Car Travel Games for Kids
by Laurel Smith (Road Trip Mom)
Taking a car trip with your kids is a wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time with them, away from other daily distractions. A little undivided attention from Mom or Dad can go a long way toward a little person's happiness. It's sometimes nice to sit in the back of the van with your kids while dad is doing the driving and play these car trip travel games right along with them.
This is the most complete list of classic and contemporary car trip games and activities you'll find anywhere. It's all good fun to keep kids busy and happy in the car on a long trip. Included are many free printable games from this website as well as products that readers have recommended over the years. Everything here has been road tested!
This portable travel bed is wonderful for toddlers!
Travel Games, Activities, Car Games for Kids and Road Trip Games to Play in the Car:Give your kids an allowance for the day.
Tell them that this money is for snacks, treats, souvenirs etc... but when it is gone, that is all there is. Help them learn to budget their money and make good choices.
Let your children have a map
Also kids who are old enough to read can help you navigate with Travmatix.com. You can use this site to print driving directions along with a list of all the food, fuel and hotel options at every exit along your route. When they start getting hungry or need a break, have them check the list of what is available at upcoming exits!
MAKE your own "map" of where you are going.
Draw your own that has the major stops and cities, and a nice happy drawing for your final destination. Throw in a few simple drawings of landmarks you'll see along the way, such as a big bridge you'll or a mountain tunnel. A home made map is easy for kids to follow and gives them a clearer picture of how much further there is to go. If your kids are old enough and it's a trip that you take frequently, have the kids make their own map!
One child holds out his hand and closes his eyes while the other child "writes" on his hand with her finger. The first child has to guess what the second person is writing. Start with just letters, andd if it gets too easy, play with 2 or 3 letter words, pausing between letters. There's no winner or loser with this game. It can just go on continuously! (Submitted by reader Betsy C. --Thanks!)
Have bubble gum blowing contests
The weirder the gum the better. Get it at the rest areas and try all the different flavors.
The License Plate Game
Print a U.S. map off the computer and color in the states as you see license plates from each one. See if you can get all 50 states between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You might even record the time and date and the state where you saw it. This can be a family project as you build your "collection" of license plates together. Here's a printable page with a Checklist of US States to check off. Check out my article on how to play the License Plate Game
LICENSE PLATE GAME
Spot a license plate and call out the letters on it. Then everyone tries to come up with a different phrase using the letters in the order they appear on the license plate as the first letter of each word. For instance KEW could be "kittens eating watermelon" or "kiss every warthog." When you can't think of any more look for another license plate. (submitted by reader, Shirley --- Thanks!)
You just need a string or a piece of yarn for this one. See if you can make "Jacob's Ladder", "Kitty Whiskers", "Cup and Saucer", or play Cats Cradle! Here's a list of websites that have instructions and illustrations of all the old favorite string game figures and a new article with printable instructions and a video for How to Do Jacob's Ladder.
Teach your kids to play "Old Maid" or "Go Fish" or Crazy 8s! Here are some printable instructions for How to play Crazy 8s and Old Maid. Bring the rules with you on your trip, and don't forget the deck of cards!
Take turns telling silly jokes like Knock-knock jokes or riddles.
This is especially fun when the kids use their creativity to make up their own jokes. Even a two-year-old can tell jokes! They may not make sense, but they sure are hiliarious. If you need help getting started, good joke book for kids like these:
500 Hilarious Jokes for Kids -- paperback edition
Available at Amazon for about $4.99
The Everything Kids' Knock Knock Book
Jokes Guaranteed To Leave Your Friends In Stitches -- paperback edition
Available at Amazon for about $6.99
Car Travel Bingo
Travel Bingo boards that you flip the red area when you see the picture on the board. Look for them at dollar stores or Cracker Barrel. OR, try creating your own by writing words or simple pictures of roadside items or roadsigns. I have some readymade printable car bingo game posted at the Moms Minivan Printables page. OR, I finally found a place that sells the family classic Auto/Car Bingo online.
try playing regular old Classic
Bingo made For Travel.
Bigger kids love this one. The windows also slide shut so there are no loose pieces. Hold their interest with this one by offering a prize (lollipop!) to the winner, and play several games. Even the driver can "play" if someone else watches their card "for" them.
Virtual Hide and Seek
Pick a place inside your house to hide, and imagine you are there. You can be any size, so you can hide in the silverware drawer, inside the toilet, in the dryer, wherever you can imagine! The others ask yes/no questions only, ie "are you in the kitchen" until they narrow it down to the room, area and then....find you! Kids love this game because it's so fun to hide in places you'd not really fit into. You may have to clarify no hiding between walls and in plumbing! (Submitted by reader, Beth K. --Thanks!)
Board Games / Wipe Clean Games
Some of these are an all-in-one kind of game pack, others are just classics by themselves. The car versions are nice because they are small and compact, and have easy ways to store the pieces so they don't get lost.
12 Magnetic Games in One
All in one travel pack
One of my favorites. Count the cows you see on your side of the car. If you pass a field full of lots of cows, you'd better count fast! If you pass a cemetery on your side of the car, you lose all your cows, but only if the opposing team calls "your cows are buried!". This game gets interesting when distraction tactics are used to either cause your opponent to miss cows on their side of the road or to miss a cemetery on your side of the road. A white horse can count as a bonus. The team with the most cows wins. Here's an article I wrote about counting cows with some scoring ideas and cow jokes to tell while you play.
Count Other Stuff
Count blue vans, or count red cars, find 10 horses, count signs, billboards, police cars. Count water towers. How many people pass you on the highway? -- count them too!
Give each child a list of items to watch for while driving. The list can be made up ahead of time and adjusted for the scenery. Here's a sample printable list of items to hunt for!
There's a reason these games are classic -- they are fun! I could never count all the hours my family spent playing Monopoly in the car on road trips. It's my all time fave. (I was always the Banker!). Here are some suggestions for all-time classics that have travel versions so you can play in the car:
Monopoly -- Monopoly Junior -- Battleship -- ScrabbleThe Alphabet Game
Start with the letter "A" and find one on a sign, truck, building or license plate, say the word and then move on to the next letter. You can do this as a competition or together as a family for the younger beginning readers. The first one to get to the letter "Z" is the winner!
Another version of this game:
Someone picks a theme (foods, animals, places, girl names, boy names, bands, songs etc) and you pick an item that corresponds with each letter of the alphabet. You can do this several ways... We usually go Person 1: A, Person 2: B, Person 3: C, etc,. But you can do it where each person does A and then each person does B. If you want to get competitive about it, you can do one letter until someone can't think of an item, and that person loses that round! (Submitted by reader, Susan W. --Thanks!)
Read Out Loud
Don't overlook this extremely simple idea. This passes the time VERY quickly in the car for the reader and for the family members who are listening. Just be sure that the person reading isn't prone to car sickness. Great opportunity to read those Harry Potter Books as a family. If you can't find Harry Potter Books at the library, you can find lots of them dirt cheap at my favorite online bookstore:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone paperback edition 1999 (Get it at at Amazon only about $13.97)
Sing out loud from memory, or sing along to the radio, or an audio tape. Nothing makes families bond like singing together (you remember the Partridge family, right?). When you get through all 99 verses of 99 Bottles of Beer... you might like to try the next suggestion:
a good song book with all the lyrics.
It surprising how many songs you think you know that you don't really know all the words. Have a singing marathon and learn the old classics by heart.
|Song Book Suggestions:|
I also have posted lyrics to a few songs that will get you started in my article about singing songs on road trips!
Car-i-Oke ....lyrics AND music!
Can't get enough singing? Need the music to help you with the tune? All-American Car-i-Oke is recommended by a grandmother who described how this CD & songbook helped her and her grandchildren not only survive but also enjoy a six-hour car ride. It's a karaoke kit for the car that contains CDs, songbooks, funny lyrics and instructions on "seat dancing." I bought this one for my kids, and they totally love the Blues section where they get to make up their own lyrics to a blues song. Hilarious. I recently took a 700 mile drive and caught myself singing to this and the kids weren't even on the trip with me! ;-P
Make a Trip Journal or Scrapbook
Give everyone a big spiral bound sketch pad and a box of crayons or markers. Each day of the trip or for each event along the way, draw a picture of what you did that day, or draw a map of where you went, and write about it. You can also paste in souvenirs such as brochures, ticket stubs and other momentous. This is especially good for trips lasting more than a day. See my article on Creating a Travel Journal for Kids for more on this topic. It has photos of a journal I made when I was 9 years old.
You sank my battleship! Print this printable battleship game page to play this game just like you remember! You don't need to buy a store version of this when you print this version at home.
Every time a VW Bug comes into view, the first one to see it shouts "Slug Bug!" and slugs the person sitting next to you (Not too hard though!). Of course, these days in the politically correct atmosphere, we like to teach "non-violence", so instead of actual slugging, we do a symbolic slug and just say "Slug Bug! -- Gotcha!" You could also play "Hug Bug" and give someone a hug instead of a slug!
Write or Collect Postcards
Get postcards at your stops to document the trip, and to write back home to friends while you are gone. Bring stamps so you can drop them in the mail on the road so they will arrive at their destination before you return home.
Collect Things from all 50 states
Collect pins, hats, refrigerator magnets, spoons or postcards or some memorabilia from each state you visit and attach to your luggage or for a special display or for part of your trip journal.
Make up a short story and ask another person to fill in the blanks with nouns, adjectives, colors, places, etc. Now read the story with their words. It's hilarious! The story comes out different every time. Can't think of a story on your own? You can find them in books - Try the Mad Libs Vacation Pack. Be sure to SAVE your madlib stories for future trips. Sometimes they are even funnier to read the second time around!
Rest Stop Athletics
Keep a frisbee or jump rope in the back of your van, along with a picnic blanket so when you stop at a rest area, everyone can run and be free and stretch their legs.
Give everyone a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them mold it into anything they want: animal shapes, Frisbees, balls, jewelry, crowns, headband, necklaces and masks. Be creative. Also a great activity for toddlers. For more ideas read this article I wrote about fun with aluminum foil!
Road Role Play - Travel with a Theme
Be pirates for your entire journey. Talk like pirates, dress like pirates (easier than you think), sing pirate songs, play pirate games, watch pirate movies, listen to pirate music. See my article "Pirates of the Caravan" for lots of ideas on how to be like Roger and have a jolly good time in the car.
A twist on the usual counting games. Choose a couple of types of vehicles to count such as VW Bugs and and motorcycles. Tally them on a clip board or in a travel journal and break them down by color. At the start of the trip, have the kids guess which will be the most popular colors for each vehicle. One reader notes that on a particular trip, her kids learned that most motorcycle drivers prefer black, while the Bug drivers preferred silver. (submitted by reader Susan L. -- Thanks!)
The classic game. Players each have one palm face up and lay their fist on it. As they count to three, they pound their fist into their hand. On "three", they turn the fist into the object of their choice. There are three to choose from: rock (a closed fist), paper (an open palm), or scissors (two fingers in a sideways V shape). A rock wins by crushing scissors, paper wins by covering the rock, and scissors win by cutting paper. If they both come up with the same shape, they go again.
To add variety and interest to the standard version of this game, try a new version that was invented in 1995. It's called Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. Once you try this version, you may never go back to the old one!
Road Trip Math
Help your children figure out the gas mileage you've been getting. Have them calculate how long it will take to get to your destination given your average speed. Have them predict how much it will cost to fill up the tank at the next gas station based on the price per gallon. Have them read a map and figure the distance to your destination by road vs as -the-crow-flies.
Pipe Cleaner Creatures
Use fuzzy pipe cleaners to create all kinds of creatures that kids can also use for creative play. This activity kept my daughters busy for two hours on a recent trip! See this article for pipe cleaner craft ideas!
Practice a Foreign Language
The car is a great place to practice speaking a new language, especially since you have a captive audience and lots of stuff to look at for learning vocabulary. Try this -- For the next 10 miles, everyone in the car may only speak Spanish (or French, or whatever)! Point out things you see in Spanish, say please and thank you. And if you don't know any Spanish, you may not speak (this will inspire your kids to learn some, or give you your very own version of the Quiet Game!)
Here is a great audio CD that come with a book for learning French or Spanish. Try this one:
Spanish in your Car for Kids!
This one is for the whole family. Start with basic vocabulary and repeat after the speaker.
a Spelling Bee
See who can spell the most words correctly. Choose words that match the correct difficulty level for each age of your children and don't forget the grownups. You might like to bring small pocket dictionary for word ideas and definitions.
Lines and Dots
This is that game you used to play in junior high. You make a grid of dots on a sheet of paper. Each player takes turns drawing a line between two dots. The lines are horizontal or vertical (not diagonal) and must be next to each other. If a player makes a complete square, they get to mark the square with their initials in the center of it, and they get another turn. The player with the most squares when all the dots are connected wins! Check out the Mom'sMinivan Printables page for a sample lines and dots page to print.
Have a contest to see who can build the best item that relates to where you are going. Use a shoe box to store the legos, or large zip lock bags. Of course, there's nothing like a NEW set of Legos to really make some smiles.
Make Paper Dolls
Make your own paper dolls and paper chains. Keeping the stuff in zip bags or envelopes. Supplies: Paper, markers or crayons, blunt tip scissors, tape.
Or, try Colorforms - Paper Dolls
Comes with 2 paper dolls with stands, one reuseable play case, and two sheets covered with stick-ons.
Look around and pick an object you can see either in the car or along the road. Then give others a clue such as, "I spy with my little eye... something green.", or "I spy with my little eye .. something brown and furry" Continue to give more clues until they can guess what it is.
Think of an object, it can be anything as long as it is general. The first question the players will ask is: "Is it classified as Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral", or you can do "Person, Place or Thing". The players can then ask anything they want about the object as long as you are able to answer "yes" or "no" to their question. They try to ask questions that will help them narrow down their ideas until they are able to guess the object. If they can do it in less than 20 questions, they win!
If you need some help thinking of objects, Twenty Questions comes in a pocket-sized travel edition! Reveal the clues about a person, place, or thing while guessing its mysterious identity! About $4.98 at Amazon
Listen to Music or Tapes Individually
Have an ipod or a portable CD player with Headphones for each child if possible. Then, there is no fighting, and you don't have to listen to kid music for 400 miles. You can find lots of good tales & Tunes: Kids' Music & Audiobooks at Amazon
Cootie Catcher - Fortune Teller
Pick a color. Now pick a number, and another number.Your fortune says, "Today is your lucky day!" Just show them how to do this once, and you'll have an activity that will keep your kids busy and filled with creativity! Here are the instructions for How to make a cootie catcher (fortune-teller) in case you forgot how, and also a printable cootie catcher!
"Guess how far away that is"
Pick an object and have everyone guess how far away it is, then clock it on your odometer. Take turns picking the object or let the winner pick.
Tape is irresistable to kids! Give them a roll and let them go crazy. If you're really lucky, some of it ends up zipping their lips shut for fun (sounds almost too good to be true!). Here's a book that uses 4 rolls of tape as art to entertain - it's called Totally Tape.
That's My Car!
Take turns and see who can end up with the sweetest ride. Choose one of the next 5 vehicles that you pass (or that pass you) to be "your car" as if it were your very own. All players mutually decide if you are a "winner" or a "loser" based on how nice a car you "own" compared to the other players current cars.
This one is a good conversation starter. Go around the car and ask each person their favorite color. Then have everyone think of different "favorite" questions for the group. What's your favorite... movie, flavor of ice cream, song, game, toy, place to visit, restaurant, book, animal, fish, etc. Be creative and don't forget to ask the driver too!
Give each child a "Trip Bag"
This can be a backpack for each child, or a canvas bag or even a big plastic bin that is used specifically for road trips. Kids can load it up with all their favorite road trip stuff an other toys so they can have it all handy and easily accessible to them in the car. You can even decorate the bag to designate it as their special trip bag and use it to collect stickers or pins from various trips.
Have a Puppet Show
Do the show in the car, in the hotel, or anywhere, kids love puppets! Having your puppet "tell" the kids what's coming up next on the trip, or to tell them to behave. If they won't listen to you, maybe they'll listen to a silly puppet. Then give them a chance to each have their own puppet to "talk" to each other. Search for puppets at Amazon
This game helps teach kids to look at the bright side of things in a silly way. For example, you say, "Unfortunately, there's a tiger in the car." Your son says, "Fortunately, he doesn't eat boys." Your daughter says, "Unfortunately, he's looking at me and licking his lips." You say, "Fortunately, I brought along my tiger-jaw-clamper." And so on, alternating between fortunate and unfortunate things. An added bonus - it's a real hoot to hear a 2-year-old use the word "unfortunately"!
(submitted by reader Sandy. Thank you!)
Prepare this one ahead of time. Use a large soda bottle or a large clean peanut butter jar. Fill it no more than 2/3 full with uncooked rice or birdseed. Then put in about 20-25 small objects (safety pin, plastic bugs, button, M&M, nut, bolt, paper clip, penny, bead, piece of macaroni, tiny lego, and other misc. toy pieces or stuff that is probably rolling around in your kitchen junk drawer.) Keep a count of the items and write down the number of items on the outside of the bottle. Put the lid on tight. Let the kids take turns rolling the bottle around in their hands until they find them all. Kids of all ages love this game. You can make more than one treasure bottle so kids don't have to take turns - put different items in different bottles.
Drink Cup Battleship
Your battle ship is the button you push down on the plastic lid of your fast food soda cup (ie..rootbeer, cola, diet, other). Each person takes turns guessing someone's "battleship". The last person with their "battleship" undiscovered wins. You can push the buttons back up and play again and again until the lid breaks. The game is fast and easy. Great for preschoolers and up. Read more about this fun idea here: Drink Cup Battleship
Books: Books on tape or CD
When is the last time someone read a story to you? Audio books are better than TV in my opinion, especially in the car. This is one of my kids' all time favorite things to do in the car.
You can check out audio books at your public library (plan ahead and get on the waiting list since at the library), or buy them for your own. If you have an ipod, you can download FREE audio books that are in the public domain from Librivox or Storynory, or pay to download them from sites like Amazon
Classic Radio Broadcast
Something new (actually it's old!) and completely different! One of my favorites is the 1938 Orson Wells radio broadcast of War Of The Worlds with Orson Wells -- A true sci-fi radio classic! This one is probably more for slightly older children since it could be a little scary for preschoolers. Try OTR (Old Time Radio) recordings like The Lone Ranger, or Superman.
Think of someone you know, friend or relative. Give a few hints like "She has blonde hair and glasses". Let everyone go around one time with their guess. If no one guesses add another hint like "she laughs funny." (submitted by reader Karen S. --Thanks!)
Choose a color or an object and then count them until you find 100 of that item. Popular Find 100 items are American flags, statues, rivers, water falls, churches, red cars, etc. A competitive variation has each person choose a different item or color of car that passes you, and have a race to 100. (submitted by reader Julie. Thanks!)
The Green Game
When driving through towns and cities, look for a hybrid vehicle, such as the Toyota Prius. Then count to 45. Within 45 seconds you will see another one if you are in an environmentally friendly area. Play this to measure which towns are "green". (submitted by my Cousin Ben. Thanks!)
This one is always a hit with my kids, especially when they were preschoolers, and it's self contained so you can't lose any of the pieces! It's fairly small and fits into a backback too. The secret to keeping it fun is to keep this stored away and ONLY use it on long trips, so that it is fresh every time. Available at Amazon (about $9).
Roadside Oddities -- Plan a Stop Somewhere Wacky and Fun
Give them a road trip they'll really remember by stopping at some of those wonderful touristy places. The New Roadside Americabook is a funny guide to the wonderful world of some of the strangest and wackiest tourist attractions you'll ever find, and they also have a website. Eccentric America is another fun guidebook which profiles hundreds of fringe attractions and quirky events across the country. Also, check out my article on the topic of roadside attractions. Find cool sights in every state! Check out the tackiest places in America!
We started a sweatshirt thing with my kids. I bought 3 XL dark blue sweatshirts and we get a patch for each place the children have visited. States, etc... The kids love it. They hang in their rooms and there have been times we have just entered a state so they could get a patch! They begged us to go to Nebraska (weird!) But it was wonderful. (submitted by reader, Barb -- Thanks Barb!)
One word: Gameboy ! (or iTouch or DSI)
This is an amazing toy that is perfect for road trips. In moderation theses little video games can be great motivators and teach kids a few things too. My son got his Gameboy when he was 5 and was very motivated to learn to read as soon as possible just so he could read all the instructions and learn strategies for playing those Pokemon games. Even more popular with kids these days are the Nintendo DSI or iPod Touch. One warning though: Make sure your child is responsible enough to take care of a toy like this since it is quite a bit of an investment.(My kids usually got a special toy like this for a birthday or Christmas)
Sew Your Own Travel Games
TicTacToe/CheckerBoard - This is a neat bag you can make if you're handy with a sewing machine. The bag becomes the playing board, and it neatly holds all the playing pieces when not in use. Here are the instructions!
Kids love Colorforms! The pieces are made from thin plastic that sticks by static cling. They can have fun acting out scenes or dressing up different characters. Here are a few fun Colorforms to try.
Ok, this is probably a dirty word when you are supposed to be on vacation, but you might be surprised at their willingness to do a few worksheets or practice their handwriting when they don't have anything else to do. Make a packet of stuff for each child to do in the car -- coloring pages, homework sheets, and in their box they have crayons, glue stick, etc....
TV - VCR - DVD for your car
When you're all out of other ideas and they're trapped in those car seats, let them watch some of their favorite videos. Sometimes a little bit of vegging out in front of a favorite movie isn't all bad. Resting and downtime from active games and playing is also important.
Stay at Hotels that have a PoolCar Games for Toddlers
Plan ahead and only stay at a hotel that has a pool. This gives the kids a great chance to unwind and helps insure that they will wear themselves out enough to get a good night's sleep at the hotel!
Stay at Hotels that have breakfast included
Make it easy to feed the family adn hit the road early.
Use plenty of zip lock bags for everything
Use them to store small parts of games, toys, crayons, for clothes, food, individual snack packs, wipes, and for storing dirty diapers when you can't find a trash can at the rest stop.
Map out the McDonald's playlands!
The McDonald's Trip Planner will give you driving directions and can help you locate all the McDonald's along the way. It also tells you which ones have drive-through windows and a Playland! Although we try to avoid fast food for every meal by eating at least one meal at a rest stop along the way, I like to know where the McDonald's are located, especially in the winter for a quick stop to stretch our legs.
More Articles about Traveling with Your Kids!
Laurel Smith is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom. Visit her website for more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at MomsMinivan.com