Geocaching on Vacation

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent
Tom and Ethan Jones on a geocaching trip this past winter.

No matter where father and son Tom and Ethan Jones are going, they often stop along the way and hunt for hidden treasure. In other words, they go geocaching.

"When everyone is a kid, you dream of finding buried treasure," said Ethan, 15. "This is the closest you can get to it."

The Worthington pair said they pull out their Global Positioning System (GPS) units and track down coordinates for hidden treasures while running weekend errands, visiting family and, yes, even on vacation.

Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunt that has become a popular pastime, likely because there is no age limit, it's easy to do and can be done almost anywhere in the world.

Here's how it works: Using a smartphone app or a handheld GPS unit, players use coordinates they find online to search for "caches." Caches are basically containers as large as a tin ammunition box or as small as a tiny locket. The smallest finds are known in the geocaching world as "micro" or "nano" caches.

Inside (or near) each cache is a log where geocachers mark their names and can also read who else has been there before them. Many caches are filled with small trinkets that range from stickers and rubber balls to bracelets and tiny figurines. The idea is to take something but then also leave something behind to add to the collection for the next person who finds it. Geocachers then register their finds online at sites such as

Passionate geocachers, such as Tom and Ethan, said what drives them is the thrill of the hunt and never knowing what treasures they will find.

"If I am going somewhere," Ethan said, "I look to see if there are any (caches) around and hunt for them if I have time."

This includes family vacations and visits to grandma's house in Cleveland, where the Joneses said they stop at every rest area along the way to search for caches. Needless to say, those drives from Columbus take a little longer than two hours.

In addition to adding extra commuting time to their destinations, the father and son said it is now the norm to plan extra time while visiting someplace to search for caches in nearby parks and cities.

Vacation planning for the family means devoting almost as much time to plotting geocache coordinates as booking flights and rental cars. This summer, they plan to vacation in Seattle, which is considered the center of the geocaching phenomenon (it began 14 years ago near Portland, Ore.). Ethan already has plotted the GPS coordinates for caches he hopes to find there.

While the Joneses plan their geocaching around their vacations, some enthusiasts plan their vacations around geocaching. According to, more than 6 million people worldwide are on the hunt for 2.3 million caches, and geocaching vacations are booming. Custom GeoTours in places such as British Columbia and Florida showcase the destination through geocaching explorations. There are also official "Mega Events" around the world in which more than 500 geocachers congregate in specific destinations to search for caches. For many, collecting new geocache loggings is akin to collecting exotic new stamps in a passport.

The Joneses now have more than 170 cache finds under their belts. It all began as a family hobby two years ago when Ethan, bored on a summer day, decided to try the activity. The geocaching bug bit quickly and it has now become a special father-son experience to share.

"I had been looking for things to do with the kids," said Jones. "In this day and age, it is hard to find family things to do that aren't electronically linked."

After several years, hundreds of finds, dozens of new destinations and even a Boy Scout merit badge, it is safe to say that geocaching has changed family time and family vacations for the Joneses forever.