Road trip games can save your sanity when the path is winding and there is no end in sight. As a family of five, we often travel by car, and although I do allow my kids screen time on long car rides, playing travel games can make memories along the way, and many have a hidden educational agenda too.
We’ve done the bulk of the work for you with this list of 45+ awesome travel games. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know.
As believers in the power of child-led learning, we’ve homeschooled our kids their whole lives while we travel near and far. When you embrace the idea that there is learning in every aspect of life – not just in the four walls of a school – then every day is an educational adventure.
Yes, even on a summer road trip.
Our summer on the road has been powered by Osmo. Why? Learning through play lets my boys build confidence and enhance their creativity. It’s a unique way for us to spend focused time together. And when we combine it with occasional screen time it’s a win-win. Yes, the boys play on electronics, but with Osmo’s unique, hands-on tangible components there is zero parent-guilt when I send them off with screens for independent learning time (eg. a much-needed parenting break).
BEST ROAD TRIP GAMES USING ONLY YOUR IMAGINATION
- I’m going on a picnic. This game used to confuse me, but now I think I've got it! Here's the gist: you can go on a picnic and take something that begins with the first letter of of the alphabet. The next person repeats all the previous letters, and then adds an item that corresponds to the next letter. If you're the fourth person in the game, you might have to say, "I'm going on a picnic and I 'm bringing an apple, a bronco, a candle and a dog. Not only is this our favorite road trip game, it's also the one we play in restaurants that take a while to bring out the food!
- Would you Rather. You can learn a lot about your car mates with this car game. Would you rather…jump off a cliff or eat a spider? Come up with your own questions, or purchase a deck of cards that will do it for you.
- 20 Questions. You have 20 questions to figure out what somebody else in the car is thinking. Start broad and get more specific as you go – Is it an animal, vegetable or mineral? Is it furry, green, or hard?
- I-Spy. Sharpen your kids power of perception with this game. Find something and have them guess what it is you found. Give the kids clues until they figure it out. I spy with my little eye….something blue. Round. Smooth. Remember, you can only ask yes or no questions! You can also get I-Spy books.
- Fortunately/Unfortunately. This one is pretty simple and fun. It’s a progressive story with a catch – each person adds a sentence to the story, but must start that sentence with fortunately or unfortunately, alternating as you go. So Jim went to the store for a drink. Unfortunately it was closed. Fortunately he found a soda machine. Unfortunately it didn’t take dollar bills. Keep alternating fortunate and unfortunate situations. You get the idea.
- Word Association. What do you think of when I say Spiderman? That’s how you start word association. The first person says something and the next person has three seconds to associate the word with something else. So, Spiderman, Batman, Robin, Bird, parakeet, pet. See? If someone takes longer than three seconds, or the word they say doesn’t make sense, they are out.
- Cows on my Side. This one is my father’s favorite game. It also sharpens your math skills. Count the cows on your side of the road. Pass a cemetery, lose all your cows and start over.
- Name that Tune. For the musically inclined family, hum a little tune. Can you guess this tune in 10 notes? 5? The person who can name that tune in the fewest notes wins.
- Rock, paper, scissors. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and my kids can play forever. Pound your fist three times than come up with a fist for rock, index and middle finger for scissors and a flat hand for paper. Rock crushes scissors. Scissors cut paper. Paper covers rock.
- Team Story Telling. One of my favorite memories with my kids was telling a progressive story around the campfire. It involved an elephant that laid cheesecake eggs. To play this game, have one person start the story and then the next has to pick up where they left off. You never know where things will go.
- Slug Bug. Punch buggy. Beetle. Lesli’s kids call it Slug Bug. My boys say Punch Buggy. When I was little my brother and I called it Beetle. No matter what you call it, this road trip game is all about spotting Volkswagen Bug cars. My boys have added elements too, like ‘punch buggy, no punch backs” then “security safe in a shell,’ whatever that means. And for some reason, a convertible is worth two punches. Unless my husband is involved and he says it only counts as one and vintage bugs are the only thing that counts as two.
- Who am I? This is a guessing game where players use yes and no questions to guess the identity of a famous person. So you might ask Is it a woman? No. Was he ever president? Yes. Was he a general? Yes Did he live in Virginia? Yes. Is he George Washington? Yes.
- Animal Name Game. Each person says their name and an animal that starts with the same name (Sue the salamander). The next person says all the names before them and adds their own. If they mess up – the game starts a new.
- Alphabet Game. This classic road trip game is a fun game to play for all ages, because anyone can play as long as they can identify letters A-Z outside their window! The game is played by finding all 26 letters of the alphabet on things that you pass as you are going down the highway, in order, from A to Z. Check out billboards, roadside signs, license plates, restaurant signs -- anything! -- and once you see the next letter, call it out. You can work together as a group, and play as long as you want.
- Telephone. Tell the person next to you a secret, and have them pass it on. When it gets to the driver, have him say it out loud. You’ll laugh at how the message has changed.
- License Plate Game. You can play this a number of ways. Go through the alphabet A-Z or Z-A using the letters on the license plates you pass on the road. For more advanced players, try to spell words. You can also do this with road signs.
- City, Country, River. Pick a letter from the alphabet and come up with a city, country and river that start with the letter. For example ‘S’ could be City: Salzburg, Country: Sweden, River: Shenandoah.
- Bob the Memory Builder. Can you remember all the items needed at the store? The first person goes to the store and gets something that begins with A - probably apples. The second person goes to the store and gets apples, but also something that begins with B - bananas anyone? The third person goes to the store and gets apples, bananas and so on.
- How Long is the Tunnel. When I was a kid we visited my grandparents in NYC and always had to go through the Holland Tunnel. Right before we'd all pick a number, then as soon as we got into the tunnel, we'd start to count. Whoever got closest without going over won. Of course, my brother the cheater would always slow down or speed up so he'd be the winner. This is one of my favorite games to play with my kids.
- First One to See it Gets a Nickel. This game is quick and works best on familiar routes. My father would announce the first person to see the Delaware Memorial Bridge gets a nickel. (Not sure how many kids would do anything for a nickel now, so you may want to up that amount.) Of course, my dad knew exactly where to look and was the first to find it every time, but we always looked and it broke up the boredom for a tiny bit.
Need help packing? Try this Road Trip Essentials List from my friend Kim.
FUN ROAD TRIP CAR GAMES THAT ONLY REQUIRE PEN AND PAPER
- Tic Tac Toe. Go first and start in the corners and you’ll win every time. If you don't want to have a pen in the car, you can try this magnetic version.
- Connect the Dots. This was always one of my favorite games and you can make the board as big or small as you want. Just put dots in rows and try to make a box. When you do, put your initial inside. As long as you can make a box, you keep going. Person with the most boxes wins.
- Hangman. The most fun you can have playing with stick figures. Tip: ask for vowels first. If you don't want to do pencil and paper, this travel hangman set by Melissa and Doug keeps all the pieces in one place, and is durable enough to withstand being stepped on in the car. This is a great word game to challenge kids at all levels (or learn a new language!)
- Road Sign Bingo. Before heading out on your trip, print out several Bingo Sheets with road signs on them. Be careful to make sure they are all different. You don’t want to do what I did once and print off one and make copies. As you see the signs on your road trip, cross them off. First person to get an entire row wins. If you want keep going and have the full card be a winner. Don’t want to print out copies, you can purchase a Road Sign Bingo game.
- Cootie Catcher Fortune Teller. OMG my kids LOVED these. Once they learned how to make them, it was a constant – “Mom, pick a number.” Here is a template for making your own fortune teller. If you don’t want to do that, here are some pre-made fortune tellers.
- Battleship. This two player game is perfect for the back seat. Take along some graph paper and label across with letters and down with numbers, then draw your ships on the board. See who can sink the others battleships first. The Hasbro Battleship game is also pretty portable, but all those pegs could be an issue in the car.
Note: Looking for some games that will work once you arrive at your destination? Check out 100 Games to Play on a Family Vacation from our friend Kirsten.
FAMILY ROAD TRIPS GAME PURCHASES YOU WON'T REGRET
- Mad Libs. This is one of my favorites! Not only is it hysterical to read the stories, but kids learn the parts of speech. You can find a Mad Libs for any interest as a road trip car game. My boys love the Star Wars-themed ones.
- Travel Bingo. Take the classic bingo game on your road trip with special auto bingo cards. Each card has a slide close, so you don't have any pieces to worry about, and instead of numbers and letters, you are looking for roadside features like a church or a school.
- Travel Doodle. The pen is attached to the board, so there are no parts to lose. Kids can draw whatever they like, then swipe right to erase it and start over.
- Travel Memory. My kids and I used to love to play the memory match game. Toymakers Melissa and Doug have created a mobile version that is a bingo type gameboard with squares that slide back. If you make a match, leave the slider open.
- Sticker Books. Kids love stickers. You can get books that will tell a story, or just books with their favorite characters. I’ve found a plain sheet of paper works well too.
- Colorforms. Don’t want stickers stuck all over your car? Try colorforms. These plastic ‘stickers’ don’t have an adhesive side so they adhere to the colorforms board, but don’t get stuck on anything else.
- Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Games. Go on a scavenger hunt right in your car. Find a red car, a stop sign, the letter Z.
- Spot It! On the road. Spot It! is one of our favorite games and we play it with just adults too. This simple card game uses symbols, no words, so even small children can play. There are five games you can play with one set of cards, but our favorite is just spotting the symbol that matches. Sounds easy, but not so much.
- Personalogy. Not all card games are for kids. Personalogy is like the Newlywed game on the road. Predict your opponents answers to questions and you win. So If your opponent could be a fly on the wall - which event would they listen in on and why? a. A war room plotting the capture of Osama Bin Laden. b. The birth of Prince William and Kate's son? c. Michael Jackson's last concert rehearsal d. Judges panel of a finale of a reality show?
- IQFit. For the real brainiac in your crowd. IQ fit has brain-teasing challenges that are compact and travel well.
- Travel Chess. Although this game has a lot of pieces, they are magnetized, so they stay on the game board. You can also get Travel Checkers and Travel Backgammon too.
- KnockKnock Game Pads. Knock Knock has different game pads that include Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe or connect the dots. It's old school fun, and you don't have to spend 15 minutes drawing dots before you can play.
- Travel Boggle. My mother always loved games where you had to create words. Boggle is compact game where you find as many words as you can.
- Mazes. I always like to follow the mazes. This book will keep you busy for hours with simple, and more intricate mazes.
- Hidden Pictures. My absolute FAVORITE feature of every Highlights magazine is the hidden picture puzzles. I used to skip right to that page every month when our magazine came. Now you can get entire books of JUST the hidden pictures
- Loaded Questions. There are versions for kids, for juniors and even adults only - perfect for a girls weekend road trip. This game isn't a trivia game (thank goodness, I'm horrid at trivia) but simple questions like - What super power isn't so super? Hmm, maybe the ability to freeze things? Seemed to get Elsa in a lot of trouble.
- Table Topics. This one is another question game, but there are no hidden agendas, or questions to elicit weird answers, just general conversation starters, like what was your all-time favorite vacation?
- Tangrams. This is a great game for understanding shapes. Make different pictures using the shapes provided. Each shape is magnetized so it sticks to the book.
- Simon. This game is fun, and easy to pass around the backseat. It's a memory game that uses electronic lights. Just be sure to bring extra batteries.
ROAD TRIP BOOKS
- Where's Waldo. If your kids can read in the car, the Where's Waldo books are a great way to pass the time. And it's a fun challenge, no matter your age. Perhaps I like these so much because I'm such a fan of the hidden picture books.
- LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary. If your kids get sick reading in the car, or are too young to read yet, try getting books from the former Reading Rainbow host. For adults you might want to try LeVar Burton's podcast - billed as Reading Rainbow for adults.
- Audible. Lately I've found that books on tape keep me glued to the car seat even after we've reached our destination. If you download audible, Amazon has a special where you can Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks. In addition to adult titles, they also have children's books, as well as popular young adult series.
And if you need a break on your road trip, here are some ideas to find the perfect pit stop.
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