geocaching, geocaching 101

8 Things to Remember about Trackables | The Geocaching Junkie

If you’re new to geocaching, you may not have come across a trackable item yet, or maybe you have, and you didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. If you’re a seasoned geocacher, you can think of this post as a refresher course! Hopefully these tips will help you get to grips with what to do with trackables when you find one.

Travel bugs geocaching

1. Travel Bugs versus Geocoins

Travel Bugs are metal dog tags, usually attached to something like a keyring or a small toy. These are the cheaper option if you’re looking to buy a trackable to set off on an adventure and are therefore more usually found in caches.

Ned Flanders with travel bug at Geocaching HQ
Ned Flanders with travel bug at Geocaching HQ

Geocoins are metal coins, usually round but increasingly found in more varied shapes and sizes. These are more expensive than bugs and often more attractive looking (ooo shiny!).

Ireland geocoin front
One of my precious geocoins

I own many geocoins but each and every one is too valuable to be set free in to the big bad tupperware-in-the-woods world.

New geocoin? My preciooouuuss....
“New geocoin? My precious….”

You may also come across a ‘proxy’ trackable item. Usually a laminated version of a coin or perhaps just the code from a bug put on to a keyring. See above – these are released by people who have Gollum Precious Syndrome (like me with my coins!).

2. Trackables are not trade items

You can’t leave a trackable and take a swag item. They are not tradeable. If you find a trackable that has been sitting in a cache for 6 months, don’t leave it there because you have nothing to trade – help it move along! Don’t be that person.

Listen to Batman, he knows about trackables
Listen to Batman, he knows about trackables

3. Be aware of trackable goals or missions

Sometimes, the owner of a trackable will list a goal or mission for their item. For example, the goal could be to travel to Australia, or a mission could be to visit every State in the US. Some goals are very specific, aiming for an exact place or places, others are more open and increasingly, the mission is just to travel and not get lost! If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up a bug that has the mission attached to it.

Travel bug with laminated mission sheet attached
Travel bug with laminated mission sheet attached

It is not always possible to check an item’s mission while in the field (obviously, this would be the preferred thing to do before you take it with you), but you should check it as soon as you can. If you can’t help it reach its goal, just drop it in a suitable cache at the earliest opportunity.

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Trackable at Mungret Abbey in Limerick Photo Credit: Damian Griffin

4. Find a suitable cache to leave a trackable 

A suitable cache is essentially the required size to take a trackable and is relatively well hidden (in other words, not likely to be muggled) but preferably not a ‘lonely cache’ (one that isn’t found too often).

TBs in cache
TBs in GC17 in Oregon

There are geocaches called TB hotels or motels, that are specifically designed to house trackables. They are often located close to transport links or near to major roads, for ease of access, like this one near Dublin Airport:

TB hotel

These are usually good places to leave trackables but there are plenty of other regular caches that will be suitable too.

TB hotel
Patascha’a TB Art-Hotel (GC48MW4) in Luxembourg

5. Learn how to properly log a trackable item

You have found a trackable – exciting! But now what? Log in to geocaching.com and go to ‘find trackables‘. Enter the code that appears on the bug or coin and you will be brought to the trackable’s page. This is where you can see the goal, the owner and even a map of where the trackable has been.

One of my TBs currently on its travels in the Netherlands
One of my TBs currently on its travels in the Netherlands

You have several options to choose from when logging a geocache. If you have seen a cache at an event, in the hands of another geocacher or have spotted it in a geocache but not removed it, then you will want to discover it.

Mauritius Elk June 18
Elk trackable in Mauritius – is it wrong to be jealous of a TB’s travel adventures?! Photo Credit: Stewart Kennedy

If you are picking it up to take with you, you will either retrieve it from the cache or grab it from the current holder. It’s nice to write a little note about your intentions with the trackable, and if possible, to upload a few photos of it on its geocaching adventures!

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Sometimes trackables are rather big! Photo credit: Stephen McNally

As I’m feeling generous, you can practice your trackable logging skills on one of my bugs! Feel free to discover it (if you want to share this with your friends, I would just ask that you send them the link to this blog post instead of just sending the code, pretty please 🙂 )

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Seamús the Leprachaun – feel free to discover him!

Try not to hold on to a trackable for too long, unless you have a particular intention to bring it somewhere in a few months. If you do intend to keep hold of a trackable for a while in order to help it towards its mission, you should always let the trackable owner know. I found a travel bug that wanted to go home to Canada but I wasn’t travelling there for two months so I contacted the owner to see if they wanted me to keep it and bring it with me to Canada, or let it go to travel more. They opted to have me carry it with me a while and then drop it in Canada when I got there. However, some owners will want the bug to keep travelling and not stay with one person for too long.

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My 15 years of geocaching geocoin near Europe’s First

If by chance, you find a travel bug or coin in your possession that you forgot you had, let the owner know and try to drop it in a suitable cache as soon as you can!

Trackable party
Trackables at an event in Dublin

If you attend an event, chances are you’ll see lots of trackables. Discovering them one by one can be a tiresome activity but fear not, there are online tools you can use to discover multiple codes at once: Project-GC and Log Them All! are two that I have used (there could be more). You just put your list of codes in and type in a generic message like “discovered at XYZ event, thanks for sharing” and then hit ‘discover’ – job done!

6. Beyond travel bugs and geocoins

The following items can be trackable:

  • A tattoo
  • A giant teddy bear
  • A t-shirt
  • A necklace
  • A dog
  • A door
  • A brick
  • A baby
  • Your granny
Tattoo
Trackable tattoo Photo Credit: Carsten Glöde

The list goes on and on. You can make almost anything trackable, all you need is a tracking code. The best way to get a code is to buy a travel bug and use the code on it.

Stamp
My trackable stamp

Some people go all out with their homemade trackables. Check out this cool magnetic beacon trackable. If you touch it with a magnet, a message appears on the screen – so cool! I would love to know how it got past airport security but it somehow managed to get from Germany to Ireland and I need to move it somewhere soon 🙂

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Magnetic Beacon Trackable

7. So you want to be a trackable owner…

Easy! There are so many places that sell travel bugs, cool trackable tags and amazing geocoins. Two of my favourites are geocoinshop.de and geocachingshop.nl but they are dozens of great online stores out there. Let me know your favourites in the comments below!

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My geocoin collection

To give your trackable the best chance, write up a goal on its page and if possible, attach it to something small so it will fit in lots of caches, but not so small it will easily get lost at the bottom of somebody’s geobag.

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Minion with trackable tag at Geocaching HQ

You can follow your trackable’s travels on the map shown on its page. You can also see how many miles it has travelled, which is handy if you’re racing another trackable.

Travel Bug map

Sometimes, companies run competitions featuring trackables that they give away for free. I have been lucky enough to get a Mountain Warehouse Sheep trackable tag and an Element14 trackable. Keep an eye on the Official Geocaching Blog as they will promote these partnerships.

8. Remember that trackables go missing every day

trackable meme

It is unfortunate, but trackables go missing every day. There seems to be some sort of TB abyss where lost bugs are condemned to float around marked as missing forever. Well not always forever, some can reappear, such as this pretty house TB that I found in a cache that had been marked as missing and replcaed, only for me to find it when the tree it was in was cut down and the container stuck out of the roots!

The house TB that was missing for 3 years before I found it!
The house TB that was missing for 3 years before I found it!

I also found a travel bug attached to a railing beside a nano cache I found in the South of France. When I checked the page, it was supposed to be in someone’s hands in a whole other country. I never did find out how it ended up in Nice but I attached a keyring to it and sent it off on its travels again when I got home!

If your trackable has been reported as not being in the cache it should be in, then you should probably consider using the mark as missing function on the trackable’s page, after a reasonable amount of time. Cache owners can also use this function to indicate if a TB is not in their cache despite being listed in the inventory.

TB in France
The travel bug I found tied to a railing in France

There are lots of stories of missing trackables turning up again years later in unexpected places, so the general rule is: never give up hope!

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Travel Bug in Barcelona Photo Credit: Damian Griffin

Do you have any interesting trackable adventures? Do you like to help TBs to travel or leave them for someone else? Let me know in the comments!

Happy caching!

Sarah

© 2015 | Sarah Murphy | All Rights Reserved

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15 thoughts on “8 Things to Remember about Trackables | The Geocaching Junkie

  1. Great blog and very useful article! Something I still struggle with a little is the difference between “grabbing” and “retrieving” a TB.

    You wrote: “If you are picking it up to take with you, you will either retrieve it from the cache or grab it from the current holder.”

    I assume that both options mean that you have the TB in hand physically and are then to take it somewhere else. Or is “grabbing” a virtual thing? The description on geocaching.com is a little unclear (like someone could grab the TB from you, before you are able to drop it off somewhere) and somehow I still struggle with the concept. I suspect I’m making things more complicated than they are, but…. I’m a beginner… 😉

    Greetings from Munich, Germany. Ralf.

    1. Hi Ralf! It’s like I said above: you retrieve from a cache (or an event, anything with a GC code), but you grab from another cacher, so if someone is holding it and the page says “current location: in the hands of sarahmur”, then you’ll have the option to “grab it from sarahmur”. I hope that makes sense 🙂

      1. Thank you for the super fast reply, I guess it does make sense. At least, if I stand next to you and really grab the TB from you… 😉 Otherwise, I could log a TB as grabbed from someone, but that someone still actually (!) has it in hands… That’s what confused me, after reading through the FAQ on geocaching.com (actually what I read was the German translation; might be that it’s a little vague compared to the English version)…

        1. No you’re correct, you can grab as long as you have the TB code, but then the person who really has it could grab it back again – if you made a mistake, for example

  2. I’m very excited about the idea of putting the code (and image) on a hoodie. I can imagine a few cachers at the festivals I go to getting a nice surprise! 🙂

  3. I have a question :/ Say I want to make my own trackable item (T-shirt, Car sticker, whatever…) Where do i get the Trackable number from then ???
    Thanks for the help

    1. You can’t actually buy just a trackable ‘code’, you have to buy a travel bug and then you can use the code on it to put on whatever you want! Have a look online and shop around for the cheapest TB you can buy 🙂

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