Looking for how to get started geocaching? Look no further…. until you’re done reading this article, then go check out the other Blogorial pilot’s tips to beat summer boredom! 🙂
Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Yellow Loop. Today we are sharing ideas to help your family beat summer boredom.
Two summers ago, our family discovered geocaching – or rather, we finally experienced geocaching after hearing about it several times from friends.
Now when we are anywhere outside, for any length of time (especially in new cities), the kids remember geocaching and ask to see if there are any caches nearby.
What is geocaching?
I’ve heard it much more invitingly described as an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS-enabled devices. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt?! In a sentence, geocachers use GPS devices (including smartphones) – and sometimes clues – to look for containers hidden in specific locations. Around us, geocaches are often found in parks and urban locations – but some have been found underwater and on mountain trails!
If you’re into this sort of thing and want to read the origin story of geocaching, you can do so here.
How do I know where to look?
There are many ways to find geocache locations, including local groups and meet ups, Facebook pages, and more. The simplest way to get started though, is to register (for free!) on geocaching.com; then, using your smartphone, navigate to the “Hide & Seek” page. This is a good place for beginners because the page shares when the cache was last found (and people regularly update the list when new ones are added or when caches get lost or destroyed). This list also lets you know in advance how difficult a cache is to find, what kind of terrain you may navigate, and in many cases, what kind of container you’re actually looking for as well as any hints or things to watch for along the way.
After you have selected a geocache target on this page, your device will help you get there. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t spoil all the fun! When you arrive at the correct location, you should still have plenty of searching to do. Cachers hide the boxes pretty well, both to keep the game fun and to protect the cache from muggles (the simple definition, “the uninitiated”, not the magical folks from Harry Potter.) Perhaps geocaching is even more accurately described as an Easter egg hunt!
Ok… But what EXACTLY am I looking for?
We have found treasures inside of ziploc bags, Tupperware-type containers, soda bottles and plastic-wrapped shoeboxes. The truth is though, that a geocache can be stored and even cleverly hidden inside of tree trunks, fake rocks, miniature statues, or simply camoflauged in plain sight.
Most places that list geocaches will also have some other descriptors listed to assist you in your search. Geocaching.com, for example, lists the following sizes and possible containers:
That’s it, the most basic form of geocaching: follow GPS coordinates, find a container. In case you’re looking for variety though, there are also multi-step caches that require clues from one container to find the next, caches that require solving puzzles of varying complexity, and GPS “Adventure Mazes”. Beyond geocaching, there are also related activities called Letterboxing (which is more heavily reliant on clues instead of GPS, and is actually how my family got started, but unfortunately is not popular in our area) and Waymarking (previously called “Reverse Caching” in the geocaching community, where people find cool things in their area such as an attraction, a statue or piece of art, a historical landmark, etc, and share information about it to educate future visitors.)
What else do I need to know before we start?
There aren’t really any “rules”, but we follow a few guidelines that are pretty widely accepted:
- Only geocache on public property, unless you have explicit permission to do so on private property.
- Be respectful of nature and your surroundings. Don’t destroy plants, pick flowers, or torment animals. Generally, leave no trace that you were there other than your log entry.
- If you take an item from a geocache (sometimes they’ll be filled with actual “treasure”, especially in the eyes of young cachers) be sure to leave something you think is of equal or greater value. Don’t add anything heavily scented (candles, food, etc) because an animal will almost certainly find and destroy that one before any human nose or eyes can find it.
- Bring a pencil, pen, or special stamp with you. In most cases (hopefully all!) there will be a log for you to sign, but very often the writing utensils have walked off or are no longer functional.
- Consider bringing a small trash bag with you if you can safely carry it, to help cleanup along the way, as part of the “Cache In, Trash Out” initiative.
- So that it can be enjoyed by someone else, put the geocache container in the same location, and in the same condition, as you found it.
- …and of course, always consider your safety first! If you’re unfamiliar with or unsure about an area, don’t go there. If you aren’t certain you’ll be back before dusk, take a flashlight. If you’ll be out long, make sure your phone is charged, and that someone knows where you’re going. Wear plenty of sunscreen. Don’t climb on things that look sketchy. Keep an eye on your kids. You know the drill — just be smart! 🙂
Can I really just use my phone?
If you want a little more control, something more rugged, or aren’t sure you can rely on your phone (whether from a directional, signal, or battery standpoint), you can always get an actual GPS receiver. Instead of using the app and your phone’s built-in GPS capability, you would load any number of GPS files to your receiver (I promise, it’s super simple!) and us it instead of – or in addition to – your phone. Many families will have mom or dad carry the phone so that you can log your finds online right away, while the kids have the GPS unit.
We actually just got our first GPS receiver this week (this one), so that the kids can lead the way without me worrying about my phone tumbling off a cliff or into a stream. Someone from the Louisiana Geocaching Society put it best:
“It’s not a question of whether or not you’ll drop your GPS, but of how often you’ll drop it and what you’ll drop it on. “
Their site does a great job explaining what to look for when buying a receiver, as well as other considerations to make for your geocaching bag. If you don’t want to read it, just be sure to get a receiver with WAAS capabilities. It doesn’t even matter what that means, just that it will get you within ten feet of your coordinates, versus other models that will get you within 50 feet. Trust me, if you’re in the middle of the woods looking for a film canister, a 50-foot radius is absolutely, completely useless!
All that said, we have had plenty of easy, leisurely, and fun adventures with just a cell phone in a local park. No trek poles or fancy equipment required. Like most hiking and outdoor activities, geocaching can be whatever you make it. [clickToTweet tweet=”Like most hiking and outdoor activities, geocaching can be whatever you make it!” quote=”Like most hiking and outdoor activities, geocaching can be whatever you make it!”] I think that’s why I found it so appealing to begin with: it’s truly for everyone. There are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible caches, urban caches catered to business men and women on their lunch hour, caches at your family’s favorite park, and caches at the summit of Mt Everest.
As you may already be able to tell, Geocaching.com is considered the general “authority” on the subject. At the very least, it offers the most comprehensive instruction and has the most active users, thereby making it also the most up-to-date. They have awesome tips on hiding your own geocache, other unique twists on the activity, and more. If you have other questions, you’ll find answers there about what to do if you think a cache is listed incorrectly or has disappeared, and what to do if you find a “trackable” (also, you know, what in the world a “trackable” is). They even have information on how the geocaching community is helping charitable organizations, how you can participate in special educational hunts, where to find Event Caches (often attended by thousands of people) and so much more.
The most important thing:
Don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Our family – and even my extended family – loves (loves loves loves) Easter egg hunts, and therefore has a really great time on the actual seeking of the container once we have arrived at our coordinates. The greatest value of geocaching, though, has to be the places you explore and the memories you make along the way. [clickToTweet tweet=”The greatest value of #geocaching is the places you get to explore and the memories you make along the way.” quote=”The greatest value of #geocaching is the places you get to explore and the memories you make along the way.”]
And just for good measure…
OTHER AWESOME LINKS
Are you a teacher or homeschool parent? This resource is so cool, sharing geocaching lesson plans for math, social studies, science, geography, language arts, art, physical education, and health!
I also loved this presentation on geocaching as it applies to gifted learners, ADHD, depression, and other health and societal benefits. It also links to dozens of other great resources!
This PDF has tips for teaching kids how to get started geocaching, as well as other super fun hide-and-seek activities you can do closer to home.
“How Stuff Works” has this wonderfully geeky explanation about GPS.
Have you tried geocaching, letterboxing, or anything similar? Leave a comment below… or even better, share a picture of your next cache on this Facebook post!
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Yellow | Beating Summer Boredom Loop:
- 1st Stop – Saving Up for Disney | 5 Budget-friendly Patriotic Summer Crafts for Kids
- 2nd Stop – Always Moving Mommy | Staycation Ideas
- 3rd Stop – Love Our Crazy Life | Summer Programs For Kids
- 4th Stop – Home is Where the Mouse Is | Cool Summer Water Activities for Kids
- 5th Stop – The Delightful Life | YOU ARE HERE 🙂