Letter What? Letterboxing Provides New Way to Experience Familiar Spaces

Adventure. New places. Family fun. Creativity. If any of that sounds enticing, it might be a great time to start letterboxing. No, this isn’t what your mail carrier does with rival mail carriers. It’s a hobby with roots in England dating back to 1854. In short, letterboxing is the grandfather of geocaching, without the need for fancy gadgets like a GPS to navigate and find the treasures for you. This is a true hunt.

I first discovered letterboxing while in college, working at a local outfitter in Baltimore in the late 90s. I overheard a customer talking to his friend about the places they’d been and the boxes they’d found. I had to know more. After conducting a little online research, I was out on my own letterbox hunt the following day. Meandering through the forest, making lefts at fallen oaks and rights at bends in the river, I was shocked to actually find a plastic container hidden under a football-sized rock that far into the forest. The clues had taken me on an adventure, given me a goal, and finished it all up with a prize. I was hooked. Since then I’ve racked up dozens of letterboxes while traveling or when I’m feeling a need to go somewhere new. It has taken me to interesting and scenic places, most of which I would have never known existed otherwise.

Letterboxing is rather simple and has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Using clues found primarily online or by word-of-mouth, “finders” search out and find small waterproof boxes hidden out of sight in various public places. Inside the box is a handmade stamp, pad of paper, and whatever else the “hider” decides to include in the box. Finders bring along their own personal stamp, and they imprint the pad inside the box to prove that they found it. Finders then use the stamp in the box to stamp their own pad. Essentially, a stamp impression exchange is made.

Making your own stamp can be a lot of fun and can easily be done with kids. For beginners, however, I suggest going to local craft store, purchasing a pre-made stamp, ink pad, and small 3 inch by 5 inch spiral notebook (preferably with blank pages). Search online for clues to a box that looks interesting and start your hunt. You can even try finding your first box without a stamp, just to see if you enjoy the challenge. The beauty is that you can make of it whatever you want. Whatever method you choose, just remember to rehide the box as well as you found it as a courtesy to others.

With the days heating up, now is a great time to head out solo or with friends or kids and tour the amazing network of shady trails and green spaces that surround us. There are letterboxes everywhere just waiting to take you on your next adventure. In fact, you likely walked right past a few today. To kick off your adventure and get clues, visit www.letterboxing.org or www.atlasquest.com. (Erik K.)

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