Are we there yet? What parent or grandparent hasn’t cringed at hearing that, even when the road trip vehicle is crammed with all the latest entertainment devices to keep kids happy.
These old fashioned road games help pass the time and avoid complaints of boredom and backseat fighting, and even help teach spelling and geography. I played them with my parents as a kid, and you probably did, too.
Enjoy these tips for family road trips –
I Spy – Probably the classic make-time-go-by game of all time. One person looks around and chooses an object that the others have to guess, with their only clue being these words: “I spy with my little eye something that begins with (insert the first letter of the object’s name).” Or the clue can be the object’s color. The player who guesses the object gets to go next. The tricky part? It’s not fair to “spy” something that’s whizzing by the car at highway speeds. A landmark (mountain range, forest) that will be in the players’ view for a few minutes is best.
- Ideally suited for: A vehicle whose excellent visibility facilitates easy spying, like the Subaru Forester.
20 Questions – “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Only 18 more questions to go! In 20 Questions, whomever goes first thinks of, well, anything. The first question is always, “Animal, vegetable or mineral?” After that, players can ask pointed questions to try and guess. by asking for clues such as, “Does it bark?” or “Can you peel it?” for example, although the answer to those questions can only be “yes” or “no.” If you reach the 20th question without a winner, everyone has one last chance to figure it out before the “thing” is revealed and another person starts a fresh round.
- Ideally suited for: A vehicle that’s hard to define, like the Ford Flex. Is it a wagon? Is it a crossover?
License Plates – There are many variations, depending on the age of your kids. Younger kids can call out letters in alphabetical order, and the first one to Z wins. Or, have your backseat wonders look for doubles, or even triples, of letters and/or numbers in the plates. The one who has the most at the end of the day/trip wins. Older kids can “collect” out-of-state plates they see, and you can make it tougher by going in alphabetical order. Or, you can turn it into license plate Scrabble by trying to build words or phrases using the letter sequence in the plates. A plate with the letters E, F and T, for example, might become the word “effort” if you are using words, and “Ed’s Favorite Tacos” if you’re running with phrases.
- Ideally suited for: A model whose name is a license-plate-like jumble of letters and numbers, like the Infiniti QX60.
Slug-a-Bug – The concept is for players keep track of how many Volkswagen Beetles they spot on the road. In the game’s original version you were supposed to punch your seat mate when you spotted a Bug, but most parents find that any game that involves hitting can get out of hand pretty quickly. So keep score some other way — tapping your seat mate, counting on your fingers (first to 10 wins) or something more in keeping with the Bug’s peaceful hippie history.
- Ideally suited for: One of the Beetle’s more family-friendly siblings, like the Volkswagen Passat.
Where’s the Alphabet? – Use road signs, billboards, shop names — any reading material outside the window qualifies as long as it’s spotted on your side of the car, looking for every letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order, although the letter can be located anywhere in the word. Say there is a fruit stand with a sign for Granny Smith apples — there’s your A. The exit for the Brooklyn Bridge would cover B, Road Closed is C and so on. First one to the letter Z wins. If you see “Road Closed,” however, you’ll probably be happy to have the nine other games listed here.
- Ideally suited for: A model whose name is an alphabet soup of random letters, like the Acura MDX.
Name That Tune – As with the classic TV game show, the winner here is the one who figures out the name of the “mystery song” first. For those with singing/whistling/humming talent, this can be as much karaoke as a guessing game. Choose a theme for the game, such as show tunes, movie or TV themes, or Justin Timberlake. (Good luck, grownups.) The winner gets to be the singer for the next round. If no one can carry a tune in a bucket, then try guessing the songs on the radio. Really want to mix it up? Hit the “seek” button so no one gets an unfair advantage from sticking to one particular station’s format.
Ideally suited for: A vehicle with a fun sound system, like the Kia Soul, which is available with a stereo whose speaker lights flash to the sound of the beat.
The Picnic Game – This is a memory builder for all ages. One player says, “I went to a picnic Saturday and I brought…” then says a picnic favorite that begins with the letter A, like apples. The next player repeats the opening phrase, and after “…I brought” they repeat the A item then add one that begins with B: “I brought an apple and some bananas.” The third player repeats the opener, the A and the B portions, and then adds something that begins with C. Get it? Can your travelers get through the alphabet, remembering all the items everyone contributed? Try keeping track of 26 items plus figuring out what you can take to a picnic that starts with X!
- Ideally suited for: A vehicle with a quiet cabin, like the Lexus RX 450h, so players can hear everything that’s being said, along with groans.
Count the… – Can be anything: cows, telephone poles, headlights, train cars, blue pickup trucks, overpasses, even exit signs — you name it. Shouting out the thing to keep track of is all that is required.
- Ideally suited for: A vehicle with great visibility, like the Subaru Outback, so players can easily spot items to count.
Tunnels – This one is simple: When you come to a tunnel, see who can hold their breath the longest. True, it may not be one best played by the driver, to avoid lightheadedness, but everyone else can give it a go. We used to be amazed at our own skill at this as kids, and a bonus is that it will keep them quiet for as long as they can hold their breaths.
- Ideally suited for: A vehicle with an available conversation mirror, like the Honda Odyssey, so parents can keep an eye on those in back and easily determine a winner.
Geography Lesson – Geography is much more fun outside the classroom, isn’t it? For this game, choose countries, cities or states (or go nuts and try rivers and lakes or capitals). Let’s say your theme is states. The first player names a location, and the next player has to rattle off another state that starts with the last letter of the previous player’s state. Therefore, if it were Michigan, the next state would have to start with N, like Nebraska. The A could be Alaska, and so on. Note: This one makes our brain hurt.
- Ideally suited for: A model named after a country, city or state, like the Hyundai Santa Fe.
What’s your family favorite road trip game?
This ecoxplorer article was adapted from one published by my go-to auto experts, Edmunds.com.
McCool Travel says
I drive a Subaru Forester and it DOES have incredible visibility.
Paula McInerney says
Well that bought back a lot of memories, when I was a kid, and when I had my own children.
The GypsyNesters says
Sure remember these but with our kids long grown up and no grandchildren yet, we don’t play the games these days. Back in the day we had travel bingo cards that kept everyone busy for hours.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers says
My family’s favorite car game is “Guess the Ingredients,” in which I provide some home-made cookies to eat while they guess what ingredients I used. My family was my guinea pig for my book “Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities” which is still available on Amazon.
Family road trips are a lot easier these days with digital media players, electronic games etc. I’ll never forget on a road trip from NY to Florida when our son was four. After two hours he asked “Are we there yet?” Our planned two days on the road turned into four with stops at playgrounds every few hours.