Friday, August 15, 2014

Notes on Cache Trip Planning - GeoGearHeads Episode 136: Road Caching V

I recently did a guest spot on the GeoGearHeads podcast about road caching, in which I discussed how I plan and execute my geocaching road trips, especially with kids, and while doing challenges like the NC Delorme Challenge. This may be of special interest for those of us that do not run GSAK for whatever reason. There were a couple requests for these notes, so I am adding them here for the record.
The following are from my notes from the show.  I've cleaned them up a bit, but they remain a little rough around the edges. If anything remains unclear, please ask via the comments below.

You can listen to the show here: GeoGearHeads Episode 136: Road Caching V

Travelling In General:
I start by figuring out where  I wanted to go - Do I want to do the coast, hit up the mountains, a quick grab in the middle. etc.  Also how much time do I have?  Day trip vs long weekend vs 3 week vacation.  What else do I want to see along the way?  i.e. in NC Cape Hatteras Light House, and KittyHawk were destinations on the coast, Mt. Mitchell was one in the mountains.  For longer vacations, Newfoundland and the Grand Canyon became destinations.   
I look for caches at those destinations, and add them to a bookmark list.  For multi-day trips, I also look for caches near hotels and planned stops.  For long trips I’ll build a spreadsheet (Google Docs for the win) of where I want to go that day, what town I plan on stopping at, and the distance between them.  This gives me an idea of how much spare time I’ll have for the day.  I also share that spreadsheet with my wife so I am sure to include her ideas into the trip.  
Pull a Caches along route PQ that take me to all the places Iwant to see. If its a multi day trip, I tend to pull one cache along route PQ per day.  If I am staying in one place for more than a day I’ll also pull a PQ of the area, centered on the hotel.
Sort all PQs by favourite points, look for interesting highly favourited caches along the route.  If I have kids in tow (both toddlers), or have long journeys, I often limit this to low D/T ratings, and larger containers (smalls or larger) for quick grabs on long sections, however I consider all of them if I have time in the schedule, or I am going sans kids. Note:  Its often this process that leads me to discover interesting places to explore.  Especially take note of virtuals and earth caches as those often lead to interesting things.
I also look at the list of Bucket List caches that I maintain, and see if any of those make sense for attempting on the trip.  If they do, they get added.
Add all the best of caches to a bookmark list. I normally call it Best Of X.  Typically I’ll have 5-10/day.  
At this point I have a great idea of what my trip is like.  I have a list of the caches that look good, and a mental list of the must-do caches - i.e. those caches you’d kick yourself for not doing.  This is an iterative process tho - for a day trip it may take an hour.  For a 3 week vacation, I spend 8-10 hours over the course of weeks and months ahead of time.  The longer the trip, the more tweaking gets done.
Then I generate all the PQs - all caches along routes, all caches at the destination, and the Best Ofs.
I load the All Caches PQs into my GPSr, and I load all of the PQs and Best Of into my phone/tablet/Earth.  I keep the Best Ofs in a separate database/list, so I can quickly map the caches I already curated and are on my todo list.  This allows me to navigate easily.  However having all caches quickly available allows me to do impromptu caching - gas stops, kid maintenance stops etc. I used to use Google Earth on my laptop to manage and plan my trip as I went along, but I have since switched to Locus Pro on my Nexus 7 Android Tablet. Note that *all* caches end up on my GPSr, and the Best Of caches are maintained separately on my Nexus 7.
Specific Delorme planning:
Spent some time mapping out the grid into Google Earth (GSAK users get this for free, I believe. I don’t have the benefit of GSAK, so I do it old school). I colour the grids so I can see at a distance which ones I’ve found, need to find, and can ignore. I personally coded up a separate python script to generate the KML file for this (available if anyone wants it), tho its very rough), but it can also be done manually.,
Do the trip planning as above, but ensure my routes go thru all relevant pages I need to get in that area of the state.
When I select fav caches, I also add the very first two caches along the route on each page that look like they still exist  to my list( import the GPX file into Earth makes this easy).  Why two? So I have a backup in case the first one is a DNF.  Often these are caches I don’t really care if I miss, so if I find the first, I skip the second.  Having the backup cache has saved me multiple times tho.

After that its just a matter of executing the trip (i.e. getting in the car and driving).
Other Tips

Be flexible.  Sometimes you want to spend more time at a location because its more awesome than you thought.  One reason for keeping the best of list is so I know where the caches I *could* do and the caches I *must* do are.  I seldom grab all of the Best Of caches - but I always seem to grab the must-do’s
Consider the kids endurance:  I try to keep car time to < 6hrs per day.  When the kids were really young I used Zekey time (cause my son is named Zeke), which was to add 30 minutes to every 2 hours of time expected in the car, which accounts for feeding schedules.  Picking kid friendly caches.  Note parks etc.  When going to parks, cache first, play second. Once the kids are on the playground, its hard to get them away to cache.
A tip Save time:  At fast food places, let kids play in the play place while parents eat.  Kids will happily eat in the car.  Kids take more time to eat. What is a 10 minute stop for an adult can easily become an hour.  Letting them play while the parents eat can cut this down dramatically.
I like to be at the hotel for supper time with the kids.  This gives them some time to settle, and to play before bed.  Generally leave in the morning at 7-8, depending on the schedule. My kids bed time is 7:30, so this gives them a relatively normal sleep schedule - adjust for your own kids particular sleep patterns
Plan for nap times - kids need naps, and nap at different times.  I try to schedule caches to match their nap time needs.  Mine kids tend to nap in mid-afternoon, so exploring in the morning, and scheduling longer drives during the afternoon often works best.
Be prepared with snacks, water, etc. Have plenty easily accessible in the car, and carry kid friendly snacks in your geo-pack.