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How to geocache properly with Travel Bug Etiquette

travel bugs

A Travel Bug (TB) is one of those aluminium tags attached to something that you find in a cache.  They are items that you can remove from a cache without needing to swap with anything else.  When some people are learning how to geocache they aren't always sure of what is the right etiquette when it comes to handling TBs.

The idea of TBs is that geocachers move them to another cache so that the TBs have little adventures of their own. TBs can log tens of thousands of miles as they travel around the world.

Every time someone retrieves or places a TB its owner receives an email and can track its progress. In this way they can enjoy its travels vicariously. The geocaching site has a feature where TB voyages are plotted on Google Earth.  It's amazing to see how far and wide these things travel - just by hitch-hiking!

So what do you do if you find one? What is the correct etiquette?

Firstly realize that they belong to someone else and while it's in your possession it's your responsibility to look after it.

You should place it in another cache as soon as possible.  Don't leave it for many weeks before you place it somewhere else.  The only exception I would make to this is if you are planning to go on an overseas trip and the goal of the TB is to travel around the world.

The cache in which you place it should be one that is visited fairly frequently.  In other words don't hide it in a cache that is rarely visited, such as a difficult puzzle cache, or one in a remote location etc.

If you come across a TB in a cache that is visited infrequently, do the person a favour and move it on. They'll be very grateful.

If you own a TB, please don't attach some large object to it.  It can be very difficult to find a cache large enough to accommodate something large.   If I find such a TB, I usually won't move it on for that reason.

If you do lose a TB that is in your possession, inform the TB owner.  I'd rather know than have to chase you up.  One of my TBs didn't move for months.  I kept following up with the last person who eventually placed it somewhere.  It took 6 months though.


How to geocache – Understanding GNSS

The GNSS constellation has about 24 satellites orbiting at nearly 11,000 nautical miles.

GPS Constellation

A GPS unit is the primary tool for geocachers so it's important to have a really good understanding of how the system works, the limitations and things to consider when using them. A good working knowledge of the system will help you to understand how to geocache properly.

The GPS system is one of the great inventions of the 20th century.  It has revolutionized navigation and many applications have been developed that make use of this system.

The system that we use for geocaching is called GNSS, or Global Navigation Satellite System.  It was set up and is operated by the US Air Force and costs billions of dollars. We get to use it for free!

Basically GNSS is based on about 24 satellites that orbit the earth and transmit a radio signal towards the ground.  The signals from the satellites are all synchronized to incredible accuracy by a ground-based atomic clock.

The GPS unit that you hold in your hand is basically a radio receiver (not a transmitter!) that is able to calculate the time differences from the signals that it receives from the various satellites that it can "see" in the sky above where you are standing.

Remember that these signals are travelling at the speed of light, so the time differences from the various satellites are minuscule.   Even so, your GPS can detect these differences and triangulate where you are down to about 3 metres at best.  The optimal place to get the most accurate fix is when you can see clear sky all around, such as on the top of a hill, or out on the water.  The signal is degraded if you are, for example, under trees,  in a canyon, in amongst tall buildings or anywhere you don't have a clear view of the sky.

Garmin Oregon - a popular geocaching GPS

The GPS receiver is a marvel of modern technology.  To give you an idea of its sensitivity, it is equivalent to trying to see a 100 watt light bulb located 10,988 nautical miles out in space!

So what does this mean for you?

It means that next time you're trying to find a geocache be aware of the limitations in the accuracy of position.  The best accuracy your unit can achieve in the most optimal conditions is about 3 metres (~10ft).  So your search radius is about 3 metres from where your GPS says is GZ - and that's assuming that the cache owner has published accurate co-ordinates.  If you are under trees, in a canyon or some other difficult location, your search radius may be wider.

It also means that when you are placing a cache don't just hide the container, mark the location and leave.  That's a recipe for inaccurate co-ordinates.  Spend the the time to average the position (a good GPS has this function) to get accurate co-ordinates - especially if it's in a location where the signal is not so good.    Your fellow geocachers will have loving thoughts towards you if your co-ords are accurate.

This is a really important subject when you learning how to geocache, so we'll go into more detail elsewhere.


What is geocaching?

Geocaching logo

Geocaching logo

Even though geocaching has been around for over 10 years, it's surprising to find that many people have never heard of it, or if they have, how to geocache.

So what is it?

Some people describe geocaching as a high-tech treasure hunting game.

Geocachers hide a container called a geocache (or cache for short) somewhere and record the co-ordinates of its location using a GPS receiver.  These co-ordinates plus a description of the location and possibly a hint about how to find it are entered into a huge online database at

Other geocachers can then search for caches near a particular location – wherever they may be in the world. Every country in the world has at least one cache.  Even Antarctica has caches.

If you want to participate you need to  register at  A Basic Membership is free and allows you to view the co-ordinates of the geocaches.  A Premium Membership is very economical at US$30 per year and provides a wide range of useful features compared to Basic Membership.

You will need to buy or borrow a GPS receiver in order to find geocaches.  However there are individuals who manage to find geocaches by referring to a map!

Many geocachers have become concerned about the increasingly poor quality of geocaches that are being placed.

This Progeocaching site is aims to show people how to geocache properly and help to put the quality back into the game.