Have Geeklets, Will Travel: Geocaching

Geocache by vastateparksstaff via Flickr
Geocache by vastateparksstaff via Flickr

Welcome back to Have Geeklets, Will Travel, a summer travel series that will help you think up cool travel plans that will appeal to both kids and adults. From geocaching expeditions in your backyard to factory tours in far-flung states, we’ll be providing ideas all summer long to get you out of your house and on the road for great adventures.

There is an x-marks-the-spot treasure hunt taking place across the world as we speak. Chances are, you’ve walked by one of these hidden treasures without even realizing it. For instance, one turned out to be in the parking lot of a bookstore I’ve been to hundreds of times. And I never knew it was there. These several million hidden treasures are called geocaches.

Okay, so maybe treasure is too strong a word since the buried items range from a guest book with a pencil stub to plastic toys courtesy of McDonald’s. The thrill isn’t in the collecting but in the find. We were late joiners to the geocaching craze, but in case you haven’t started yet or haven’t gone out searching in a while, it’s a great idea to use in order to build day trips into your summer plans.

The first time I took the twins geocaching, we didn’t actually geocache. Lacking a smart phone or GPS, we jumped into letterboxing, another orienteering game that originated in Britain and remains more popular overseas. But there are plenty of letterboxes in America, and we discovered there was one hidden in the reference section of our local library. How cool was that? We’ve used those reference books dozens of times without realizing there was a treasure hidden behind one. After searching for a half hour, we finally went over to whisper to the librarian why we were there, and she informed us that the letterbox had been removed a few days prior for safekeeping due to renovations about to occur at the library.

Undeterred, we chose a second set of clues to crack; this time heading onto a storm-littered path through the forest. The tree holding the letterbox had been hit by lightning and had fallen into the river. Foiled again. We tried a third time, once again in the forest, and finally found our first letterbox! It was hidden inside the hollow of a tree—a space I would normally be nervous about sticking my hand—but how am I not going to dive for a hidden treasure? It turned out to be of the guest book and pencil stub variety, so we took some time to write a note and sign our names before replacing the hidden treasure for the next person.

Getting a GPS (that we’ve now traded for a geocaching app on the iPhone) changed the game. We started looking for geocaches whenever we traveled, and if we had an hour to kill while running errands, we went off in search of local ones. We found a magnetized one on the bottom of some metal grating by a canal. We found one hidden inside a statue near Baltimore Harbor. And our favorite was one we found on Smith Island, hidden by someone in the military before he deployed. We posted a note on the geocaching site, and he let us know how moved he was to be thousands of miles from home and know someone found his treasure.

Getting started is simple. Download the geocaching app for your smart phone or grab a handheld GPS. Create an account at the official geocache site so you can find the coordinates for geocaches in your area. And then use the clues left by the hider to find their cache. If you get lost in the acronyms, consult the geocaching glossary on the site. And don’t forget to log your finds online.

So go get searching. And let us know what you find.

In fact, if you’ve already gone geocaching, we’d love to hear about the best cache you’ve found.

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Melissa Ford writes women's fiction, but she does it while wearing a Superman shirt. A geek to the core, she is also the author of the award-winning site, Stirrup Queens which the Wall Street Journal named one of the top ten motherhood blogs. You can find her in all sorts of places around the web including Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, and Amazon. She completed her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins.