Free (or super, super cheap). Fun for all ages (even grown-ups). Good for your health. Good for your brain. Accessible to anyone. Available nationwide. Wholesome family activity.
Seriously. If you’re not already doing it, you should give it a shot. It’s an underground community activity that’s been going on for years right under your nose, and I’m about to let you in on the secret:
For many years, people in your own community (unless you’re very unlucky) have been hiding little “treasure boxes” all over your town and nearby areas and posting clues to find them on the Internet. Once you know where to find the clues, you and your family can work together to find the treasure boxes and begin developing your own Letterboxing hobby.
Here’s how it works:
Each letterbox (or “treasure box,” as our children call them) contains a stamp, a log book, and sometimes other “goodies” to entertain the finder. Most letterboxes also have a clue that you can look up online and follow to find the letterbox.
Some clues are simple directions including landmarks, and others are riddles or puzzles you have to solve. Some require a compass and good navigational skills, some simply require an ability to spot obvious landmarks. There are letterboxes in community parks, and letterboxes inside stores. Many are handicapped and stroller accessible, others involve remote or challenging terrain. Some can be found within a few paces of your car, and others require extensive hiking. In short, they run a wide gambit, and there is almost sure to be a few in your area that your family will enjoy finding.
So here’s how to get started:
Go to www.atlasquest.com or www.letterboxing.org. Use their easy-to-navigate interfaces to find clues to letterboxes in your area. At Atlas Quest, you can use their symbol key to find letterboxes that meet your needs–whether you’re looking for something kid-friendly, brain-challenging, stroller accessible, or outdoorsy.
Once you’ve found a few clues you’d like to decipher, you’ll need to assemble a kit. This can be super cheap or free, depending on how well supplied your craft closet currently is and how elaborate you want to be. Here is what you need:
A log book. You’ll be stamping this with the letterbox stamps you find–it’s fun to see how many you can collect and from how many different locations. You can buy a pre-made notebook (blank pages are better than lined), or simply staple some computer paper together and decorate the “cover” with crayons, stamps, or markers.
A stamp. You can use a pre-made stamp already in your craft drawer, buy a set at the dollar store, spend big dollars on an elaborate one from a craft store, or you can make one (hand-made stamps are preferred among serious letterbox hobbyists). The simplest method of making your own is to cut a piece of adhesive craft foam into a shape you like. You can use a ballpoint pen to create indentations and add detail to your stamp. Then adhere the foam to a small block of wood or a large bottle cap. Alternately, you can Google “stamp making” to find instructions on many other methods.
An ink pad. Some letterboxes will contain their own ink pads, but don’t count on it. You really only need one pad, and it will last for years. Dig one out of your office drawer, or pick one up at the dollar store, craft store, or office supply store. Colors are fun, but black is perfectly fine.
Pens and a carry bag. You’ll probably want to write at least the date and the name of the letterbox next to each stamp you put in your log book. It’s also nice to write something in the log book for each letterbox.
Now, head out on your first quest! You may want to choose a simple one for your first try. Usually, the letterbox will be in a hard plastic container, and the elements of the letterbox will be further protected by plastic bags. Once you locate it, here’s what you’ll do:
Stamp the letterbox log book with your personal stamp.
Stamp your log book with the letterbox stamp.
Write down some details in your log book, and also leave a nice little note in the letterbox log book for its owner to read (short and sweet is key, since letterbox space is at a premium, and most log books are very small).
Later, you can log your find online at atlasquest and/or letterboxing.org as well and send a message to the letterbox owners letting them know how much you enjoyed the hunt.
Kids love it because it’s like a little treasure hunt. And it’s fun for adults because you get to exercise your brain in figuring out the clue, and then you get to collect cool stamps and communicate with other letterbox enthusiasts. If you really want to get involved, you can plant your own letterbox and wait for folks to find it.
So, give it a shot. Head over to http://www.atlasquest.com right now and get started. But don’t tell anyone I sent you–it’s supposed to be a secret!
P.S. Remember to always put all the parts of the letterbox back in the right bags and boxes, sealed tightly, and to replace the box carefully where you found it and hidden the way you would hope to find it.
P.P.S. If you want to be a superstar Letterboxing citizen, here are some extra things you may want to carry with you:
Plastic zip bags, extra pens, and possibly even a few “Gladware”-type containers. Over time, the baggies and containers that protect letterboxes can deteriorate, and it’s always kind to replace damaged parts when you find them. Extra-nice is to replace any pens you find that are running dry. Do let the owner know what you’ve done and the condition you found the box in! If you’re not able to replace parts on the spot, still let the owner know if their box needs attention. They will appreciate it!