Travel Tips for the Toy Collector
Posted - 09/13/00

This week we'll be discussing some very helpful tips and ideas for people who are on the road but still want to find those action figures. Some of these tips are purely mine - others come from my many friends in the collecting world. I'd like to thank all of them right up front - for their help and friendship!

Being on the road doesn't mean you have to stop buying toys!

In the last few years I've been really racking up the frequent flyer miles, both nationally and internationally. Most of this is not of my doing - my work has altered a couple times, and I’ve gone from extreme amounts of travel to moderate amounts. This has necessitated picking up some ideas and plans for toy shopping on the road.  Since many of us are traveling more these days (I can tell by the crowds I have to fight at every airport), I thought sharing this info might prove helpful to our readers.
Before you even hit the road:
  • Obtain a good road atlas of your planned trip or final destination.  This will allow you to plot your course of attack early.  For a double whammy, Wal-mart sells an atlas that includes already on it the locations of their stores.  Can't get much easier than that!

Lines that were foreign release only, like the Matchbox Fighting Furies or Mattlel Karl May, can be found at antique shops and boot sales in Europe.

Unique and unusual Soakies (shampoo bottles) are much more common over seas.

You never know what odd items you'll find!  The Bart ice cream scoop and Maggie toe nail brush are two items I would have never found at home.

  • Do some homework on the web pages.  Most of the major retail chains now have home pages that have store locators.  Toys R Us ( store locator can find both US and International locations.  Kmart ( has a unique store locator called Find Us, that uses maps and counties to find their stores across the country.  Target ( and Walmart ( also have very good store locators that allow you to find their stores by state, city or zip code.  These also include phone numbers, handy for calling in advance. Using these locators, you can determine where many of the major retailers are along your route or at your destination.  One store that lacks a good locator at their web page is Kaybee ( - perhaps they'll get working on it soon.
  • Now you know where the main stores are, you'll find that many of the smaller stores are there too.  Usually stores of this type group together, and anywhere there is a Wal-mart, there is a Target not too far away.  Meijers, Toys R Us, Target etc. all tend to clump together with the other chains.  And don't be afraid to ask for directions to other stores, even if you're a man.  Also, look for other similar style stores.  If you see a Circuit City and a Home Depot just off the expressway, odds are awfully good there will be a Target there too.
  • You've got your stores, and you're ready to rock...but wait?  How do you know any of them are any good?  Your time may be limited, and you hate to waste it on that Kmart that never gets new stock in…that's where the news groups come in.  Talk to the people out on and get their opinions.  It's likely that someone there will be from the area you're heading to, and will be able to give you info on which stores are the best for finding new stuff.  Another benefit is learning about those smaller stores, like Another World, Forbidden Planet, Puzzle Zoo, Mile High Comics or Growell's.  Post to the group letting people know where you're headed and they will be happy to help you out with all kinds of great info.  Here's one more net suggestion - try to meet with some other rtafd'ers along the way if you can.  I've been lucky enough to hook up with quite a few, and had several others stay at my home when they were traveling.  Getting to know each other in person is just one more side benefit to trips.
  •  So now we must be ready to go...nope, not quite.  Let's assume you get lucky and find all those great toys you're hoping for - how to get them home?  If you're driving, keep in mind that your space is limited, and action figures somewhat fragile.  If you're flying, it's an even bigger problem.  Select your toughest suitcases, preferable those with hard sides.  Pack light - you'll need that extra space.  I usually take one bag more than I really need, and spread my stuff out so that all my bags have something in them, but none are anywhere near being full.  That way I can easily pack some goodies in with me on the way back.  I'll discuss packing more later, but for now just keep in mind that you need to save some space.
Now it's time to hit the road:
  •  If you're driving alone, I suggest hitting a store about once ever two hours.  It's a great way to break the tedium and keep you lively.  Even at night you can often find those 24 hour Meijers and Wal-marts out there, and that's the best time to find good stuff at them anyway.  If you're driving with someone else this may get difficult, but try to convince them of the benefits of getting that regular stop. Don't get worried though if you can't hit every store.  Just think of the fox and those sour grapes.  Hitting stores more often than this can cause you to never reach your final destination.  Ever notice how redundant that is, by the way?  Final destination - isn't final what any destination is?
  • If you're flying, don't forget to check the airports.  They are great for finding Beanie Babies (if that's your thing) and I've seen the odd action figure there as well.  When the figure was still quite scarce, I saw a 10" Xena at the airport in Paris - you never know what you might find.
  • One place to never get your toy info - any concierge.  I have yet to meet one that had more than a basic grasp of the concept of toy buying.  More times than not they point you in some wild direction, and neglect to mention the 4 great stores just around the corner.  If you do ask them, remember that it's unlikely that they are giving you a complete picture.
  • Don't get too upset if you don't find the latest and greatest stuff.  It's hard to find those new items when you aren't shopping the same stores day after day - it becomes much more difficult to be there on the right day.  Instead of concentrating on only new things, try to keep in mind older items that may have been shipped heavier to another area, or regional items that are plentiful where you're going but hard to find back home.  Great examples are fast food premiums, Action Man figures, Sailor Moon stuff, European cereal premiums and store exclusives that may not be in your area.

Unusual cereal premiums and candy containers are lurking in those out of the way grocery stores!


Okay, I've got some great stuff and now it's time to go home:
  • If you're driving, you've probably already gotten your stuff carefully packed away in the trunk, someplace where junior is not going to sit on it.  Remember that the hot sun can fade figures and cards, and leaving them in the open is inviting disaster in the form of someone’s big butt.
  • For those flying, this is the trickiest part.  Take as many toys as carry-on as possible.  I suggest using a large TRU bag, and placing them in there carefully and tightly. Then pack this under the seat in front of you if possible.  Others on the plane will not be very careful with your bag in the overhead compartment, and you don't want that many witnesses to you beating some clod to death.
  • If you are packing some stuff in your checked luggage, remember that smaller is better.  Wrap your carded items in clothes, and keep them in the center of the suitcases.  I had been getting pretty cocky lately - in all my trips I hadn't had a single toy damaged, not even those checked from Europe. But on my one trip to California I decided to pack and check my A-wing, and it came home crushed.
  • Another option involves boxing your toys.  Airlines will allow you three checked bags - one of these can be a box if you'd like.  Check with your airline for the largest dimension acceptable.  This is a much safer method of checking your toys, but it can be difficult to find an appropriate box at your destination.
  • And one final choice is to mail your stuff back to yourself.  This is of course the most expensive method, but for things you really don't have the room for, it can be the only choice.
Now get out there and enjoy that summer traveling!  If you have comments or suggestions for future features, just drop me a line to Michael!
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