Vacation’s just around the corner, and with it come the sweet sounds of family travel.
“He’s bothering me.”
“My iPhone battery just died.”
Whether you’re driving or flying, it can be a challenge to keep kids content when you’re on the road. While electronic devices can be a lifesaver to families at times, they don’t foster much family bonding. When the earbuds go in, communication tends to go out the window.
The good news is that watching the scenery and playing simple travel games can boost togetherness and sense of shared adventure. The bad news is that most kids today have little experience with no-tech travel. The solution? Ten easy, on-the-road games that will help you disconnect the gadgets and plug into family fun.
1. Numbers numbers everywhere!
Find the numbers 1 to 100 in order by looking at signs, billboards, and objects. Each person is allowed only one number per sign or object. Whoever reaches 100 first is the winner. Variations: instead of individual numbers, count groups of objects, like two traffic lights, four suitcases, or seven toll booths. Or limit the search to numbers on license plates only.
2. Guess what I just saw?
The person who is “It” must think of an object he just saw along the road or in the airport. He then gives a clue about the object while everyone else tries to guess what it is. Time’s up after two miles or two minutes, and then it’s someone else’s turn.
3. Alphabet search
Look for the letters of the alphabet on signs, street names, billboards, and license plates. Each person must call out a letter when she sees it; allow only one letter per sign. Start with the letter “A” and continue through the whole alphabet in order. The person who finishes the alphabet first wins. Variation: instead of looking for letters, players must find objects that begin with each letter, like “ambulance” for “A,” “pilot” for “P,” or “tunnel” for “T.”
4. License-plate jumble
Designate a note-taker, then ask everyone to call out 10 license plate letters as they see them, while the note-taker writes them down. Then, working together as a group, try to make as many words as you can from those 10 letters.
5. Odd-even plates
Designate one person as the time-and-score-keeper while two other people play the game. One person calls out the license plates that end in odd numbers; the other looks for plates ending in even numbers. The person who sees the most plates in five minutes is the winner.
6. Hot and cold map
Give two people one map to share. One player silently chooses a place on the map and then gives a clue to his opponent. For example, “I see a lake that starts with “O.” The other player has two minutes to discover the place by placing her finger on the map. The first player says “hot” if she’s close, or “cold” if she’s far away. Note: if someone in the family gets car-sick, skip this game.
7. Are we there yet?
Before you head out, choose a landmark or town that’s on the route you’ll be driving. Ask each person to guess how long it will take to arrive there. Write down each person’s guess. Watch the clock and see whose guess is the closest.
8. Silence is golden
Choose a leader who will do any silent action to make everyone laugh. The rest of the group tries not to giggle or make a sound for three miles. When the three miles are up, a new leader gets to be the silent comedian.
9. Silent Simon
Choose one person to be “Simon,” the leader. “Simon” performs silent actions like blinking or patting his stomach. Everyone else must copy these actions except when a car is passing. If someone copies the action when a car goes by, that person is out. The last one out becomes the new “Simon.”
10. Silly suitcase
Choose a leader. This person pretends to choose an item from the family’s luggage or car trunk. She must describe it using only mime actions while the other travelers try to guess what the object is. The first person who guesses correctly gets to choose something else to mime.
What's your favorite family game to play on long trips?
Justine Ickes is a freelance writer and mom to two boys. She and her family have survived—um—enjoyed 12-hour flights to Turkey and many long road trips in the Northeast. She blogs at culture-everyday.com.