Geocaching has firmly established itself into mainstream America, but few people seem to know about a less-techy version: letterboxing. Utilizing clues instead of coordinates, letterboxing offers a unique spin on the trinket-based, GPS-powered hobby of geocaching. With all the same benefits of exploration in nature, letterboxing blends in a bit of extra contemplation and deliberation that adds to the intrigue. So if your family is looking for a fun, new activity or if you like geocaching, you should try letterboxing!
History Of Letterboxing
While geocaching has just recently entered the scene within the past couple of decades, letterboxing is a 150 year-old tradition that has spread and persisted well over a century. It began in 1854 with a guide by the name of James Perrott who placed his calling card in a bottle before planting it in the rugged national park of Dartmoor in Southwest England. Those that found his left-behind bottle left their own calling cards and the hobby slowly spread. Very slowly. After 122 years, there were a summed-up total of fifteen letterboxes throughout Dartmoor.
As the activity developed, calling cards eventually became postcards that were to be mailed by the subsequent finder. This is where letterboxing developed its name. Over time, postcards were replaced with the stamp system currently still in effect. Letterboxing wasn’t introduced to North America until 1998, when Smithsonian magazine wrote an article highlighting the Dartmoor pastime. States such as Oregon and Connecticut enthusiastically adopted the activity and started collecting letterboxes of their own. Today, a number of online sites host and catalog clues to these hidden treasures that now dot the entire landscape of America.
How It Works
Unlike geocaching, which relies on the use of a GPS and coordinates, letterboxes are found using a series of clues. As a result, you spend less time staring at a blinking screen and more time engaging with nature and those around you by deciphering and discussing clues. These clues can be found at hosting sites like Letterboxing North America or Atlas Quest. If you want to give it a shot, identify a set of clues that you’d like to pursue and follow the instruction to seek out the location of the letterbox. As you will find, this can sometimes be easier said than done!
Once you do find the letterbox, you’ll open it up to reveal it’s contents. Standard letterboxes will include a notepad, an ink pad, and a stamp (often hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind). The idea is that you use the stamp included in the box to mark your logbook, which is just a notepad you carry along on your letterboxing adventures to document your discoveries. Then, you take your own personalized stamp, which you also bring along yourself, and stamp the notepad included in the box. You can also write a brief message about your journey for future finders to read!
While we’re not saying that letterboxing is necessarily better than geocaching, we see a few unique characteristics to letterboxing that might make it more enjoyable and worthwhile for you. With that being said, try them both out and decide for yourself which you like better.
Letterboxing is particularly conducive to groups because it encourages dialogue. Families will bond over the thrill of deciphering cryptic clues, solving puzzles, and tracking down the hidden treasure. Even if you don’t end up finding your letterbox, you will find that the hunt is the best part of the whole experience! Being out in the fresh air with your family, you’ll grow stronger together and more connected with nature. Letterboxing is an enjoyable activity that engages everyone, from the most rambunctious youngsters to the most apathetic teens and tweens.
There is an underlying sense of community that is associated with letterboxing. It’s like an underground network that you are immediately welcomed into once you dare to take on a hunt! Unlike geocaching, which trades cheap trinkets and small objects, letterboxing exchanges written messages and notes, pictures, and custom-designed stamps. These items tend to be more personal than a McDonald's happy meal toy. At its core, letterboxing is simply about forming connections between people, even if they will only ever meet on paper.
Tips & Tricks
- Choose a stamp that is representative of yourself or your family. If your family loves to go camping, maybe get a stamp with a tent or RV on it! If you want to go letterboxing with your dog, consider a cute canine stamp! Hand-carving the stamp yourself can be a great way to add a personalized touch that ensures nobody else will have a stamp quite like yours!
- While most letterboxes contain an ink pad, it can be a good idea to bring your own just in case. Even if an ink pad is supplied in the box, you may have a color preference or one that corresponds to the image on your stamp. You may also want to bring a compass for easier navigation, as well as sunscreen and a hat to protect against UV rays. Bring snacks and plenty of water so that you can stay hydrated and refuel when needed. Bring a camera too so you can document your fun adventures!
The next time you find yourself bored and looking for something to do, just pick a set of clues online for a letterbox in your area and get ready for a day of outdoor adventure! Have you ever tried letterboxing before? Let us know how it went in the comments below!