Zero-technology road trip games used to be the only entertainment during long family road trips. In many families, these games have taken a backseat to onboard DVD players and handheld electronic devices like tablets and portable video game players.
Classic road trip games offer some benefits over these new technologies. The games provide opportunities for family members to interact and get to know one another better. They’re often educational and foster critical thinking. Additionally, they cost much less than electronic devices (they’re often free!) and you don’t have to worry about them breaking or getting too hot if left in the car.
Whether you don’t have access to new technologies or you want to minimize your family’s use of them, consider playing some of these time-tested road trip games during your family’s next road trip.
Before you leave on your trip, choose a word that will be “taboo” for the entire trip. Choose a somewhat common word like “hungry,” “mom,” or “tired.” Give each member of the family 10-20 clothespins. When someone says the taboo word, another family member can say “Buzz!” and collect one of his or her clothespins. The family member with the most clothespins at the end of the trip wins.
Mad Libs have always been a personal favorite of mine. They are a type of word game. Prewritten short stories have various words missing. Words to fill in these blanks are elicited from those playing the game by prompting them with the type of word needed (e.g., verb, noun, exclamation, adverb). The completed story is then read. Given that participants are not provided with context when they are prompted for words, the results are often hilarious!
One family member looks around and chooses an object that the others have to guess. The only clue he or she provides is this: “I spy with my little eye something that begins with ___ (insert the first letter of the object’s name).” The clue can also be the object’s color, which is more suitable if you have younger children participating. The family member who guesses the correct object gets to go next. Be sure to spy something that will stay within sight for a time (e.g., a distant mountain range, a forest), because an object that whizzes by and is then out of sight will be very difficult to guess.
Before leaving on a trip, select a number of words that can be used in a spelling bee. You may need to select sets of words that are suitable for younger, middle, and older family members. One at a time, prompt family members with words. A correctly spelled word earns a participant a place in the next round. An incorrectly spelled word means he or she is eliminated from the competition. Keep going until you have a winner.
Ice Breakers or Conversation Starters
There are a number of card sets available that feature conversation starters (see examples here and here). These are great because they get your family talking about topics that likely would not come up in the course of everyday activities. Hours of entertaining and insightful conversation often result when these cards are used.
I can remember passing hours of time playing this game as a kid! One family member thinks of something. Just about anything will work (a famous person, a toy, a household object, an animal, etc.). Family members then try to discover what thing is being thought of by asking yes or no questions. For example, you could ask “Will it fit in this car?” or “Is it alive?” Family members can guess if they think they know the answer. Once 20 questions have been asked, everyone has one last chance to guess before the thing is revealed. Another family members then starts a fresh round.
Road Trip Bingo
A simple bingo game can make the passing scenes more interesting for kids. You can make your own game or print copies of one that is available online, such as this one at Thirty Handmade Days.
Slug Bug or Punch Buggy
I don’t know if this really constitutes a game, but if you grew up in my generation, chances are you’re familiar with the concept. Every time a family member sees a Volkswagen Bug, he or she punches his or her seatmate. As you can imagine, this punching can get out of control pretty quickly, so you might want to keep score some other way, such as by tapping your seat mate or counting on your fingers.
One family member makes an “unfortunate” statement. For example, you might say, “Unfortunately, the museum we were going to visit burnt down.” Another family member will counter this with a “fortunate” statement. For example, your daughter might answer, “Fortunately, all of the expensive works of art were out for repairs.” This game provides an opportunity to think critically and positively. Exaggerated and silly statements make the game especially fun!
Would You Rather?
Family members take turns asking “Would you rather…?” questions that each member of the family must answer. The questions can be simple (“Would you rather eat a hamburger or hot dog?”), complex (“Would you rather have dinner with your great-grandparents or your great-grandkids?”), or silly (“Would you rather bathe in a tub of pudding or Jell-O?”). This game can be very eye-opening! If it’s hard to come up with questions on the spot, you can get a book of questions. Some of the questions in these books can be somewhat gross (teens and boys really enjoy them!), so you might censor the questions if your kiddos are still young.
The Alphabet Hunt or Where’s the Alphabet?
Family members utilize road signs, billboards, restaurant names, and other scenery to find objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order. If someone spots an airplane, there’s your A. If someone sees a Burger King, there’s your B. You’ll continue all the way to the letter Z. Because the scenery changes, you can play this game over and over again.
This game is very simple, so it’s especially suitable for younger family members. You count things along the road. You can count convertibles, cows, trains, blue cars, barns, etc. Any object you see repeatedly can be counted.
Name That Tune
Each family member takes turns singing, whistling, or humming well-known songs. The rest of the group tries to guess the songs. The first family member to guess correctly scores a point. The family member with the most points at the end of the game wins. If you’re having trouble guessing the songs, then it might be helpful to choose a theme (e.g., Christmas songs, TV themes) so the song possibilities are limited.
The Picnic Game or The Grocery Game
One family member says, “I went on a picnic Saturday and I brought ________ (some item that begins with the letter A, such as apples)”. The next family member says the opening phrase (“I went on a picnic Saturday and I brought…”) and repeats the A item and adds a B item (“…apples and beans.”). The third family member repeats the opening phrase, the A and B items, and then adds something that begins with C. You continue all the way through Z! Some families use “I went to the grocery store yesterday and I bought…” as the opening phrase instead of the picnic phrase. Either works just fine or you can come up with your own. Family members will likely have to help one another complete this excellent memory game.
One family member begins by creating the first line of a story (“Once upon a time there lived a young prince…”). Family members then each contribute to the story one line at a time until a full-length story has been created. If you have older kids or lots of adults in the vehicle, you can make the storytelling more challenging by making a rule that each line must rhyme. Younger kids can use Crayons and paper to illustrate the story.
I Wonder Where That Car is Going?
As you drive along the road, choose interesting vehicles and make up stories about where the vehicles and their passengers are going. Silly, unbelievable stories can be quite entertaining!
Brain Quest is an educational question-and-answer game contained on cards that are conveniently bound in one corner. Most sets are designed for particular ages/grades (e.g., kindergarten), but some are based on particular themes (e.g., For the Car). These can occupy hours of time!
The License Plate Game
Watch the license plates of passing cars and make a list of those you see. Try to find license plates from all 50 states. To make the game more interesting, have goals and prizes, such as a special snack when someone finds a license plate from Mexico or Canada.
Provide each child with a simple journal to document the trip. They can draw pictures of landmarks and collect souvenirs (e.g., flowers, small seashells, postcards, stickers) to glue in the journal.
I hope some of these games work for your family as you travel this summer! What games have I missed? What other games do you play during road trips?
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