20 Fun Ways to Go Treasure Hunting in Your Home and Neighborhood
When I lived in Colorado, I explored old mines and found cool crystals and equipment.
A friend and I found a shrine 2,000 feet into a mountain with a plastic flower, an unreadable newspaper clipping and a cross etched into the tunnel wall. Mysteries and relics were common finds, but I never discovered anything of much value in the mines.
In any case, the thrill of the hunt kept me going, and sometimes I got lucky.
In western ghost towns, I found antique jars, an old gold pan and other relics. Using my metal detector, I pulled a lot of coins out of the sand on Michigan beaches. I sold mundane items I salvaged from an abandoned house (lamps, old magazines, and furniture).
Discovering lost and hidden treasures probably appeals to the adventurer in you, too. And who knows, you might even find something really valuable, like the 2,000-year-old stash of coins and jewelry recently discovered in a cave in Israel.
But you don't have to fly off to other countries or go deep underground. You don't even have to leave your hometown.
A treasure hunt can be any search for things of value. With that definition in mind, here are some of the many ways you can go treasure hunting.
1. Look for Hotel Room Treasures
Treasure hunting in your hotel room? Most room leftovers may be stuff you wish you didn't find, like the dirty sock I once discovered under the bed.
But sometimes previous guests have left more valuable things. Check these three key spots for hotel room treasures, according to Lifehacker Australia:
- Bathroom ledges: Business travelers who want to hide their marital status when they go out often leave their wedding rings here.
- Bibles: Some guests feel this is a safe place to stash extra cash, and they sometimes forget to remove it.
- Between mattresses: Who knows what might be stashed here?
One commenter on that article, a flight attendant, says, "I have found many valuables including rings, cash, jewelry, money clips and assorted items of interest on the very top of tall dressers, wall units, underneath bathroom counter ledges and inside zippered cushions."
2. Find the Lost Dutchman's Mine
The Lost Dutchman Mine, in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, is supposed to have piles of gold nuggets in it.
The "Dutchman" was actually a German named Jacob Waltz. He and a friend spent their gold around the Phoenix area in the 1870s and 1880s, never revealing the location of their secret mine or stash in the mountains.
Waltz's friend disappeared without a trace at some point, but Waltz spent the rest of his life going to and from the mountains, bringing gold back with him.
A lot of treasure hunters have looked for the lost mine since then, with no luck so far. So if you like to hike and live near Phoenix, why not poke around a bit? But be careful -- it's said that many people have mysteriously died while looking for the treasure.
3. Prospect at Yard Sales
Looking for valuable finds at yard sales has all the hallmarks of a true treasure hunt. There is the often unrewarded work, the adventure of the unknown and the research (is that old toy a collectible, and how much is it worth?).
And, of course, there's the potential for a big discovery.
Consider the Dwyers in Arizona. The couple bought a framed picture of a horse for $5 at a rummage sale, in part because of a hunch about it being something more.
Sure enough, when they removed the picture, there was a portrait of President Kennedy behind it. Painted by artist Carmelo Soraci in 1961, it’s estimated to be worth between $2,500 and $5,000.
4. Go Beachcombing
I once found a strange beer can buried in the sand on a Lake Michigan beach. It had a screw-off metal top, and must have been at least 50 years old.
I've also found numerous working light bulbs (sailors throw them overboard for target practice and miss some). I've previously written about the valuable things you might find while beachcombing.
5. Search Your Home
Many years ago, I discovered a wooden chest in a basement crawlspace under my parents’ home (yes, I regularly explore places like that).
It contained foreign coins, currency and other items, making it a literal treasure chest. I returned it to the previous owner, who had put it there and forgotten about it.
You'll never know if there are treasures nearby until you look. In a previous post on treasures in your home, I included many true stories, like the $50,000 in movie posters found inside the walls by a man in Canada, a Van Gogh painting found in an attic and $15,000 in cash discovered in a ceiling. Start searching!
6. Watch for Buried Treasures
People bury money and valuables, then forget about their stashes or die before recovering them.
In fact, when my wife and I moved from Colorado to Florida, I left a little treasure chest full of Ecuadorian coins and other items buried behind a rock in a canyon. It was part of a treasure hunt I set up for a website, and somebody will find it eventually.
In a post on treasures around the house (as opposed to inside it), I related the story of a couple who took a walk out of their backyard and discovered six metal cans buried nearby. The cans contained rare gold coins worth $10 million.
Want to find a buried treasure? Watch for things sticking out of the dirt near old trails and buildings. Shallow depressions can indicate a buried stash too, because the loose dirt used to refill the hole settles in time.
7. Go Dumpster Diving
Yes, I've done this. In fact, I've sold several things that I retrieved from dumpsters. I've sold floor tiles, lamps and chairs, and I got $50 for a table I found.
You might do better in a large city, and if you approach the process more scientifically. For example, note the locations with the best finds for more efficient route-planning in the future. One guy makes $2,500 per night dumpster diving, and reselling makeup from dumpsters is apparently a big business.
8. Try Panning for Gold
Two little flakes of gold are all I ever saw in my gold pan. Still, it was fun to look, and I took home a few colorful gems and rocks.
And yes, there are plenty of places you can pan for gold. A decent gold pan costs less than $20, so this is an easy hobby to try.
9. Join a Modern-Day Treasure Hunt
The Fenn Treasure, a $2 million stash of gold coins and jewelry, is hidden somewhere in New Mexico. Santa Fe resident Forrest Fenn hid the loot in 2010, and it’s still out there waiting for you to discover it.
Fenn occasionally releases a new clue as to its location, but start with the original clues he scattered throughout his book, The Thrill of the Chase.
10. Search Abandoned Houses
Many years back, my parents bought a property with an old house on it.
Prior to tearing it down, I searched for anything of value. I neglected to keep the old newspapers under the carpet (probably a mistake), but I did find a glass piggy jar full of change in the attic, and a dozen things that I later sold at a rummage sale.
If you can get permission to rummage through old abandoned homes, you never know what you might find.
An urban explorer who goes by the name "Freaktography" recently explored an old house and documented his finds online. In addition to cool old medicine bottles and antiques, he found rolls of currency totaling almost $6,800.
11. Try Coin Roll Hunting
As kids, we used to buy rolls of dimes and quarters from banks to look for coins from 1964 and earlier, which are 90% silver. Referred to as coin roll hunting, this is still popular among treasure hunters, although it's getting much harder to find the old coins.
12. Become a Penny Hoarder
Pre-1983 pennies are theoretically worth about two cents each because they're mostly copper.
I recently did purchased two test batches of pennies from two banks in two different cities. In one batch, 15% of the pennies were from before 1983, and the other batch had 8%. Apparently there are still a lot of old pennies out there.
People do make money with pennies, but you probably need to invest in a penny-sorting machine for this treasure hunting scheme to be worth your time.
You can sell them now for about $130 per $100 face value on eBay (to hoarders) or wait until it’s legal to melt the pennies down for their true copper value.
13. Search That Lake Bottom
I recently wrote about this treasure hunter's secret. When lakes and reservoirs are emptied, lowered or naturally drop, the bottomland that's revealed often has treasures that have been hidden for many years by the water.
If you hear they're draining that pond in the park, get ready to hunt.
14. Prospect for Precious Stones
Try your hand at gem hunting in parks and mines. Some recent finds include a $12,000 diamond and an emerald worth $1 million.
Entry fees are minimal, and in some cases you can try this for free on nearby public lands. Who knows -- you might wind up with the next 8.52-carat diamond!
15. Treasure Hunt in Your Wallet
You might think there isn't much of value to discover in your wallet, but some dollar bills are worth thousands of dollars. It’s all about whether they have cool serial numbers, like seven zeroes in a row, or other unusual arrangements. Take a look.
16. Explore a Thrift Store
More than one person has discovered that it's possible to resell thrift store finds for a profit. I've done it with furniture, but there are all sorts of possibilities.
A few bucks can make you rich if you have a big score. Consider John Richard's story. He paid $30 for a handbag at a thrift store, and then discovered it was worth as much as $500,000!
17. Collect Returnable Bottles and Cans
I made about $1,500 collecting cans from a break room when I worked at a casino in Michigan. It took a year, but all I had to do was collect them on break, bring them home and occasionally take them to the store to get the 10-cent-per-can deposit.
Search for these little treasures in any state that has a law mandating deposits on beverage container.
18. Become a Book Hunter
The Penny Hoarder has previously covered how to make money selling books. If you find rare books in thrift stores, flea markets and such, that's great.
But the more reliable treasures are textbooks you can instantly sell online for a profit. Here’s a good breakdown of textbook resale sites.
19. Find Recyclables
Last year, I dug through every corner of the house we recently bought and rounded up all of the scrap metal. It included cans, an antenna, wires and more. It only netted me about $20 at the metal recycling place nearby, but it beats throwing it all away.
People do make good money hunting down scrap metal. You just have to find the big hauls, like a pile of leftover air conditioners with valuable copper coils.
There are also other things you can recycle for money, like old computers, ink cartridges and cell phones.
20. Treasure Hunt Anywhere
You never know where you might find lost, hidden and unrecognized treasures.
The real life examples in my post on accidental discoveries worth millions range from precious metals in a storage unit, to an original copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence found at a flea market, and a civil war sword found by a seven-year-old using the metal detector he just got for his birthday.
I just realized I haven't done a thorough search of the attic since we bought our house a year ago, so I'm off on a treasure hunt.
Your Turn: What's the best treasure you’ve found?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Steve Gillman is the author of "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He's been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).