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Geocaching: A Hands-On Family Activity

Participating in geocaching hunts is a fun way to spend time with your family.

In an age when computer gaming and other electronics have replaced playing kick ball in the street, or building a fort in the back yard, there is a great way to get your young children and teens outside again.

Looking for an all year-round activity that the entire family can participate in that won’t break the bank? It’s a perfect time for geocaching.

All you need is a hand-held GPS (Global Positioning system), an internet connection, and some basic investigative skills with a sense of adventure. Technology has taken scavenger hunt enthusiasts to the next level. In simple terms, geocaching is a high-tech version of a treasure hunt.

Using satellite coordinates via a GPS device, geocachers look up longitude and latitude coordinates that are posted on a geocaching web site, plug them into their GPS system, and let it guide them to a stash, otherwise called a cache. These coordinates can lead you to many different places such as botanical gardens, parks, museums, nature trails or even shopping malls!

It’s not as simple as it seems though. Once at the final destination, seekers will need to look for clues to help guide them to the actual location of the cache. Caches may be as small as a pill bottle, 35mm film container, or a magnetic spare key holder. These are called micro caches and usually only contain a rolled up paper log sheet.

A traditional cache such as a disposable plastic food container, or a large cache such as a hand carved box, may contain small gifts to take home. For beginners, it’s best to stick with traditional or large sized caches as they are easier to find. Micro caches can be difficult for even the seasoned geocacher to locate.

Geocache etiquette should always be followed if you want to participate. If you take something from the cache, you must always leave something behind of equivalent interest and value for the next geocacher that comes along. And sometimes the hunt doesn’t stop at one location. You may find that your treasure is a different set of coordinates that will lead you to another location.

So, how do you begin geocaching? First, you should go to the official geocache web site at www.geocaching.com to learn everything you need to know. You can also find local caches for Sarasota and other locations via this site. Other web sites also offer helpful hints and documented experiences. Once you familiarize yourself with the rules, you’ll need to purchase, borrow, or rent a hand-held GPS system. These can be found on-line and in many boating or sporting equipment retailers.

Due to the rise in popularity of this activity, most GPS devices will even be labeled as Geocache Ready. You can expect to spend anywhere from $120- $1000 on a geocache GPS system, depending on the high-end features you may be seeking such as detailed mapping and sharper display screens.

Next, decide what area you’d like to experience your treasure hunt. A suggestion would be to start out by searching for caches within 50-100 miles of your zip code. Search results will display active caches that include a creative description, the cache type, level of difficulty, and other details you will need. These caches have all been submitted by a person or organization for your enjoyment and many have put a lot of time into making their cache worth your while.

If you want to submit a cache, there are guidelines that need to be followed in order for your cache to be published on the site. A reviewer will ensure that your coordinates are accurate and that you meet the specified requirements. It’s based on the honor system that your cache actually exists and is placed where you claim it to be. It’s a good idea to check on you cache from time to time to check its durability, position, and ensure that no one has stolen it.

Geocaching is an activity that promotes the values of team work, self-esteem, and is also useful for educational purposes. Some schools and mobility rehabilitation centers use geocoding when working with visually impaired children and adults. Incorporating geocaching into their therapy teaches independent mobility. It used to be that the only aid available to help the visually impaired get around were canes, guide dogs, or relying on landmarks while asking people for directions. 

The Trekker, a GPS system that is specially designed for the visually impaired with special auditory functions, can be used to mark points of interest in the GPS such as friends’ homes, shopping centers, and businesses. Geocaching can be a used as a tool while adding a creative twist to rehabilitation programs providing the ultimate use of multi-sensory skill sets while keeping learning fun.

Families, individuals, and organizations can participate in this trendy activity and enjoy the outdoors, visit unique places, and collect treasures that may be talked about for years to come. With the holidays coming up, hand-held GPS devices make great gifts! Happy hunting!

Daphne Taylor Street November 17, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Great article--I know quite a few families who really enjoy this. A great way to combine technology and adventure with the outdoors!

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