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DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location-Inspired Art


DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location Inspired Art

This post about making a DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location-Inspired Art was written by Katie Watson

I’d like to share a project my son and I have been playing with recently—his Explorer’s Notebook. 

We recently moved from the Midwest to Washington, DC, and we’re loving all of the exploring that comes with resettling.  I find all the new settings inspiring to my own creativity—and I’d been thinking about how to let my son express some of what he’s discovering, too.

Then I attended a DC Public Library Creative Class workshop where I made a little book using old maps and photos, and Toby was fascinated by it.  So we created his kid-sized Explorers Notebook or Travel Journal together, and now he’s filling it with little scraps and scribbles of our life here.

DIY Kids Travel Journal

This project is for parents and children to work on together.  Depending on your child’s age, there are some steps you’ll need to do all on your own.  But at any age, your kids can help you find papers to use, and, of course, once the book is finished it’s theirs to fill.


  • Paper (white, graph, parchment, tissue, card stock, etc)
  • Maps
  • Push pins or other pin
  • Dental floss or embroidery thread
  • Binder clips
  • Glue
  • Packing tape


STEP 1 :: Assemble Your Papers

To start, you’ll need a handful of paper.  I used some plain computer paper, graph paper, colored parchment and tissue paper.  Then I found some bits and pieces that we’ve collected—brochures from local attractions, maps, and pictured below there’s part of a bag from a favorite pastry shop.  You’ll see that plastic window later.  Because we were using this book to record my son’s exploring, I tried to use papers that reminded him of places around our city.


STEP 2 :: Cut Your Paper

Once you’ve got your papers, cut them to size.  To keep it simple, I went with half of a standard sheet of paper, making my cut pages 8 ½ x 5 ½ and my finished book 4 ¼ x 5 ½.  I cut down some maps and brochures to the same size.  For fun I also cut some graph paper extra long to make fold-out pages.


Above you see the parchment cut to the regular size, and the extra-long graph paper.  Below, you see how I folded the long sheet.


I found that about 10 sheets of paper makes a good sized book.  Cut them, fold them individually, and then stack them together.  If some pieces (like the pastry bag from above) aren’t as big as your other pages, that’s okay—the little tabs add interest and work themselves into your child’s drawings in fun ways.  I added a piece of brown cardstock for the cover, and then clipped the stack together to hold everything in place.


STEP 3 :: Bind Your Papers Into the Travel Journal

To bind the pages, I poked three holes in my book with a push pin.  Note the cardboard underneath to protect the table.  I sewed my pages together using, um, dental floss.  Don’t laugh, it’s strong and the waxy coating makes the knots stay in place.  I used a three-hole pamphlet stitch (step by step instructions here), with the knot on the inside.

Step 4 :: Add a Map to the Cover

I tried gluing a map to the front cover, but it wasn’t looking very sturdy.  So in the spirit of using-what-you’ve-got I pulled out that favorite Jr. High DIY trick:  packing tape.  I laminated the front and back covers with tape, and then handed the book over to my son.

DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location Inspired Art

Step 4 :: Use Your New Travel Journal

The first thing he wanted to do was add more tape.  He added an event wristband with masking and scotch tape.


We also spent some time painting in our notebooks.  Here’s a shot of his work on the pastry bag page with the window.  He spent some time trying to paint on the window, but it didn’t really stick.


And just because I like it, here’s a picture of the fold-out centerfold.  My son loves subway maps, and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t drawn on this page yet.

DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location Inspired Art - Inside Map

My son’s art is not yet representational—so I think this will be a fun way to explore location-inspired artwork. Some ideas ::

  • Can’t draw local landmarks?  Scribble on top of photos of them.
  • Make rubbings of textures or tracings of leaves.
  • Glue in scraps of nature or wrappers & papers that we find along the way.
  • Or simply experiment with pencils or markers or paints while sitting at your favorite park or waiting for a train.

And yes, it doesn’t hurt that our Travel Journal / Explorer Notebook also functions something like a coloring book.  The different pages and pictures serve as prompts that can encourage my son to work on his own during those times when it’s convenient to have him sitting still.  I’m planning to make another airplane-themed book for an upcoming cross-country trip.

There are so many ways to switch up these travel journals depending on your child’s age and interests.  Here are some ideas ::

  • Use interesting shapes and materials (I’m now on the lookout for interesting shapes, textures and cutouts in the things we usually throw away.)
  • What about sewing in a few pages of your child’s excess artwork?
  • Or photocopying some pictures of family members and sewing them in as pages in the book?
  • And, of course, there are countless ways to fill up the pages.

Location is a strong influence on all of our creative work, and having a kids travel journal or location-based notebook lets them explore, record and share what they notice about their surroundings.

About the Author


Katie Watson loves art opportunities that get art-phobic people creating.  She has used group art projects at community centers and churches to encourage groups to get to know each other and to explore their beliefs.  Now she finds herself pulling out those skills again as she tries to convince her very active 3 year old son to slow down and put a crayon to paper.  Katie has written church curriculum for elementary students, and just started blogging at https://attableblog.blogspot.com/.

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DIY Kids Travel Journal for Location Inspired Art and Learning


  • Avatar
    Julie Liddle, ART IN HAND
    January 9, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Welcome to DC! Love your idea. If you’re looking for a great place to meet other moms/tots while getting into lots of creative art-making together, check out my ART IN HAND classes in Falls Church, Alexandria, or Herndon (not sure exactly where you are, but maybe one of those would be close enough). My website is currently out of commission (should be back up soon), but you can see my class listings at http://www.alexandriava.gov/recreation, http://www.fallschurchva.gov, or http://www.herndon-va.gov and read more about my program and approach if you check out the interview I did with Jean a while back on this blog. Maybe we’ll meet in person!

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    Julie Liddle, ART IN HAND
    January 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Aw, thanks, Jean! I feel so “naked” without my website!

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    Sarah M
    January 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    What a great idea–I actually had a journal very similar to this for both of my European trips when I was a teenager– one to France and one to Ireland, and filled them to the brim! I simply never thought of doing this ‘kid style’. We are relocating in a number of months to a new country and this will be such a fun thing. I love exploring! :)
    Sarah M

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    January 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Very cool! I LOVE this idea!

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    January 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I think the Creative Class workshop I attended was the first in a series, the is Saturday, Jan 21 — https://www.dclibrary.org/node/29192 . Great idea, the workshops are all about how to use the library resources to inspire or do research for artwork. The one I attended showed us how to browse the collections of old maps and photos. And Julie, thanks for the invitation! I had heard of your classes, and we’ll have to give them a try sometime!

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    January 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    What a great idea! Thank for sharing, off to check out your blog!

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    January 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea! And don’t feel bad about using dental floss. It is very strong! Mu mother-in-law uses it to hang picture frames on the walls! (she’s a dentist…)

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    Mary at The Forager's Landscape
    January 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I loved the post! I also live in the DC area and just recently started a blog, lol. I’ll definitely check our your blog, and will try making one of these books with/for my girls.
    I love the way that metro map looks in the book. There was an interesting article in the Post last summer ( https://tinyurl.com/5u4xwsb ) about the graphic designer who created it…he’s been recommissioned to change it because of the addition of some rail lines. It’s an interesting read because that map is really an icon.
    Thanks for the great post!

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    January 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    This is cool! My son is a little young, but it would certainly make a great gift, too. Also, can you tell me more about these DC library classes. I’ve been here for 5 years, yet this is the first I’ve heard of them. I guess there’s always something new to be discovered, huh?

  • Avatar
    Jean Van't Hul
    January 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Here’s the link to Julie’s interview for those of you DC folks interested in her (awesome-sounding) little kid art classes:

  • Avatar
    Jean Van't Hul
    January 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I would, too!

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    January 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    As a fellow Midwestern transplant to the greater DC area, welcome! :) This is a great post, I love the metro map included in the book. We will have to make some of these for sure, we got through book making phases, but haven’t included pre-printed stuff before. The brochures from the Smithsonian museums would be perfect! Also, love the dental floss idea.

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    January 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I love this idea and I so wish I had seen before we went away for a month, my daughter would have loved it. We did make a journal together of our time away from collected bits and pieces and drawings.

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    January 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

    this is such a great and fun idea… esp if you like to travel a bunch w/ your kids (as we do). Thx for this !

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    Justine Ickes
    January 13, 2012 at 12:16 am

    What a fantastic idea, Katie. My sons are I will be ending the summer in Turkey visiting my in-laws. I’ve been thinking about ideas to help my kids record the experience and these explorer books look perfect.

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    January 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I like how the notebook sort of functions as an interactive bulletin board — all the stuff you would save and tack up, but you get to scribble on it too. My four year old would love this. Great post, Katie. Glad you guys are having fun exploring :)

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    April 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Great idea! We haven’t moved, or gone on a big trip, but my 3 and 5 year old and I just a couple of days ago started our “Secret Spring and Summer Adventure Club”, to begin explorations of our favorite secret spots and routes around our town (and further afield on weekends), now that it is lighter and warmer. We had a secret handshake for our new club, but now we’ll have books too, thanks to your post! I made one for each kiddo today–love the dental floss and tape lamination– and my 3 year old fell asleep on the drive home clutching his ‘adventure book’; the 5 year old came home and started drawing and writing up her adventure in hers. Thanks again!

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    January 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Great ideas I plan to use when my Midwest grand kids come to visit us in Arizona next month.

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    Kelly O'Brien
    June 17, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    We will be trying one of these books to use as our summer journal. I am located in the DC/MD area and have a blog called Making It Up As They Grow. We will be posting all kinds of summer fun – projects for toddlers, big kids and the really big kids (us). Love sharing ideas and hearing feedback!!

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