I knew I was in trouble when, just ONE day into summer vacation, my 10-year-old declared that he “hates summer.”
I don’t believe in being my kids’ event planner for every minute of summer break. In fact, I expect them to seek out their own entertainment the way I did at their age. It doesn’t take very long, however, for their boredom to begin to zap my sanity. With summer camps and activities few and far between for us this year, I knew that we were going to need something else to keep them busy during those long days where we had nothing planned.
On a whim one day (or as an act of desperation) I bought the book 365 Great Things to do Outside, and to my surprise, it yielded results! My son locked in on one activity right away that is saving our summer — geocaching.
Wikipedia defines geocaching as an “outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches,’ at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.”
In short: It’s a treasure hunt, and if you look at any geocaching map, you quickly notice that the treasures are all around you! We quickly found close to 10 within a 5-mile radius of our house!
We started this process by downloading the app onto my phone, after which we found several “caches” for free. When I realized that this was something that my kids would be doing a lot of this summer, we upgraded to a premium membership. At $30 for an entire year, with several perks to basic geocaching, it is a very reasonable price to pay for adventure (especially compared to the price of summer camp).
Geocaching has been the perfect way to get my three boys outside (away from the TV and Xbox), and it is entertaining for the entire family. My husband and I have even gotten into it, and I know many other adults have as well. Many enjoy hiding their own caches and sending the coordinates in to the website.
Some of the “caches” you uncover contain a simple log that you mark when you find it, and others hold “treasures” and trinkets (the geocache term is “swag”). There are over a dozen “cache types,” including caches that send you to multiple locations or require you to solve puzzles.
My boys have taken swag from a cache and replaced it with a small toy or trinket of their own (of equal value or greater is what geocache etiquette dictates). There can also be “trackables” in a cache that can be moved to a cache at another location.
For us, it usually works like this: We scope out some caches before we leave the house, and I have my son direct me while I drive to the location. He then holds onto my phone that pinpoints close to the exact location and the hunt is on. Some are harder to find than others. There is a ranking of both difficulty to locate and difficulty of terrain. Also, there may be clues, notes, and photos that previous participants have left.
Our favorite location to geocache is the canyon nearby. It gets us out into nature — up in the mountains — where it is beautiful and cool. It’s like hiking, but with a treasure at the end, which is a great incentive for kids.
We are also looking forward to geocaching on our Yellowstone trip this summer. You can find caches anywhere. Kids can look for them when they go to Grandma’s house, on vacation … or anywhere you are willing to drive them.
My three boys are obsessed with this fun form of treasure hunting, and I feel like I’ve found my salvation — the holy grail of cheap, outdoor summer activities. Now when I tell my kids to “go play outside,” there’s something interesting enough for them to do out there.