Tips for Attending a Letterboxing Gathering
Gatherings are all about social interaction with folks of like mind, which means exchanges, activities and—of course—letterboxing. Here are tips to get you through a very busy, very chaotic, but very exciting day.
1. Come early: Coming right when the event starts ensures a few things. First, you'll get to meet your hosts and check out the stamps before the mad rush of other attendees arrives. Anything that needs to be handed out at a gathering (like clues and other tidbits) might be limited, so showing up first ensures you'll get it. By midday the area will be swarmed with people and food and boxes and ink. By coming early, you'll be able to sit down and stamp into the event book and start exchanges without having to wait your turn.
2. Stamp into the event book first: Every gathering has an event book to stamp in with your personal stamp and an event stamp to impress into your own logbook. Do both of these the moment you arrive because it may be a challenge as more and more people arrive.
3. Wear a name tag: Most events provide you with name tags to stamp your signature stamp and write your trail name onto, but if not, bring something of your own to identify yourself. Most folks will know you from your stamp, so be sure that's on your tag, too.
4. Check around for traveling event stamps: Traveling events stamps move from event to event all over the country so that everyone has a chance to get the stamp and log in. Larger events usually have several traveling events stamps floating around. You can usually find a table with these on it, so ask your host where it is, then go stamp in before everyone else starts to swarm the tables.
5. Check around for hidden boxes: Yes, even at a gathering where it's obvious we're all boxing and people tend to be less secretive about their stuff, boxers will still hide things that you won't even know about until after the event. Check under tables, in the corners of the pavilion, in the bushes nearby, in the food containers, and anyplace else that's not someone's stuff. You might be surprised at what you find.
6. Exchange with other letterboxers: One of the other fun things about letterboxing is exchanging stamps with other people. These count as X in your PFX-count. There will be some folks you only know by their signature stamp or trail name on the message boards and websites. Walk up and introduce yourself. Soon you'll be sitting at a table with other people stamping into each other’s logbooks and talking about the trail.
7. Ask about personal travelers: Some folks carry around a personal traveler (or two or more), which is just a letterbox that follows that person. Not everyone has them, so the best thing to do is just ask. Another great idea is to check Atlas Quest and do a search of the personal traveler letterboxes and bring those with you to the event. Instead of the embarrassing, "Um, so what do I do to get your box?" question, you'll know what it is you need to know to get it. People also appreciate that you took the time to research it.
8. Go letterboxing: One of the things that many people end up doing wrong is never leaving the pavilion to actually do some letterboxing. Remember, you're in an area that you haven't boxed before. Try to go for the local area boxes that you might never see again as well as the boxes that are out for the gathering. Also, gatherings make for a great time to buddy up and letterbox with someone and continue your talk. At big events, you might find yourself waiting in line to get a box. So, don't wait until too late. Stay and chat a while, but go box, too.
9. Take some pictures of people: You'll meet folks that you won't remember later, so bring a camera to be sure you'll know who they are later. Also, it helps the event coordinators if they can get pictures from others to post in the wrap up and photo albums online. Most of them are so busy they never get to leave the pavilion, so it's a nice way to help them remember a great time, too.
10. Be back in time for pictures, raffles, and other planned events: At some point in the event will be the group photo and some other fun stuff you may want to be involved in. Be sure not to miss at least the picture so you'll have that to look back on with your stamps and exchanges.
11. Join someone for dinner: After the event is over, many locals love to join out-of-towners for dinner—plus they know where to eat and you don't. Check and see if anyone is up for a meal and more time to hang out and talk. This is something you can check before you come to the event. Just ask the people you do know if they want to get together and invite others to join you. It's often less chaotic and gets you more quality time to chat than the hustle and bustle surrounding an event.
12. Box again the following day: Usually, an event starts on a Saturday, so plan out your Sunday for boxing, too. If you arrive in town the day before, you can box then as well, but if you're from the area, let the out of town folks have a chance at being the first finders on boxes.
13. Share your photos from the event: Once you get home, share your photos through the Photos section of Yahoo Groups or the Photo Album here on Atlas Quest. Other letterboxers—both attendees and those who didn’t—will be interested to see your photos.
Other Things to Remember at a Gathering
Just as with letterboxing as a whole, certain conventions and rules have developed when it comes to letterboxing events. Here are the most common you'll want to keep in mind.
14. Don't bring hitchhikers: This is something that's been the subject of heated debate, but many people do not want their hitchhikers to attend events. Hitchhikers are meant to be found in a box, not passed around from person to person. Additionally, most hitchhikers do not have large logbooks and cannot support the stamps of dozens or even hundreds of people. If the hitchhiker is your own, then feel free to share. Or, if you want to get the hitchhiker moving, place it in a box. But, do not leave hitchhikers on the table for people to stamp in freely.
15. Don't be lax about discretion: Just because a lot of letterboxers are around doesn't mean that there are not a lot of non-letterboxers. The same rules about being sneaky and rehiding properly apply, especially here. Nothing is more disappointing than having someone take the time to carve and send a box to a gathering, then having it stolen because someone carelessly left it out in the open while chatting.
16. Watch out for cooties: For once, this is a good thing. Cooties are like hitchhikers that follow people instead of letterboxes. Normally, a friend or someone near you will slip a cootie into your bag or pockets while you're not looking. Once you find it, do not place this into a regular letterbox. Stamp into it, then try to pass it off onto someone else as soon as you can. After all, you really only get to see other boxers at these events, so you don't have much time to infect them.
Cooties are a type of letterbox where one tries to sneak around hiding a stamp (and often an optional logbook) on another person—perhaps in an open backpack or jacket pocket. Once you 'catch a cootie', you stamp in and try to pawn it off onto another unsuspecting letterboxer.
Cootie Catcher is an open and unattended backpack or bag that often collects quite a large number of cooties—and thus they are called cootie catchers.
17. Seriously—GO BOXING...: Can't stress this enough. You will want to sit and talk all day, but you will miss some great boxing. Whoever you're talking to, take them with you and enjoy the day and the letterboxes. After all, most of these boxes are donated, so you may never see them again. Can you live with the guilt? I think not. Now, if you live near the gathering area, anyway, then this might not be such a big deal for you. In that case, be sure to visit a little more with some of your friends and neighbors. After all, you can hook up with them the next weekend to hit those boxes if you live close by. Then you have a new boxing buddy.
18. Be considerate of others while letterboxing: Everyone wants to stamp into the traveling event boxes and the other hidden boxes in their area, so make sure to be fair about holding the boxes. While you're exchanging with others, don't "hang on" to a box you've found, or grab multiple boxes to stamp into. Take one at a time (tedious as it may sound) and return it before doing anything else (eating, exchanging, taking a bathroom break, etc.).
19. Bring food: Unless otherwise stated, all gatherings are potluck. Bring something to contribute so you won't feel guilty eating. And don't feel like food is the only thing you can bring. If you're coming from far off, perishable stuff is not a good plan, but water, snacks, and even ice and supplies (plates, cups, napkins, utensils) would all be greatly appreciated. Check with your host to see what they already have and what they might need.
20. Give to your favorite local charity: Think about letterboxing events like public broadcasting without the quarterly beg-a-thon. Your support helps us continue this great tradition of letterboxing and social events. Reserving the pavilion, getting extra food and supplies, mailing out letterboxes and the like does take time and money that usually comes out of only a few people's pockets at your event. So, it's never a bad idea to donate a little something, no matter how small and no matter what gathering you attend. No one will ever ask you to make a donation at a gathering and no one will ever think less of you if you don't. However, every little bit helps.
Finally, gatherings are lots of fun, but can be overwhelming. Stay hydrated, take a buddy and a water bottle with you, eat right, and don't be surprised if you end up stamping into your own logbook a few times in the shuffle.