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I originally built a nice fortification just up the hill from my spawn point for convenience (yes, I do die every once in a while), but now that I've used efficient mining to clear out a good chunk of the adminite-level directly below I need to move to a new base so I can start fresh. This means surface exploration!

Basing myself somewhere far away from my spawn point seems pretty dangerous. It could easily take me five minutes to walk back to a remote base/death if I was far enough away - that is, if I could find it. Even longer if it is dark out when I respawn.

How can I explore the surface safely? This may include keeping track of my location, speed of travel and, of course, maximizing awesome scenery.

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14 Answers

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Well, you could build a minecart system to go to/from your spawn to wherever you want to go. It could get expensive in powered rails though.

Or you could mark the way using torches, large structures, or (if you have a lot of diamond to spare) beacons. Make heavy use of signs.

If you do get lost exploring, building a compass will point you back to your original spawn point.

By far the easiest way is to use portals though, go to the Nether, erect another portal a short distance away, and you will be hundreds of blocks from your original spawn point!

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But will it be safe for an unarmed guy? Will he be able to do it in the first place? All of this and more will be revealed this halloween! –  alexanderpas Oct 12 '10 at 20:51
    
"Let's take a closer look at exactly how this is laid out... goddammit." –  badp Oct 12 '10 at 21:08
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"building a compass will point you back to the bed you most recently slept in" WRONG, they points to your original spawn point. –  Alvin Wong Dec 27 '12 at 15:07
    
Bear in mind that in multiplayer, portals are not automatically generated in the "other" world (relative to you) so long as another one exists (regardless of distance). –  Nick T Dec 9 '13 at 20:23
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@NickT That is nonsense. They work based on the same rules as singleplayer. But that's way too long to explain in a comment. –  Arperum Mar 5 at 12:58
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I keep my bearings by constructing lookout posts. Build them atop hills and within sight of each other. Make each look unique, perhaps by inserting rows of a different block to the rest of the tower. Place torches at the top, and ladders all the way up.

Build a defensible hut around the base of the lookout tower. This hut doubles as a lodge for staying the night far from home base. Place a door from the outside. Monsters can climb ladders, but cannot open doors. You can expand your hut by digging downward into the ground.

You can build roads out of spare cobblestone. This is more cost-effective than minecart tracks.

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+1 for the Gondor approach :D –  JoséNunoFerreira Mar 4 '11 at 19:37
    
Essentially my strategy, except I tend to build little houses along the road at notable locations/when I need to sleep. It's just...it's nice to have a little house by the lake you found on your trip to the North. –  Zibbobz Oct 24 '13 at 13:19
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I throw down a line of torches from base to base at first. It doesn't protect an unarmed person, but knowing where you're going is really more important -- it's mostly easy to avoid the mobs. Later, I replace them with straight-line 1-wide tunnels.

You can also position a ware-depot next to your spawn point so that when you do appear there, you can grab a new bow, sword and armor out of a chest and then carry on in relative safety. Just make sure you refill it as you respawn over time.

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ware-depot is a great idea, I'm adding a chest or two right next to my spawn point first thing –  travis Oct 13 '10 at 20:58
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If you are willing to hack you can change your spawn point although there is some speculation of a bed to change your spawn in-game

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Beds are now in-game and do allow you to change your spawn point. –  sjohnston May 8 '11 at 5:09
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Press F3 and note down the x,y and z coordinates of your house/castle, then you'll always know where it is, and how far you are from it.

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You could "plant" incongruous blocks at intervals along your path. So if you're travelling across grass lay down a pattern of sand blocks every so often. On a beach put down earth.

Another approach could be to make a set of signs and position those, with suitable text, at intervals along your path.

If you are worried about travelling at night try a line of torches to act as street lights. Though I did read somewhere that in a future update torches will burn out.

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Yes, he mentions on the page I linked that torches will burn out; but he is adding lanterns that stay on forever, and someone suggested (I don't know if it was Notch himself on his twitter, or just speculation I read somewhere) that torches on existing maps will be replaced with lanterns –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 12 '10 at 20:50
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That would be great if existing torches became lanterns! Otherwise, I expect the first few days post-update would see me clearing a lot of monsters from my house :( –  sjohnston Oct 12 '10 at 20:59
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It was Notch himself on twitter saying that probably existing torches will become lanterns. –  lilserf Oct 12 '10 at 21:08
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When I explore, I make sure that I move in a straight line in a cardinal direction on my first trip. I make markers as I go with cobblestone and torches indicating the direction of home. As long as you can keep some kind of marker in sight, you will have no problem finding your way back home.

Mine cart tracks can be expensive to build, but a cobblestone road is cheap and quick. If you plan on making the trip often, it can be a very useful investment. It's not as fast to travel from one side to the other, but at least you'll know where you're going. I have all the major points in my world connected by these roads.

And, of course, if you just want to live dangerously, build a compass on your way out. Then, as you're heading back, if the spot you found was interesting, build landmarks on the way back so you can find your way there again. I always bring at least a full stack of dirt and cobblestone with me everywhere I go just in case I find something interesting I want to look into later.

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BlueRaja's minecart idea was the first thing I thought of, but you could also create protected paths by creating ground-level walkway tunnels (preferably out of glass for visibility). You could also create paths high above ground - this is relatively easy and safe if you use the sneak ability, but still pretty time consuming.

Also, all of these options are better if you already know where you're going - you probably don't want to make dozens of paths to nowhere.

If you want to explore safely, I'd suggest grabbing a compass, several boats, and some building supplies and coal, and traveling the nearest ocean coastline. In a boat you can see a lot quickly. You can always hop out and explore interesting areas. When night falls, you can just sail out away from shore and be perfectly safe. You can even travel without worry at night.

Personally, I like to set up bases near coasts, and exploring shores allows you to find semi-rare resources like clay and reeds. Iron ore and coal often show up in the sea-side cliffs as well.

If you want to get back home, your compass will guide you. Getting from home to the new base will be harder, so you'll want to set up some torch beacons or other means of marking the way.

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What sneak ability? –  pate Oct 13 '10 at 11:56
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Holding shift to crouch which prevents you from falling off ledges. –  authenticgeek Oct 13 '10 at 15:05
    
In addition, you make no noise (hence "sneak"), and you will not wreck crops you step on. –  sjohnston Oct 13 '10 at 23:20
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One thing I've done that takes no prep is just to start out at day break running along the coast line. (I live right on the coast) This lets me find clay, cactus, reeds that occur by the coast and I don't have to pay attention to direction since I always know how to get back.

On the trip back I usually stay slightly more inland in case there is something cool up there. If I find something like a cave I want to explore later I make a pillar or something and put a torch on top by it.

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I build tall "poles" near any point of interest (house, cave to explore later, etc.) that I can see from very far away.

Collect 64 dirt (or any quickly destroyable block) and build a single-stack tower straight up. To avoid fall damage, stack 3 under you, then 3 to the side, then 3 more under you, then 3 more to the side. When you are 32 blocks high, "climb" down one of the two stacks by destroying the blocks under you. The entire process takes under a minute, and you can do any height that suits you. Goes a little faster if you have a shovel.

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+1, I thought I was the only one that did this. :P –  GnomeSlice Sep 17 '11 at 1:49
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much much harder to do if your pc can only handle rendering the world on 'tiny' view rather than 'far' –  RhysW Jun 12 '13 at 15:22
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Build a chest. Put all your valuables inside the chest. If you have the materials, build a compass. If you don't, build lots of ladders, and I mean lots. Then get lots of wood and build a high tower. After that, find flint and make an iron ingot, then create a flint and steel. Light the tower on fire at the top.

Use this website to find how to make things.

You probably will need a furnace (coal as well) and crafting bench.

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This method doesn't work very well. After a while, the wood will burn and little to nothing will be left. –  RavenM Dec 10 '13 at 16:55
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If you have a compass or map, you are free to explore anyway, but with just a compass, I recommend you to have your spawn IN your house. If you have a map, feel free to explore.

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When you are in your house, set your spawn point by sleeping in a bed or using /spawnpoint. When you've done that, do /gamerule keepInventory true to not lose your inventory when you die.

Then, when you're far from home you can do /kill and you will be at home safely with all your items and the only thing that is lost is your xp!

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This only works with cheats enabled. –  Timtech Sep 29 '13 at 11:14
    
@Timtech Which is fine, since there are lots of tutorials for enabling cheats. It's good to point out for completeness, but it's not a problem with the answer. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 29 '13 at 18:20
    
I know, I was just pointing that out :) –  Timtech Sep 29 '13 at 19:18
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Here are some pointers for exploration in Vanilla Minecraft.

You will need tools.

Essential Exploration Tools

  • A stack of logs
  • A stack of torches (You'll want them at the ready for when night falls)
  • A stack of coal (to make more torches)
  • A row of stone picks
  • An iron pick
  • A sword of iron or diamond
  • As much armor as you can make
  • A stack of your favorite 'placing' block (dirt, cobblestone, whatever block you want to use to build makeshift barriers. Dirt is cheap, but cobblestone doubles as a quick construction material, consider taking a stack of both)

Optional tools:

  • A compass (Essential for returning to spawn)
  • A bucket (Not entirely essential, but good for adventuring, and doubly good if you carry two and have one filled with water)
  • A stack of wool (for making beds)
  • A crafting table (you can skip this if you'd rather conserve the storage slot for something else, since you can make one easily out of a single log)
  • A stack of food (You gotta eat, and you can't always find animals)
  • An axe/shovel (for gathering more logs or clearing out dirt)
  • 28 Obsidian blocks (For 2 Nether Portals)
  • A Diamond Pickaxe (For Nether Portal Mistakes)

To Prevent Getting Lost

Before you start your adventure at all, as a completely optional task, build yourself a Nether portal near your home.

One effective way to avoid getting lost is to pick a direction and stick with it steadfastly. The Sun offer a good guiding point, just follow it until noon, then keep it at your back once half the day is out, or whatever orientation you prefer.

It also helps to leave a torch every 16 blocks or so, to reduce the hostile mobs that will spawn along your path and to mark it for future travels.

If you're feeling especially industrious, you can even build yourself a path. Gravel will do, though cobblestone is a bit nicer, and a full minetrack nicer still. You may also choose to build your road after you've travelled a certian distance, to help keep you on track for future exploration.

Mark notable locations with buildings. Tall towers can be fun and are very easy to spot, but can be a bit time-consuming. A simple hut will do, but feel free to be creative and construct to your heart's content. You'll be needing to build shelters for night anyway, so you may as well leave your little houses in-place as roadmarks.

Of course, none of this prepares you for the truly most daunting part of exploration....

Crossing Water

Short, shallow bodies of water can be easily bridged with some construction blocks, but whether or not you WANT to bridge it is another matter entirely. If you do, you can go simple and just make a long line across with careful use of holding the 'walk' key and placing blocks, or if you want to make it into a noticeable road point, go all-out and build a full bridge. You might want to build a shelter before making a full bridge, as it can be an all-day crafting affair.

Large bodies of water can throw a huge monkey wrench into your exploration plans, since you can't exactly mark them with torchlights. You'll want to mark the side you start on with some sort of construction, most likely a dock for launching-off, connected perhaps to a little shelter for sleep. Boats, fortunately, are cheap and easy to produce, and break apart into useful materials (or just leave it when you reach the far side as an extra transportation device).

If you travel in a boat across large bodies of water, you will want to start early in the day, as reaching land at night can be very dangerous. If you find a small island as night approaches, make a shelter and sleep, leaving your boat docked against the shore. Once you reach a large landmass you want to explore, you can build a small dock to keep your boat safe (or just break it apart) and mark the shore with a shelter so you can find it again.

Or you can just build a Superbridge across an entire ocean, complete with floating cabins along the way. If you're feeling incredibly industrious and perhaps a tiny bit insane.

The End Of Your Adventure

Once you reach a spot where you want to start mining or building a large structure again, set yourself up a quick camp and get right to it. Build yourself a chest to store any vital material you might gather, and generally set up your home the way you normally would for your own convenience.

For rapid access from your old home to your new one, consider building yourself a Nether portal and walking the distance back to your old home. You can either try to calculate in your head how far in the Nether you need to travel to get to your old home, or just use the Nether Portal you build before leaving as your guidepost. You may want to build shelters within the Nether itself around each portal, or even a protective transportation shaft if you intend to travel between the two points frequently.

If you don't feel like taking the Nether route, you can always build yourself a minetrack with powered rails between your two homes. You'll need some solid surface to build it upon, but beside the Nether, it is the fastest way to travel from point to point.

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