Keeping the kids entertained on a budget is not as difficult as it seems. You just have to think about what kids like, then be a bit creative.
One of children's favourite activities is a treasure hunt. Actually, this is probably a favourite adult activity too, if we're honest about it; I bet you all know someone who owns a metal detector and traipses through the bush or over the beach to find hidden treasure.
Geocaching, if you haven't heard of it, is sort of a global treasure hunt that anyone can take part in. It takes place outdoors, and is a great way to discover new places. You can do it around your local area, at a holiday location, or while in transit (as long as you can get out and have a look around - you can't do it in an aeroplane!).
It's also free, doesn't require any special equipment apart from access to the internet, and just requires you to register with the central coordination website, www.geocaching.com.
www.geocaching.com - all the information you need to get started
The aim of the game is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches. These containers vary in size, but are usually quite small so they're easy to hide - for example, some caches are stowed in old 35mm film canisters. The caches don't contain anything of real value - they should have a note, a logbook or way for finders to log their visit, and they might also have a trinket or two in them; just something for fun. Some people swap out the trinkets so that the next person gets something different, but the note and logbook must always stay.
These caches can be hidden by anyone, as long as they are registered (free) with the official geocaching coordination website, www.geocaching.com, so that they can publish the clues and the geographic coordinates.
It does help if you have a GPS unit, and in fact geocaching was designed for GPS users, but usually the cache clues should be good enough to let you find the cache without a GPS unit. A smartphone helps too, as there are a number of apps (paid and free for Apple, Android and Windows 7) to let you view the clues and maps while you're out and about searching.
There are plenty of handy geocaching apps for smartphones
However, if you can't afford either of these and you are organised, you could note down all the information you need while you're at home on your PC, then use it to find the caches with the help of a map.
According to the website, there are 2,150,045 active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide. That means that wherever you are, there's a good chance there will be a cache somewhere nearby. If you want to start hiding your own caches, you can do that too. The website contains extensive information about how to take part, including guidelines for hiding and registering a cache.
As a parent, the possibilities are exciting. Imagine stopping for a toilet break on a long drive to a holiday destination and instead of hearing complaints about being bored, you hear excitement about finding the hidden cache in the park you've just stopped in!
In my local area, which is a rural area just out of Melbourne, there are a number of caches thanks to a geocacher called 'Paul the Hippy'. Searching for them has been a great way to get familiar with the area.
Pack some cheap trinkets in your car or backpack to swap at the next cache you find!
When you've found a cache, you register your find on www.geocaching.com and you can also include notes. For example, we unsuccessfully tried to find a cache in Inverleigh (Vic) and were a bit frustrated until we read some of the user notes, which suggested that the cache was no longer there. Sometimes, because the caches are often in public places or out in the open, they can get dislodged, or thrown away, or perhaps stolen by inquisitive wildlife!
It's fun to do and kids get a kick out of trying to find the 'hidden treasure' (more interesting than a boring old bush walk!). Try it!
There are other geocaching websites too: the local version iswww.geocaching.com.au. In addition to the standard fixed caches this site has "movable" caches where once you find it, you can take it somewhere else, record the coordinates upload hem on the website, then see who is next to find it. Extra fun for the kids!