What's a Geocache??
A geocache, is what a geocacher finds, when he plays geocaching. What?? Okay, okay. Geocaching is a game and that can be dream come true for young families struggling to make ends meet, but who still need adventure. Geocaching is fun, exciting, intriguing, and it can be a real escapade, when done properly. It truly is a great activity for anyone, not just young families with money challenges.
Heck, I love Geocaching, and I am a grandma, who is just a little frivolous with money sometimes. Geocaching is for everyone, and it can give you back real weekends, when you are in a period of fewer options. That is an awesome thing. Money should never prevent you from living your life to the fullest!
So What is this Amazing Game?
In the most basic terms, Geocaching is played by millions of people worldwide, that "no one else knows" about. Players hide or find secret containers, and sign a log, in public places.
When I say public places, I mean every where, from the bridges of Amsterdam, to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the Brandenburg Gate, to the Gateway to the West, the Arch in St Louis. Recently I found a cache in the midst of a crowd at the Westerkerk, behind the Anne Frank House, in Amsterdam, and at the Dublin Spire.
I would bet there is a cache near your home, unless you live way out in the middle of nowhere, you know,a cold barren area, such as Siberia. If you are not a player, you are not even aware the caches are there.
As mentioned, players do both the hiding and the finding in Geocaching. The reason that is fantastic, is because it keeps the game entirely player supported. That means, it is free!
You have to be a finder to play, but you only become a hider, if you want. Both are fun, but for families, finding is immediate and exhilarating, with no long term commitments.
Another Great Geocache Thing
Another really cool aspect of Geocaching, is that it leads to places and sites that you may not know about any other way. I initially learned about geocaching when I was researching a holy well in Ireland. In that case, I would have found the well without the geocache, but since then, there have been many places I would not have found, if there had not been a geocache.
Lover's Leap, in Hannibal Missouri, the Quarry, in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Roman Gate, behind Cologne Cathedral, or this tiny little Lumberjack near the Leidesplein, in Amsterdam, are just examples of the many places or sights I would have never experienced, were it not for geocaching. There is a whole series of caches along Route 66, some which lead to quirky stops I did not know about, in my own state.
If you can't tell, I love Geocaching. For a while I was finding a cache, or a couple, a few times a week. When I went to visit family, I would stop for a find on the way. When I traveled, I would make sure to plan for a cache near any sites I was visiting. I have even hidden a few in the city I live in.
There are many Geocache series, and many of what are called cache trails. These are sometimes on country roads, and at other times, they are along hiking trails through parks and wooded areas. These are ideal for families, looking for a low cost full day of fun, with a sense of mystery and intrigue. A whole day can be planned, with a few caches in the morning, a picnic lunch, and a few caches in the afternoon.
Pictures from a Geocache Trail on the County Roads, in corn country. Yes, I was really sweaty!
So how do you become a Geocacher?
You sign up for a completely free membership, at Geocaching.com. When I say free, I do mean absolutely free!
You will generally receive one newsletter a month, and that is it. So, for the price of receiving a monthly newsletter, you can be an active participant in this exciting game, and be "in" on most of the secret locations.
There is an option for a premium membership, which is about $10 a year, but you will not be pressured to take that option. The free option includes all aspects of the game, except for "premium caches," which are a pretty small minority.
If you pay the $10 for the premium membership, you gain access to the additional 20% of caches that are for premium members only. I took this option, because it lasts an entire year, and for a family, only a parent would need the premium option, if you opt to go that route.
You will need an email address to sign up, but if you are reading this article, then you most likely have one.
You must also create a user name when you sign up. Everyone who plays has some sort of nickname they use for the game. Some are the ordinary nicknames that they use every where. So mine for example, is FoxyRoxyK. Surprising, isn't it.
Others have names they made up just for caching. You can change your username later, but remember, every cache you found under one name, will remain digitally recorded to the first name.
Once you are a member, you can log right into the website. There is a link labeled "learn" on the front page, and it is good to go through the Geoaching 101 materials and videos, to get a feeling for the game. It contains more real player information than this overview can provide.
There are some basic explanations, and some lingo specific to caching that all newbies need to become familiar with, in particular the difficulty and terrain ratings. The last thing a parent wants is to take the kids out for an adventure, only to be seeking a cache that is too difficult to find, or get to!
You DO need a gps enabled device. Note that you absolutely can use your smart phone for this, so you don't have to purchase anything at all. If you choose to play this way, just be mindful of where you receive signal, and where you do not, to avoid frustration. Also be aware that it is a little more difficult to zero in on a cache in a very busy or congested hiding area. Many people play with their phones, forever, and it will work for most caches.
If you think you will play long term, you may opt to purchase a handheld gps device. If you do this, you can upload cache coordinates right into your gps device, and it will actually lead you to the location of the cache. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE ONE!
But if you are serious after a while, you may want one. I use the Garmin eTrex 10. Here is our Amazon affiliate link for an eTrex. As yoU know, if you make a purchase through this link, we will receive a small commission.
Where are the Caches?
Once you have the idea of the game, hit the View Map drop down, under PLAY, at the top of the website page. This map will have emoji indicating the location of every cache for about t 2 mile radius around your house. I hope there are a lot!
If you want to see how widespread the game is, check out any place you can think of around the world, on the map. There are even caches on Antarctica. What this means is that Goecaching is something you can do, wherever you go.
You will also notice there are a few different kinds of emoji. They represent different types of caches. In the beginning you will use those that are green, with a little box in them.
These pictures are at Giant's Causeway in Ireland, site of a Geocache.
Pick a Geocache Near Home.
Click on any green emoji, and it will tell you the details of the cache, and the gps coordinates. It will be ranked in the degree of difficulty for the terrain, and the hide. It will also tell you the size of the container.
When starting out, pick a few that are EASY for the hide, and small or regular size. Don't go for the micros or nanos right off the bat, because you probably will not find them until you get adept at finding. Nanos can be really, really tiny. Trust me on this!
You can also read through some of the comments from finders, or non-finders, for clues. Some will even post pictures of the cache, so you know what you are looking for. These comments will become more significant if you become a serious player, or go looking for a difficult find.
But at the onset, don't go looking for a cache with the last three logs saying DNF, or did not find.
I know common sense, but really, so many people make that mistake. It takes a little time to figure out the typical types of hides.
Make a list of a few caches you want to look for, one way or another. You may only want to start with one, if you have children, but you also want to have a couple lined up, in case of a no find, or a super fast find.
You Log Your Geocache Finds to Score
For a long time, I carried a list of the caches I hoped to find in a note book, with the general location which I got from the logs, and from switching to the satellite view on the map, (street,store parking lot, park, etc.) gps coordinates, size, and any clues that were given. You could also text yourself the info, or upload it onto your gps device. I liked having the notebook though, because you log the cache twice.
First, you must open the container to sign and date the written log, with your user name. Then when you get home, you must log into your Geocaching.com account, and log the caches there.
Some people do make the logs directly from their phone. Others make the log in their gps, and upload it when they get home. Others, like me, log into their account, and type the logs in on the computer. I liked this option because I was immediately rewarded with the smiley face of success on the map. Yes, when you log a find, it is reflected on the map with a smiley face!
These logs will be used to create all kinds of statistics about your finds. For example, I have found about 760 caches, in 5 different countries, I find the most in July, and I have not played since my return from Germany. You would see all of this if you open my profile in Geocaching.com. If you really get involved in the game, you will start monitoring these statistics, and have goals you hope to attain.
Other Kinds of Geocaches.
After you try the game out, you will be interested in the other types of caches.
The blue emoji with the question marks, are puzzle caches. They could require solving a puzzle to obtain the coordinates, or they could involve going to the coordinates, and solving a field puzzle.
The light blue emoji with the little ghost are virtual caches, and the little globes are earth caches. These are a different, as there is no actual hidden item to find. They lead to a significant location, whether historical or geological, and there will typically be something you must learn at the site.
These are my favorites, and they have led me to the coolest places.
Time to Get a Geocache!
There are a lot of other variables to the game, if you really become a player, such as awards for your profile, clubs and group meetings, and Cache in Trash Out days. There are also tracking mechanisms, that you can hide, for others to move along to another cache. You follow the journey through logs. I hope you get this far into the game.
Time to grab the kids and an ink pen, your list of caches, and go hunting. The first few times, it may be a challenge, so here are some hints.
The skirts on parking lot light posts do lift up.
Magnets are often used, in any shape, size, and form that you can imagine.
Camouflage tape can be used on just about anything.
A hard hide can be disguised as a common item, like a golf ball, or a reflector, or a bolt.
Sometimes, well, a lot of times, you may need to feel around with your hands. (I carry latex gloves, just in case!)
Keep on Caching!
If you do not make your first find or two, don't get frustrated. Many cachers who start out struggling, later find that the same type of cache becomes an easy find. Once you get the hang of it, pack a picnic basket, head to a heavily cached park, and make it an every day adventure, for yourself, and the whole family.
I guarantee once your kids make a find or two, they will be hooked!
If you are a Geocacher, share what you love about the game in the comments below. Let others know how much fun it is! If you are new to the game, and try it out after this article, let us know what you think!
For more free or low cost things to do, see our budget page, here: Budget Trips