Are you and your children tired of being stuck inside because of COVID? Is everyone tired of the same old thing? Well, here’s something fun you can do to get everyone excited about getting outdoors again. Go geocaching! What’s Geocaching, you ask? Geocaching is a fun outdoor activity using a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or smart phone and a spirit of adventure and imagination to find containers called geocaches (or just caches). Each cache can be found using its coordinates, and there are over 3 million of them worldwide to keep your family busy. I’ve heard there’s even one on the International Space Station, but my family hasn’t been able to find that one yet.
For more information about Geocaching, go to Geocaching.com. My favorite app to use for Geocaching is simply the “Geocaching” app, and you can set up a new account for free and get started in just a matter of minutes. Once you’re set up on the app, look for little green dots with boxes on them on your local map. These mark the location of each cache. Tap on a dot, and your app will tell you all sorts of things about the cache, like difficulty level, size, terrain, and the date it was last found. Some caches also have a hint listed in case you get stuck. I recommend that newbies with kids should look for a larger one with a level 1 difficulty that has been found recently to increase your chances of success while you are learning.
Once you have your app set up and your first cache picked out, there are a few more things to consider before heading out to explore.
- Make sure your GPS or smart phone is fully charged. If you’re having fun, you won’t want to have to stop early.
- Pack a geocaching bag. In it, you should pack something to write with, some sunscreen, a first aid kit, insect repellant, and snacks and drinks. I’ve often found tweezers to be helpful as well. Since we’re in COVID-times, you might also want to bring hand sanitizer for cleanup after you find a cache. Also, if you’re caching with kids, you will want to bring some SWAG (“Stuff we all get”). Cachers often leave little trinkets in the boxes, and geocaching invites everyone to “take one; leave one.” My kids love finding new treasures, and I love getting rid of old stuff. Mom tip: when kids clean out their room and gather what I call “little treasures,” store the little junk in a ziplock bag in the back of your car for Geocaching. SWAG includes small moisture-proof things like solo army men, bracelets, marbles, refrigerator magnets, and fidget spinners. You get the idea. Frankly, when we come across a bigger cache with room for more SWAG, I toss in a handful of our little treasures because it makes me happy to move it all along.
Use the app to get close to the cache, and then expand the view of the map to zoom in to the cache’s location to help you look up close. Here’s where your kids’ creativity and imagination come in. Geocaches might be up in trees, bushes, on structures, hidden in holes, under objects, or even under water. Some tricky ones can be found by looking for something that just doesn’t look right. It that bird house REALLY a bird house? I’ve found them hidden in fake birdhouses or fake birds sitting in trees, hanging in bushes in tiny camouflaged tubes, tucked into the back of statues or inside fence posts, or even stuck on the back of guardrails or road signs with tiny magnets, but I do have 2 favorites from over the years. One was a tiny tube tucked inside a rubber spider hanging from a pine tree branch, and another one was in a very elaborate doll house in someone’s front yard. The doll house one gave a clue to unlock a door where a key to another door was hidden. The cache was inside that second door.
Here are some important tips. Once you find the cache, you’re supposed to keep quiet about it. This may be tough for younger excited children, but it helps keep the cache safe from non-cachers. Having your cache vandalized is awful. Once you open the cache container, sign the logbook inside with the date and your Geocaching name and “Leave one, take one” if the cache has SWAG in it. (Microcaches can be tiny tubes that are too small for SWAG, about the size of a AA battery. This is why you need the tweezers, because the logbooks are rolled up inside.) Then, it’s important to carefully close it up and put it back just like you found it. Don’t forget to go back to the app and mark on it that you “found” the cache, and owners love it when you leave them a nice message on the app. Once you mark it “found”, your green dot will turn into a yellow smiley. Over time, you will enjoy getting more and more smileys on your map.
Another cool thing about geocaching is trackables. You might find a special item in the cache called a trackable. Trackables have special tracking numbers on them, and they usually have a special set of instructions from the owner. Trackables aren’t for keeping, but they are for moving to another cache to send them on their way toward whatever mission their owners are asking for. Using that tracking number, you can look up where the trackable has been. You can even add it to your account to track where it goes after you leave it in a cache. My family has one in Europe right now, and it’s traveled over 30,000 miles so far!
Once your family finds a few caches, you’ll want to return to Geocaching.com to learn about other things like events, special caches marked in colors other than green, fun milestones to reach like caching in different states, launching your own trackable, or even hosting your own cache. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to get involved. My family likes to find a cache whenever we travel as many caches are set up to mark special local landmarks, historical sites, cultural highlights from the area, or sometimes just really pretty places. It’s good, clean, outdoor fun. Try it out this spring and let me know how your family likes it!
Dr. Catherine Gillies grew up on the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, Maryland. Her life after high school can be summed up in two words: “Big Adventures!” She graduated from the Naval Academy in 1989, going on to be a helicopter pilot serving on seven aircraft carriers during her career. She later flew in a Marine Corps squadron and taught Naval and Marine student pilots to fly the UH-1N "Huey." Catherine earned a Masters in Psychology in 1997, a Masters in Industrial/Organizational Psychology in 2000, and a Doctorate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology in 2003. Catherine retired from the Navy in June 2009.
Catherine has taught undergraduate and graduate courses for three different colleges. She and her family live near Annapolis, Maryland, where she was a homeschooling mom to three kids for 12 years. In her spare time, she likes to sew, bake, swim, sail, and hike. She has also been a Scout leader for 17 years. Through her mentorship, the youth she works with strengthen their servant leadership and become better stewards of God’s gift to us — our big, beautiful Earth.