Trackables, also known as travel bugs, are an element of geocaching that can be fun and exciting. You can keep tabs on your trackables, as other people move them from cache to cache.
Geocache trackables are tags, geocoins, and items that move to different caches with a tracking number. Each trackable has a different mission, such as moving from one state to another or just traveling as far as possible. Sometimes a trackable will have a hitchhiker (some type of toy, special item, or coin) that is attached to the trackable.
Trackables come in many shapes and sizes. They are sometimes in the form of a dog tag, or thin metal material in the shape of something. Sometimes a number can be put on anything, such as a small statue, a toy car, and even a real car.
When you drop a trackable into a cache, it gets logged as discovered, and someone may move it to another cache if they can help the trackable complete it’s mission. Now that you know a thing or two about trackables, In this guide, we’re going to take a closer look into how the process works.
What Are Trackables in Geocaching
There are a few different types of trackables in geocaching. You have common ones, special coins, called geocoins, and even homemade items with tracking numbers.
The most common trackable is a dog tag style trackable. It has a dog tag shape or metal shape with a chain attached to it. These are “travel bugs” and are usually small enough to fit into some small geocaches and larger ones.
Geocoins can be used as trackables. There are special coins called Geocoins, that are usually produced within geocaching groups, to commemorate events, missions, goals, and just a type of calling card. Some of these coins have tracking numbers.
Homemade trackables are items with a trackable number attached. These can be things like small figurines, toys, and other items. People have even attached tracking numbers to their vehicles, shirts, and more.
How Do Geocaching Travel Bugs Work?
This geocaching trackables guide would not be complete without a step-by-step look into how to use a travel bug/trackable. First, let’s look at what happens when you find a trackable in a geocache.
When you find a trackable inside of a geocache, the first thing you want to do is look and see if it has been discovered yet. If it has not, you can log it as discovered.
Now that you have discovered a trackable, or have found a discovered trackable that is ready to move, you will need to read the mission and goal of the trackable. Every trackable has a different mission, such as moving it from country to country, it could be almost anything.
If you feel like you can move the trackable along and help it to meet its goal then you can now log and retrieve the trackable. It will now go into your inventory, on your profile page.
Move it along. You should not keep trackables for more than 2 weeks. It is now up to you to move it to a cache that fits the mission of the trackable. You must move the trackable along, it is not swag for you to keep.
How to Start a Geocache Trackable
Now that you know how trackables move when you find them, let’s look at how to obtain your very own trackable, activate it, and get it moving out in the world so you can track it.
You will need to purchase a trackable with a tracking number from either the geocaching website, or you can buy them on amazon, and then register them and activate them on the geocaching website.
After you have purchased your trackable, you will need to activate it on the geocaching website, write the name, the goal/mission, and then the description. You may also include a picture of the trackable.
You are now ready to “drop” this into the first cache of the trackable’s journey. You can hold onto the cache at this point until you are ready to send it off. Once you are ready, visit the geocache, log it as a “drop” into the cache and it is ready to move.
That’s it. Someone will now discover the trackable in that geocache and then move it along on its mission. If no one can achieve the mission and goal, it will sit in the cache until someone who can move it comes along.
One of the worst-case scenarios is that someone takes it on accident, thinks that it is swag, and keeps it for their own collection. This usually happens because they are a user who has not played the game long enough to understand the rules.
Geocaching hitchhikers are travel companions that are attached to the travel bug. Most travel bugs have a chain. The chain can be attached to a hitchhiker, such as a small teddy bear, a toy car, or some type of item. The hitchhiker usually has something to do with the theme and mission of the trackable.
For instance, someone may attach a toy car to their travel bug, and write that it wants to drive from cache to cache. Or that it wants to drive to other countries. This can be a fun way to make the story more relatable and tangible.
When creating a trackable with a hitchhiker, keep in mind that the size of the trackable, limits what size caches it will be able to fit into. Use a large hitchhiker if you want to travel from large geocaches to large geocaches, or a smaller one to travel through some small caches, and so on.
Trackables do not just end at dog tags and hitchhikers. You can obtain a tracking number and make almost anything trackable. This includes vehicles, shirts, people have even tattooed trackable numbers to themselves.
Here is a list of possible things that can be trackable.
- Name tags
- Dog collars
Why would anyone want to make their vehicle or clothing trackable? The cool thing about trackables is how many ways you can use them. You can make your pets’ collars trackable, and allow people to discover them.
You can make a shirt trackable and wear it to events, to keep track of events and people that you meet at them. Some people have a trackable on their keychains and will log it discovered at every cache they go to, to have a record of all of their caches.
See our Beginner Guide to Geocaching here.
Stay With the Mission and Goal
One of the most overlooked parts of geocache trackables is the mission and goal. Each trackable has a mission and goal that it wants to achieve. If you retrieve a trackable, and the goal is to take it to California, then you wouldn’t want to head east with it. It needs to move along to get to California. Source.
The mission and goal are kind of the same thing. Some trackables have elaborate stories that go along with the goal. These missions can be something like, this race car is one of 10 race cars that we released at the same time, the first one to get to New York from Texas wins.
The possibilities are endless for ideas, neat stories, cool-looking hitchhikers, and data that you get to collect and track along the way.
Trackables Are Not Swag
Now that you know how missions and goals work, you know that trackables are not swag and you should not keep them. Trackables need to keep on moving. Do not take a trackable/travel bug unless you can move it along to the next objective in its mission.
Geocoins can often times get mistaken for swag, when they are actually trackable coins. Sometimes you will find collectible swag, such as pathtags, and other collectible items. Pathtags are collected and registered on the pathtag website, these you can keep, they also contain a number on them.
However, geocoins will sometimes have a trackable number that you can type into the website to verify. Geocoins are usually larger and thicker than pathtags.
How Do I Find a Geocache with Trackables
You can find trackables that you own, or that you are holding onto in your own trackables inventory, from your profile page, on geocaching.com. If you are wanting to find a trackable, then there are several methods you can use.
The first is to look at the caches in your local area and look for one that says something like “travel bug hotel” in the cache name or description. These are usually large containers where the cache owner encourages people to pass trackables along through their cache.
Next, you can go to any cache on the map, and on that particular cache page, there is a button that says trackables. If you click on that, it will tell you if there are any trackables in that cache. This is my favorite way to do it.
You can find trackables if you have their tracking number. You can type the number into the trackables page to find out if it exists in the database.
Where to Buy Geocache Trackables
The easiest way to do this is to buy directly from the geocaching website. You can buy them, and once they are shipped to you, you can enter the tracking number and activate your trackable. It’s very easy.
You can also buy trackables on Amazon, eBay, and other websites. You may have to register your trackable with an outside agency, and then activate it on the official geocache website. If you have any trouble using outside sources for your trackables, then email the company, and the geocaching website to get it resolved.
DIY Geocache Trackables
You can buy trackable numbers from the geocaching website. What does this mean? It means you can put the number on just about anything. You can put it on a car, on a shirt, or you can put it on your favorite childhood toy. As long as the item contains the tracking number, it can be found and discovered.
Some people will buy the dog tag with the tracking number and then glue that onto an object, making the object trackable. For instance, you could have a figurine or statue of a deer, and glue the tag with the tracking number to the bottom of it. It is now trackable.
I’ve seen people make their own hitchhikers. Some people use their own art, such as bead art, or small canvas paintings. You can get creative when it comes to DIY trackables. Pair that with the ability to create goals and missions, and you have yourself a detailed mission that you will be able to track, hopefully, for years to come.
Geocache Trackable Mars
In 2020 on Tuesday, July 21st, a geocaching trackable was placed on the Mars Perseverance Rover. It landed on Mars and has been trackable ever since. The geocaching website says in its official rules, that you can leave geocaches on other planets! Who knows what the future brings, but at least it will bring geocaching with it.
Always remember when out and about to geocache, the “leave no trace way.” Do not disturb any of the plants or wildlife. And if you’re on another planet and you really want to make contact with an alien lifeform, remember they’re muggles. Source.