Editor’s note: This article was written pre-COVID-19. When planning a vacation, please reference the latest CDC guidelines for travel.
Taking a trip is much different for kids now than back in the day. You probably remember being entertained by Invisible Ink books, travel games like the License Plate Game, and “I Spy” while trying to pass time in the car. Many kids today have smartphones. And if not smartphones, they have iPads. That said, travel games are still a big deal for many reasons. For one, they encourage kids to look outside and form their natural sense of direction. By naming landmarks, they’ll have better ideas of where they geographically are.
Travel games also can include the whole family, which is nice. While solitude is often good on road trips, travel games are all part of the family interactions that make these road trips so much fun. What’s a road trip if you can’t chat with your kids and have this experience together?
If you’re looking for games that’ll really excite them, here are 25+ travel games to keep in mind for your next big trip.
1. I Spy
Yes, it’s a classic. And yes, it’s fun! If you have younger kids, you can try focusing specifically on colors. That’ll help the game be even more educational. Start with “I spy something blue,” and your child might guess “the sky.”
2. The Alphabet Game
The Alphabet Game will also have everyone searching for outside ideas. All you have to do is go down the alphabet and find something on your road trip that fits. For example, “A” can be an Applebee’s you see on a parkway exit. “B” can be “Basketball Hoop” if you happen to drive past a park. And “C” is easy if there are other cars on the road.
3. I’m Going on a Picnic
A memory game that also utilizes the alphabet, this classic might make you think of your childhood. Whenever it’s someone’s turn, they get the next letter. For example, the first person who starts can say, “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing apples.” The next person will then say, “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing apples and berries.” The following person would then repeat those foods, adding “cantaloupe” or something else beginning with C. It’s a great travel game that’ll test your mental recall.
4. 20 Questions
This travel game lets you be creative. One player has to think of an animal, mineral, or vegetable. The second player then asks a series of yes or no questions — up to 20 — to figure out what it is.
5. Finish the Story
Have one person in the car think up a sentence at a time. Need inspo? Start with this: “Once there was a girl who lived in Miami.” Then, the next person in the car adds to the story. See how funny your family can make it.
6. Name That Tune
You can make a mix CD or add a playlist to your phone ahead of time. See if your kids can guess each song with just a few notes of an intro.
7. DIY DJ
Road trips are a great time to introduce your kids to new music. Load up a playlist of songs you think they’ll like and then get their feedback. See how many times your intuition was correct. It’ll be a nice break from “Baby Shark.”
8. Would You Rather?
If you have small kids, your questions can be goofy. If you have tweens, they can be a little more realistic. Consider it an excellent opportunity to learn more about your kids while keeping them entertained.
9. Family Songland
Create funny lyrics based on things you see outside. If you can make it rhyme, it may turn into an earworm that’ll always remind you of the trip.
10. The Movie Game
Since they’ll be more in tune with actors and films, older kids may like this game best. To start, one of you names an actor. The next person up must name one of the actor’s movies. The following person needs to name another actor from that movie. If you blank, you’re out. The winner is the last player standing.
It sounds a bit strange, but your family can get really into it. Give each person specific parts to make it even more exciting.
Is everyone in your car a fan of The Office? If so, try to stump each other with Office trivia questions. No matter what the topic is, make sure it’s something everyone’s familiar with so everyone can play fairly.
13. Mad Libs
Mad Libs are still popular and always good for a laugh. They’re also a great way to brush up on your nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
14. The Lyric Game
It’s a bit like “Name That Tune” but in reverse. So, have someone speak a lyric of a popular song. The first person to name both the song and the artist wins.
15. Road Trip Spelling Bee
You’ll want to make sure that you’re spelling words your kids know. Peeking at their vocabulary assignments ahead of time may serve as good prep. Spelling is a great skill (and something kids should always be working on), so creating spelling-centered travel games is always a positive idea. Good thing it’s a blast to spell!
16. Two Truths and a Lie
This one’s pretty much exactly like it sounds! Each player makes three statements, with two being truths and one a lie. The other players have to guess which is the lie. It’s a fantastic way to spark kids’ imaginations (and some conversations, too).
Hanabi is a cooperative deduction game that uses a small deck of cards. The twist is you hold your cards facing out — you don’t know what cards you have. Players give each other clues as to what’s in their hands. They work together to make “fireworks,” or sets of numbers and colors before time runs out. Hanabi won’t take up any space in your bag and is perfect for airport delays. $10 at Amazon.
Do guessing games usually make you fall asleep, one cheek pressed against the car window, drool adhering your face to the glass? Well, don’t worry; that won’t be a problem here. Botticelli is a two-way guessing game, so the clue-giver has something to guess as well. You can’t just robotically give yes-or-no answers! To start: Player A thinks of a famous person — say, James Dean — and says, “I am a person whose last name begins with D.” And the other players take turns posing questions about (any) other famous persons whose last name begins with D.
For example, Player B asks, “Are you a famous cartoon waterfowl?” And if the clue-giver says, “No, I am not Donald Duck,” Player C is then allowed to ask a question (or Player B again, if there are only two people). If Player A can’t figure out that Player B is hinting at Donald Duck, he says “I give up” and must answer one yes-or-no question, like, “Are you alive?” (James Dean is dead, so, “no.”) In this fashion, the two sides try to stump each other and Players B, C, etc., glean information about James Dean.
19. Six-Word Memoir
Each player has to sum up their life in a memoir of exactly six words, like “Hey, Where’d These Kids Come From,” or “Don Henley Stole My Country Song.”
20. Twenty-Five Letters
Need a pen-and-paper game for the airplane tray table? Look no further. Draw a five-by-five grid (25 squares total) on two sheets of paper and give each player one. The players take turns calling out letters — any letters — one at a time. You may repeat letters. You plot the letters wherever you want on your grid while keeping your grid concealed. Players try to make words. After 25 letters, count your words (formed vertically or horizontally). Five-letter words are 10 points, four-letter words are five points, and three-letter words are three points. Words-within-words count twice, so “can” counts as a word, as does “scan” and “scant.”
21. Alternative Song Titles
Think of a well-known song, like “Silent Night.” Then make up a synonym for each word. The first player to guess the song wins. So, in this case, it might be “Nocturnal Time Completely Lacking Noise.”
A good game for the littlest gamers in your life — say, three to six years old — Yikerz! will fit in your pocket. It’s perfect either for an airplane tray table or while you’re waiting for your eggs at the hotel restaurant. Each player starts with a handful of magnets. Players take turns placing them on the playing pad. If the magnet you place grabs any others, you have to take all the pieces it grabbed. (The object is to get rid of your magnets.) The first one with no playing pieces wins. $14.99 at Amazon.
23. Famous Last Words
Players take turns concocting outlandish “famous last words,” like, “Ho, hum, I think I’ll just lean over this piranha pit for a closer look…” And then everyone yells FAMOUS LAST WORDS!
24. Word Logic
Word Logic is both a word game and a deduction game. Player one writes down a secret five-letter word in which no letters are repeated, like other. Player two guesses any five-letter word, say, whack. Player one then reports how many of the letters, if any, in that word are in his secret word. (In this case, one, because h is in both whack and other.) Player 2 now knows that w, h, a, c, or k is in the word and makes her next guess accordingly. Continue until Player two guesses the word, then switch. Whoever guesses the other’s word in the fewest tries wins.
25. Dots and Boxes
Draw a four-by-four grid of dots for 16 dots total. Players take turns drawing a line from one dot to another. Each time a player closes a square, they mark their initials in it. At the end of the game, whoever captures the most boxes wins.
This game begins with a rhythm that goes slap, slap (on the knees), and snap, snap. Everyone makes the beat, except for the driver of course. The leader of the game sets the pace, and the goal is to take their spot. The leader picks the category, and everyone must add to the list on beat. For example, if the category is “names,” the first person would say “Ashely” and the person next to them would go “Diana.” Keep going around the circle (or car) until someone hesitates or goes offbeat.
27. License Plate Game
This is not only a great way to teach kids the 50 states, but a sure-fire way to keep children quiet in the car. As you drive along, each player must be on the lookout for cars with license plates from different states. They may have a hard time finding cars from Alaska and Hawaii, but the person with the most states on their list wins!
28. The Quiet Game
Probably one of the hardest things to do is to stay quiet when being told to keep silent. In the quiet game you cannot speak, laugh, grunt, burp, or make any noises with your body. You can up the ante of the game by making other players laugh by making funny faces or sending hilarious and unexpected gifs to others.
29. Catch that Phrase
If you’re in tune with the shows your kids watch, try this game to keep them from boredom. Say a line from their favorite show or movie, and the first person to say the show and character wins. Each person will have a turn to say a line, and the person who guesses the most correctly wins the game!
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