Like many, I first learned about letterboxing through an excellent article in Smithsonian Magazine back in 1998. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and longed to travel to England where it all began. If you are unfamiliar with letterboxing, visit one of two major sites that teach you about it, give clues to the boxes and list plenty of other information: Letterboxing North America and AtlasQuest.
The basic idea of letterboxing is very similar to geocaching. The puzzles specify a starting point, and then you follow clues to find the letterbox. GPS devices aren’t used, but instead you do things such as, “Walk 20 paces toward the tallest tree,” or perhaps you’ll have to decipher a cryptic poem to lead you to the box. Once you find the letterbox, inside you will find a rubber stamp and a log book, at the very least. You should have also brought your own rubber stamp and log book, along with an ink pad in case the box doesn’t have one, and a pen to write your name and the date in both books. Use your stamp to stamp their book, and their stamp to stamp your book. Sometimes there are other interesting things inside the letterbox, such as a traveling letterbox stamp. Those you can take to another letterbox and deposit there. Despite the popularity of geocaching, the more high tech version of letterboxing, letterboxing itself is still a very active pasttime.
To add to the fun, there are now some high tech tools to assist in letterboxing. BoxFinder by Agile Tortoise, an app for the iPod Touch or iPhone, will allow you to take your clues with you, paper-free. If you have an iPhone, you can search for letterboxes from wherever you have signal. If you have an iPod Touch, you’ll have to do the search from somewhere with wi-fi, and then you can save the search to bring the clues with you.
BoxFinder’s search feature allows you to search for letterboxes near your location, by address or by letterbox name. If you don’t have an address, just a city, it can perform that search as well. Once you have the list you want, you can save the list, email the list information, view the clues on the web, or open them in Safari. Those last two options are very similar, and I’m not sure why both are included. Viewing the clue on the web takes you, within BoxFinder, to its place on the web. I wouldn’t ever open the clues in Safari because it quits BoxFinder and you lose any unsaved search data.
This app uses the information located on AtlasQuest and Letterboxing North America, both of which contain international letterbox listings. To try out the international search possibilities, I saved searches for letterboxes in Bath, England, and Paris, France. Hopefully I’ll make it to both places one day, but in the meantime it’s a glimpse into European leisure time.
There are letterboxes all over the world, with thousands of them in the United States, so including some letterboxing on a future trip is easy. Adding letterboxing to some of your travels is even better than doing it at home, since with every new destination you’ll have new boxes to discover. Once you’ve been letterboxing from home for a while, you’ll quickly exhaust the local boxes.
While I think BoxFinder is quite useful, and I will use it on all my future letterboxing adventures, I do think there is room for improvement. It is a simple app and does what it does well, but I wish you could save individual letterboxes, rather than just saving search results. It’d be handy to do a search, and save only the ones you want to visit. I also wish that there was a way to mark information about the letterbox hunt, complete with the date and a notes field for such things as who was with you, what the hike was like and any other details.
There is at least one other letterboxing app that is somewhat more sophisticated (with a higher price to match), but if you’re looking for simplicity, ease of use and a great price, this one does the job. It does a few things and does them well.
BoxFinder is available at the iTunes app store for $1.99.
Wired: A simple app that allows you to search for letterboxes nearby or near an address. Does what it needs to do.
Tired: I wish it had some additional useful features.
Added after publication: BoxFinder has just been updated to include mapping of letterbox locations (for those that there is enough information to place on a map) and the ability to save individual letterboxes. Additional improvements will come in the future.
Note: I received a free copy of this app for review.