DIY Road Trip Souvenir Christmas Ornaments (and a cautionary tale)

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salt dough USA map ornament: diy road trip souvenir

Last year I made and posted about our Christmas crackers Advent calendar type thing on December 14. This year I’m going to try something new: I’m going to get projects done and post about them early enough that 1. my own family can enjoy them and 2. anyone reading who would like to do the same project won’t have to wait for next year! Win win.

Every year when we go on trips, I have big plans to buy a Christmas ornament at every stop so that our tree will be full of joyous reminders of all the great times we’ve had over the past year/s.

But then, every year, the ornaments are always so expensive, and we’re already spending so much on the trip, and Christmas is so far away anyway….that I end up not buying nearly as many as I’d planned. Or I buy them and forget about them and find them two or three years later. Reminder to self: you bought an ornament at the St. Louis Arch. Find it before Christmas. It might still be in the trailer. Or maybe you were smart and put it in the basement with the Christmas stuff. There’s really no telling, so maybe start looking now.


I decided that this year we’re going to look at our tree and be joyously reminded of all of our great times, dammit, even though I didn’t buy many ornaments.

So I made some.

I bought a US map shaped cookie cutter a few weeks ago in anticipation of our traditional Election Day sugar cookie making, and then it occurred to me that it would also be a perfect way to make ornaments commemorating the trips we’ve taken over the past year.  I’d never made anything out of salt dough before, but people on Pinterest seemed to like it, so I decided to give it a try.

Insert cautionary tale: at some point in my salt dough research, I came across a terrible story about how someone’s dog had eaten a salt dough ornament and died from salt toxicity. Eek! Terrible! So I resolved that I would hang our ornaments high up on our tree so our shorty dogs wouldn’t be able to get to them. Then I left a batch of them, painted and sprayed with sealant, out on the deck to dry and forgot all about them.

Until I noticed Fiesta out there with something in her mouth. Crap!

salt dough ornaments dangerous for dogs

Let me take a moment now to assure you that Fiesta is just fine. There are no tragically dead dogs in this post! I’m pretty experienced with dogs who eat things they shouldn’t, so, after some quick googling to confirm my instincts, I dosed her with hydrogen peroxide so she’d throw up the salt laden United States.

This was a little more dramatic than it sounds in that sentence, though, because first I ran all over the house looking for our hydrogen peroxide, finally found it, realized it was old enough that it had lost some Os and just smelled like plain water now, then rushed out of the house to the drug store. All while the kids were doing Spanish in our dining room with our Spanish tutor, who was probably wondering why I was dashing all over the house and then running out the door in a panic. “Don’t mind me–I just need to run to Rite Aid for hydrogen peroxide so I can make the beagle vomit!”

It turns out that, while Fiesta has many flaws, such as a fondness for eating tasteless, salty dough that’s covered in paint and acrylic sealant, she’s very compliant about having hydrogen peroxide poured down her throat, and it worked exactly like it was supposed to very quickly. I called the vet to see if I should bring her in, but they told me to just keep an eye on her and make sure she was acting normal. And she was, which is to say she slept all day same as usual. This was several days ago, and she’s completely fine. But I tell you all this so that you’ll know about the concerns with salt toxicity and so that you’ll be smarter than me and really and truly keep the ornaments away from your dogs, no matter how unappetizing they may seem to you. I still need to make more of these, and I’m planning to look for a dog friendly alternative to salt dough for the rest of them. The top of the tree only has so much room on it.

On to the tutorial for making these dangerous ornaments!

You’ll Need:

USA Map Cookie Cutter

salt dough (salt, flour, and water. Here’s one recipe)

white spray paint

acrylic spray sealant

fine tipped sharpies


And then:

1. Make your salt dough:

salt dough ingredients

SO much cheaper than gift shop ornaments!

2. Roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick:

roll out salt dough

3. Dip cookie cutter in flour then cut out shapes:

usa cookie cutter cutting out salt dough ornaments

This dough is ridiculously easy to work with, by the way. I used a drinking straw to poke the holes in the top where the string to hang them by goes.

4. Bake for a really long time at 250 degrees:

I kept mine in for 3 hours. This may have been overkill, since mine were fairly thin.

5. Paint with white spray paint:

I thought I might leave them their natural color, but they were tanner than I wanted. This was at least partially because I bought unbleached flour without thinking about it, but I don’t think they would have been glowing white regardless.

6. Consult a map and put dots and names of your destinations on the front. Write the season and year of your trip on the back:

Well, this is what I did anyway. I put a dot for the approximate location, then wrote the name of our stop next to it with the sharpie. Then on the back I wrote “summer, 2016” or whatever. We did a three week road trip with ten stops over the summer, and a couple of shorter trips, too, so I’ll eventually have sixteen ornaments for this past year. Of course, if your travel was less short stops intensive, you have a much easier job.


7. Spray the ornaments with a coat of the acrylic sealant to make them shiny.


8. Put some string through the hole to hang them (I used black and white baker’s twine) and ….done!

travelxmas03s travelxmas02s USA Map Christmas ornaments: DIY souvenirs from your summer road trip or other travels

I don’t really have a tree up already. I do, however, have a tree that we bought at the thrift store a few days ago sitting in pieces in my garage, so I took one of the ornaments out there and hung it up on one of the disassembled sections to take the picture. #bloggersecrets

tutorial to make these easy and inexpensive, travel themeds salt dough Christmas ornaments. DIY souvenirs from your summer road trip!



DIY Road Trip Souvenir Christmas Ornaments (and a cautionary tale) — 16 Comments

    • I hadn’t ever heard it before, either! and that one story is the only one I found where a dog actually died, so it may be that most dogs won’t have such a dramatic reaction. but better safe than sorry!

  1. It’s been years since I made any salt-dough ornaments, but with white flour they would have been biscuit colored, not white.
    I can’t even remember what I made, just that I was underwhelmed.

  2. Here’s my salt dough ornament tip: Store them in a dry location. I’ve made many, many, many of these. The sealant is supposed to make them moisture-proof, but I learned the hard way that it doesn’t. I store all of ours in the house, not the garage or in a basement.

    I loved this post. You are my kind of crafter. Glad the dog is OK! 🙂

    • thanks for the tip! so not garage or basement and not anywhere dogs can find them….these salt dough ornaments are very particular.

    • Put loose borax in the container with the ornaments to keep damp out. I pack boxes of books w/ borax and never a damp odor. 3 hours is a long time to bake! I wonder why you didn’t put the trip year on the ornaments? Or glitter? Golly, you have my mind on overdrive!

      Thanks for the tute and the treatment for ‘dog-naughty.’ These will look great on a wreath!!!! No trees here. I’m too old and trees are too messy. (Just you wait and see!!! LOL)

      • Thanks for the borax tip! I did put the trip year, but on the backs :). And I definitely considered glitter (I always consider glitter!) but opted to go more minimalist for these.

    • ooh, good idea! I also found a recipe for a baking soda intensive clay….seems like there are a lot of alternatives out there to consider

    • Thanks, Julia! One of the nice things about having cats instead of dogs is they’re way less prone to eating things that will kill them 😉

  3. These are super cute – ornaments do get expensive when you travel a lot. Love this solution.

    We just made salt dough ornaments for the first time for Henry’s dino tree and I’m hooked. Never thought to seal them.

    • Thanks, Kim! I have another cheap travel souvenir ornament post coming up…whenever I find a bit of time to actually write it!

  4. What a great idea! I love this of making your own travel ornaments. When we travel, a Christmas ornament is our main souvenir and our tree is full of them but I just love this! When I looked up the USA cookie cutter I found a bunch of states too, I might have to look into that-although $3-$5 for each state might add up too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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