Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on September 19, 2023.
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One of my favorite travel blogging images is the digital push pin travel map that highlights cities and destinations that its creator has visited.
In one quick glimpse you can see every place in the entire world they have been and with just a little thought, imagine where they may be going next.
As we are building a home full of travel decorations, I knew that one day I would be taking this popular digital map and converting it into a real-life decoration to be used as the centerpiece for one of our rooms (with a fantasy of it being in a travel-inspired bar room).
I always expected these maps to cost upwards of $150 or more when finished, as is the case with some of the nice ones available on Amazon or Conquest Maps, but I couldn't bring myself to spend that kind of money right away.
Instead, I put on my crafting hat and ended up being able to make my own professional style travel map with pins at home for just about $50 US and an hour of my time.
If you've ever fantasized about making a push pin travel map of your own, here's what you do.
Items Needed for Push Pin Travel Maps
The pre-made maps sold on Amazon or Conquest Maps have a decent mark-up in price mostly because the construction work is done for you. But for a bit of trade-off in overall quality and time to build it yourself, you can also put together a map with relative ease.
For those who wish to build theirs at home as we did, you'll need the following items for a 3-foot wide map:
- 36″ World Map Window Cling
- 36″ Bulletin Board
- Several Boxes of Color Coded Push or Sewing Pins (How many cities have you been to I wonder…?)
- 2 Hanging Implements (minimum)
Note: Your bulletin board may come with a hanging implement but you may need alternative items depending on your wall and how you want to hang your map. We'll touch more on that later.
Method of Construction for a Travel Map with Pins
Building this travel map is pretty straight forward and follows a few simple steps.
1) Window Cling, Meet Bulletin Board
Take the window cling off of its backing and place it as evenly as possible on the bulletin board, ensuring you avoid adding air bubbles as best as possible. When the window cling is placed, push out any excess bubbles to the edges.
We had two major hurdles to deal with in this step.
First, our bulletin board was a bit warped so we had to weigh it down a bit to ensure it would level out (which was pretty easy). Second, the bulletin board we purchased measured 35″ edge to edge, so the 36″ window cling was just a bit too large.
When adhering we wrapped the excess map around the edge, giving the bulletin board an almost canvas-like appearance.
We decided that we liked this style better than trimming the map to fit the available bulletin space, which sounds like a bit of a nightmare, so we were glad to avoid it.
2) Test Placement and Hang
Determine where the push pin travel map will be hung and measure the height and distance between the mounting points accordingly. Making careful notes on the hole placements and distance between each in the bulletin board is key as they do not give you a good amount of wiggle room when hanging.
There are many different ways to hang a bulletin board, and the most common (and likely recommended in the bulletin board package) is by drilling a hole into the wall and installing a wall anchor.
As was the case with our Turkish lamp, I do not like to make recommendations when it comes to hanging objects in your house as wall materials and hanging methods can vary quite substantially.
For us, our walls are made of delicate plaster and we avoid drilling or installing nails wherever possible. We found that these wall hooks worked great for our bulletin board, although to be honest you may wish to wait to buy these at a local store once your board arrives and you can confirm the size and available opening space.
We did have to use a wrench to close the opening of the hook to improve the aesthetics when hung as well.
After placing the hooks on the wall we let them rest for the recommended 24-hour period before hanging our map permanently.
(Note– We recommend doing this step second as you can get a good idea of what the map will look like on the wall, and also not have to worry about having a few hundred pins potentially falling out during your adjustments. As unlikely as that is, it was not a risk we were willing to take.).
3) Start Pinning!
When the window cling is placed properly, and you have prepared a hanging spot on the wall for the map, you are ready to begin pinning. We recommend getting pins with the smallest heads possible (ours were 4mm width), especially if you are well traveled, as space becomes tight rather quickly. Typically sewing pins are smaller like ours, while a branded map pin is about the size of a standard push-pin and was too large for our needs (seriously, they're huge).
As with most bulletin boards, the holes you make get larger each time you place and remove a pin in the same spot, so take a few minutes before getting started to decide on a pinning method that interests you most.
Will you push them into various depths? Place them straight up or at angles? Color code trips or regions? Ensure a spectrum of colors in each region?
It is best to plan exactly how your board will look when finished before starting to ensure you do not repeatedly add or remove pins which will cause them to be loosely held in place.
Once you have a plan of attack, get to it!
This was quite possibly the most enjoyable decorating project we have done and finding some of the small, off-the-beaten-path cities we visited on a map made for a great challenge. You may need to have a computer handy for this one!
4) Hang Your Completed Travel Map!
Isn't that awesome?
We Upgraded to Conquest Maps Later On
We made our DIY travel map with pins as featured in this post in 2015 but always kept it in the back of our minds that at some point in the future we were going to upgrade to a professional looking map.
In late 2017 we decided to buy ourselves an early Christmas present and opted for a three panel map from Conquest Maps measuring 48″ x 32″ which fit perfectly on our wall (which as you can also tell, received a paint job since we first published this post as well). Click here to check out our map directly or check out our full Conquest Maps review here.
It is always hard in judging maps online, but we were pleasantly surprised with the high-quality nature of the map, and the corkboard had a nice robust feeling when we put our pins in unlike the one we purchased for our DIY setup which felt a bit flimsy to us.
The map itself came with one hundred pins with 1/4″ head and 1/2″ tack length, which was a great size but we thought the head was a bit large for our liking so we opted to buy a 600 pack on Amazon with 1/8″ head and 3/5″ tack length (roughly the same overall pin length) which worked really well for our large map.
They pop out ever-so-slightly but don't stick out too much like in our DIY map which admittedly had much longer pins. (Grab the pins we use here).
It is worth noting that the cork board is not that deep and has a hard backing that prevents you from sticking the pins in past a certain distance. We'd estimate that depth to be about half the tack length (about 3/10″), so we would highly recommend not getting too large of a pin if you go for a map from this company.
Overall, this map did come at a premium, about $284 in total mostly due to the fact that we bought one of their largest ones, but it is going to be a central focal point in our room for years moving forward.
We love it already!
Looking to Build Your Own Map?
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.