An addictive way to explore the world – geocaching for newbies

We’ve recently discovered the fun of geocaching  – which is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices to find a container hidden at specific location. It’s an addictive pastime, and in this post I answer some of the FAQs about geocaching for newbies.  Geocaching for newbies: www.feetonforeignlands.com Just recently, our family was introduced to geocaching. I’d known about it for a while, but I thought that it was really very complex, and required sophisticated GPS gear to to take part in.

It turned out I was totally wrong on both counts.

One Sunday afternoon, The Impossible Princess and I set out in our local neighbourhood to find a nearby geocache armed only with a pen, a small toy eraser to swap, and an iPhone. And our geocaching addiction was born.

What is Geocaching?

At its most basic, geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game which uses GPS-enabled devices (GPS units or phones with GPS capability). Geocachers enter a specific set of GPS coordinates, make their way to that spot and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. There are currently over 2,609,411 hidden geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide (but given families often geocache using a single log-on, the actual figure is probably much higher).

This video from www.geocaching.com explains the concept of geocaching better than I can!

How do you know what the co-ordinates are and where to look?

There’s a few steps to start geocaching:

  1. Register for a free basic membership at www.geocaching.com.
  2. Visit the ‘Play’ page and ‘Find a geocache’, then enter your postcode or your suburb and state (I’ve found Australian postcodes alone don’t work so well on this page), then click ‘Search’.
  3. Choose one of the nearby geocaches from the list and click on its name. (My tip: choose a green one to start.) Read the description and the recent logs (which may give you a few extra hints).
  4. Enter the co-ordinates of the geocache into your GPS device and then use it to direct you to the geocache, or if you are using a phone, download one of the geocaching apps and select the geocache from the app once you’ve logged into your membership – your phone will then point you in the right direction. We’ve found an iPhone using the Geocaching app can get us within about 5-10 metres of the geocache GZ (ground zero), then we just have to hunt about.
  5. Watch out for muggles! Non-geocachers are known as ‘muggles’, and geocachers are careful not to draw muggle attention to geocache hiding spots (as then theft and vandalism tends to occur). So you need to act surreptitiously as you crawl on hands and knees, scouring the edge of a pond in a local park for a nook the geocache could be hiding in!

What are these geocaches we’re looking for?

The original type of geocache is called a ‘traditional geocache’ (they’re the green ones I mentioned before) and they are the most straightforward. These geocaches consist of a container hidden at the given co-ordinates. The size can be anything from a small bolt-sized container (micro) through to something bigger than 20L (large). They are designed to blend in with their hiding spot, so could be camouflaged, or magnetic and attached underneath something metal, or hidden in a hole in a tree etc. The ingenuity of the geocache creators knows no bounds. Geocaching for newbies: www.feetonforeignlands.com Inside each geocache, at a bare minimum, will be a logbook which you sign and date when you find it, then replace. Apart from the micro ones, geocaches usually also contain some small swap items, and/or ‘trackables’ (which are etched with a unique code that is used to log it on geocaching.com as they move from geocache to geocache). You don’t have to swap an item, but it makes it especially fun for kids to take along something to swap, and then to move that new item onto the next geocache they find. The Impossible Princess started with a small giraffe eraser, which she swapped for a plastic spider, which she exchanged for a friendship bracelet and so on… The rule is that you leave something of equal or greater value than you take.

I’ve only described the ‘traditional’ geocaches, as they are the best place for a total newbie to start. There are, however, many other types of geocaches,  some of which require puzzle-solving or decryption skills, or multiple site visits to get onward co-ordinates etc. Once you’re on board, the geocaching website has great FAQ pages explaining all the terminology and ‘rules’.

Can kids take part?

Most certainly they can! This is an activity which offers something for all the family. In an ambitious move, The Fairlie Entourage quickly moved on from seeking traditional caches to tackling a blue ‘mystery’ cache – which involves solving a very complex number crossword puzzle in order to reveal the coordinates. The entire family spent hours and hours on a rainy Sunday trying to work it out. (We still haven’t…) Geocaching for newbies: www.feetonforeignlands.com The Impossible Princess and I have made several Sunday trips to neighbourhood geocache locations, and it gives a fun purpose to getting out and exploring your local area. Not all our trips have resulted in successful finds – so we still have several nearby that we will revisit to continue our hunt, including the muddy edge of the pond in the photo below!Geocaching for newbies: www.feetonforeignlands.com And it doesn’t need to be confined to your local area.  Using the website or the phone app, you can find nearby geocaches wherever you are in the world. There’s literally millions of geocaches hidden across the globe. I wish we’d been into geocaching before our last stay in Ho Chi Minh City, as we could have found a few while we were there.Geocaching for newbies: www.feetonforeignlands.com It is an excellent way to discover little nooks you may not visit otherwise, and a long-time geocaching friend of mine tells me her kids have happily walked many, many kilometres on scenic bush, beach or country walks because they knew they were on the trail of a geocache.

Really young kids could be a definite advantage in not attracting muggle attention while geocaching – no-one looks twice at a small kid climbing over a public sculpture, or squeezing under a park bench. A forty-something-year-old woman doing the same however… 🙂

There’s even ‘GeoTours‘ – which are custom tours that showcase geocaches while introducing you to a new location, ranging from New Caledonia to Peru to Iceland and lots in between.  At the moment there is just one in Australia, based around Lake Eildon here in Victoria. I can see a weekend at Lake Eildon going onto the travel agenda!

And one other thing…

Cache In Trash Out (CITO) is a fantastic environmental initiative which is supported by the geocaching community. This initiative aims to clean up and preserve the areas that are used for geocaching.  Part of the geocaching philosophy is to remove rubbish encountered while geocaching on a day to day basis. But CITO also encourages larger events/gatherings of geocachers to focus on litter clean-up, removal of invasive species, planting trees and vegetation, and trail building.

So, is your interest piqued? Will you be joining us in our geocaching addiction?

 

This post is linked to:

My Brown Paper Packages

and #FYBF at With Some Grace

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