Like many travelers out there, I love the Amazing Race.
You know, it’s that reality game show in which teams compete (and argue) their way around the globe in hopes of winning a million dollars. Something about all those harrowing tuk-tuk rides and bungee-jumping challenges just calls out to me. And being a seasoned roamer already, I know how to adapt to and even thrive on travel snafus. In fact, I even harbor fantasies that, given the opportunity, I could actually win.
Can you relate?
Well, for all of us not lucky enough to be contestants on the Amazing Race, there’s a perfect way to recreate that same adventuresome spirit in our journeys anyway. It’s called geocaching. Ever heard of it?
Originating in 2000, geocaching is the wanderer’s ultimate treasure hunt game. Essentially, you use a hand held GPS to seek out “caches,” or containers hidden in both well-known and remote destinations in almost every corner of the earth. Taxi ride, hot air balloon, or moped – the means of transport is up to you.
Like the game show, you utilize cryptic clues, secret codes, and your own wits as you explore your surroundings and find yourself in some surprising places. Though you don’t actually walk away with any substantial material prize, the thrill is entirely in the hunt.
Sounds fun, right?
In fact, geocaching is much more than just fun. It helps you to identify new destinations, be spontaneous in your wanderings, and in many cases, connect with nature. In essence, it enhances your overall travel experience. With that in mind, here are five reasons to incorporate geocaching into your travel plans.
1. Geocaching Has Gone Global
Since its inception, the geocache craze has spread all over the world – and I mean all over.
Not only are there caches right now probably within a 20 mile radius of you, but they are waiting to be discovered in thousands of international locations. There are caches hidden among the temple ruins of Angkor Wat, side alleys in Barcelona, and jungles in Okinawa.
This means that you can participate almost any place you happen to be visiting, or design trips based on descriptions sounding interesting to you. Perhaps even more relevant in these trying economic times, however, is that you can trek around your own city and entertain that wanderlust without ever leaving home.
2. Geocaching Takes You Off the Beaten Path
Geocaching puts you in unique situations that might not ordinarily attract you. Because you are rambling into the unknown, it stands to reason that you come across new people and circumstances along the way.
While searching for that cache down a side street in Rome, for example, you might find a tasty hole in the wall to eat your lunch, which could end up being the best Italian food of your life. Or you might saunter through a public park in China and come upon an interesting artistic performance.
The point is that by getting away from your typical movements, you open yourself up to fresh encounters.
3. Geocaching Gets You Closer to Nature
Because the caches are stashed where they can’t easily be tampered with, you’ll sometimes find yourself immersed in natural beauty.
Oftentimes, caches are left in settings that a fellow participant has discovered and truly wants you to know.
Many times you may hike up a mountain to a stunning ocean vista or through a dense forest so that you can also appreciate the fresh scent of Redwoods.
Are there places you’ve stumbled on that you’d love to share?
4. Geocaching is Great for Planners and Spontaneous Sorts
Geocaching lends some structure to your roamings (but not too much). This is especially useful if your travel companion’s style is incongruent with your own.
Some of us, like me, for example, prefer to aimlessly wander without much agenda. My approach is great for spontaneous encounters, but I often end up wasting precious time and overlooking important sights. Needing a firm plan, others may feel discomfort when deviating from those well-worn paths.
In fact, geocaching appeals to both types of traveler as it provides a short-term specific goal and chance environments. In addition, it’s ideal for imparting that same sense of purpose for solo travelers as well as families with children, who perhaps need a reason to be excited about being away from home.
5. Geocaching Involves You in a Community
Geocaching enhances your sense of involvement in a dynamic global community. You’re encouraged to record your discoveries online as well as post anecdotes and pictures of your enterprises.
More importantly, you’re given a unique opportunity to “craft” experiences for others to enjoy. Did you stumble upon a special waterfall while hiking in Hawaii? Place a cache nearby and bestow the encounter on a fellow nature-lover. Wandering around narrow side streets in Tokyo, did you find an interesting temple? Hide a geocache in a crevice in the wall and lead another person right to it.
Getting Started with Geocaching
For all of us who share the same enthusiasm for the wondrous diversity of the world with all its sights and sounds, geocaching is a fun way to boost our interaction with it. And although you won’t win a million dollars at the end like you would on the Amazing Race, you won’t have to deal with all the drama and camera crews, either.
So, what do you need to start geocaching your way around the world? Two simple things: A hand held GPS that works in domestic and international locations, and a sense of adventure. For more information, check out the official geocache website.
And if you want to add the thrill of possibly winning a little bit of money without the hassle of applying to the Amazing Race, check out Competitours.
all photos by Mary Richardson and may not be used without permission