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Top Ten Things You Should Know About Geocaching Before You Get Started

I recently had a friend ask me what advice I would give someone who was just starting out in geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt game I have referred to in past blogs and articles.  I thought for a while, and also asked other geocachers I know, and I came up with this Top Ten List.  I thought I’d share it here as well.

 Up-close shot of kids exploring a geocache they just found

10. Start out by creating a free account on geocaching.com (you can opt to pay for a premium account later if you feel you will make use of the additional features).

9. In choosing your geocaching name, select something you like, won’t grow tired of being known by, and that doesn’t take too long to write.  Some geocache logs you’ll sign are tiny strips of paper rolled up in a tiny container. “One Eyed, One Horned, Flying Purple People Eater” won’t fit too easily on one of those.  Even OEOHFPPE is a lot to write really small.

8. Geocaches come in a range of sizes, from a pencil-eraser sized “nano” to a huge plastic tub or garbage can.  Pay attention to the size and other descriptive information on the cache page so you know what you’re looking for.

7. Start out close to home while you get used to what geocaching involves.  If you know your area really well, you won’t even need a GPS receiver for your first few finds.  Just use Google Earth or Google Maps to see where the posted coordinates point you.

6. As you begin looking for geocaches farther afield, get to know the natural world in your region.  You will want to learn about the flora and fauna that can be dangerous or even deadly where you will be having your adventures.  Where I live, for example, one must recognize and avoid poison oak, ticks, rattlesnakes, and even mountain lions.  But where you live, it might be poison ivy, poison sumac, stinging nettles, alligators, leeches, or whatever!  Be prepared for the elements, stay hydrated, dress appropriately, and use sunscreen and/or bug repellent.

5. Understand the jargon of geocaching.  There are acronyms like FTF (first to find), DNF (did not find), and TNLNSL, TFTC! (took nothing, left nothing, signed log, thanks for the cache!) as well as terms you will need to recognize.  Like the non-magic folks in Harry Potter, the word “muggles” is used to describe those in the world who don’t know what geocaching is or what you’re up to skulking around your local park.  There are plenty of online glossaries to help you learn the lingo of geocaching.

A row of GPS receivers lined up and ready for students to use4. Speaking of muggles and your strange behavior, be sure to have a plan for explaining yourself to muggles and/or the authorities AND a “cover story” to keep geocaching somewhat secret.  Some geocachers carry equipment (hard hat, fluorescent work vest, clipboard) to help them blend in.  Others pretend the GPS receiver is a camera or phone. (I’ve done both.)  Sometimes the best thing to do is just ask a suspicious onlooker if they’ve ever heard of geocaching, and then explain what you’re up to.  (I’m a teacher and Cub Scout leader, so I’ve done this a lot.)  I’ve heard having two or three nine year-olds with you is the perfect cover.  Older kids make people wonder what they’re up to.  Younger kids make people worry they’ll get hurt.  Fourth graders can do almost anything and still fall into the range of normal behavior for their age.

3. Along those lines, you may not want to do much geocaching alone, depending on your personal characteristics and preferences.  I am a woman, so I don’t feel safe going most places completely alone.  Then again, if I were a six-foot-six man, I doubt I would feel comfortable rummaging through the bushes and poking around the edges of my local park or playground all by myself either.  I find that going with a few friends, or at least bringing my son (age 7) with me adds a safety factor and makes the experience more fun because it’s shared.  (Also make sure you respect laws and posted opening/closing times for parks, as well as parking regulations and entry fees required.  We don’t want to give geocaching a bad name.)

2. Don’t hide a geocache in a way that makes it harder for the next person to find, unless of course you found it far more exposed and vulnerable than the original hider intended and described in the cache page.  Also, outright spoilers (in logs and pictures posted to the cache page) are generally frowned upon, unless the cache owner (the person who hid it and maintains it) requests you take pictures or write a vivid description of what you found.  Also, make sure you respect the rules about what can go into a geocache and obey the spirit of the game — which is intended for families as well as individuals.  (You can read more about the rules on the geocaching.com website.)

1. Make sure you have fun.  That’s what geocaching is about.  Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously, but DO stay safe.  There are as many variants on the game (different types of geocaches, locations, and containers) as there are players.  If you take something, leave something behind.  Sign the log.  Play fair, be honest, and leave no trace.  Geocaching will take you to places you never knew existed, often in your own town or county.  Give back to the game by hiding some caches of your own once you’ve found enough to feel you get how it all works.


Images used are the property of the author, Diane Main.

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