My recent trip to Japan brings my total countries cached in to thirteen. I have learned a few lessons along the way, so I have put together some tips to help you get the most out of geocaching abroad, whether it be for a dedicated caching trip or just to cache alongside your planned holiday.
1. Save geocaches and maps to offline
Even if you have data roaming charges included in your phone plan, I cannot stress how important it is to download everything you need to your phone and/or GPSr. When we visited York, I didn’t bother downloading anything because I figured, ‘we’re still in the UK, I’ll just use data to look at the live map’. Wrong. The geocaching website went down, which meant the app wouldn’t work, so I couldn’t navigate to anything. When I finally stumbled upon an EarthCache location by chance, I still couldn’t download the cache description to figure out what tasks I had to do.
If you’re using a GPSr, make sure you download maps of the country you’re going to, otherwise you will be left with a lot of blank screen and an arrow, which I guess can up the difficulty level of a cache, if that’s what you’re in to. You can download free maps from OpenStreetMap, it’s easy (how-to blog post coming soon, but feel free to ask me by email if you’re stuck in the meantime).
2. Do as much research as you have time to do
My normal planning involves searching the geocaching map for the areas we will be visiting and sorting by favourite points – these are usually clever caches or are just in great locations.
I then use Project-GC to see if any caches in the area will help me complete any challenges I’m working on, like the Hidden Date Challenge.
Lastly, I’ll look at the must-see sights we’ll be visiting and see what caches are around them. For EarthCaches – I always try to do at least one EC in every country I visit – I now print out the logging tasks, just in case all else fails, and it’s handy to write the answers on the printout too.
3. Target interesting caches if possible
If you’re on a flying visit, the main goal is to get that new country stat, and hopefully, a new country souvenir. If you are travelling with unwilling participants and think you may not have much time and/or opportunity to cache, or you’re on a business trip with little free time, then look for traditional, 1/1 caches, near where you’re staying or near where you’re visiting.
If you have the time and support of your travelling companions, try to prioritise special caches like those from 2002, 2001 and 2000 or something with a DT that will possibly help you complete your Fizzy grid. Who knows when you’ll have the chance to grab those months or DTs again and while it may not matter now, you could be kicking yourself that you didn’t even look for them in a few years time when you’re working on various challenges.
If you’re bringing travel bugs with you, make sure you have identified a few caches that are larger than micro size (and preferably larger than small as some caches listed as small may only hold one TB, or none in the worse case), so you have somewhere lined up to drop them off.
4. Check travel bug missions and watch out for prohibited hitchhikers
Travel Bugs want to travel, right? So it’s only natural you may want to bring a few with you on holiday to get them moving around the globe. Just make sure you take a little time beforehand to check their missions: if they don’t want to leave their country of origin, don’t take them on a 12 hour flight and drop them in an airport TB hotel. It’s ok to have them travel with you and then drop them when you’re back home, if you don’t have time to drop them off before you leave.
Check the hitchhiker items that TBs often have attached to them: anything that airport security could deem to be a prohibited item, I tend to leave at home and drop off at a cache at the earliest opportunity.
Since TBs and geocoins are another cacher’s property, you might think about having them in your hand luggage. As long as there’s nothing untoward in with them, it shouldn’t be a problem but be aware that you may be questioned. In my experience, airport security are generally curious about the large chunk of metal in your bag and may want to probe further.
5. Check your geobag for appropriate contents
It’s only natural that you want to take your trusty geobag along with you, but search through it in advance to make sure you’re not bringing anything that airport security staff may raise some eyebrows over and could ultimately take from you.
For example, if you have a Swiss army knife in your TOTT kit, you should probably remove it from your geobag before you fly.
6. Get your data plan in order
For me, this is essential. Even if you’ve downloaded the caches for offline use. Even if you’re caching with your GPSr. It really helps to be able to look back at old logs and view images and for this, you need data. It’s also very useful for looking for non-geocaching related information.
You also have the option to purchase a local SIM card where you’re travelling. This can be cost effective, so do a little research online in advance.
Don’t just dive in and assume all will be well if you set your data roaming button to ‘on’. Check what your plan includes and buy a bundle if you have to; some roaming costs are extortionate so it’s imperative to inform yourself before you go.
7. Research public wifi in advance
Public wifi is generally not the safest but it’s a good fall back option if you don’t opt for a data roaming plan or you’ve reached your daily limit. Some cities offer very accessible free wifi that actually works and others offer free wifi but it never really works properly. You usually have to agree to T&Cs and you need to open your browser to do this after choosing the network.
Starbucks and McDonald’s offer free wifi to their customers and you don’t always even need to go inside to access it – you will need to log in on your browser though. Increasingly pubs and restaurants offer free wifi and they will generally have a sign outside to this effect. Remember not to log in to online banking or any other sensitive accounts while on public wifi.
8. Print some Muggle Cards
More often than not, nobody will pay any attention to you while searching for a cache, especially in a tourist hotspot, but occasionally you might be questioned by a local and answering can be a challenge if there is a language barrier.
To help you out, I have enlisted the help of some multi- and bilingual geocaching friends* to create Muggle Cards to print out and take with you when geocaching abroad, so you have a small way of communicating with any curious locals. At the moment, I have muggle cards for seven languages – if you speak another language and would like to include it, get in touch with me by email at email@example.com
Those are my top tips based on my experiences geocaching abroad. What would you add? Let me know in the comments!
© 2016 | Sarah Murphy | All Rights Reserved
*Huge thanks to geocachers FourAcorns, ravestorm, Hendl, Adolficus, okrutnyb, Weellu and daraconn for their help with the Muggle Card translations!