A while back, I wrote about ways to live a bit greener throughout the year, and the list included things like second-hand shopping and offering time instead of gifts. What I missed off the latter part was that as well as giving your own time as a present – be it a dinner invite or a helping hand with DIY – giving experiences is a really cool way to treat someone you love without buying them more ‘stuff’.
You’ve probably all seen the kind of experience day packages that pop up in department stores around Christmas time – buying someone a hot air balloon flight, or a formula 1 racing day. But they can be a bit pricey for the budget shopper, and there’s rarely ‘something for everyone’ in the mix.
Last weekend, I went on another National Express trip – this time to London – to try out a gift experience day offered by The Indytute. They’re a company that offer everything from disco yoga and aerial silks to gin tasting tours and build-your-own-bike sessions, all as gifts you can buy for yourself or somebody else. Even better, there’s tonnes for under £30.
Spoiled for choice, I decided to give their Charity Shop Hop a spin. It’s a guided tour of some hidden gems in second-hand treasure hunting, and you can choose from three different areas of London to explore. I opted for Dalston Junction, which included some bonus highlights in Stoke Newington.
Unexpected Thrift shop treasures
Led by a lovely woman called Sanna, the tour took us to places I’d have completely overlooked right from the word go. As I don’t want to give the game away too much, I’m not going to share all of the shop locations in this post… You’ll have to go and explore them for yourself!
The first area included a pop-up market as well as permanent stores, with the streetside vendors offering everything from gorgeous mid-century furniture to children’s clothes and books. I picked up a copy of The Psychopath Test (naturally) and ogled Save The Date, a pay-as-you-feel stall run by the brains behind the sustainable cafe of the same name. More on them here.
In our first charity shop stop off, I invested £3 in a pair of black velour dungarees. Because why wouldn’t I? It was an unassuming venue which didn’t look like much from the outside, but which had all kinds of bargains hiding within. Surfboard, anyone? Incredible chunky knit cardigan for £1 on the sale rail? Sanna plotted the route to include shops in a few different price ranges, but rest assured you won’t need to come with vast piles of cash in order to fill your bag with goodies.
While there were a couple of shops that most keen charity shoppers would stop and investigate if they were passing by, there were also several I would quite literally never have thought to go inside.
Aside from the added excitement element of being led by someone who knows exactly where to look, and who can tailor your day to include places that are best for clothes / records / books / homewares etc depending on what you’re looking for, bargain hunters will love the in-the-know vibe you get as you walk into a shop that looks like absolutely nothing, only to find it packed with brilliant buys.
If you know someone who loves rummaging through clothes rails to find that great piece that nobody else has got, or who pores over books and records in search of their next obsession, this is absolutely the tour for them.
You can buy someone a Charity Shop Hop of their own for £24 on The Indytute, or buy a trip for two for £44. The tours happen every month, and you can opt for Dalston Junction, Victoria or Golder’s Green – generally starting at 10am for a couple of hours adventuring.
Depending on which route you pick, you might take a short bus ride at some point – as we did to go from Dalston Junction to Stoke Newington – and if you need to stop for a snack or a drink along the way, it’s no issue. As there are so many possible shops to visit, Sanna was also keen to point out extra places that we could explore in our own time once the tour had ended, and gave us a handmade map which pinpointed some bonus locations!
Any of the experience days on The Indytute can be sent as an e-gift or as a posted gift pack, depending on whether you’re planning ahead or need a last minute / spontaneous treat to be sorted.
Getting there from outside London
If, like me, your gift recipient isn’t based in London, getting there by coach or by train should be fairly easy. For the Dalston Junction tour, I plotted a return trip from Norwich to Stratford to avoid the city centre (which is massive, let’s face it) and as the train line was having yet more work done, I opted for the coach. Rail replacement buses are godawful and there was no way I was going to spend four hours each way travelling when I knew I could do it in two!
The National Express buses that run in and out of London generally give you the option of using free WiFi and a system called VUER, which I didn’t get to try out on my recent coach trip to Cambridge but which kept me entertained this time around. While the signal was a little temperamental, the app itself was a godsend. A two hour journey goes much faster when you have a whole library of blockbuster films to watch for free, and I even flicked through the tiny digital pages of the latest Cosmo on the way back.
Coaches are almost always cheaper than taking the train, and as I mentioned in my previous post, they’re actually a surprisingly eco-friendly way to travel. If you’re buying someone an experience day that isn’t in their local area and want to make sure they aren’t forking out for transport there and back, this lot are probably worth a look in.
All in all, I had a flippin’ excellent day out in London and would recommend the Charity Shop Hop to anyone. Sanna was the perfect guide, and in just a few shops in one area of London we found more cool stuff than I’ve sometimes found in days of searching around Norwich’s second-hand and charity stores!
With Christmas just around the corner, if you’re trying to avoid buying people ‘stuff’ this year and need some inspiration, browsing The Indytute might be a wise place to start. (Though if you aren’t averse to ‘stuff’, take a look at my guide to ethical Christmas shopping for further inspiration…)
A big thanks to The Indytute and to National Express for gifting me this great day out and the means to get there and back! My opinions on it all here are genuine, and I’m really grateful to be given the chance to try things like this out.