We all need some fun road trip games to play in the car.
Because there’s no way around it. Sometimes driving on a long car ride is just dull. It’s dull for the driver. It’s dull for the passengers. It’s just dull.
Isn’t it funny how we romanticize family road trips? The high points of the trip seem to overshadow the long drive, which can feel especially long if you have young children who are anxious to get out of their car seats.
But if you or your passengers are competitive or if you’re one of those creative types that just know how to make things fun, then you can mostly avoid getting bored on a long road trip.
Here’s a list of a bunch of fun games to play in the car with both adults and those sweet kiddos as you’re running errands, running to the grocery store, on your next road trip, or heading to Grandma’s house for the holidays.
To make things even better, these are all free car games! Heaven knows how much money you’ll be spending per fast-food restaurant (assuming you’re here to find the perfect game for road-tripping). You can save some money with free entertainment for all of your traveling family members.
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Most of these fun car games don’t need anything but your imagination except for one that’s better played with a printable.
Even though one of the games I’ll talk about is a lot of fun with a printable, I intentionally did not include additional road games that require paper. While a fun card game can be great with family, in the car it can go bad quick if you have passengers that can’t read in the car without getting nauseous.
You’ll find some classic road trip games as well as some we’ve made up as a family. Whether you have young kids, older kids, teenagers, or just adults in the car you’ll love these road trip activities.
1. The ABC game
Assuming your passengers know their alphabet, the ABC game is a classic road trip game to play in the car and is a great way to keep you and your travel companions occupied.
The basic idea is that you look for the letters in the alphabet, in alphabetical order, racing to the end as fast as possible.
We play this game in the car as a competition and only count a letter of the alphabet if it appears on billboards, stores, and road signs, but there are literally a bazillion variations your family can choose from.
Are you working as a team or against one another? Do you yell out the letter you’ve found or keep it to yourself, ninja style? And what do you have to do at the end to announce your win? Yell your name? Are items inside the car OK? Are license plates OK?
We’ve got friends that play by the rules that the only letters available for the game are the first letter of a word.
We also recently tried playing in reverse, from Z to A. That was far, far tougher than we expected because we realized that none of us had ever bothered to memorize the alphabet in reverse and we kept having to sing the goofy song to figure out what letter to look for next.
What about other languages? In Spanish, they consider “CH” to be one letter. Same with “LL” and “RR”. Or maybe Hawaiian. Everyone spells their own name?
And just recently someone suggested numbers instead of the alphabet. 1 through 9 was a breeze but the double-digit numbers were brutal. We allowed license plates and signs and graffiti and anything else we could see with numbers on it and still, after half an hour the winner had only gotten to 16.
Our family is very competitive and there’s a fairly vigorous amount of good-natured trash-talking. Lots of G-rated insults and accusations of various forms of insidious and vaguely defined cheating. My husband and my kids have occasionally gotten so into a game and been so desperate to finish that they’ve pulled into the shopping center near our home and driven around until the first person found that last, elusive letter.
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2. Imaginary Hide and Seek
I thought maybe my kids came up with this game to play in the car but it turns out we actually found it in Dinner Games and Activities. It’s a fun collection of games you can play at and around the dinner table especially aimed at younger kids.
The rules of this game are that the “It,” (that’s what my kids call it), would imagine a place where they’re hiding and the rest of the players would ask a yes or no question about their location. “Is it upstairs?”, “Is it in the living room?”
Each player gets to ask one question and if no one has gotten the location each player asks a second. If we’re all still stumped the “It” has to offer a clue and each player gets one last chance to guess where “It” is hiding.
The correct answers are hidden with each person in charge of the round, so it helps if your kids are old enough to keep their minds focused on their chosen place and understand they can’t change their imaginary hiding spot.
We’ve usually played imagining our own house but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use any location that every player knows. This game is tougher than you’d guess it would be and our kids quickly began choosing some very clever hiding spots.
You’ve got to be able to actually fit in the place you’ve imagined though. No hiding in the cookie jar!
3. The Association Game
This fun road trip game we play in the car may have another, more well-known, name but the idea is pretty simple.
The first player says a word and the next player has to mention another word that has some connection to the first. So if person number one says “ice cream” the second person could say “scoop”.
That would be acceptable and perfectly within the rules but it’s honestly a little dull. The game gets a lot more fun and the volume in the car gets a lot higher if you can come up with some odd, unexpected connection.
So for “ice cream” I might say “eye” and then remind my kids of the story I told them of a childhood friend who once took a half-gallon of ice cream into his front yard and began scooping out servings and tossing them into the air, trying to catch them in his mouth. He was a goofball so naturally, he missed. One got him in the forehead, one got him in the chin and eventually one hit him in the eye.
It can become a really fun word game when you begin to think outside the box.
Your kids will love how quickly you can get totally off-topic, and it’s hilarious sometimes to realize that your strange series of associations have led you back to your original theme.
4. I Spy
This is a classic game to play in the car with the whole family. We don’t do the “my little eye” thing. We usually have one person just choose an item, a red car, a round sticker, a dog with its tongue hanging out, and search for that. And the way we play, the person who chose the item to look for hasn’t yet seen it. That way we can all have fun searching.
This is a great game for encouraging folks to look more carefully at what’s around them and it can be lots of fun.
We also play it fairly regularly at the airport or at the mall. The people who are not shopping and who are having trouble lovingly and patiently waiting for the rest of the group can get together and start scanning the crowd for those red flip-flops or the photo of a flying pig on somebody’s clothing.
Little kids love this game and as a bonus, it does keep them quiet while they’re searching. It’s a little better than just playing the quiet game.
5. The License Plates Game
This is a driving game that lots and lots of people play. Even if you’ve played it a million times before, it can still be fun on your next family road trip. You’re searching the state license plates of all the cars nearby for any car from different states than yours.
And if you’re willing, the game can be educational too. We recently drove down to Palm Springs after a stretch of unusually cold weather. I did not originally appreciate what a powerful draw Palm Springs’ mild winter weather would be until we started spotting groups and then dozens of out-of-state plates.
In 2 days, we saw plates from nearly half the US states, several Canadian provinces, and some Mexican states. My daughter made a scorecard on a sheet of paper to keep everything straight and we realized afterward that her spelling is atrocious. So we instituted a new requirement, that to claim the plate you had to be able to spell the state correctly.
If your kid can spell, you could ask for the state capitols or at least two neighboring states. Or maybe the location of the state on the map or the proper Post Office-approved abbreviation.
We’ve also confirmed that this game is far more fun in the US than it is in Europe. European license plates are nearly identical throughout the EU. The colors are all nearly the same and the only distinction between nations is the country’s abbreviation on the left side. There are no wild colors or interesting phrases or majestic animals on EU plates. So if you’re planning a European road trip, the license plate game is a bit of a dud.
I’ve got a free license plate game printable for you with a coloring map and bonus points if you find a Canada, Mexico, or D.C. plate! It’s the perfect way to add a little education on long trips.
6. Colors of Cars
This is one game we play in the car where the credit goes entirely to the kids. They’re pretty inventive! The idea is that they scan nearby cars to try to find a vehicle in each of the colors of the rainbow. I’ll let you decide what the difference is between indigo and violet. I never understood it. But after you’ve gotten all the rainbow colors, you could go gold, silver, and bronze. Or you could compete to be the first person to see an opalescent car. Or the first person to find a multicolored car.
In any case, unless you’re in New York, you may have some trouble finding a yellow vehicle.
Now that smoke-belching jalopy with a door that doesn’t match the color of the rest of the car isn’t an eyesore. It’s the winning element in a hard-fought game!
Once you’ve got that maybe you could look for the colors in the order you see them in the rainbow, ROY G BIV. Or maybe go backwards, VIB G YOR.
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7. Words from the Letters in License Plates
This game is definitely for the older, more linguistically capable passengers of the car. It would also work as an adult road trip game.
The idea is to choose one license plate and find a word that includes the letters on the plate. In California, most plates have 3 letters so there’s usually a word or two that can be made with each combination.
Want to make it more interesting? Ask for 2 words from each player. Or require that words must have the letters in the same order as they appear on the plate. Or maybe ask for names that contain the letters. Or geographical features or locations. This is a great game to expand and reinforce that vocabulary and it’s also a fun tool to encourage improvement in your kids’ spelling. Practice being erudite!
8. Guess the Garbage (with two extra variations)
This has got to be one of my kids’ favorite car ride games.
I’ll admit, this one’s weird and I’m openly throwing my husband under the bus for coming up with it.
But as a guy who does a lot of solo driving and often gets bored with long drives, he’s started to look to the right-hand side of the road. When you really look at it, it’s startling to realize the amount of usable stuff that sits abandoned on the side of the road.
From baseballs to coolers to beach towels there’s a lot out there. So he keeps an eye open and if he spots an item that we might be able to use he (safely and responsibly) pulls to the side of the road and retrieves it.
I realize that this is not for everyone and I secretly think he’s a touch insane but he honestly does come home with some interesting items and after a run through the washing machine some are as good as new.
My kids found this game so weird and fun that they came up with theme music and a spiel and a goofy announcer voice. It’s kind of funny to suddenly pull to the side of the freeway and have the kids launch into their impossibly loud game show announcer-style presentation trying to figure out what Daddy’s checking out in the break-down lane.
Here are two alternatives to the game if you love the idea but don’t have the room in your car (or stomach) to pick up any loose items.
Variation One – Bingo Style:
Have each member the family create a list of items they might spot on the side of the road. If they spot an item that is also listed on their bingo chart, they get to cross it off. The first person to five in a row wins.
Variation Two – Apples to Apples Style:
Each rider takes a turn being the judge. The judge will pick a spotted piece of trash as the focal point of the story. Each occupant of the car will come up with a story for how that item arrived on the side of the road (consider applying a time limit per story). The judge will decide which they like the best.
10. Make up a song
We’ve got a friend who explained that when she was small she’d make up songs and use the license plates of nearby cars as lyrics. My youngest thought this sounded like so much fun that she made up one for our car’s plate.
She sang it so loud and so often that there is now no way for any of us to forget the license plate on that car. (None of us would admit it, but it’s probably one of our favorite songs now – and most useful.)
If you’ve been blessed with a kiddo that can turn anything into a song why stop at license plates? You could sing the traffic signs. Or the billboard text. Or maybe the entire owner’s manual for your car!!!
Afterward, the whole family will be ready for some quiet time or maybe a long, quiet walk to your destination.
11. Spot wildlife from the car
This is a great game to play in more rural areas. In California, the wildlife is usually deer and raccoons but we’ve seen bears, antelope, dolphins, and elk. And on business trips, my husband has seen bald eagles, armadillos, roadrunners, otters, turkeys, and moose.
You could combine efforts and try to get at least one each of terrestrial creatures, water creatures, and airborne creatures. Or we’ve sometimes kept a running tally on a piece of paper of all the animals seen by anyone in the car for the whole trip. Aim for 100 animals for the whole drive and then see which ones were the most and least common.
One of the really exciting things to discover when traveling is that the critters common in places you’re visiting may be very different than the critters you’re accustomed to at home.
For example, squirrels tend to look a lot different outside of CA.
12. BONUS game to play in the car: Build a story
If you’ve got a carload of folks that would prefer to work together rather than compete how about working together to create a story? Each person gets a turn to add a few lines to some simple introduction. You can turn things you see on the road into story starters.
Add dialog or crazy characters or impossible feats and the story gets better and better. As long as you’ve got some time, the story will get more and more convoluted and more and more interesting. I’ve heard of some parents that will do this each night when they tuck the kids into bed. One of the stories went on for years.
Now You’re Ready for Your Family’s Next Adventure in the Car
If you’ve got some fellow passengers that are up for a challenge, we sometimes play two or three games in the car at once. We’re looking for out-of-state plates as we’re scanning the roadsides for Guess the Garbage as we’re playing the alphabet game, ninja style. It makes an otherwise routine drive far more interesting, and it’s a fun way to compete with those sweet kiddos.
All it takes is a little creativity. Creativity can turn boring, routine tasks into something fun and interesting. There are only so many games of rock paper scissors the kids can play.
So stretch and imagine, and come up with more fun games to play in the car on your own. And when you do please tell me about it!
One word of caution though: As a driver remember that your primary job, your vitally important job is to convey your dearly loved passengers safely to their destination. It’s far better to allow your passengers to strut and brag about how badly they smoked you and to get them home safe than it is to win the game and risk getting into an accident!
Let me know in the comments if you know of any travel games I didn’t include. I’m sure there are some other fun ones out there! I’d especially love to hear about any games your family plays at rest stops! Rest stops can be so frustrating if you just want to keep going with your trip.
I hope you enjoyed this list of great road trip games and found some sure-fire boredom busters to play.
Don’t forget to pin these fun road trip games to play in the car: