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Help: Hitchhikers/Cooties/Fleas

  1. How do hitchhikers work?
  2. Do cooties have a logbook and box?
  3. How do you find out information about cooties that do not have a logbook?
  4. What's a cootie?
  5. Where do I find tiny containers for cooties?
  6. What's this about some people not liking cooties?
  7. What is a hitchhiker hostel?
  8. Where can I find hitchhikers that are not on Atlas Quest?
  9. What if a hitchhiker's logbook has pages too small to fit your stamp?
  10. How do I log a hitchhiker that is not listed on Atlas Quest?
  11. How can I list a detailed list of my hitchhiker's traveling?
  12. What's the difference between a cootie and a flea?
  13. What do the icons on a hitchhiker/cootie/flea represent?
  14. Should I contact the owner of a hitchhiker directly?
  15. How do you log a hitchhiker?
  16. How do I record finding a hitchhiker, cootie, or flea?
  17. What are plants?
  18. We found a hitchhiker without a logbook—should we add a new one?
  19. I know that someone has picked up a hitchhiker, but why can't I see its progress on the show finds page?

How do hitchhikers work?

Hitchhikers are letterboxes that travel from box to box with no permanent home of their own. They're also known as parasites in some circles, though in the United States the term hitchhiker is the standard. A hitchhiker includes the same basic components as a letterbox: a rubber stamp and a logbook either in a very small container or bag. It is found inside a host letterbox.

Stamp your personal signature stamp and the stamp of the host letterbox in the hitchhiker's logbook. Stamp the hitchhiker in your logbook and the host letterbox's logbook. The finder typically takes the hitchhiker and plants it in another letterbox.

Hitchhiker Etiquette Tips
  • When planting a hitchhiker, make the stamp, container, and logbook small so it will fit well in a letterbox.
  • When moving a hitchhiker to another letterbox, don't cram it in the letterbox. Wait until you find a container big enough for it to fit.
  • When logging in to a small hitchhiker logbook, try to minimize the number of pages used. Consider stamping in only a portion of the stamps and try to squeeze images on as few pages as possible.
  • If you know you won't have an opportunity to replant the hitchhiker in another location, don't take it. Leave it for the next finder to move it along. The goal is to move the hitchhiker along, not to have it sit in someone's bag at home.

[Source: Silent Doug's articles on hitchhikers that had been at]

Added 10/2017: Some people who plant hitchhikers intend for them to be a pleasant surprise for the finder. Hence, it is considered bad form to disclose where you have dropped off a hitchhiker -- unless it's your own, which you can announce to the world if you so choose. It's also considered bad form to leave someone else's hitchhiker in a hitchhiker hostel (HHH) unless the owner stipulates that doing so is acceptable; there's no surprise to finding a hitchhiker in a hitchhiker hostel.

Added 12/2007: Hitchhikers have now started to travel in postals. As with all HHs, if you question if it is only to travel in one type of box, contact the owner prior to changing box types. Many postal HHs stay with the ring they start in (And sometimes do not have their own logbook), while others jump from postal box to postal box (These have separate logbooks). They may also jump from postals into traditional letterboxes if the owner allows this. A good rule of thumb, "When in doubt, ask the box owner." mff

If you're considering launching a hitchhiker, you may want to consider making it a flea instead. A flea is much like a hitchhiker except there are more possible ways to move it, including just slipping it into some other letterboxer's pocket while he's not looking.

Do cooties have a logbook and box?

Normally yes, but sometimes not. Cooties without logbooks move a lot faster, as only the cootie image needs to be taken. If the cootie is registered on Atlasquest, you can log your find there and see who else has "caught" the cootie.

The original Cooties were created with a logbook just like a letterbox so that the owner could see who has received the Cootie. It also helps to have a logbook so that when the Cootie is passed on, the passer will know who has already had it so that it is not given to you again.
Camp Fire Lady

How do you find out information about cooties that do not have a logbook?

At the bare minimum, every cootie should have a name attached to it. It can be on the container or written on the back of the cootie itself. Children make a great deal of cooties and often do not mark them, so it's easiest just to go to the event board or regional board where you "caught" the cootie, describe the cootie and ask who made it and if it can be logged.

Thus the need for an attached logbook so you know who created it and who to contact about your find.

What's a cootie?

A cootie is a letterbox where one tries to sneak around hiding the box 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. Cooties are often signed into with the stamp of your thumb or fingers that you draw on to embellish instead of the traditional signature stamp, though many people prefer to use a signature stamp instead.

AQ Glossary
LbNA Glossary
Cootie Message Board

Where do I find tiny containers for cooties?

If you don't use a logbook, your choices multiple ten-fold. Besides, it gets old after unfurling a length of of adding machine paper that has been crammed into a film container along with a tiny cootie! Just because you CAN get 100 empty film containers for free doesn't mean you HAVE to use them!

The best source of clever containers is the kids candy section in a dollar store. You know all that really expensive candy that comes in those outrageous containers? Here's where they come to die! Go to your local dollar store, find the containers you like....test the opening and closing if you can (some insides are deceptively small) and make your purchase. Dump out all the candy. Don't bother giving it to the kids, as it tastes like pooh. The companies spend all their money on the containers and then buy the cheapest, crappiest candy to fill it. So just say no.

Make sure you measure the opening the container before you carve your make sure it will fit inside. Carve away, and write the name of the cootie and/or it's creator on the back of your stamp in sharpie marker. This way you won't have to write all over your cool container. If you really want to mark your container in case it gets separated from it's stamp, write the name on a strip of address label or sticker and tape it to the INSIDE. You are now ready to cootie someone! I have found "sardine" cans, ice cream cones, surf boards, racing helmets, and other cool containers this way. They are not usually waterproof, so not good for traditional boxes, but are great for cooties!

You can also use old novelty lighters (with the insides taken out), a baby tooth container, pill boxes, lipgloss containers (with the gloss removed), special magnetic "nano" containers, those skinny altoid gum containers dressed up to look like a little coffin.. well... you get the idea. And as for those ubiquitous film containers? If you are going to use them, at least jazz them up! Stripe them with colored tape. Cover them with star stickers. Tape something to the lid! Paint a stern face on them and turn them into your minions. Just make your cootie the type that people will say..."so cool!" Instead of "SUCH CRAP" and your cooties will end up being passed on instead of passed over!

What's this about some people not liking cooties?

It's true, some people are not interested in cooties. Just like there are some people who are not interested in virtual letterboxes or postal letterboxes, there are also those who are not interested in cooties. Unfortunately, the nature of a cootie often ends up sucking in the very people who'd rather not get them. At least with other types of letterboxes, people can choose not to look for them.

If someone expresses a distaste for cooties, respect that and avoid hiding cooties on that person or their possessions. If you yourself are not interested in cooties, please realize that you'll likely catch a few anyhow. Just give them to someone else if you are not interested. Don't even worry about signing it. Cooties are meant to be passed via stealth and secrecy, but if you end up with a cootie you did not want, just leave it on a table for someone else to grab or give it to a nearby kid who invariably will love the cootie.

There are now also some patches you can buy expressing whether you would like to catch cooties, or if you would rather not. While it is not nessecary, if you REALLY do not want cooties, getting a patch and keeping it visible with your gear at events will lessen your chances of getting one.

What is a hitchhiker hostel?

Hitchhiker hostels (sometimes called hitchhiker hotels or variations on the theme) are letterboxes with a stamp and logbook of their own, yet you can also expect to find a hitchhiker. If you don't have a hitchhiker to drop off, you can still visit the box.

General guidelines (these may vary between HHHs):
  • Most hostels require that you leave at least one hitchhiker in the box.
  • Stamp your sig stamp, write your trail name, date visited, and any comments into the the HHH's logbook.
  • Swap any hitchhikers you wish. Stamp your personal stamp into any hitchhikers you are leaving and taking. Usually you are asked to leave an hitchhiker for every hitchhiker you take but these "rules" may be differ some boxes allow you to take as many as you want as long as you leave one. Read the HHH instructions.
  • Stamp hitchhiker images into the HHH's logbook for any hitchhikers you are leaving.
  • Stamp the HHH's image into the logbook of any hitchhikers you are leaving.
  • If you wish, take images of any hitchhikers that are currently in the hostel; however, don't stamp in with your sig-stamp if you aren’t taking it.
  • Do not stamp any hitchhiker images into other hitchhikers.
  • Move the hitchhiker(s) that you pick up in a timely fashion
  • If contact information is available, let the owner know where you found their hitchhiker.
  • If the hitchhiker is listed on AQ, log your find. Logging a find not only lets the owner watch its travels but those who have found it can also join in the fun of tracking its adventures.

  • Some hitchhikers specifically state that a finder can pick it up even if it is the last hitchhiker in the box.
  • Read the hitchhiker logbook for information regarding hostels/hotels, some owners prefer that their hitchhiker not visit HHHs for fear that they will get stuck in the hostel.
  • If you take the last hitchhiker based on the instructions of the hitchhiker owner, you might want to send a courtesy note to the hostel owner to let them know that you removed the last hitchhiker and why.

Where can I find hitchhikers that are not on Atlas Quest?

Back in the early days of letterboxing in the United States, Pete and Wanda maintained a webpage to track hitchhikers, also known as travelers before personal travelers came along). Consequently they have the most comprehensive listings of old hitchhikers, generally those dating before 2005. They are listed alphabetically by name at

You can also check the LBNA site's traveller section.

What if a hitchhiker's logbook has pages too small to fit your stamp?

How do I log a hitchhiker that is not listed on Atlas Quest?

The process of logging hitchhikers works just like any other type of letterbox, so refer to Can I record finds for boxes that are not listed on AQ? for a thorough discussion of this topic.

How can I list a detailed list of my hitchhiker's traveling?

Use the free space available in the clue section to add as much information you want or have about the hitchhiker's travels.

What's the difference between a cootie and a flea?

A flea is a non-restricted form of a cootie. Where cooties must be passed from person-to-person, fleas are a little easier to... "get rid of." You can plant fleas in letterboxes like hitchhikers, or on a person like a traditional cootie. You can log in with a thumbprint signature or use your signature stamps.

What do the icons on a hitchhiker/cootie/flea represent?


The original box without a permanent home, hopping from box to box, hitching rides from passing letterboxers.
Why go out and find a box when you can plant one on other people? That's what a cootie is for--hiding on other letterboxers, or at least among their possessions.
Can't decide between a hitchhiker or a cootie? A flea combines the best of both worlds! Hide it in a box or on letterboxer, and you can't go wrong!


The original cootie required the use of a thumbprint signature where you stamp a thumb (or finger) rather than your signature stamp, and draw a face (or something) onto it to turn it into a picture.

Stamp Types

The creator promises you'll find a genuine, 100% hand-carved stamp in the letterbox and not a store-bought or custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a unique, custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a store-bought stamp rather than a hand-carved or custom-made stamp.

Should I contact the owner of a hitchhiker directly?

Some letterboxers find hitchhikers frustrating because you launch one and never hear from it again. Unlike a traditional letterbox, you can't just revisit the box and check on it. Once it starts moving, the owner has no more idea where it is than anyone else. Because finders don't get a "find" credit for a hitchhiker, they have little motivation to log such finds. And it's often difficult to find where a hitchhiker is listed -- if at all -- leading many finders to just give up and not even bother to try any more. As a result, owners often hear about their hitchhikers only rarely if at all.

If you enjoyed finding a hitchhiker and want to encourage more of them being launched, by all means contact the owner by any means possible. Just drop them a line telling them where you found it.

If you're willing to do more, offer to scan (or digitally photograph) the log book and e-mail the scans/files to the owner. They will usually be most appreciative of such an offer, since they can see for themselves where their hitchhiker has been and see the sig stamps therein -- which are often different than the sig stamps they see in the letterboxes in their vicinity. Remember, though, that you cannot send such scans via AQ-mail since it will not transmit attachments. The owner will have to provide a non-AQ e-mail address for sending the scans/files.

How do you log a hitchhiker?

In the field, treat the hitchhiker like you would with your signature stamp. Log the hitchhiker into the letterbox where you leave it, and log the letterbox's stamp into the hitchhiker you left. The hitchhiker wants to leave a record of its travels and keep a record of its travels in its own logbook! When you find a hitchhiker, check both the hitchhiker logbook and letterbox logbook to insure the person who planted the hitchhiker properly exchanged stamp images between the two.

There might be exceptions to this rule if the hitchhiker does not have a logbook (rarely happens, but it does happen) or if the letterbox's stamp would give away the location of a mystery box (again, a very rare instance).

After finding a hitchhiker, you can run a hitchhiker search on Atlas Quest to officially record the find. If the hitchhiker is not listed on Atlas Quest, you could also check for it on the Letterboxing North America website. If both of those options fail, you may not be able to record the find at all. (Premium members on Atlas Quest, however, will be able to record a find on an unlisted letterbox.)

How do I record finding a hitchhiker, cootie, or flea?

Use the Record Find link, an option under the Letterboxes drop down menu, just like you would with any other type of box. Type in the name and/or planter, set the box type to hh/cootie/flea, and select the box that you found. If it's not in the list of registered boxes on Atlas Quest, premium members can record the find as a find on an unlisted box.

What are plants?

A planted hitchhiker, cootie, or flea is something you created and unleashed into the rest of the world.

We found a hitchhiker without a logbook—should we add a new one?

Hitchhikers usually have logbooks, but it's possible that it might have gone missing or been damaged at some point and therefore is missing its logbook. If you aren't sure, contact the owner of the hitchhiker and ask what they'd prefer you do with it. If the owner is unknown or cannot be reached, it is generally okay to replace the missing logbook.

One small caveat, however: Fleas, which also move from box to box, often do not have logbooks. If it's actually a flea that you found, it may be better not to add a logbook. In that case, you should get confirmation from the owner first. But, some people prefer to add a logbook in the flea.

I know that someone has picked up a hitchhiker, but why can't I see its progress on the show finds page?

For Atlas Quest to know that a hitchhiker has been traveling, the people who find it must record the find and most people don't. There's no rule that people have to record moving a hitchhiker, and even if there were, there's no way to enforce it. If you thought you could live vicariously through a hitchhiker, you'll be disappointed to learn that it's very rare for people to hear back about its movements.