If you’re among the 43+ million gearing up for travel this Thanksgiving—90 percent of whom go by car—you’re likely to have oodles of quality family time on the road.
And while DVDs are a godsend for many parents, holiday travel is also an ideal time to turn off the electronics and create fond family memories with car games that were the “in” thing back when Tab was “awesome” and cassette decks were the latest high-tech addition to vehicle dashboards.
Here are some of our favorite family car games, plus a few new ones that just sound like fun. (We’ll have to wait until Ronin is a little older before trying some of these out on him.)
- Vegetable Game – One player names a vegetable, and then the next player has to come up with a vegetable that begins with the last letter of the vegetable named by the previous player. For example, if the first player says, “carrots,” the next player might say, “squash.” This goes round and round until the players have simply run out of vegetables to name!
- Alphabet Game – Each player attempts to find the letters of the alphabet, in order, on road signs, buildings and other stationary objects. Some families count words on passing vehicles – some rules those out. The word must begin with the letter. For example, a player looking for an “S” would be delighted to spot a stop sign. The player must call out the letter and the word when they see it, and no two players can claim the same word on the same sign. Competition really heats up when you’re looking for Js and Xs! The first player to work their way through the alphabet wins.
- (Or you can print a pre-made game board.) The first player draws a line between two adjacent dots. It must be vertical or horizontal – no diagonals. The next player does the same. The goal is to be the player to close off a box. When you do, you put your initial in the box. At the end the game, the player who claimed the most boxes wins.
Connect the Dots – This was a favorite in our house – er, um, car. Only two can play at once, but it’s so fun it’s worth the wait if you have to take turns. You need a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. One person creates a game board with a series of rows of just dots.
- I Went to _____ and Brought a ____ – We had one submission for the Greatest Travel Game, and we think this might be the game our client meant. The first player starts and fills in the blanks. “I went to Colorado and brought an alligator.” Then the next player has name something they’d bring along that begins with a “B.” “I went to Colorado and brought an alligator and a bear.” This continues on, with each player adding to the list until you can get all the way to the letter Z and each player has a turn to recite the whole list.
- Who’s Driving The Car – Everyone picks a car in the distance and then makes up a story about who they think is driving the car. For example, you see a blue sedan, and one player says, “The person driving that car is a grandmother.” The next player might say, “And she has brown hair.” The next player might add, “Her grandkids live in Ohio, and she’s taking them a lot of presents.” The next player might add, “And grandma is driving because grandpa’s in the passenger seat reading the newspaper.” You go around the group and craft the story until you pass the car. Then you see how close you were to being “right.” Of course, you won’t actually know if she’s going to see her grandkids in Ohio, but your kids will be having too much fun to care about the minor details.
- Restaurant Race – You might want to play this one just before lunch, and if you’re opposed to fast food, you might want to move on to Game #8. In this case, each player chooses a restaurant, such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. And then each player earns a point when they see their restaurant advertised on Food/Fuel highway signs, billboards or exit marker signs. Choose a point value to shoot for or set a time limit. The first person to hit the point value or the person with the most points at the end of the time limit wins.
- Spot the Car – We like this game for slightly older kids (10 and up?), but we might be a little biased because it involves cars. The goal is for players to spot as many different car makes as possible. You can work individually or as a team, and you can even use this printable game sheet to identify different makes – and to track duplicates.
- Counting Cows – This is a great one if your travels take you out of urban areas. Players count the cows on their side of the car. Pass a cemetery and call out “your cows are buried” to force the other players to lose their cows. Distracting each other is OK, too. Mix it up a bit by adding a white horse as a bonus. For older kids, settle a tie-breaker by asking players to name all the things made from cow’s milk: cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
- Geography – One player names a place anywhere in the world, and the the next person has to name a place that begins with the last letter of the first place. For example, the first person says Cuba and the next person could say Afghanistan. The third person would have to say someplace that starts with an “N” because that’s what Afghanistan ends with. You can only use each place one time during the game, and you are out of the game if you can’t come up with something. This also can be played with movies, songs, celebrities’ names or whatever you want to do.
- Virtual Hide and Seek – Imagine yourself in a particular place in your home. The cool thing is, unlike the real game, you can be any size (think Alice in Wonderland), so any location is fair game: the kitchen junk drawer, the garbage disposal, the toilet (remember the Ty-D-bol man?). Other players ask yes/no questions, such as “are you in the laundry room?” until your location is narrowed. Children will love this game because they can use their imaginations to create hiding places they’d never be able to use in actuality.
- Scavenger Hunt – Each player receives a list of items to locate along the road. The first player who spots all items on the list wins. Difficulty level can be adjusted to include kids of all ages and customized for each trip—city, suburban or rural—and feature such items as a flashing red light, dog, playground, church, statue, silo or tractor.
- Skeletons – One player calls out the letters on a passing car’s license plate. Other players take turns thinking up words that include those letters in the same order. For example, “HMG” might be “hamburger” or “GRD” might “grandma.” It doesn’t matter how many other letters need to be added to the original three, so long as they remain in the correct sequence. Any player who can’t think of a word within a set amount of time—such as a minute—is out.
And what would a family trip be without these all-time favorite games and activities (a few props required)?
- 20 Questions
- Magna Doodle or Travel’N Doodle
- I Spy
- License Plate Game
- Magnetic play sets
And if all else fails, your kids can make the universal sign for passing truckers to blow their horns. We used to erupt in fits of giggles when we could get the truckers to comply with our hand signals, and then for some reason, we’d duck down and hide—as if we were fooling anyone.