Why we Love to Garage Sale on a Road Trip

A Summer Sale in Michigan

On a road trip, we love to hit a garage sale or two. Depending on the time of year and part of the country, you may find flea markets, estate sales, consignment stores, or even the ol’ standby antique store. In my experience, garage sales are where you will find the most bang for your quarter. If you have the amazing luck of stumbling upon a city-wide or neighborhood garage sale, plan to be late for your intended destination. Remember, one man’s junk is another mom’s treasure.

Before even a long weekend away from home, we load up the coin holder in the minivan and tell the kids to look for garage sale signs. Each person has up to one dollar they can spend on any purchase their heart desires (don’t worry, at twenty-five cents, you can always accidentally misplace the sail boat ash tray in a day or two). Not only are the kids engaged (and motivated) to find signs, begging and pleading to stop at retail stores has all but stopped.

Toys and trinkets gathered on your trip can be used as geocaching treasures, random surprises, or “new” items for a cabin or deserving hostel or camp ground. You can purchase a little something on the sly and slip it into your purse as an alternate to a kid’s meal toy. On the subject of kid’s meals, one mom I know scours her home town garage sales for unopened trinkets (from Mc-you-know-where) and brings a collection with her on cross-country trips.

To be “in” on the garage sale lingo, know that Wednesday night is typically the “preview” day. Meaning, the sale is not officially open, people aren’t typically inclined to barter, but you get first dibs. Thursday morning is go time. Garage doors usually open at 8AM, and if you have a particular sale or item in mind, plan to arrive when the sale opens. Some people advertise big-ticket items (tools, lawn mowers) or themes (baby toys, clothes, antiques) in the local classified ads or for free on Craigslist.

“Multi-family” sale means many families have hauled, sorted, and combined their items at one house. Note that technically multi-family can be as few as two households. Words like “huge” and “amazing” also mean different things to different people. Sample sales are sales featuring a bunch of one type of thing (typically new or unused, but out of the box). I’ve been to sample sales for clothing, makeup, and oddly enough, toothbrushes. In 2008, we purchased 125 unused toothbrushes at 10 cents each (you do the math).

Garage Sale Signs

Sweet manna from Heaven!

Often times, Saturday afternoon is when reality sets in. In sales where the tables are still full, people may put up 50% Off signs. If you see “everything must go,” get ready to barter. It’s probably easier to have someone else take your items than make a trip to nearest Goodwill store. If you are looking for something in particular, don’t be afraid to ask. It may be buried or still in the basement ready to be hauled up and out at will.Another friend of mine has this theory: The more awful the road signs, the better the sale. Some laizzes faire sign makers have even been known to categorize prices (ranging from “everything on this table is 50 cents” to “name your price”).

On the subject of signs, if you are having a garage sale consider these pet peeves of mine: (1) Stick with the same sign color.  Some of us are thrown by three green signs, one pink sign, followed by two more green signs. (2) Two words=human factors; no one can read 2 point font at 45 mph. Use a big arrow and we’ll follow like lemmings. If text is absolutely necessary to the success of people finding your sale, use the stop sign font as your guide. (3) Sign etiquette says you should promptly remove all signs on the evening of the last day of your sale.

When we’re in in a new town or unfamiliar part of the country, I like to ask people for their suggestions on places to visit, eat, and see. We ask for nearby playgrounds, parks, and kid-friendly attractions. If you feel on-edge about a house or situation, don’t be afraid to put your pile down and leave. Make sure you have cell coverage and enough room to fit everything in your trunk. And, of course, if you have a suggestion or favorite garage sale tip, please add a comment below. Team Dumpster Diving unite!


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.