Let’s face it: sometimes you just don’t have what you need to travel, even when you want to. Your money, energy, and time may be low, but we all know that the urge to explore isn’t exhausted quite so easily.
So what should you do when you’re craving adventure, but you don’t have the means to attain a new, faraway destination with your kiddos? There are many possible solutions, but the one to be discussed below (and one of my personal favorites) is… geocaching!
What is geocaching and how do you play?
Geocaching is a worldwide, outdoor treasure hunt. That’s right — a treasure hunt. Do I have your attention yet?
To play, participants use GPS-enabled devices to guide them towards geocaches, the real-world treasures of the game. Geocaches (or caches) are hidden containers that hold goods and prizes. After finding a geocache, participants write their names in the provided logbook, note their success online, and then trade for items in the geocache with their own trinkets of equal or lesser value. When finished, it’s off to the next one!
To get started, participants must first download a geocaching app, which will give them the locations of caches in their area, as well as a means to log their finds. There are plenty of apps for geocaching that are available for free! My family and I currently use Groundspeak’s Geocaching app. This is the only app we’ve used for geocaching, simply because it was the first one we tried and we haven’t had any problems with it so far. There are some limitations, and the more difficult finds are reserved for the paid version of the app, but because we haven’t gotten through the easier caches, it’s been a non-issue.
Why I recommend this activity:
1. Geocaching requires minimal travel.
There are geocaches virtually everywhere. For most people, this means that they can participate without leaving the local area. In fact, geocaches are often concentrated in certain sections of town, making it possible to park the car and walk a route, hitting up several caches. Not only can you stay in town while enjoying geocaching, you can get in some extra steps in the process as well. Win-win!
2. Geocaching is both physically and intellectually stimulating.
To participate in geocaching, you must go outside. This is one of the reasons that I love finding caches with Skyler. It gets him outdoors, enjoying the sun, and running around looking for treasure. I don’t even mind that tech is an integral part of playing; he’s so caught up in the big find that he doesn’t get sucked into the screen void anyway.
Not only does geocaching get his body moving, but it also gets his mind to work! There are
several ways that this happens: a. Skyler has to assess the immediate area to look for things that could be out of place, indicating the presence of a cache, b. Skyler must remember where he’s already searched so he doesn’t look through the same area twice, c. He practices his handwriting each time he signs the physical logbooks, and d. Skyler must weigh the value of the cache’s contents with his own belongings to determine what trades would be fair and appropriate. With how much his brain has to work, you’d never guess it would be so much fun. But it is! On top of all the mental work, there’s still plenty of room for a little imagination. (Skyler’s favorite pretend scenario for geocaching is that he must defeat all the zombies with his laser samurai sword before he can find the super secret treasure). Good stuff.
3. Navigating to caches helps develop map skills.
The maps that guide participants to caches are not like typical GPS maps, such as Google Maps. The latter types give explicit instructions on how to reach a destination, whereas geocaching maps do not (at least not on the app we use). The apps provide cache locations, along with a dot that represents the participant, but there are no paths provided or directions on how to get from Point A to Point B. When Skyler plays, this small caveat makes a huge difference in what he must do! He can’t zone out in the screen and walk; rather, he has to use the map to find real-life reference points, assess the best route to the destination based on the provided map, and judge the distance he must travel compared to the apparent distance on the map. All of these things work to subtly develop his map-reading skills, all in a fun and low-stress environment.
The ability to effectively use maps is an important academic and real-life skill, so I naturally welcome any activity that can contribute to Skyler’s success in this area.
4. Geocaching encourages residents to explore their local areas.
As much as I thought I knew the town I lived in, I have to admit that geocaching took me to parts of it that I had never experienced before. Some were better than others, but it’s so refreshing to remind yourself that there are always surprises, even in the most familiar of places. Geocaching prompts participants to explore their own homes, discovering hidden gems and unseen areas within their resident cities.
This aspect is important for adults as well as children. However, the part that benefits kids is a little different. Remember that kids are still creating their mental maps of familiar land. By trekking along to find geocaches on foot, Skyler gets exposed to more and more areas of our town. He has the chance to become familiar with a wider area of the city, and (God forbid) should he ever get lost in it, he’ll hopefully have enough information about his location stored in his memory to get himself somewhere he knows is safe. On a lighter note, geocaching has also taught him where nearly every single park is, and he’s grateful for that, I’m sure.
5. You get to find treasure!
Seriously. Enough said.
Bonus: You can geocache when you travel too!
The previous points have been about how geocaching can bring some excitement to your life without traveling far and wide. However, keep in mind that geocaching is something that can be played almost anywhere! If you want to expand the game beyond your city, feel free! The same benefits above apply in new locations just as well as they do in your hometown.
My family uses geocaching while we travel to break up the monotony of long car rides, and to bring home some unique and tangible memories from a newly travelled destination. Having an activity that you participate in during trips can help provide a common thread throughout your travels, which will inevitably become a unique and special aspect of traveling with your loved ones. We can hardly travel anywhere anymore without Skyler asking about geocaching, but I wouldn’t change a thing; he’ll have precious memories of our special time together as he grows older. In the end, that’s what really matters!
Feel free to share your experiences with (or questions about) geocaching, with or without kiddos, down below! Happy caching!
Medical disclaimer: As always, consult a physician before you and/or your child begin an exercise regimen or engage in rigorous outdoor activity. The general information above is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you experience any problems or have concerns when engaging in physical activity, stop and contact a doctor before proceeding with additional workouts.