July 1, 2008

Staycations: Letterboxing, Geocaching and Other Treasure Hunts

(Part two of a five-part series this week)

The whole idea of a staycation, a stay-at-home vacation, is to save money in this day of high gas-and-everything-else prices. BUT that does not mean you can't have fun and make memories as we do on any holiday. Just think about the root word of "vacation" and consider: the whole concept of a vacation really is "to vacate" - leave - your usual routine, your everyday life, to take a little respite from your constant cares and concerns. And what better way to do that than a treasure hunt!

We can start with the good old-fashioned Long-John-Silver-type treasure hunt, one where a weathered map leads to buried riches. If you want to do this in your own yard, neighborhood, or more general vicinity, why not print out a Google map complete with landmarks, etc. For authenticity, use parchment paper, singe the edges, crinkle and dirty the paper to age it. Write out clues such as "Thirty paces from the old oak tree with the creaking branch."

And for the treasure? At the end of any of these treasure hunts can be any treasure you choose! If I were doing this one for young kids, I'd get a whole bunch of the very inexpensive "jewels," "gold" coins and such that come in bags at the craft store. I'd throw in plenty of chocolate coins too! After the treasure's been found, there's hours more of fun as the finders craft crowns and what-have-you.

Next level of treasure hunting is letterboxing, which is most definitely for all ages! Letterboxes containing a stamp, a notebook, maybe a few trinkets are hidden all over your hometown, your state, the country and yes, the world. All you need is access to a computer, a notebook, and a stamp of your very own. I usually use one that has a witch on a broomstick or sometimes one with an ankh symbol.

To start, go to www.letterboxing.org and plug in the name of your town, county or an area you want to explore. For my hometown, there are letterboxes in the Centennial Garden at the library, in the Community Garden, hidden under a rock by the river and in a number of other places. The website gives you the clues to find each box. When you find it, you stamp the book in the box with your personal stamp, write a comment if you want, and stamp your own book with the site stamp. There is an incredible connection to others through the comments that have been left. As you venture further afield, there will be more and more letterbox stamps to collect in your book.

AND, you can set up a letterbox yourself just by putting a stamp and notebook in a small watertight box (plastic food storage containers are perfect), hiding it and then posting your clues on the website. My grand-daughter Katie asked our library if she could set up that letterbox (now known as Grannie's Box), she donated the box and notebook, picked a possible hiding place in the Garden, the library staff put in their stamp and did the clues, and Katie was absolutely thrilled to be the first to stamp that letterbox's new book.

Next, let's try geocaching, kind of a step up from the letterboxing. Again, start at a website, this time http://www.geocaching.com/ but this time you'll need a bit more equipment, mainly a GPS device... one that you know how to use! (We've had one for several years and I still don't have a clue how to use it!) You'll also need a notebook and maybe a few treasures to leave at the cache.

Like the letterboxing, you go to the website, pick a locale, get clues and you're off. It sounds deceptively simple, but, no, it can be challenging! This is a recognized sport all over the world and some of the caches are downright exotic, elaborate. Okay, so using your GPS, you follow the clues, and find the cache. You write in the cache notebook (check the website for the wide array of info and other messages folks leave) and if this is a treasure cache, you take something and you leave something. If by any wild chance, you're visiting an overseas cache, leave something American... maybe a subway token from Boston or San Francisco.

And then there's orienteering, a whole 'nother level of outdoor adventuring, and one of my very favorites. Here you use a map and compass and follow a course, at the end of which there may be a treasure or not. Check out www.us.orienteering.org This sport (it's been proposed for Olympic inclusion) is a perfect way to teach/learn some valuable outdoor skills, and is perfect for inter-generational teams. There are terrific books on setting up courses (check your library, the kids' collection first), and of course tons of info at the website.

There is something inherently exciting about a treasure hunt, the promise of that pirate's chest of glittering plunder at the end of the adventure. During Gram and Gramp Camp last week, I set up a treasure hunt for Baxter and Katie, one that started with a clue on on the breakfast table. Following more short rhymed clues (on 3x5 cards sealed in snack-size bags, hidden that morning by Bert), we went to the flower box under the high school sign next door to our house, then down to the memorial stone on the village green, to the old railway station, to "in the middle of the street, a watering trough of flowers" where a final clue directed them to walk 100 steps north on Main Street. That took us to the treasure, a $10 gift card for each of them at the brand new bookstore right across the street from where we were standing. That was truly treasure of the highest order for them!

Tomorrow in this series, we'll look at being a home-town tourist.


1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Awesome! I want to start right now!!!

Great ideas for when the family comes for a visit. I am going to forward this to everyone!!!