DIY Family Adventure Map Projects

family map projects

A couple weeks ago, on our backpacking trip to Yosemite, we experimented during the four-plus hour car ride there — we didn’t bring the iPad. I know, I know. Crazy, right? It could have been the riskiest decision of our parenting careers thus far. Instead, we brought games (like this travel bingo), a notepad and books to read. It went really well. Henry was surprisingly quiet, and we had a nice game of MASH going for a while which he got a kick out of. Then I got worried and thought maybe he was sick. I mean, we didn’t hear any complaining coming from the back seat. He was even looking out the window at one point. That made me realize how reliant we’ve become on screens. It’s like chapstick: the more you use it, the more you need it.

family map projects

I’m happy to say that I’m partnering with Ford for a few posts to share with you some idea on how to make car rides more enjoyable without the devices (we all know it’s possible. We survived our childhoods, didn’t we?). Today I’m sharing two family map projects we’ve done that have made Henry really excited about travel and exploring. He’s always loved maps, and now that he’s reading I thought it would be even more interesting to give him the official job as trip navigator.

The first project is this giant family adventure map where we can plot all the adventures we’ve had in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Sierras is where Tahoe, Yosemite, the giant trees of the Sequoias and countless other special places are. We really love doing outdoor activities together as a family and wanted to create a fun visual way to document our adventures together. I’ve been wanting to do this project for so long, and am happy with how it turned out.

family map projects

Keep reading to see more about our family map project and a small map version to take with you in the car!

Photography by Liz Stanley and Sara Albers. Assisted by Sara Albers

This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.


Supplies: Giant wall map (I bought ours at our local bookstore), spray adhesive, giant white foam core board, mini map pins, scissors, pen. Not pictured: Exacto knife, small window squeegee.

family map projects

Step 1: Our map was folded so we need to flatten the creases a bit with a warm iron.

Step 2: Start to spray the map to the foam core in a well ventilated area one section at at time.

family map projects

Step 3: Using a window squeegee, flatten the map and creases as best as you can. I was surprised with how much the creases flattened out. You really can’t see them at all once mounted!

Step 4: Cut the foam board with an exacto knife along the edge of the map

family map projects

family map projects

Step 5: We printed out ‘Stanley Adventures’ and ‘ camp, hike, climb, swim, ski’ and glued it to the bottom to create a key.

Step 6: We used different colored pins to coordinate to each activity.

family map projects

Hang in a spot where (responsible) members of the family can reach and add to the board.

family map projects

It’s a great family activity to sit down and document our adventures together!family map projects

To go along with our study of maps, I also made and laminated mini map routes to explore during car trips. I picked three popular routes we take a lot: Tahoe, Stinson Beach and Santa Cruz. Each route is highlighted and laminated with numbered points to indicated every approximate 30-minutes of travel and stars show points of interest (like an amusement park in Vallejo or a ghost town in Sacramento) that Henry might be interested in hearing about along the drive.

family map projects

The numbered points help him track our progress and practice a little math as well (“it’s been 15 minutes since point  2 so we must be halfway to point 3″). It was fun to study up a bit on the route and learn a little history about different areas (like, did you know Daly City has more gravestones than people?). These maps sit in the glove compartment and require no special tools or pens to go along with them. Just some regular old map reading (so vintage!).

family map projects


How do you handle long car rides? Are there favorite games or activities you like to do? Have you ever tried to not use screens on a road trip?


A wise mom turned us on to books on tape for road trips. It’s great… are still engaged with surroundings (unlike with ipads and movies) while still being entertained. Magic Treehouse series worked well and now we are working on Harry Potter.

I love your little maps for trips you do often with point of interest and break spots marked on them.

I’m old enough that all our road trips with out children were done without screens. Every summer we would take a trip that was up to about a 20-hour drive from home (we live in Toronto, Ontario) and we would play word games, looking out the window hunting for things games, listen to story books, listen to music and just look out the window. When the kiddos were young we would give them a treat (a small toy or a granola bar) every hour which they looked forward to.

The best trick we had though was a pulley system we rigged up in our minivan. It went from the handlehold on the ceiling of the passenger side at the front to the back seat with a little basket that we could pull back and forth. We could send food or little notes or games in the basket. The kids LOVED it.

Wow! My kids and I just saw a map like this of the world at a hostel we stayed at. We loved it and talked a little about making one of California. You just gave us more inspiration and maybe we will actually do it. In particular, I love the key with colored push pins. Awesome!

We take tons of road trips. We are on our way to Oregon from California right now. A couple years ago, we stopped using electronics in the car and it is the best. Audiobooks! Radio dramas. The Star Wars radio drama is amazing. The Roald Dahl series that was just reread by British actors and actresses is so good. Sticker books, coloring books, magnet sets.

I’m so excited for this series! Our little guy is only 18 months, but we take a lot of road trips, and so I’m already squirreling away ideas for screen-free rides. Thanks!

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