My husband happened upon a neat little distraction that we have been enjoying as a family whenever the weather is cooperative. It’s called geocaching. In super simplified terms, it’s basically an electronic game of hide and seek that can take place anywhere in the world. You use a GPS enabled device, in our case our iPhone, to find hidden containers–called caches. Containers are usually weather resistant, plastic containers or ammo boxes that are often under tree trunks, behind a bush or otherwise blending into the scenery. These caches often contain booty–small trinket type items that are left for trading–and a log book of some sort to note that you were there. The rules ask that if you take something from the cache, that you replace it with something of similar value. The logbook allows you to note that you found it, and provide a short comment if space permits. We downloaded an app (http://www.geocaching.com/iphone/) onto my husband’s iPhone and away we went. This app uses the GPS in the phone to determine your physical location, and gives you approximate distances to the closest cache for you to find, as well as the level of difficulty to find these hidden treasures. The app allows people to provide comments, sometimes letting on that it’s an easy or difficult find. These caches are named (sometimes giving you a clue to their location or the content in the box) and folks often leave electronic clues and hints, and even photos to help you with your search. This booty contained in the container is also called swag, and we have purposely set aside neat little trinkets for trading and put them in a go to swag bag that’s ready and waiting for our next adventure.
There are all kinds of nuances to this fun activity. According to www.geocaching.com (this website also gives you the background and more in depth information about this activity), there are currently 12 different types of caches ranging from traditional to puzzle caches that you have to solve a series of problems in order to find the coordinates for your trek. Sometimes there are items inside that are meant to be taken and relocated to a different location so that you can follow it’s path and see how far it’s made on its journey from place to place. Sometimes containers are called micro-caches and are extremely tiny and blend into the environment–for example secured at eye level on a tree trunk. I find the sheer cleverness of where they are hidden can be half of the fun.
For me, I love the fact that it gets the family doing something together outdoors, and squeezes in some exercise without too much thought. My husband loves the fact that he gets to use one of his electronic gadgets to assist in the fun and enjoys the wonderful bonding that we experience with our boys. I think the kids love everything about it, but I think they find the joy of being the “finder”of the hidden prize the most fun of all. Although we have gone to further locations by car, I really think it’s great that so many caches exist right in our own immediate area. We have found that a short bike ride, or even a hike can easily keep you entertained for a couple of hours. We often arrange the day to include lunch, dinner or ice cream while we are out and about.
In our brief, but fun geocaching career, I’ve got a couple of tips that may help you should you want to give this distraction a try. Although caches can be anywhere, including urban or suburban locations, we enjoy the ones that are surrounded by nature, particularly near bike paths, so that we can travel by foot or bicycle to several different locations for hunting our treasure. Because this often finds you in the woods, it’s not a bad idea to wear long pants and comfortable sneakers so you don’t have to worry so much about the poison ivy/oak that inevitably is found in this area. Locations can also be muddy, so wearing your Sunday best might not be the best idea. Also, since you are spending time outdoors, the typical mom’s arsenal of sunscreen, bug spray, band aids, snacks and drinking water will help keep everyone happy and engaged during your afternoon of adventure. It’s also not a bad idea to try and plot a general path for the caches that you’d like to investigate. Although we’ve found them near most places that we’ve visited, if you are hiking or biking, it’s cool to try and choose your destination based on several spots that are located nearby to keep everyone’s interest. Because some of the containers are so small it’s helpful to bring something to write with if a pen is not provided in the container. Even though you can note it online, it’s still fun to “claim your stake” and write for all that you’ve manged to find the hidden gem.
So if you are looking for an interesting activity for the family, an unusual afternoon for a date or just a fun way to challenge your scavenger skills and pass the time away, give geocaching a try. We’ve certainly made it one of our go things for an enjoyable, inexpensive way to pass the time.