. On the opposite end, we timed her afternoon nap to the drive home.
Bring Along Her Favorite Mode of Transportation
Which mode of transportation does your toddler prefer? A wagon? A carrier? A stroller? Bring along what they enjoy! Lucy loves a wagon ride, and we knew it would fill two roles: toddler transport and goodie haul. (If your babe loves a carrier, even better; you’ll have a much easier time maneuvering through the crowds.)
Prevent Over Stimulation with (Multiple) Breaks
This one says it all, but build in a break or two (or three)! When we noticed that Lucy was more engaged with a certain booth, we spent more time there. We took advantage of running through the empty vendor lots and paused during her usual snack time. If she began to feel overstimulated (punctuated by the Lucy zoomies!), we would take a moment to pick the dandelions and feel the grass.
It was a rainy day for the flea market, which can be good and bad. Good, because it was less crowded! Bad, because some of our favorite vendors were a no-show. Even still, we took turns browsing through the booths that interested us, while the other stayed on the outskirts with Lucy and the wagon. This is a small thing that lends itself to less frustration and feelings of overwhelm in a crowd – for us and Lucy!
Give Her An Activity
Here’s a funny story: A decade ago, we discovered that if we give Jack a ‘job’, he’s much less anxious with a new experience. (Example: Holding a ball when company comes over.) As it turns out, it works on babies, too! Ha! When we feel time closing in on us, we find that giving Lucy a a job – or, activity – goes a long way. In this case, pulling her wagon thrilled her to no end; this had the added perk of attracting a crowd (her favorite). Everyone wanted to stop and say hello!, which made her day.
Make Time for a Family Pit Stop
On the way home, we gave ourselves time to stop for a mini family pit stop. It wasn’t much – we had lunch at a pretty pub and played in the grass – but moments like those are our absolute favorite. It’s a treat to carve out that time for our family and enjoy each other’s company after a visually stimulating adventure surrounded by others!
Be Kind to Yourself
Be (really) realistic. Know your and your toddler’s limits. It may not go as planned, you may need to pivot, and that’s okay! Overall, be kind to yourself. Going to the flea market has the potential to be an all day event, but we knew we needed to shift our mind set and our expectations with a toddler in tow. Although we browsed the booths for a much shorter time than we had in the past, we had the best time by keeping the focus on the time we were able to spend together!
What else would you add?