Shannon and I have recently implemented a Dave Ramsey-esque budget in our household in an effort to decrease our expenses and get control of our spending. So far it's worked incredibly well, thanks to my amazingly organized and brilliant wife. However, there has been one drawback to the new budget, there simply isn't enough money for us to have our usual date night activities which include going to the movies, dinner and paying a babysitter. So we've been looking for some decent activities that we can do together that won't break our budget. A couple of weeks ago we talked about trying out Geocaching
. Geocaching is basically a worldwide scavenger hunt where members of geocaching.com plant "caches" in different locations and supply hints and GPS coordinates to the location where the loot is hidden. It costs nothing to join the site or to play and there are nearly 1,000,000 geocaches hidden worldwide so chances are there is some cache to be found in your area. The only trick is that you need a GPS device, or a phone with GPS or Google Maps on it in order to find the cache. Since Shannon bought me a Garmin etrex Venture HC GPSr (that's GPS Receiver in geocache-ese) for Father's day, I was all set. So yesterday, the Dowdells went out on a geocache mission as a family to try the activity out. Yes, the entire family came along. Here's the breakdown in case you're curious.Players
- Jason aka Dad (age 35)
- Shannon aka Mama (age: younger than Jason)
- Piper: Age 6
- Finley: Age 4
- Jonas: Age 14 mos.
- Vehicle: Land Rover LR3
- GPS Device: Garmin eTrex Venture HC
- Writing Instrument: Ink Pen
- Phone: iPhone 3G (not the 3Gs)
Results of our 1st Geocaching Low Cost Family Activity
Immediately Shannon and I felt like we should've gone on our first geocaching adventure alone (without children) because we felt dumb. The first two places we went just didn't work out, either the cache was no longer there or we just couldn't find it because we'd never done this before. We found that for the best results of a specific hunt we really needed to look up the specific Geocache before we went to the site so we could read the comments by other cachers and see when the cache was last found. On our first mission the cache had just been replaced by the cache creator that morning but we still couldn't find it. It was supposedly hidden on, near or around a swingset that we frequent often because the park is at the end of our neighborhood but still, no luck. Even though we didn't find the first or second geocaches our family was still in high spirits and having a great time. The kids thought it was awesome that we were going on a real live treasure hunt and the only cost was the price of gas.
For our next trek we decided to go to a cache we found on the site that was at a cemetary. The title was "Cache in Peace" and the natural allure of a cemetary and our children meant this was a must do cache. Plus the cache creator said you didn't have to go on private property to get the cache and that meant that we really didn't need to go inside the cemetary (but the kids couldn't resist). So we went to the coordinates and didn't find it but then I thought, hmm, I bet these bricks move... (there was a brick wall that lined the cemetary) and sure enough, there was a tiny little duct tape package with a log (paper with all those that found the cache's signature on it) as well as a folded up crisp $1 bill. We decided to SL TN (sign the log and took nothing) since the cache we had would not fit inside the small container. That was when things really got exciting, we had found our first "treasure" and now the kids were excited.
We made a couple of other treks, one that required the unnecessary use of the 4 wheel drive and height adjustable suspension on our Land Rover and was a great find. I'm sure that I'm not suppose to talk about what objects are in each cache capsule so I'll refrain from being a spoiler. But I can tell you that when Shannon and I go on a date this week we will be geocaching because it's so much fun. If you live in an area with a lot of parks or bike paths then I'm sure you could go to most of the caches without even using a car. Some of the caches around our area are only accessible by water which means I'll have to find a way to get our family of 5 on one of my longboard surfboards to get the cache :)Biggest Point of Frustration
The only thing that was more frustrating than not being able to find a cache was not understanding the acronyms that commenters put on the geocache descriptions in the log entries. Some were fairly straightforward to understand and others just looked like gobblygook. So between unfamiliar acronyms and words I'd never heard of before I did get a bit frustrated. To keep you from being frustrated like me, I have compiled a list of the most important words and acronymns used in geocaching so you can have the maximum amount of fun.
Acronyms / Short Codes / TXT Codes / ShorthandTFTH:
"Thanks For The Hide:" When a hide was extra special people will leave this in the log book.TFTC:
"Thanks For The Cache" I guess the only difference between this and TFTH is that the cache must be good.TNLN:
"Took Nothing Left Nothing" Usually it seems like noncommital geocachers use this term to prove they found the cache but didn't want to take anything out of it, possibly because they had nothing to replace it with. It is proper geocaching etiquette to always "SL" aka Sign Log so you can show others that you were there.SL:
"Signed Log" Every geocache item should have a paper log near it and geocachers will sign the log to show they found it. They typically sign their geocaching.com username instead of their real name which further frustrates the muggles (see below) ;).BYOP:
"Bring Your Own Pencil" (but if you sign a log you should use a water-insoluble ink pen since it won't be erased as easily - learned that in 10th grade chemistry with Dr. McCord)CITO:
"Cash In Trash Out" (on your way to find the geocache, pick up trash and clean up the area)DNF:
"Did Not Find" Shannon and I did not find 2 of the 5 caches we seeked yesterday.D/T:
"Difficulty and Terrain" Scales of 1 to 5 for each, one being the easiest.FTF:
"First To Find" First geocacher that finds the cache can post this in their log and get special bragging rights, I guess.GPSr:
"Global Position Satellite Receiver" Slang for a GPS device although I think adding the "r" to the end of it was not the best choice since many items ending in r are vowels.GZ:
"Ground Zero" The location where the cache is hidden, does not necessarily mean on the ground since many caches are hidden above or below the ground.SWAG:
"Stuff We All Get" This is not a Silly Wild A$$ Guess but is the cache items at a specific location find.
Geocaching Words / Terms and DefinitionsMuggle:
A non-geocacher. Caches are often hidden at public parks and public places so many times there will be people there hanging out or going about their normal business and in Geocaching terminology they are referred to as Muggles. It's a Harry Potter term that means un-magical people.Spoiler:
A hint that tells of the exact location of a cache before someone finds it. Same as a movie spoiler but not the same as a car spoiler which is used to create downforce on the front end or rear end of the car in order to stabilize it at high speeds. Geocaching is so geeky I felt it important to put in some gear head terminology just to preserve my manhood.
You can read all of the terms used in geocaching in their glossary
but they're not very well organized and kind of out of context if you've never played the game before.
Geocaching Tips For Newbies
Here are some tips for those of you that have never tried geocaching before, these are a must if you want to have a good time and find the most caches possible.
- Do not rely 100% on the coordinates given to you in the cache description. If you get within 2 - 3 feet of the exact coordinates then it is time to start looking around. Many factors could cause the location to be slightly off so just use 0 - 3 feet as an approximation.
- Don't expect the cache to be hidden in plain site, expert cachers are known for hiding something using the native camoflage of the environment. Look up, down, below the ground, at eye level. Tip: if there is a tree 2 - 3 ft within the coordinates then chances are the object is tied up in the tree with a rope ;)
- If the geocache location is on or near a business or private property then be sure to not let your kids run all around the place because it could be very dangerous.
- Read the hints in the description very carefully, often there are clues contained in the description that don't mean anything until you actually get to the location. So read and then reread once you get to the spot.
- Take a phone with you that has a browswer in it so you can look up the description of each geocache location before you get to it. Otherwise you won't have all of the hints with you and will get quite frustrated. An alternative to this would be to print out all of the cache spots you want to visit before you leave the house but that requires a printer and paper.
- Remember that it's just a game and don't get too annoyed by all of the geek speek of stuff like muggles (can't believe I'm playing a game that uses terminology from Harry Potter, seriously). The game can be incredibly fun so don't let your pride get in the way of having a good time.