Letterboxing: a Modern Treasure Hunt for the Whole Family

Picture a walk in your very own neighborhood park. Every turn in every walking path may seem familiar, yet there is so much you can't see. Behind each rock, under every fallen log, there may be a small, outwardly grubby box that contains treasure--messages from people around the world.

Welcome to letterboxing, an exciting, intriguing, educational, and occasionally maddening treasure-hunt activity that's exploded in popularity over the last decade! You can go online to find directions to many thousands of buried or hidden boxes, find a box, and leave your own mark in it before re-hiding it. Most letterboxers also keep their own personal list of boxes they've found, much like a birdwatcher's "life list."

The educational aspects of letterboxing are many, but are overshadowed by the adventure aspect, which makes it a perfect activity for kids. If allowed to plan the whole activity, they will learn to equip themselves, create their own personal stamp, find directions online, follow the directions (which can even be written in code, adding another layer of mystery and fun), and leave a message for subsequent letterboxers. Finally, they'll learn the importance of leaving everything just as they found it.

How do I start letterboxing?

The best way to get started letterboxing is by Googling "letterboxing." You will find several websites that allow you to search on your city and state, set a radius from your location, and see a description of each box within that radius. There are two great sites for North American letterboxing, www.atlasquest.com and www.letterboxing.org. You'll no doubt be surprised at the number of letterboxes within a reasonable distance of your own home.

In most letterboxes you will find  a small blank logbook and a unique rubber stamp. This allows you to stamp your own personal logbook with the letterbox stamp, and put a greeting in the letterbox logbook. Most letterboxers take their own rubber stamp (usually a handmade one) to stamp in the letterbox logbook as a sort of personal signature. Then you put the letterbox back exactly as you found it. That's all there is to it!

What to take with you

You'll probably need a small daypack or fanny pack for a few hours of letterboxing. Two or three easy letterboxes is a good way to start. You'll need the directions, some water and snacks, and appropriate wear for the weather. You will not be digging (letterboxes are hidden in natural concealment spots) but you may want to take gloves along for reaching into cracks or brushing aside leaves. Check the directions to see if there are particular suggestions about the letterbox you're seeking. And don't forget a pen, your own stamp, an inkpad, and your logbook. It is nice to take an extra pen or pencil to leave in the box, in case the one that should be there is missing.

Other considerations

Some letterboxes are located on private property--again, check the directions for information. Property owners are often agreeable about having letterboxers come around, but may ask that you only come during the day, shut the gate behind you, etc. Be respectful, be careful, and leave everything as you found it.

Occasionally you will look for a letterbox and not find it. Sometimes they have been found and carried away by a non-letterboxer; sometimes they will be removed briefly for maintenance or replacement  and will eventually be put back. If you are sure you have wound up at the right place and there is no letterbox, you can usually report the missing box online.

It should go without saying (though unfortunately it doesn't) that you should follow all laws while you are letterboxing. Don't go through private property unless you know it is allowed or have asked permission. Don't bumble through sensitive plant habitats or tear up the landscape looking for a letterbox.

Want to make your own letterbox?

Check www.letterboxing.org for good instructions and suggestions. This is a great group project for Boy or Girl Scouts, church groups, homeschoolers, etc.

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Posted on Dec 1, 2010