“Where I’ve Been” Travel Map – My DIY & Ideas To Buy

DIY Travel Map with Photos / USA Photo Travel Map

Hello, friends! Recently I finished a project and, upon receiving some good feedback, wanted to share some of the details with you!

Lately, you may have seen “Where I’ve Been” travel maps popping up on Pinterest, famous Instagram accounts, etcetera. In case you haven’t, the concept is a decorative map that keeps track of cities or countries you have visited!

Since there are so many unique options to mapping out your travels, I have compiled a list of the best ideas, complete from D.I.Y.ing it, to purchasing a cute, pre-made map.

Continue reading for information about where to purchase or how to make your own. Click on any of the links for more details or to purchase the materials directly!

This post contains affiliate links which allow our site to earn a small commission from resulting sales. All opinions are honest and my own. This program does not cost you any additional fees.

travel map

First Travel Map Idea: Photos

travel map

For each state that Max and I visit, I make sure that we take a photo while we are there to add to our map, shown above. (Selfie-time!)

So for my travel map, I started with the following items:

  • 17″x23″ wood framed corkboard ($8.99)
  • 16″x20″ blank USA map from Zazzle ($14.00/$0.00, see below) or Amazon ($12.97) **
  • small tube of white acrylic paint ($6.55)
  • small bottle of non-yellowing gloss varnish ($6.72)
  • one package of self-adhesive gold rhinestone embellishments ($0.75)
  • photos of varying sizes (mine were mostly 4×6 or wallet; see more information below)
  • sandpaper, small paint brushes, black sharpie, pencil, scissors, scrap paper, and glue

My Method:

First, I sanded, painted, and added a gloss varnish to the basic-looking wood frame of the map. Of course, I could’ve purchased a nicer frame to skip this step entirely, but, for me, painting is quite calming.

** To be honest, the most difficult part of this entire project was figuring out how to accurately and proportionately draw the USA onto my board. So, I decided simply to not do it. Instead, I used the Zazzle poster, shown below, as a template.

travel map

If you’re thinking…

“Wow, that’s a waste of $14 just to go ahead and cut it up”

… well, yes. I felt the same way. However, this was one of the better (A.K.A. balancing cost against ease) options I came up with. (For those who are interested, a more cost-effective idea would be to print an 11″x17″ (or similar) USA outline onto multiple pieces of printer paper and simply tape them together.) You can choose whichever method with which you feel comfortable.

Furthermore, the poster shipped hideously creased, as you can tell in the photo above (and, please note: the picture was taken after I painstakingly attempted to iron out the wrinkles). One swift e-mail to the company and they refunded my entire order. So, it worked out!

Then, I roughly traced the USA shape onto my cork board with pencil and then carefully went over the outline with a black Sharpie. At this point, I also added the cute Gilmore Girls quote. Here are some others I considered:

  • “Oh, darling, let’s be adventurous!”
  • “If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet.”
  • “The journey is the destination.”
  • “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list!”

How to Place The Photos

Adding photos to the map takes a little bit of estimating. Keep in mind, my measurements are based loosely on a 16″x20″ USA map.

Most of the states in the Eastern half of the United States will either fit a 4×6 or wallet sized photo, with the exception of the New England states, which are even tinier. For the Western states, like California, I used two 4×6 photos to cover the whole state. Eventually, I may just print a 5×7 to replace them.

To begin, I took a rough measure of each state. Though some state’s shapes are more difficult to measure than others, this at least gives a good starting point.

Pay attention to the orientation to your photo of choice and the state it will go with. For example, Pennsylvania is longer than it is taller, so I chose a selfie that was taken Landscape (with my phone “sideways”). Comparatively, Vermont is very tall but narrow, so I chose a photo taken Portrait style.

travel map

In fact, for states with more difficult shapes, take good care to notice the distance of the camera in regards to the subject of each photo. I found it was easier to fit photos where the subject (our faces) was farther away, as it gives more “wiggle room” to cut around.

To illustrate, I chose photos for Ohio and Massachusetts where we were further from the camera, as shown below. The extra background space made it easier to find a way to fit both of our faces in a tricky shape. Conversely, for Pennsylvania, I used a selfie where we were very close to the camera; had PA been more difficult of a shape, we may have not even fit at all.

travel map

If you have a lot of photos lying around, you can use them as a tool to compare each state. For example, find a printed photo that resembles the one in question. Similarities should be found in the orientation/layout of the photos, as well as the distance from the subject to the camera (for example, you probably won’t compare a selfie with a full-body shot someone else took).

Then, hold the “test” photo near the state in question; if it looks as if it would fit nicely, you can feel safe printing the similar photo in the same size.

When in doubt, you can always print your photos in two different sizes, just in case. If you don’t have a preferred method of printing photos, I always use one of the two following options:

  1. Pharmacy Kodak Instant Photo Stations. I go to CVS, but many drugstores have the stations. I can usually print off 10-12 photos or so for under $8, approximately. Individual pricing varies based on print size and quantity.
  2. Shutterfly. I rep this site so hard, not due to any affiliation, but because 95% of everything I have ordered from them I have received for free. No joke. Sign up for their e-mails; you won’t regret it. (And, if you download their mobile app, you qualify for unlimited free 4×6 photos.)

Generally, I use the Kodak Print Stations for this specific project because, when I decide I’m in the mood to do a project, I like to do it immediately. So, waiting for prints to ship doesn’t work for my impatient self.

To add my photos to the map, I use a piece of scrap paper and trace the shape. Then, I cut out the state to make a small template, without destroying my full USA map.

travel map

Next, I lay the small state template over the chosen photo and cut around the edges. I prefer to cut the state smaller so that there is a distinct outline of each state; to me, it looks neater. Then, add a little glue and attach a fun embellishment. Finally, your project is complete!

travel map

Second Travel Map Idea: Chalkboard

To create a neat chalkboard map for doodles and notes, purchase a free-standing chalkboard ($14.99). Alternatively, you may consider using chalkboard paint ($5.42) to create a chalk-friendly surface anywhere.

travel map
These are chalkboard-material sticky-back decals, available for purchase here.

I like the idea of painting the chalkboard surface in an office or study in the shape of the continents, like in the photo above! To do this, make an outline on your surface in pencil first (you can use the template ideas from my photo travel map). Then, once your outline looks good, fill it in with the chalkboard paint!

Next, you can use permanent paint markers ($14.98) to draw outlines that won’t be erased! This leaves a beautiful map for sketching in chalk where you’ve been, where you’d like to go, or even testing your geographical knowledge again and again!

Purchase this map here for only $60!

Finally, feel free to add a cute phrase or little doodle to give your map a nice finishing touch.

Third Travel Map Idea: Scratch-Off

This is one of the coolest ideas I’ve seen: a beautiful map, slowly revealed by scratching off a fun, outer layer!

Purchase this cool silver map, by clicking here, on Amazon, for $22.99!

Begin with a piece of heavy cardstock. Print or trace your map onto the cardstock, and fill it in with a random design of watercolor paint. Feel free to go bold, choose pastel colors, or match the color scheme to your home! Additionally, you can include cute doodles or words; don’t be afraid to be creative and have fun with it.


I love this watercolor design! Skip the DIY and purchase here!

Now, here is where opinions online differ on how to best create a “scratchable” surface. You can:


  1. laminate the entire watercolored map, or
  2. lay a piece of contact paper over the watercolor and then apply a thick layer of white crayon (AKA wax!) onto the surface, or
  3. purchase printable scratch-off sticker paper (you can buy some here).

Both options one and two have received positive reviews on various sites, so it depends solely upon what is easiest for you. I would imagine using a crayon to apply wax may be more time-consuming for a larger piece, but laminating may not be as cost-effective.

Then, you simply mix one-part dish soap to two-parts of acrylic paint, and spread it over your waxed/laminated surface! Let it dry, and repeat until the paint is opaque (it generally takes two or three coats).

My option of choice is #3; easy, cheap, and, since it is pre-made, there is no way to mess it up! 😉

travel map
You can’t purchase this map, but I just LOVE this DIY idea.

Option three allows for a lot more creativity since you can print whatever you can find or create online. However, the sheets are small so, for a larger project, it may be difficult to connect them together accurately. The striped example above highlights a cute idea!

The printable scratch-off paper also eliminates the need to paint onto your surface, so you save some time.

Whichever method you choose, the final result is a fun, chic way to map your travels! Mount the cardstock in a frame to finish a beautiful conversation piece for your home!

Fourth Travel Map: Pushpin

travel map
This classy map and frame can be purchased here!

For a more traditional travel map, consider using pushpins on a nice canvas or cork base!

Because pushpin maps can come with a hefty price tag, consider “DIY”ing your own. First, collect the following materials:

  • foam insulation board (you can generally purchase this from any hardware store for under $15)
  • nice wooden frame (try checking your local craft store for any clearance frames to save a few dollars) travel map
  • world or USA map poster or print (you can print on paper, or order a print on canvas for a more formal look)
This classy black and white can be purchased here.
travel map
What a creative map! You can find a similar print here.
  • modge-podge or spray adhesive
  • push pins travel map

This travel map is a rather simple “DIY” and can be completed within a few hours, at the most.

First, coat the back of your poster and the front of the insulation board with the adhesive or modge-podge. Next, carefully apply the poster to the board, and smooth out any bubbles with a flat-edge, such as a ruler or credit card. You can even finish the front of your map with an extra layer of modge-podge to reduce that typical “poster” shine.

Then, mount the board inside your frame using a small amount of glue or tiny nails around the edges. Carefully disregard the glass, if any comes with your frame. (Looking for a unique frame? Check out my post for a two-toned metallic frame upgrade DIY!)

Last, but not least, plan out how to organize your pins. Maybe you want to use one color to indicate where you’ve traveled, and a different color to signify where you hope to travel?

Ultimately, a fun aspect of utilizing push pins is that you can rearrange them on your travel map as many times as you’d like!

Let me know if you have any further questions on any of the travel map ideas or DIYs mentioned above. After all, I’d love to see what you are able to create!

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled?


Lexis Rose

CategoriesLife & Travel
  1. Melanie Bumgarner says:

    I developed a love for traveling and exploring new places while moving a lot with my dad who was in the military and I have been wanting to create a map to show where I have lived, visited, and want to go. This helped me a lot on deciding what way I would like to go about this, by using the push pin style. My favorite place so far has been Okinawa, Japan.

    1. Lexis says:

      Aw, that is so cool! I’m sure you have seen so many cool places. A travel push-pin map would be perfect, especially so you could keep updating it as you travel more! Japan sounds AMAZING! I would love to hear more about that! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *