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Geocaching With Kids -- Local to International Treasure Hunting

Updated on October 21, 2015
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A Fun, Educational Treasure Hunt for Children and Adults

Before our recent trip to Italy, my husband and I went geogaching near our home in Arizona. We were looking for a "trackable" or "travel bug," which is a small item that can be tracked wherever it goes via a unique code stamped or printed on it. We were especially hoping to find one owned by a child, and happily we did -- a travel bug attached to this cute little sock monkey pictured here. Now this trackable would be traveling with us across the Atlantic Ocean.

For those who aren't familiar with this popular hobby, geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt, with containers of variable sizes, most with small exchangeable items -- take something, leave something -- and log books inside, which you look for using a set of map coordinates and clues. There are also "earth caches," where you find and photograph a specific location and often have to answer questions which you post back on the geocaching website. The main site for this global activity is Geocaching.com.

Started in 2000, this treasure-hunting game quickly grew in popularity, now being played by more than 5 million people of all ages searching for more than 2 million hidden caches all over the world. And the numbers of caches and cachers continue to grow all the time. While great fun for adults, It's also a hobby I highly recommend for kids, and I'll tell you why I'm so enthusiastic about it below.

But first....

The Traveling Monkey Goes to Italy

A Child's Trackable from Ontario, Canada

On the geocaching site, we learned of this little monkey's goal as written by one of its young owner's parents:

"This is our Little K's favourite animal. We have so many little monkeys laying around we decided to set one off into the big wide world to see where it will travel. Just like our little K, this little sock monkey loves to get its picture taken. Let's see where this monkey will travel."

Attached to the little toy is a trackable tag with a monkey face on one side and its unique code on the other. Using that code, we were able to log that we picked it up and where we took it. In this photo, our small travel companion is at the beach in Amalfi, Italy, where we spent the first week of our trip.

The travel bug at a Roman colosseum in Verona, Italy
The travel bug at a Roman colosseum in Verona, Italy

Posting Pictures for the Young Geocacher to See

And recording where we dipped her travel bug

When you're moving a travel bug, you should ultimately place it in another cache. But, along the way, you can also do what's called "dipping," which, as it sounds, means taking it to other caches but not actually leaving it there. Then you log those "dips" on the website, so they can be tracked.

Sometimes, caches are too small for a travel bug to fit, especially the toys they might be attached to, like our friend the pink-and-white striped monkey. Many -- if not most -- of the caches in countries outside of the U.S. (as far as we've seen in person or on the geocaching site) are nano caches or not much bigger, and most of the travel bugs we've found are too large for those containers. So, dipping is a great option for moving them and gaining them miles and locations until we find a cache somewhere that will accommodate them.

While in our company, the traveling monkey was dipped at caches in Amalfi, Verona, and Venice, Italy. We logged those dips each time and took photos at those and other locations along our journey, which we posted on the young owner's travel bug page.

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The Benefits of Geocaching with Kids

A healthy, fun learning experience ... and more

Whether you have kids of your own, are an aunt, uncle, grandparent, perhaps a volunteer Big Brother (like my husband) or Big Sister, or otherwise spend quality time with children, geocaching is a wonderful activity you can share with them, opening up many different possibilities for adventure, learning, and good times.

And even if you don't geocache with kids, you might find travel bugs or geocoins owned by children, and you can post messages and photos as you move their trackables to make their caching experience even more fun and educational too.

These are some reasons why geocaching with kids is such a rewarding experience.....

Geocaching is....

  1. FUN! What could be more fun for a kid than treasure hunting? (Which is why so many adults get hooked, too.) A big part of the adventure is finding the site of the cache, then searching for it in nooks and crannies -- those nano-caches can be challenging! -- and, if it's in a public place, trying to be sneaky and act nonchalant so the muggles (non-cachers ... and, yes, the word comes from Harry Potter, where it means a non-magical person) don't know what you're doing and don't accidentally find the cache. Yep ... fun stuff alright.

    **See Geocaching.com's Glossary of Terms to learn more of the lingo.

  2. A great way for adults (ie. parents, relatives, etc.) to spend quality time with kids. You know, a chance to bond while doing something fun for both the young and the older treasure-hunter.
  3. An opportunity for kids to learn how to navigate with a GPS and a map (and you can even try this with a compass, which is definitely more challenging).
  4. A chance to get out and hike, so it can be great exercise. Not all geocaches require much walking at all, but others can require anywhere from a short walk or trail hike to miles of hiking of a range of difficulties. (Each geocache will have information about difficulty and terrain on the website.)
  5. A chance to explore new places -- places you may never have gone otherwise.
  6. An opportunity to teach kids about geography, history, other cultures ... you name it -- anything about any number of places, near and far.
  7. An opportunity to teach kids about being prepared in the backcountry (although many geocaches are located in towns and cities or otherwise not in the backcountry at all).
  8. A chance to teach kids about taking notes and keeping track of things, including the caches they find and those they hide.
  9. A great way to inspire kids to get outdoors and away from the TV or computer.

Children Can Track Their Finds and Their Trackables

What a great way to teach kids about the geography and different countries, communities, and cultures around the world by learning about the places they find caches and where their travel bugs go as they move from place to place.

Geocaching opens the door to teaching about the landscape, history, geology, customs, and other aspects of a near infinite number of locations.

You can put up a world map in their room, along with a country map, and pin locations. You can color code them if you want, with one color for finds and another for their trackables. You'll probably also want a local or state map, to mark or pin your finds close to home.

Rand Mcnally Us Wall Map (M Series U.S.A. Wall Maps) 50"x32"
Rand Mcnally Us Wall Map (M Series U.S.A. Wall Maps) 50"x32"

Of course, geocaching isn't just in the U.S., so pick up a map of your country for pinning, marking, or putting stickers on your child's finds and trackables.

 

Another suggestion: If you want to draw lines between pinned trackable locations -- maybe different colors for different trackables -- go with a laminated map like this one here, which you can stick right to the wall and peel off and move without leaving behind any sticky residue.

Have two geocaching kids? They can keep track of their trackables and see whose goes the farthest and where they go.


Checking in with the Traveling Monkey Trackable

Moving on from One Cache to Another

Our little pink and white travel companion with his trackable tag is pictured here in Venice, near the site of a small nano cache we found at a bridge over the Grand Canal.

The little monkey is now back in Arizona, where we'll place it in a new cache it's never been in before and where it will someday (probably sooner than later) be picked up by another geocacher and brought to who-knows-where.

Not including the miles we'll add when we log this travel bug back into Arizona when we place it in a geocache, this trackable monkey has traveled 16,954 miles!

(UPDATE: Make that 22,811 miles after we placed the monkey-bug in a local cache. We've added it to our "watch list" so we can see where it goes from here.)

And on another continent....

We Find Another Child's Trackable in a Peruvian Cache - Brother and sister had a race....

And the Race Continued Back to the U.S.

This trackable belongs to a girl from the Czech Republic, who's having a travel bug race with her brother, to see which would travel the furthest. The sister's trackable had already traveled from Europe to South America in two moves, and then we found it in Cuzco, Peru.

From Geocaching.com:

"The team fishie-cz is a family team which consists of the geoparents and two geochildren. This micro geocoin belongs to one of the children - the girl whose name is Evi. This geocoin started its journey in the Czech Republic, in the town Chrudim, and it has the following mission:

-- to collect more kilometres than the micro geocoin of Evi's brother Filip - TB4P597

-- to make at least one "journey of a lifetime" to a place outside Europe and then come back home."

A Hole in the Wall

Waiting for muggles to pass

We followed our GPS compass up, up, up, sucking wind at more than 11,000 feet in elevation, from downtown Cuzco up steep streets and hundreds of steps into a park in the hills. It was a wonderful, challenging walk with fascinating places and great scenery all along the way.

Finally, our GPS beeped. "Arriving at destination." We looked around to see if we were alone, and waited, sitting down on the steps while a local man with his burro passed by. Then Jeremy started hunting around for the tiny cache while I kept a lookout for more muggles and searched with my eyes from a distance -- "Jer, check that rock over there. No, no, the OTHER rock."

Then Jeremy finally moved the right rock -- I had told him it looked loose three times! -- and revealed a little hiding place in the wall. He reached in with a couple of fingers, which was all he could fit, and pulled out the tiny cache. Inside was a rolled up log and just enough space for the travel bug.

He scribbled our geocaching nicknames (Indiana Kingsbury and Ramkitten) and the date, dropped in a little piece of swag of our own, and slipped the travel bug into his camera case. Then he replaced the cache and the rock in the hole, just in time before another muggle came along.

That was close!

And on went the travel bug from the Czech Republic to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with us before stowing away in our luggage and traveling 4,248.35 miles (as the crow flies) back to our home in the U.S., where we deposited it in a local cache.

As of today, the race is still on, with Evi's trackable having traveled 11,100.4 miles and her brother's, 8446.5 miles. His is currently in Indonesia.

Geocaching Supplies for Kids ... and Grown-Up Kids Too

This is a GPS specially made for kids. It's easy to use and comes pre-loaded with 250,000 popular caches. These are only caches in the United States, though, so it won't work in other countries. But if you are in the U.S., you're sure to find plenty of caches near where you live or where you travel.

A "Grown Up" GPS

Children can certainly learn to use a GPS not specifically made for junior geocachers.This Garmin has lots of different features and can be used for much more than geocaching, but, at the same time, with a little help from an adult, a child can learn how to put in the coordinates for a geocache, mark the starting point (to navigate back to it) and do a "go to" to find the treasure---the cache.

There are other versions of this model, if you prefer a color screen and additional features, but this is an affordable and quality place to start.

Trackables

In the interest of taking a toy, leaving a toy (or other doo-dad), you can come up with your own collection of items or buy some "swag." These good luck tokens and geocoins are not trackables, just a little something to leave behind as part of the game when you find a cache.

A Beginner Cacher's Kit

This little bundle makes a great gift for a new 'cacher, young or not-so-young, with a weatherproof log book, trackables, and other goodies to get you started treasure-hunting and hiding treasure.

A Tricky Cache Pack the Kids Will Love

Kids love finding caches, but they can also enjoy hiding and maintaining them as well. This is a great way to teach them to be responsible for something. If someone leaves a message on the geocaching site, which can be sent as an email to a parent or to the child, that the cache requires maintenance or has gone missing, the young cache owner can maintain or replace it or choose a new location to hide a cache.

This kit includes a number of sneaky cache containers, like a fake rock, a bolt, a utility plate, even a fake sprinkler head. These can be used each as a separate cache or combine them for a multi-point cache, with the first giving the clue to the next and so forth.

Read All About It ... Then Go Caching!

This is a good overview to read with the kids before heading out to look for your first geocache, so both parents and children will know the "how to" and the rules of this worldwide game.

FOUND IT ! Introducing Geocaching To Kids and Families
FOUND IT ! Introducing Geocaching To Kids and Families

There are a number of books available on how to geocache, including this inexpensive e-book, which you and your kids can read on a Kindle, computer, Smartphone and other devices, with information on tools for navigating, other gear you'll need, types of caches, finding and placing caches, and more ... everything you need to know to get out there and start building your list of finds.

 

© 2013 Deb Kingsbury

Have You Done Any Geocaching? If you have, have you done this with any kids?

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    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 3 years ago

      I love any kind of activity that gets kids away from the computer, tv, or video games and outdoors. This is the PERFECT thing to do as a family.

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 3 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      I just found out about geocaching this week and it sounds fascinating. It turns out that there are two caches in my street though officially I'm still a 'muggle' so I haven't gone to look for them. Actually there seem to be quite a few in my small town

    • profile image

      Im2keys 3 years ago

      what a cool adventure to involve the kids in- I am so doing this! great lens :o)

    • clevergirlname profile image

      clevergirlname 3 years ago

      Geocaching is addicting! No kids but we do it!

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 3 years ago

      We haven't tried geocaching yet, but I think my kids would enjoy it.

    • katiecolette profile image

      katiecolette 3 years ago

      Treasure-hunting for kids - can't get much better than that! It sounds like so much fun. Bookmarking your page - will definitely be joining in on geocaching.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 3 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I recently discovered geocaching and I love it. I have no kids to do it with, but its also a great hobby to do alone or with friends. You have made a great lens here.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      I have not, but I have long thought it would be an addictive, as well as entertaining sport. It must be especially fun for international travelers such as yourselves. Thank you for sharing the adventure of the little striped monkey, as well as that of the brother/sister competition. Great fun!

    • ConjuringCrystal profile image

      ConjuringCrystal 3 years ago

      I have never done it but my daughters do it with their dad and they love it!

    • Andromachi profile image

      Andromachi 3 years ago

      I haven't heard about this before. How nice of you to share this new game with us here. How lucky you are to be able to paricipate in it.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      This sounds like an even more fun idea with kids than adults. Great idea and great lens!

    • Corrinna-Johnson profile image

      Corrinna Johnson 2 years ago from BC, Canada

      How fun! I have always wanted to learn more about geocaching!

    • profile image

      anonymous 2 years ago

      Not with these new-fangled GPS devices. I've done questing, though, more like the old fashioned "letterboxing." There was a pretty big collection of quests (following a map and written clues) in the Upper Valley area of Vermont/New Hampshire back in the 1990s, with lots of local schools getting involved in making quests. Don't know if that's still running or not. Very cool stuff.

    • profile image

      kimberlyb01 2 years ago

      Wonderful lens. Perfect for those interested in learning about this great activity. Although I have not participated, as a mother of two I can see this as a great way to get the the family outdoors and active.

    • maijame profile image

      maijame 2 years ago

      My nephews introduced me to Geocaching. What fun!!

    • Fiorenza profile image

      Fiorenza 2 years ago from UK

      I first heard about geogaching a few months back from an online friend but haven't done any myself. I didn't realise till reading this that the HP term muggle had mutated to this new meaning!

    • profile image

      xtalmania 2 years ago

      Wow! This is the first time I have heard about geocaching. I moved to Colorado recently and it seems like a happening thing going on around here. Thanks for introducing a new hobby! I can't wait to make my own. I want to make a timecaptsle type of deal in case it doesn't get found.

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 2 years ago

      LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE! FANTASTIC. My wife and I visited Italy earlier this year and I miss Venice so much it drives me bananas (ode to the monkey there).

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