Family road trips don't have to slide into backseat squabbling and a chorus of "Are we there yet?" The trick is to fight boredom and keep kids engaged, whether it involves printable games, toys, or other types of travel entertainment. Putting on a movie or playing with a tablet are great ways to combat boredom for modern-day road trips, but car games limit screen time and create cherished memories.
When you don't have prepared games or items to play with, you can always fall back on one of these classic travel games. Apart from some imagination, you don't need any special materials to play them. They're probably ones you played in the car when you were a kid, and there's a reason they've endured as all-time favorites for decades.
Best for: Age 2 and up
Preschoolers and young school-age kids love this simple guessing game that can be played on long car trips, airport layovers, train rides, city strolls, nature hikes, and in countless other situations.
How to play: Two or more people can play I Spy. Player 1 spies something but keeps it a secret. The item should be something everyone can see, and it's best to not have something that will disappear, such as a motorcycle zooming past. Player 1 says, "I spy, with my little eye, something that..." and ends with a clue, such as "is red" or "starts with the letter H." Players take turns asking one question each. Player 1 can only answer "yes" or "no." The person who guesses correctly then looks for an object for others to guess.
Sound Effects Story
Best for: Age 3 and up
This silly storytelling game is guaranteed to give little ones the giggles. All you need is several people and some creative sound effect skills.
How to play: Player 1 begins a short story, replacing key nouns and verbs with sounds. For example, "Once upon a time on a farm, a [moo] was [munch munch] grass when along came a [woof woof] and a [meow]." Player 2 then picks up the story, "The [meow] jumped on the [woof woof]'s back and invited the [moo] to join them on a picnic." Player 3 continues, "The three friends found a meadow then suddenly they heard a [buzz buzz]." And so on. There is no "winner" to this game, but players should encourage each other to make the storylines crazier and more inventive.
Best for: Age 4 and up
This simple guessing game requires deductive reasoning. It's can be played anywhere, so it's perfect for road trips and plane rides.
How to play: Player 1 has to think of something. In the classic version of the game, it has to be an object that can be classified as an animal, vegetable, or mineral, but you can make it more difficult for older players by opening it up to people or places as well.
Then, the other players take turns guessing what the object is by posing questions that can be answered with a "yes" or a "no." Keep asking questions until 20 questions have been asked and answered. At any time, the players can guess what the object is. The player who guesses correctly then becomes the person to think of the object in the next round. If nobody guesses correctly after 20 questions, Player 1 wins and thinks up another object in the next round.
The Alphabet Game
Best for: Age 5 and up
This non-competitive group search game is great for kids who know their ABCs. It's a good bet for a long road trip because it's guaranteed to take up a fair amount of time.
How to play: Player 1 looks around to find something that begins with the letter A. For example, "automobile." Player 2 then searches for something visible to everyone that begins with B, such as "bridge." The game continues until you've gone through the entire alphabet. Note: for tricky letters, such as Q and Z, feel free to spy license plates containing the letters.
An alternative version that is better for older players is to find the actual letter printed on a road sign, restaurant, store, or somewhere else along the route—typically anywhere but a license plate.
I'm Going on a Picnic
Best for: Age 5 and up
This alphabet-based categorizing memory game is also great for slightly younger kids who have learned their ABCs. It's perfect for long car rides, train trips and, of course, picnics.
How to play: Player 1 says, "I'm going on a picnic, and I'm bringing..." followed by something you can eat that starts with the letter A. Player 2 repeats what Player 1 is bringing and adds a food that begins with B. The game continues with the letters of the alphabet. The last player to recite all the food correctly wins. Younger kids might want to partner with an adult, or you can have them eliminate the memory part and just make it an alphabet game.
The Name Game
Best for: Age 6 and up
This fun category game is great for all ages, and particularly for younger school-age kids who have learned to read and can spell a large variety of words. You can make this game easier or harder by choosing different categories.
How to play: Decide on a category, such as animals, cities, states, TV shows, food, or any other topic. If the topic is food, Player 1 says a food, such as "Pizza." Player 2 must think of a food that begins with the last letter of the previous word, in this case, the letter A. The game continues back and forth among the players. Each person has a set time limit to answer, which can be from 15 to 60 seconds, and no item can be repeated. Younger children might want to partner with an adult or older sibling who can help.
Who Am I?
Best for: Age 6 and up
This guessing game is great to play with kids who are school-age or older because it requires some knowledge of famous people and a healthy dose of deductive reasoning.
How to play: The group thinks up a category of people (celebrities, athletes, literary characters, or whatever you like). Player 1 thinks up the name of a famous person within the agreed category and asks "Who am I?" The other players take turns asking yes-or-no questions to narrow down the options and get to the correct person. For example: "Are you male or female?" "Are you dead or alive?" "Are you famous for your career or an event?" and so on. Player 1 may have to remind the others to stick to yes-or-no questions. A player may use their turn to ask a question or guess the correct answer, but encourage younger kids to ask good questions and narrow down possibilities before guessing.