Make something from your trip: Part 1

Combine travel and creativity to make something from your trip

Travel and creativity make such a powerful team, they should have their own Netflix series. Travel helps you pay better attention, gets you out of ruts and generates ideas you’d never consider at home.

But at this time when we can’t travel, does that mean that your creativity has to suffer as well, locked down and quarantined? Not at all. In fact, this current pandemic actually offers you a chance to enhance both your travel and creative skills.

How? By giving you the chance to make something from your trip. There are many ways to do this, but here’s one to get you started. In this approach, your trip will be a small one, likely just around your neighborhood. But it will be purposeful. After all, even small trips can be made into quests. And your quest, in this case, is to find raw materials for a creative project you’ll do when you get back so that you make something from your trip, even a short one.

It may sound a bit like child’s play — because it is. But can’t we all use a bit more play during this confusing time?

Two ways to make something from your trip

Here’s what you can do.

Take a trip around your neighborhood (or venture out a bit further if you must to find a wide variety of plants and trees). But don’t just wander. Look. Make a scavenger hunt of objects that look as if they could be part of a creative project. What kind of project? Here are two I’ve tried, but feel free to use these as starting points for you to make something from your trip.

Make a sculpture

The first is purely whimsical. It will appeal to you crafty people and likely get some eye rolls from those of you who are more practical. It involves making small sculptures from found objects like pine cones, dried flowers, twigs, acorns or rocks.

A small sculpture made of a pinecone, acorn and twigs

This is just one example of the types of items you can use to make something from your trip with articles  you find around your neighborhood.

Make a bottle opener

The second may be more appealing if you’re looking to make something from your trip that you can use. It involves taking found objects, not necessarily items from nature but anything you come across (most of my material came from items I discovered on walks or even ones lying around my garage), and turning them into a new twist on an old product. In this case, bottle openers.

Bottle opener with bracket

I have no idea what the original purpose of metal piece was. I just found it, carved a scrap piece of wood into a handle, and screwed the metal to the wood and there you have it: another bottle opener.

Let’s look at examples of each. Next time, in Part 2, we’ll explore why these exercises can be helpful to you as a traveler.

Found object sculptures

For these, you basically need any materials you can find, a pair of clippers (for cutting branches and twigs or even pine cones in half) and some CA glue (super glue, preferably the thicker kind you can find at craft, hobby or home improvement stores) or hot glue. If you want to get more complex, as in cutting the bases of some of these figures, you’ll need a saw. I also found it helpful to have some sandpaper for smoothing up rough edges, a knife for carving some parts, and a drill for making holes.

Because I live in an area with lots of moss and lichen, it’s easy to use that as a covering over any base. You could even use jar lids as the stand and cover in bark, moss or dried grass. If you wanted to take this seriously as a hobby, you could purchase moss from a craft store, but the fun is limiting yourself, where possible, to only things you find.

Here are some examples:

Small sculptures made from pinecones and acorns

The hardest thing about these is cutting the twigs at the right angle with your clippers, and holding the arms in place long enough for the CA glue to dry.

Smaller acorn/pinecone sculpture

On both of these figures, the flowers actually retain some color in their dried form. I later learned to make a hole for the flowers so you can replace them with new ones easily over time.

Pine cone dog

A pine cone man’s best friend is his pine cone dog. The thistle that makes the head started fully covered. Thus, I was going to make a lion with the thistles as a mane. But they kept falling off. What to do? Improvise. Now it is a dog. Kind of. Or a bald lion. The legs are made from a seed pod that falls from cottonwoods. They crunch really loudly when you step on them and make for interesting appendages.

Small house from cut branch

This was actually harder to make than the people because it required a saw for the base and the house, and some carving of the door, windows (hard to see here), steps and top of the roof. I personally love the roof which came from the end of a sumac pod I’d found in the past and kept around. You never know what your discoveries can be used for. Also, the section of the walnut shell used as an overhang above the door came about because I accidentally broke off a piece of the sumac pod and needed to fill the gap with a “dormer” or overhang. That’s the joy of these projects. There is no right or wrong way. You just make it up as you go.

Branch house on driftwood

The roof is the bottom of a pine cone. The base is a piece of driftwood. The “tree” and “bush” can be swapped out if they fade over time. In fact, you can think of these sculptures as weed pots for holding dried flowers rather than as sculptures. The door, in this case, is part of the outer “skin” of a seed pod.

Found object bottle openers

Why bottle openers? Because they’re easier to use for opening bottles than your teeth! But the real reason, for me, is that my in-laws and I have a long-running gift exchange. Whoever goes on a trip brings the other person the tackiest or coolest bottle opener they can find. Here’s just a photo of just a few of the ones I’ve given my in-laws. You may recall it from the article on how to find the right souvenir on a trip.

Bottle opener collection

Here are just some of the many bottle openers I’ve brought home as souvenirs to my in-laws.

So if you can’t travel, why stop the fun? Make something of your trip by crafting your own. Using the same principles as above and usually with just a few tools (mostly a drill though on a few, I used a rasp and drum sander to shape the wood), I’ve made many just as a challenge to see how many different kinds of bottle openers I could design. They all work. Some just work a bit better than others. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Fish hook bottle opener

Yes, that is a fishhook screwed to a piece of scrap wood I carved. I’ll be honest, this one can open a bottle, but the hook has too much give in it so it isn’t easy to use. Oh well. The fun with many of these is that you never know if they’ll work until you make and try them.

Screw-in-wood bottle opener

As my less-than-stellar woodburning effort shows, this was my first bottle opener, the most basic of them all and interestingly, the most effective one of all. Screw a flathead screw into a scrap of wood. How’s that for an easy DIY project?

Ball and spoon bottle opener

I found a metal bead, an old spoon and a stick. So I did what anyone would in such a situation. I made a bottle opener. Of course. It works okay but I wondered what would happen if the spoon were wood instead…

Spoon and knife bottle opener

So, I hunted down an old wooden spoon. The results? Not something you’ll likely carry around in your pocket, but it does work quite well for opening bottles. And in a pinch, you can unscrew it and toss a salad or serve dinner.

Nut and bolt bottle opener with bottle

I had a left over bolt from a project along with extra nuts and a washer. I wrapped the “handle” with twine to make it smoother and to add some refinement. It did make it smoother…


The hook bottle opener

I found this piece of metal and bent it into shape before screwing it to the wood handle. But what makes this work really well is that I filed the tip so that it is sharp enough to grip the bottle cap making it easy to remove.

Two-in-one bottle opener

The whole point of this exercise is to be creative and see what works. Here, I took a scrap I’d used for carving practice and added a coin-shaped piece of brass at an angle that I then bent to create a lip to grip the bottle cap. That worked, but I also wanted to see if the simplest approach of all, a nail in wood, would work. It did. Far better than the more complex version.

Old nail in wood bottle opener

Since, from the previous version, I knew a nail in wood worked well, I wondered how to make it more visually interesting. So I took an old square nail I’d picked up years ago and a piece of driftwood and here’s the result. It works extremely well and is, in it’s almost disquieting way, rather lovely.

Stone and steel bottle opener

The one above with the square nail and driftwood is by far the better working opener. But I love this one as well for it’s visual simplicity and almost primitive feel. The reason it is only half a stone is because I’d never drilled into a stone before and I broke it in half. But rather than waste the rock, I just drilled a more successful hold on the other side. The result is, in some ways, more interesting.

Make something from your trip just for the fun of making

So there you have it. Absolutely pointless uses of time if you consider that you don’t really need any pine cone sculptures and that the $.69 metal bottle opener in your drawer works fine for getting a cap off. But that misses the point. You don’t always create for practical purposes. Nor do you travel just to get somewhere.

If you try something like one of these (and my hope is you’ll make up your own ideas for sculptures or bottle openers using found objects), you’ll discover that the process—the journey—is what matters. Take time, while you have more of it stuck at home, to look around your neighborhood, find interesting objects and then make something from your trip. Once you learn how to do it on short trips, you’ll realize the possibilities for collecting more exotic materials on longer trips. And then, there’s no end to what you might create.

Share your own or try some others

I would love to know if you try any of the above or even better, come up with your own ideas for making something from one of your trips. Share below or email me if you have photos.

And if the above ideas aren’t motivating you to practice your creativity, try some of these creative prompts Anna Brones has been providing all through this time of social distancing.

And stay tuned for next time when I give you several additional reasons why this little exercise to make something from your trip can have disproportionately greater benefits than you might think.

Now go take a walk. With a bag. And start collecting.

You’ve got a creative project to do.



  • Derek says:

    These are awesome! I love both the pinecone people and the bottle openers (especially the square nail in the driftwood). Well done!

    I could probably coax my 4-year old into this project, although I certainly couldn’t trust him with CA glue (he’d probably glue his fingers to his nose).

    • Steve Brock says:

      Thanks, Derek! You could do these with your son and just use white glue…and a lot of drying time. Or, honestly, choose the pine cones carefully and you can actually wedge the twigs into them for arms. Four-year-olds are less picky about anatomical correctness. 🙂