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It wasn’t long after geocaching was born – July,2001,to be exact – that the idea of tracking the movement of items placed in geocaching containers was born. Like most caching-related phenomena,travel bugs have morphed over the years to become a specialty in themselves.
Early in your geocaching experience,you’ll notice that many containers house small items affixed to dog tags with serial numbers etched into them. These are travel bugs,and their sole purpose is to move from cache to cache in a quest to reach a particular destination or just to travel as far as their virtual legs will carry th
em. With great power comes great responsibility,and if you take on the responsibility of picking up a travel bug,you have the obligation of delivering it to another location. Owners watch the
progress of their travel bugs carefully,so it is incumbent upon you to note in your log that you picked one up. The “trackable items”section of Geocaching.com has instructions on how to do this.
Logging a trackable item is as simple as clicking on the name of the travel bug on the geocache description page from which the item was retrieved. You can also search for the tracking code in the “Trackable Items”section of the website. Then note that you found the item by typing in the unique code on the dog tag. Once you find a trackable,you’re responsible for delivering it to the next location. Geocaching.com keeps track of who has each bug.
Many travel bugs have no particular rules. Owners simply want to move them as far as possible. Some bugs,however,come with specific requests,such as being photographed atop mountains or in birdbaths. If you pick up such an item,you should comply with the request. Otherwise,leave it for somebody who will.
Owners usually want their trackable items to move as quickly as possible,so if you’re not planning to travel soon,it’s best to leave the trackable for somebody else. If you know you have a trip coming up that will include geocaching,then collect several travel bugs before you leave so you’ll be able to move them along. Owners appreciate it when visitors move their travel bugs long distances.
Be aware of where owners want their bugs to go. Some specify a particular direction around the globe or specific countries they want to visit. If you think that you can help,then grab the trackable and move it. Otherwise,just leave it. There’s no shame in passing up a travel bug.
There is an unwritten rule that visitors who pick up trackable items should place them within a couple of weeks. This isn’t always observed,but it’s courteous to the owner to keep the item constantly in motion. If you can’t place a bug soon,e-mail the owner to let him or her know that the bug has been waylaid.
Travel bugs also have a tendency to get lost because visitors failed to log them. If you find a bug that isn’t included in the trackables listed for a given container,simply look up the unique serial number,go to the trackable page and log an entry that you found it. This will reestablish possession and ensure that tracking can resume.
There is no end to the innovation that dedicated geocachers bring to trackables. Some are linked to contests in which geocachers must log certain caches and carry trackables between them. Others have long personal histories tied to their owners or are backed by fanciful myths concocted by the originator.
Starting a Trackable
Launching a travel bug is easy. You buy a dog tag with a unique serial number at Geocaching.com for about $5. You get one tag to keep and one to send on its way. You need to activate a tag before releasing it into the wild. Otherwise,Geocaching.com has no way of tracking it and the item will be immediately lost to you. Fortunately,anyone can activate a code,so if you mess up and release a trackable without activating it,the first person to find it can start the process. Instructions on the site are straightforward enough.
Tags may be circulated by themselves,but usually they’re attached to a “hitchhiker”,which is a character that relates to a story or identity attached to the trackable. Small,inexpensive toys and stockings stuffers are favorites;expensive hitchhikers tend to disappear quickly. Frequently,these hitchhikers are stashed in plastic bags along with instructions for continuing the journey. These bags can get ragged pretty quickly,so do owners a favor and re-bag items when possible.
When you register a tag,you also get a tracking page on Geocaching.com that’s similar to a description page for a geocache. There you can enhance the mystique of your item by creating a story or objective behind it. Check out the trackables section,and you’ll see that people have concocted some pretty amazing tales. This page also tracks the progress of an item on its journey. People can post travel notes and comments about the trackable separately from their notes about a geocache. In many ways,a trackable is just a geocache that moves.
There is no official record of the travel bug that has moved the farthest,but a pretty good candidate would have to be Worldtraveler (TB27B),a bug that was placed in October,2001 and that had moved nearly 600,500 miles by May,2009. The owner,who also goes by the name of Worldtraveler,keeps the travel bug with him and files a log entry every time he visits a new geocache. If he meets someone who asks “Are you worldtraveler?”he renews their premium membership for one year at his own expense.
Geocoins are a type of trackable that have spawned a craze in themselves. People create geocoins to commemorate all kinds of things —weddings,conventions,milestones and places,just to name a few. Coins come in all shapes and sizes. These days,fewer and fewer of them are round,as owners experiment with custom die cuts,elaborate color schemes and special plating. As the designs have become more elaborate,the action has shifted from tracking to trading. The Groundspeak forums bustle with messages from people seeking particular commemoratives or looking to swap coins of their own. There are hundreds of geocoins listed on eBay,with prices ranging up to $50 or even higher for rare editions. Many collectors have amassed inventories of thousands of coins,which they trade at events or online.
Not all Geocoins are trackable,but most come engraved with a unique serial number provided by Geocaching.com or another tracking service. Like travel bugs,Geocoin codes correspond to a unique Web page that tells something about the coin’s origins and travels. The same rules that apply to travel bugs also apply to Geocoins. Move them along quickly and update their status by logging pickups and drop-offs on the cache log pages.
Not all geocoins are meant to be tracked. Many are created specifically for distribution or sale to collectors and their codes are never activated. It’s perfectly all right to keep coins you find in a geocache,but if the tracking number is live,you should correspond with the owner first. Some owners prohibit the collecting of activated coins,while others will ask for a fee to have their trackable taken out of circulation. Many owners distribute coins for commemorative or promotional purposes and are happy to let discoverers add them to their personal collections at no charge. They usually expect you to tell a story on the log page,though.
Make Your Own Geocoin
If you want to create a coin,dozens of manufacturers will be happy to oblige. Groundspeak maintains a list of approved suppliers and rules for creating approved Geocoins at http://forums.groundspeak.com/GC/index.php?showtopic=116641. Be aware that the price listed on the manufacturers’websites,which usually ranges from $2-$4 per coin in small lots,can be deceptive. Those prices are for the most basic coins. If you want to add colors,finishes,raised surfaces,side etching or a second side,the price goes up. Also,Geocaching.com charges $1.50 for each tracking code. By the time you’re done,expect to pay $6-$8 per coin.
Most coin manufacturers will throw in the design service at little or no charge with a minimum order size. If you’re not a designer,don’t fret. You can build designs from website templates or commission designs from independent Web entrepreneurs. The cost of these services is plummeting as design work migrates overseas. Custom logo designs that used to cost $700-$1,000 from US designers are now routinely turned out for $50-$100 by operations in India.
Be careful not to use the Groundspeak,Geocaching.com,Signal the Frog or any other registered trademark without playing by the rules. Groundspeak does permit some of its trademarks to be used without license fees,but there are strict guidelines in place. See the website address referenced above for specifics.
You should expect to see at least one round of proofs before your coin is committed to permanence. Check the colors,size,embossing and particularly the spelling! Some dealers will let you pay extra for a sample of the real article. It’s expensive,but if you’re going to be minting 1,000 of these,probably worth the cost. You can’t correct these things once they’re out in the field.
Once your Geocoins arrive,you’ll probably want to save a few of them for your own collection,sell or trade some others and cast some into the wild. If you want to track carefully the path your coins take,then activate them at the appropriate site before release. The coin manufacturer should provide you with a set of activation codes. You’ll need two codes to activate each coin:one is stamped on the back of the coin and the other is provided by the company that mints the coins. If you’re going to send unactivated coins into the field,be aware that people need to contact you in order to activate them.
Like most things in Geocaching,there aren’t many hard rules. Geocoins make good gifts for geocachers and non–geocachers alike. They’re also a great way to just commemorate a special occasion into distinctive manner. A blog called The Cachebug (http://cachebug.blogspot.com/) does a good job of tracking the latest news about this topic.
Some cachers who can’t quite rationalize the thought of spending $1,000 or more on geocoins use a new and less expensive variation called Pathtags. These miniature coins are produced by some of the same organizations that make geocoins but pathtags have no relation to Groundspeak. This is both a plus and a minus.
On the positive side,pathtags are much less expensive than Groundspeak-registered geocoins. They’re also much smaller —about the size of a US quarter. Path tags have holes in them to make it easy for owners to display them on a pegboard or collect them on a keychain. Starter kits can be had for under $100. The downside of having no Groundspeak affiliation,of course,is that pathtags can’t be tracked on Geocaching.com. But that’s not a big issue,because pathtags are not technically trackables.
Each coin is etched with a serial number that corresponds to a unique owner,but unlike geocoins,pathtags are not meant to be moved from place to place. They are simply calling cards that owners leave for others who may “cross their path.” Hence the name.
When you find a pathtag,you’re asked to log the pickup at pathtags.com. It’s great if you can tell a little story about how you came upon the treasure,since that’s the reason people release pathtags in the first place. Once you log your find,the tag is yours to keep or return to the wild. It’s up to you,and you won’t be yelled at either way. There are ways to track pathtags in the field,and you can find more information at pathtags.com.