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Travel Treasure Hunting: An Intro to Geocaching

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It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, especially to us geeks, that someone would find some way of incorporating a new-ish technology into some sort of game.

With lasers, we get hours upon hours of amusement of making our cats chase after them. With GPS, we use multi-billion dollar government military satellites to find Tupperware hidden in the woods. Welcome to Geocaching.

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching, in the simplest of definitions, is a game/hobby where people use GPS receivers (GPSr) to find hidden containers around the world… and they really are all over the world. From Antarctica to Zimbabwe, there are currently over 1.8 million geocaches, large and small, hidden in all corners of the globe.

Since they can be found everywhere, geocaching lends itself to being a great hobby to do while on the road.

What Do You Need to Geocache?

Geocaching in Vietnam
Me and my baby in Vietnam. “A Piece of History” Geocache

Geocaching doesn’t require much in the way of gear or cost.  A free (or paid) membership on and a GPS-enabled device (GPSr, smartphone, etc) is really all you need.

Most travelers are already traveling with some sort of smartphone, though GPSr’s aren’t all that expensive and tend to be more accurate. Neither device takes up much space.

A receiver like I have, from the Garmin eTrex series, is small, lightweight, and reasonably priced. Like most technologies, the price is continuously going down.

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Why Geocache?

So now that we have quickly quashed any trepidation on the equipment side of this rather geeky hobby, we must ask why. Why would you want to do this adult version of a treasure hunt while traveling, or even at home? My answer is, why wouldn’t you want to?

One of the rules when it comes to placing geocaches is that you must either live in the area or show that you visit often in order for you to maintain the site (fix the geocache if it’s broken or missing, clean the area up, etc.). In other words, each geocache in the city is a tiny point of interest set up by a local guide.

Track down a series of caches, and you’ve got yourself a city tour of places you may never have otherwise have seen, or even know existed. From physical geocaches where there is an actual container you must find, to a “virtual” cache where you answer questions based on the history and surroundings.

Angkor Wat
Physical Geocache in the Ta Nei Temple, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. ”Temple of the butterflies” Geocache

This is what, when I geocached around the world, I found to be the greatest benefit of this hobby. I found Incan temples in Peru that were completely devoid of any tourists or locals. I found the wreckage of an American fighter plane deep within Hanoi, Vietnam that was left in the pond where it fell.

I gained deeper understandings of the thermal pools in Rotorua, New Zealand and the history of the aqueducts in Rome by determining the flow rate from the fountain at the Spanish Steps. Geocaching is the reason why I spent two weeks in Bangkok when most people were saying I’d only need a few days.

Virtual Geocache in Rotorua, New Zealand. “Hot Pools Earthcache”

Sure, it’s geeky, but it’s a good kind of geeky. It’s the kind of geeky that teaches you history, takes you off the beaten path, and shows you the area through the eyes of a local. 

Geocaching with locals in Bucharest, Romania. “Hit-n-Run #01 – The Italian Church” Geocache

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you run into other geocachers while searching, local or otherwise. For a brief moment, you become the best of friends while sharing in the hunt for that elusive Tupperware container in the woods.

Main image via Settergren

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  1. Avatar Dorothy Welburn says:

    I have a GPS StreetPilot c340 that can be used hand held. Can I use it for geocaching?

  2. It is possible, but it is a bit more difficult. As there is no way to imput coordinates(in the DDD MM.MMM format) you’ll need to use a program like EasyGPS ( to transfer the GPX files from the Geocaching website, to your computer, to your Streetpilot.

    I personally have never used an in-car GPS unit so I’m not sure as to how well it works once you get “off road”. I’d be curious to hear how well it does work and what kind of accuracy you can get with it.

    Of course, there are a ton of geocaches within cities and parking lots which would work wonderfully with an in-car GPS. It’s the ones deep in the woods that may give issues.

  3. Great tips! I was wondering about the automotive GPS, which I have. I’ll stick with the smart phone app as it sounds like the easiest way to get started.

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