On a road trip with kids, between being asked “Are we there yet?” after every exit and trying to avoid turning road time into screen time, hours can pass slowly. Not to mention that cars aren’t really conducive to playing conventional board games, or even reading, for a lot of kids. Make the time fly by with these road trip games that are easy to play in the car (even for the driver) and have a learning component to accompany the fun.
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Scavenger Hunt is a classic game for a reason. You can call out items for people to spy, or use Eye Spy sheets for people to use to mark off what they see while driving.
Why we love it: Eye Spy builds focus and attention.
Would You Rather …?
Especially for older kids, answering questions like “Would you rather team up with Captain Marvel or Superman?” is a fun imagination activity.
Why we love it: Answering the questions encourages creative thinking.
Looking for classic road trip games? Try the alphabet game, where you name things that you see, but you have to call them out in alphabetical order. (You can’t use license plates.) So, looking out the window, you might see an Arby’s, barn, chicken coop, driveway … you get the idea.
Why we love it: Kids who are learning the alphabet will enjoy participating in helping identify the next letter and naming words they see, while older kids can get creative and try to find the less obvious options.
Name That Artist
In this game, you put on the car radio and try to name the artist when each song comes on. Select someone to keep points and tally each time a person is correct. The person with the most points when you get to your destination (or the next gas station) wins.
Why we love it: It’s friendly competition and encourages listening.
The License Plate Game
The goal is to find license plates from as many states as possible. When you see a new state, call it out. Bonus points for listing the state’s capital, biggest city, or even state bird.
Why we love it: It builds geography knowledge as you mark off the states that you see.
List things you see that are the same color. So, start with something red, like a “fire hydrant.” Then, everyone has to think of more things that are that color. Or play the opposite way, with one person listing things that are one color and the others guess which color they’re thinking of.
Why we love it: Finding or brainstorming things that are the same color encourages categorization and thinking skills.
Magnetic Board Games
Travel board games are a great way to keep kids engaged in the back seat. Stock the back seat with travel versions of chess, checkers, and other games.
Why we love it: Board games build critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
This game requires some preparation—prep a set of trivia questions about topics your child knows something about, like Disney characters, pop music, or Minecraft. Then, ask them questions throughout the drive. Or use a general trivia question list, like this one from Parade or Kidpillar.
Why we love it: Kids will love showing off what they know and will build background knowledge about topics too.
Guess in 10
Guess in 10 is a card game that challenges you to guess an animal or city by answering up to 10 questions. It’s great for kids to play in the back seat or for the whole family to play.
Why we love it: Kids learn about whichever topic your Guess in 10 deck is about, and they learn how to deduce answers from bits of information.
Finish the Story
The driver starts, “Once upon a time …” then each person in the car adds the next complete sentence until you have a silly story. Set a time limit or wrap up after each person has had a chance to say three or four sentences.
Why we love it: Building a story together is a great way to reinforce grammar and story elements like plot, setting, and characters.
The Name Game
To start, one person names a city. The next person has to name a city that starts with the first city’s last letter. So, you could start with “Calcutta” and the second person could say “Anchorage,” and so on. You can also play this game with animal names instead of cities.
Why we like it: The Name Game challenge is a great way to build new knowledge and activate familiar knowledge in a new way.
Going on a Picnic
Looking for more classic road trip games? In this memory challenge game, the first person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing …” and then names something. The second person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing …” and includes the first thing and then adds their own. This continues until the list is too long to remember. For another version, you can play the same game but with the starter “I’m packing a suitcase …”
Why we love it: Going on a Picnic reinforces attention, listening, and memory.
One person chooses a category (e.g., cities, movie titles, dinner foods, breakfast foods, etc.). Then, people take turns naming items that are included in that category. So, if you choose cities, then you could say Des Moines, Athens, Chicago, etc. To make it more difficult, name things in alphabetical order (Athens, Buffalo, Chicago).
Why we love it: Categorizing information helps kids learn and remember new information as they connect old and new knowledge.
Loaded Questions Jr.
Loaded Questions Junior poses questions like What two words best describe you? and What job do you think you would be really good at? The questions spark conversations that may surprise you.
Why we love it: Thinking through unexpected questions helps kids develop language and cognitive skills.
Buy it: Loaded Questions Junior on Amazon
In this game, the first player announces a category. The next player says a word associated with that category. Then each person contributes until everyone has participated. So, if someone says “Christmas,” the next person could say the first thing that pops into their head, like “stockings” or “tree.” The game ends when someone repeats a word.
Why we love it: Just like Car Categories, this game helps kids connect familiar and new information.
Some people look out one side of the car, and others look out the other. Whenever you see a cow, yell “cow” or “moo.” The first person to see each cow gets a point and the person who gets the most points is the winner.
Why we love it: It’s a fun way to spend the time, and you don’t know what else you’ll see!
Who Am I?
Choose a famous person—historical or celebrity—and have other players guess who you are. It’s 20 Questions, but for people.
Why we love it: Between the adults and kids in the car, there’s lots of opportunity for everyone to learn about someone new.
Spot the Cracker Barrel
Before you leave on your road trip, decide on one restaurant that you’re going to keep watch for. Then, note each time you see that restaurant. This is one of those road trip games with many variations. It could be Cracker Barrel, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Culver’s—any restaurant you think you’ll spot on road signs and at rest stops. Whoever sees the most of that restaurant gets to choose the next restaurant you eat at.
Why we love it: Having to focus on and pay attention to one thing, even for a short while, builds focus.
Learn more: Blogger at Large
A book of Mad Libs, where you fill in silly nouns, adjectives, and adverbs to create stories that are absurd enough to be hilarious, is a great way to engage elementary schoolers through adults.
Why we love it: Mad Libs teaches parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective …), and when kids read their silly stories aloud, they’re building fluency.
Buy it: Goofy Mad Libs on Amazon
Here’s one of the easiest road trip games to play. Choose a color, then call out all the things you see that are that color, like yellow lights, houses, flowers. You can have someone tally how many things each person sees. Choose a time frame or stretch of the trip to make this manageable.
Why we love it: Put an elementary-aged child in charge of tallying so they can practice collecting data.
Take turns telling a story, but each sentence has to start with Fortunately or Unfortunately. It forces players to take the story to unexpected places.
Why we love it: Storytelling, with a little structure, encourages kids to think creatively.
Start with a blank piece of paper. One person starts the drawing, then passes the paper to the next person, who adds to the drawing. Go around a few times and you’ll have a crazy drawing in the end. Add a time limit for more fun.
Why we love it: It shows how everyone can contribute parts to a final product.
Learn more: Blogger at Large
Carpool Chaos is a card game of games, questions, and challenges that engages you in conversations you won’t expect. Even the driver can play as none of the challenges involve movement.
Why we love it: Kids get practice responding to tons of different questions and games.
Buy it: Carpool Chaos on Amazon
The Family Game
See how well your family members know each other by asking each other trivia questions. Use a card deck like Do You Really Know Your Family? for ready-made questions. What is Mom’s favorite color? What did Dad like to do as a kid?
Why we love it: Kids get practice answering questions and learn more about the people they’re closest to.
Buy it: Do You Really Know Your Family? on Amazon