How to set up a geocaching travel bug in 7 easy steps

Geocaching, if you’ve never tried it, is a fun addition to a day of outdoor adventuring.  It’s sort of like a treasure hunt, except instead of maps there are GPS coordinates, and instead of treasure there is, well, personal satisfaction.

In a nutshell, geocachers seek out small boxes of goodies that have been hidden by other cachers all over the world.  If you’ve never played, you’ve probably never noticed – but they are there, everywhere.  There are little boxes hidden in trees in the mall parking lot, under the log in that park where you walk your dog, at the beach where you went last weekend.  And you didn’t see them.  That’s by design.  One of the central conceits of geocaching is that it’s not supposed to be seen – the caches should be hidden out of sight, and cachers on the hunt stay out of sight of non-players.  (If they get spotted, weird things happen.)

Armed with a GPS device or smart phone, cachers find the area, then dig around for the cache.  It’s fun.  You should try it.

Dropping a travel bug in a geocache

Dropping off a travel bug in a north Florida geocache.

One optional component of geocaching is the “travel bug.”  Travel bugs are trackable items that you can hide in a cache.  Other cachers will pick up your travel bug and move it to another cache, then it will get moved again, and again, again, again.  The whole time, your travel bug is tracked online, so you can watch it as it criss-crosses the country and, potentially, the world.

Setting up a travel bug is easy, cheap and an interesting add-in to the geocaching game.  I set up a travel bug with the URL to this site, and I’ll be tracking it as it makes it’s way to the Pacific Ocean (that’s the mission, but more on that later).

If you’ve thought about launching your own travel bug, here’s the process in seven simple steps.

Step 1) Buy a Travel Bug tag.

Travel bugs are cheap, and they give you the code that you’ll use to register your travel bug on Geocaching.com.  Each set comes with two dog tags: One to put in a cache and one to keep for yourself.  Tags can be bought on Geocaching.com for $4.99, or they can be picked up at outdoor retailers like REI and Gander Mountain.

Travel Bug tags

One tag for your travel bug, the other for you.

Step 2) Decide the mission of your bug.

The first Florida Adventurer bug wants to get to the Pacific Ocean.  Other bugs want to travel to all 50 states, or through Europe, or to Australia.  Giving your bug a mission will give other cachers incentive to move your bug around.  It also makes it more fun to watch.  Once you’ve made a decision, you’re ready to…

Step 3) Register your bug.

You can register a “trackable” – a travel bug, a geocoin, etc. – with a free account on Geocaching.com.  Click here to go to the trackables page.  Registering your travel bug is easy: Enter the code, give it a name, write up your mission and add a photo (optional).

Step 4) Attach an item to your travel bug.

Your travel bug dog tag shouldn’t travel alone – it’s boring and easy to lose.  So, as is the custom, you’ll want to attach a trinket to your tag.  I chose a metal seahorse because it was convenient and it met several criteria: It had a hole to which I could attach the tag, it was small enough to fit in a small cache, and it’s not going to mold or dissolve if it it gets wet.  You’ll want to consider those factors too.

Travel Bug Geoaching

The Florida Adventurer seahorse, almost ready for a drop off.

Step 5) Add your bug’s mission.

This step is optional.  Anyone who checks your travel bug in online will see it’s mission, but some cachers choose to to attach a tag with the mission directly to the bug.  I did, because I wanted to encourage it to move.  I made a small instruction sheet and “laminated” it with clear packing tape.

Extra geocaching mission tag

An (optional) tag describing the mission of the Florida Adventurer travel bug.

Step 6) Drop off your travel bug.

Pick a cache that is big enough to hold your bug, and, if you want it to move quickly, put it in a well-traveled cache.  Hike, bike or kayak your way to the cache, and drop off the bug.

iPhone geocache app

Making my way to the geocache using the Geocaching iPhone app.

Step 7) Log your bug in at it’s new home.

If you’re caching from a smart phone, you can check it in right there at the spot.  If you’re using a handheld GPS, you’ll need to log in the cache when you get home.  Either way, find the page corresponding to the cache.  When you add a check in (a “log,” in geocaching parlance), you can select to drop off any trackables that are in your inventory.  Because you just registered the tag, it’ll still be in your inventory.  Once you hit submit, your tag will be ready to be picked up and moved to a new cache.

Then, sit back and watch.

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Comments

  1. I so want to try this! May have one slight problem, though . . .We are really quite remote, and it so rare to even see evidence of any other hikers on the trails I take my guests. I wonder if it would be cheating to tell guests that there may be a geocache on the ridge?

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  1. […] orange trail back to the blue connector that links to “Torreya Challenge”.  As an avid geo-cacher I wanted to locate the Torreya State Park geocache. There are 9 State Parks that have a hidden […]

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    How to set up a geocaching travel bug in 7 easy steps – Florida Adventurer

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