You’ve seen them by now. The hoards of zombie-like youth and young adults gathered at random spots in parks or at street corners, with eyes locked on their smartphones as they hunt for Pokémon. You may have even fallen victim to Pokémon GO and its addictive qualities yourself, during the initial wave of the app sweeping our land. We’ll credit the Poké-craze for having gotten kids, teenagers and adults outside more and it’s even become an activity for many families – parents and children alike – to do together. But we’re just going to go ahead and say it: You should be geocaching with your kids instead.
Geocaching uses mapping (GPS coordinates) in their app, like Pokémon GO, to lead you on a real-world quest to find caches (containers) hidden by other people. The activities have similar roots, but the benefits of geocaching far outnumber those of Pokémon GO. Here’s why:
1. HELLO, OUTSIDE WORLD
If you have kids who are glued to their smartphones (and maybe you are, too), geocaching is the perfect way to connect devices to the outside world. Pokémon GO might get your kids out the door, but it won’t get their eyes off the screens. Geocaching, on the other hand, requires kids to use both smartphones and their surroundings to accomplish one goal. (Have older kids download the official Geocaching app and lead the charge by navigating the maps and coordinates.) You can spend quality time with your family outdoors, while your kids still get their techno-fix. Everybody wins!
2. GENUINE HUMAN INTERACTION
You might be out with a friend or group of people while you hunt for Pokémon, but that certainly doesn’t make it interactive. (Note the eerie silence that hangs in the air when you’re among a group of players). Geocaching, by nature, has a completely different feel to it. Think of an Easter egg hunt, and the outward joy that comes along with it. You’re discussing your surroundings and sharing in the excitement that comes after finding a new cache. You’re searching for something that actually exists in the real world, with loved ones by your side – not waiting for something to pop into view on your individual screens.
Unlike Pokémon GO, where the app generates virtual Pokémon for you to catch in certain locations at certain times of the day, geocaches are actual, physical containers that are hidden in locations all over the world. Caches are planted BY geocachers, FOR geocachers and then logged online based on their GPS coordinates. With the app open, you’ll be able to follow a map to nearby caches. Once in the correct location, you may still have to hunt high and low to find one; caches could be up in a tree, half buried in a decaying log or inconspicuously attached to the back of street sign. The hands-on aspect is not only what makes geocaching so real, but what makes it satisfying, too.
4. CACHES ARE UNIQUE
There’s a lackluster feeling of anonymity that sets in when you catch a new Pokémon, only to look up and realize that the 26 people around you also just caught the same one. Knowing that just about anyone in the vicinity can accomplish the same thing makes your achievement slightly less special.
Geocaches are a challenge to find, and tend to be purposely hidden in places where random passersby won’t just stumble upon them. Your personal experience in finding one, just like the cache itself, is completely unique. Your kids (and you) will feel truly triumphant each time you discover a new one!
5. LEAVE YOUR MARK
It’s human nature to mark our territory. As kids, we scratch, “Lindsay was here” into park benches. As teenagers, we share our feelings with the world by writing, “C+L = LOVE” on just about any available surface. And that’s why geocaches contain logbooks. When you find a cache, signing your name in the logbook makes you part of something bigger – you become a piece of that cache’s history.
6. NO LIMITS
Pokémon GO follows a pretty typical gaming model. That is, the game starts off relatively easy but it becomes more and more difficult to progress as your level increases. For younger kids, this means reaching a point where progressing is no longer possible and frustration ensues. For older kids, it means spending even more time in the game or turning to in-app purchases.
Geocaching offers a fun, new challenge with each cache, while never limiting participants with level progression. (That being said, there are still goals to meet and “souvenirs” to attain within the game.) Each cache is rated with a degree of difficulty that can be viewed prior to searching for it. But, just because a cache is labeled “difficult” doesn’t mean that inexperienced cachers aren’t allowed to give it a shot.
7. A SOCIAL AFFAIR
While Pokémon GO usually ends up being a pretty individual activity, the world of geocaching lends itself well to large, group settings. In fact, experienced geocachers like “dancer man” of Mississauga, Ontario often host social gatherings for other local geocachers and their families. His annual WOOFF (Walking Our Outstanding Furry Friends) event, for example, welcomes families and their pets to come out for an in-person meet-up and stroll at a local park. With events like this, it’s clear that geocaching is more than just a game or hobby but a community that allows you to connect with others who share a passion for cachin’.
8. IT’S A TREASURE HUNT, LIKE, FOR REAL
Everyone loves treasure hunts – especially when there’s actual treasure to be found. As if finding the cache isn’t rewarding enough, most geocaches (the ones that are big enough) contain a collection of items left behind by others who’ve visited the cache. It’s a great idea to have your kids come equipped with small items (think keychains, buttons, magnets, etc.) so that they can take something new from the cache and leave something behind in exchange. They’ll be happy to go home with a new “prize” while keeping the treasure hunt alive for the next group of cachers!
9. TOTALLY INCLUSIVE
Pokémon GO has been hugely appealing for youth and young adults – presumably those who were exposed to the Pokémon anime cartoon that gained popularity after it aired in North America in the late ’90s. For folks outside of those age groups, the app’s popularity seems to be a bit of a mystery. If you’ve tried to explain the game to your parents or grandparents, you might know what we’re talking about. (Catch them? But why? What do you mean they’re IN OUR BACKYARD?!)
Alternatively, geocaching offers a platform that is much easier to explain. Even for older relatives who aren’t as familiar with smartphones, the concept of “using a map to find a hidden container filled with goodies” makes sense. Where Pokémon GO may create a generational divide, geocaching helps to close the gap as an inclusive, family-oriented activity.
10. IT’S JUST. MORE. FUN.
There’s no easier way to say it. Geocaching, as an activity, is straight-up more fun. We’re not going to totally bash Poké-mania (because hey – we’ve tried it too), but it’s a fad with an unlikely long-term presence in our day-to-day lives. Believe it or not, catching Pokémon will get old, like most apps do.
Geocaching has already proven itself over time, consistently growing since its inception in 2000. According to geocaching.com, there are currently more than 2.8 million geocaches waiting to be found in over 180 countries around the world. It’s an adventure that will surprise you when you discover a concealed cache down the street from your home that you’ve walked by hundreds of times and will leave you and your family in awe as you explore and take in the beauty of more unusual and remote areas that you never would have known about.
It’s never too late to get outdoors and try something new with your kids – and we sure as heck aren’t talking about Pokémon GO.