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Family road trips are excellent opportunities for bonding, storytelling, and making memories before the vacation begins. But they can quickly turn into a nightmare without a good list of on the road games to keep busy! From classics such as “I Spy” and “G-H-O-S-T” to newbies such as “What Am I Counting” and “In My Suitcase,” you’ll want to take note of these fun, interactive family road trip games that will help to break the bickering, quell the quarreling, and slash the screen time.
Between our three kids bickering in the backseat before we get out of the neighborhood, four of of us being very prone to carsickness, and at least one of us being short on patience when we just want to get to our destination, road tripping to a family vacation is never our first choice.
Sometimes though, flying just doesn’t make sense (like a vacation plan to visit US national parks), and we find ourselves heading out on a road trip. In fact, this has more so been the case following the recent pandemic. When faced with such a predicament (she says, as she imagines several people completely baffled because they just love driving across the country together…), I know that our best chance of arriving in one piece is by having plenty to do to fight off the choruses of “I’m so booooooored,” and “Are we there yet?!” We blast great road trip songs and play road trip games. Playing road trip games as a family leads to great conversations and memory-making, even before the family vacation really begins.
Sometimes the best car games for kids are the old standby road trip games like Twenty Questions, License Plate, Scavenger Hunt, I Spy, the Memory Game or any version of an alphabet game. But let’s be honest – sometimes those aren’t enough to maintain the family’s sanity for a several-hour trip.
Before you break out the iPad and launch the video games or another movie for the kids to watch just so you can drive in peace for the next hour or so, check out these fun car games, some of which might be new to you!
Did you know we have more than 100 great road trip ideas and tips? Read them here!
SheBuysTravel tip: In addition to helping in the car, these travel games – by their very nature – are great for keeping kids entertained just about anywhere. We go straight to a few of them when in lines at our local theme parks, sitting in waiting rooms, and even at the dinner table! Many of them make excellent conversation starters, even with older kids.
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Fun Car Games for the Whole Family
Don’t forget some tried and true road trip supplies, like crayons and coloring books, stickers and sticker books, and plain old paper and pencils for playing DIY games like hangman or tic-tac-toe. They’re great for keeping kids happy during a little quiet time when that favorite Dad game, “Let’s see who can be quiet the longest” just isn’t working anymore.
When you’re ready to tune in to the family and get everyone engaged in some fun car games, bonus points for being flexible about the rules. While that’s true for road trip games in general, it’s especially useful if you have young kids along for the ride!
When you get to make the rules, you can kick someone out if they break the streak and play until one player remains. Or you can give a certain number of “strikes” before someone is out. Or you can all agree to work as a family to see how much you can accomplish together.
Each of the kid-friendly car games on our list can be played by just about anyone – from toddlers to grandparents!
Car Ride Games for Little Ones
Even little ones in car seats can play these fun car games:
With preschoolers in car seats, it’s best to keep the I Spy game to things they can see inside the car. You know the kids have their favorite Hot Wheels cars in the back seat with them, so you say “I spy something that is blue and small” and the kids say, “my car!”
What Color Is It?
The adults recite a list of things in the same color until the kids guess what color. For example, you say “Bananas, sun, corn, our kitchen walls” and the kids say “Yellow!”
Back-to-School Car Games for Kids
Kids who know their ABCs can play these fun games.
Category ABCs – Basic
In this name game, the first player chooses a category and names something in that category that starts with the letter A. The next person answers something still in the category beginning with B, and so on, until someone is stumped.
Example, for the category “Famous People:”
Category ABCs – Before and After
The variation we play most often involves (just a little) more strategy. Once again, the first person has to name something that fits a category – this time beginning with any letter they choose. The following person continues in the same category, naming something that begins with the last letter of the previous word.
For example, if the category is “animals,” the first player might say “duck.” The next person must name another animal starting with the last letter of the previous animal. In this case, “K” is the last letter in duck, so the next player might say “kangaroo.”
In My Suitcase
A popular camp game (sometimes known as “I’m going on a picnic…”), this car game for kids is actually a memory game!
The first person starts by saying, “I’m going on a vacation, and I packed… [an item that begins with the letter A].” The second person repeats the sentence, repeats what the first person is bringing, and adds an object starting with the letter B. This continues with everyone repeating all of the previous items, before adding an item that begins with the next letter of the alphabet. See if you can get all the way from A to Z, or who forgets an item the quickest!
“I’m going on vacation, and I packed an apple.”
“I’m going on vacation, and I packed an apple and a baseball.”
“I’m going on vacation, and I packed an apple, a baseball, and a cookie.”
What am I Counting?
This guessing game is a new suggestion to me, and I can’t wait to try it out with my family! One person starts counting something out loud as they see it… but they don’t tell anyone what they are counting. Are they counting quickly as they pass car after car on the highway? Is the counting consistently spread out, like they may be counting exit signs or traffic lights? The rest of the players have to figure out what they are counting. It sounds like a variation on I Spy, and I think my kids will love it!
Car Trip Scavenger Hunt
Make a list ahead of time, or check out this adorable card version of a classic scavenger hunt – taken on the road!
Read More: 30+ Fun Midwest Road Trip Destinations
Photo credit: Pixabay
Road Trip Games for Older Kids
Name the Most!
Similar to Category ABCs (above) and a bit like “Name that Tune” (in structure), this version of the family game takes things a step or two further. It’s also a bit more competitive, for the family members who only like games with winners and losers!
Someone (feel free to take turns or rope in someone who doesn’t necessarily want to play…) begins by naming a category. The remaining players then have to wager how many items in the category they can name. Once one player feels like they couldn’t outdo the other, they challenge their opponent to, “Name them!”
The opponent then has to do just that; you can decide whether to time the responses (I suggest 5 seconds per attempted response). If the player is successful, award that person the same number of points as the number of responses they gave. If they fail to reach their goal, nobody receives any points!
Don’t know where to start? How about these ideas:
- 50 states
- US Presidents
- African countries
- Works of Shakespeare
- Star Wars or Disney characters from a particular movie
- Names of stars in our galaxy.
20 Math Questions
I admit this one may take a little more persuasion if your kids don’t love math. Mine do (they come by it naturally…), so I’m including it.
Have a parent or other adult think of a number between 1 and 100. The kid(s) then ask math-related, yes-or-no questions such as, “Is your number odd? Is it a multiple of 5? Is it greater than 50? etc.” to figure out your number. Feel free to give them a paper and pen so they can keep track… but no calculators!
The License Plate Game – and Variations
You may already play what we call simply “The License Plate Game.” This is where you see how many different United States license plates you can “collect” on a road trip, during summer, or during a calendar year. There are other fun variations you can also try!
Work as a team or against one another to find the numbers 0-9 and/or letters A-Z in order – either on license plates or anywhere outside the vehicle (including road signs, etc).
This classic word game gets its name much like the basketball trick shot game called “HORSE.” A person earns a letter (G-H-O-S and then T) by losing a round of gameplay. Scoring “GHOST” eliminates that player, or turns that player into a “ghost.”
To begin, one person says any letter. The next player adds a letter that does not make a 2-letter word, but is a fragment of an actual word. (For example, a round cannot start “Z” and then “F”, since “Z-F” is not the beginning of any real word in the English language.)
Each person in turn adds a letter, being careful not to actually complete any word. In order for gameplay to really work, a minimum is established before play of what word length must be reached before a player is “awarded” a letter. We typically say that a three-letter word does not give a player a letter, but anything larger does. So for example, if the letters in play are C-A-R, the player who added the R to form “car” is not out. The fourth letter, however, should not be “D”, “E”, or “T”, because those form card, care, and cart, all complete, 4-letter words. The player could instead say “R”, thinking of perhaps “carriage” or “carrot.”
If a player cannot think of a letter that does not complete a word – or says a letter that the group agrees cannot be part of a valid word – that player loses the round and gets awarded a letter. Play continues until one champion is left standing.
Read More: Fun Disney-Themed Road Trip Games
Great Road Trip Games for Tweens, Teens, and Adults
These road trip car games require just a little bit more knowledge than the alphabet and counting games. I think they’re even cool enough road trip games for tweens and teens to get involved!
Hum that Tune
One player starts the game by humming a well-known song. The first person to guess the tune correctly gets to be the next “hummer.” It sounds super simple, but it’s often trickier than it seems!
This is another great one for a family of music lovers! First, one person sings (yes, sings!) a line of a song. Where they leave off, the next person has to connect it with another song lyric. Play continues until someone messes up or is stuck.
“it’s a small world after all…”
“All of me loves all of you…”
“You make me feel like a natural woman…”
Six Degrees of Movie Fun
To begin this one, one family member names any actor. The next person names a movie the actor was in. The following person names someone else in that movie that hasn’t already been said, and so on – going back and forth between movie titles and actors until someone is unable to answer.
Collaborative Car Ride Games and Other Ways to Pass the Time
These are activities that are less of a competition and more of a time-filler, like exercising in the car. They’re lots of fun and great ways to pass the time on your drive!
Miles of Smiles
From a fun road trip book of the same name, Miles of Smiles is simple. Everyone in the car smiles his or her biggest, cheesiest smile at passing drivers; keep track of how many smile back. Waving is allowed, but no silly faces!
Would You Rather…?
A simple question asks what someone would choose given two options… and often starts a lively discussion. You can purchase “Would You Rather” game cards with preprinted scenarios, or make up your own!
- Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?
- Would you rather speak every language in the world or play every instrument?
- Would you rather have feet for hands or hands for feet?
This old improv game has provided plenty of laughs for our family. One person starts the story with a simple opening sentence. The next person builds on the story by saying, “Fortunately…. [something fortunate happened].” Person 3 follows by saying something unfortunate that could occur in the previous situation. Moving person-to-person, switch between fortunate and unfortunate situations. Be warned though, the stories can get pretty silly, pretty quickly!
I’m going drag racing!
Unfortunately, my race car is more like a go-kart.
Fortunately, I have a need for speed.
Unfortunately, the race track would be better suited for a grand prix.
Fortunately, I practiced off the road on a racing simulator.
Unfortunately, my top speed was only 30mph and I was crushed by a monster truck driven by a zombie.
Build Anticipation about Your Destination
If your passengers don’t get car sick while reading, books about the place you’re traveling can help raise excitement while getting to your destination. Find books with great pictures for non-readers, books set in a particular destination or biographies of people from the area for school-age kids, and “grown-up” guide books or tweens and teens. If car sickness is an issue, choose audiobooks instead. Alternatively, watching movies (on your built-in or after market DVD player) set in the place you’re going can make it seem more real and build anticipation.
Record Your Journey
There are lots of great travel journals available, for kids of all ages – and kids at heart. Traveling offers plenty of opportunities to write down experiences, memories, or even life lessons. Even those of us who don’t usually journal might take the opportunity to do so when away from home!
Listen to Audiobooks and Podcasts
Just about every time we’re in the car, my kids and I listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Not only does the time seem to pass more quickly without as many whines of “Are we there yet?” but it’s usually pretty quiet if they’re engaged in the story. And, the whole family experiences new books, classic novels, learns something on a podcast, and more. Win-win-win!
Mad Libs and Other Puzzle Games
Mad Libs are a classic, dare I say, All-American way to pass time as a family. The books come in countless varieties, on just about any topic you could want. They even help kids reinforce their parts of speech, so they’re learning – perhaps without even noticing!
Whatever car games your family chooses, here’s hoping they keep the fighting at bay for like… a whole 20 minutes! Maybe, just maybe, this will even turn out to be your best road trip ever.
This will be a lifesaver for many!
andrea everhart says
Really could have used these a few years ago on our NC to Cali and back to NC in 15 days with 3 kids under 12. What were we thinking?!?! Great fun though. Heading to Yellowstone this summer so we’ll be playing ALL of the above games. Another one that we like is simply finding all the letters of the alphabet in order on road signs etc. (but not license plates–that makes it too easy!). Thanks for the ideas!
Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding SheBuysTravel says
Oh, that’s another great one for sure! I totally agree about license plates though, even things like Q and J become too easy when you allow them! 🙂 That is a CRAZY long trip with 3 little ones… but I bet you have some great memories! 🙂