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    Treasure hunts—with a twist


    Are you eager to explore new places? Do you have a keen sense of adventure? You probably considered these questions before becoming a healthcare traveler, and answered, "yes, yes!" Well, those affirmative answers also qualify you for geocaching (jee-o-cashing), a popular new pastime that requires only a sense of adventure, and a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) unit.

    Geocaching is essentially a high-tech treasure hunt. Players hide their "treasure" (a.k.a. cache) somewhere out in the world and post the longitude and latitude coordinates on a geocaching website (such as http://www.geocaching.com/ or http://www.navicache.com/). To get started, you simply visit the website and search by zip code for local caches. Often, maps, pictures, and hints (such as "beware of bees" or "bring scuba gear") are provided along with the coordinates. After selecting a cache, you enter the coordinates into your GPS and you're ready to begin your search.

    The ins and outs of GPS If you don't already own a handheld GPS unit, check out your local sporting goods store. This handy tool—which shows you your exact position on Earth—is actually a good investment for any traveler who often finds himself or herself in new places. The system operates via 24 satellites about 12,000 miles above the planet. Your GPS receiver on the ground seeks tracking signals from at least three satellites, then interpolates the data to establish longitude and latitude. The system was originally developed for the military, but when the government made it available for civilian use in May 2000, geocaching was born.

    When purchasing your first GPS unit, be aware that they vary in styles and features. You can get a basic unit for $100, or opt for all the bells and whistles and spend up to $1,000. Many of these add-ons are not necessary, but a good unit should be waterproof, have the ability to store maps, and contain a good antenna.

    Geocaching on the road Once you've purchased your GPS and taken a practice run in a familiar area, you're ready for your first search. Geocaching has become extremely popular, and there are now close to 150,000 caches stashed in more than 200 countries around the world. So regardless of where your assignments take you, chances are good that there are caches nearby. In fact, geocaching lends itself perfectly to the mobile lifestyle since the essence of the sport is exploring new places. People tend to hide caches in their favorite spots, so prepare to be directed toward beautiful terrain you may not have discovered otherwise.

    Enjoying the search is really what geocaching is all about. Though it is satisfying to find the cache, its contents are rarely valuable. Traditional caches consist of dollar-store trinkets housed in a Tupperware container or an ammunition box. When you uncover one, feel free to take an item as long as you leave one in return. Any safe trinket, such as marbles or action figures, makes an acceptable swap. Most caches also contain a logbook—so you can leave a note about your adventure—and a disposable camera, so you can take a picture of yourself for the owner to later develop. You're also encouraged to go back to the website where you found the coordinates and log your find.

    Searching for special caches Occasionally, caches will contain special items called "travel bugs." Some geocachers place them with notes, explaining where they want them to wind up. For example, two players in New York may try to race their travel bugs to Chicago. As people find a travel bug, they move it from one cache to another, getting it closer to its destination and tracking its progress online.


    Lisa Daggett
    Lisa Daggett is a freelance writer based in Saugerties, New York.