There’s no way around it. Sometimes driving is just dull. It’s dull for the driver. It’s dull for the passengers. It’s just dull. 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 there’s no excuse for being bored.
Here’s a list of a bunch of fun games to play in the car with both adults or with those sweet kiddos as you’re driving around handling errands or on that never ending Thanksgiving-summer-Christmastime trek to Grandma’s house.
This post may contain affiliate links
1. The ABC game
Assuming your passengers know their alphabet the ABC game is a classic that’s sure to keep them occupied.
The basic idea is that you look for the letters in the alphabet, in order, racing to the end as fast as possible.
We play it as a competition and only count letters on signs, but there are literally a bazillion variations you 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? Make farm animal noises? Announce to the others in a robot voice that resistance is futile and they will be assimilated? Are items inside the car OK? Are license plates OK?
We’ve got friends that play that the only letters available for the game are the first letters 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 than 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. 12 tiny letters between you and a speedy victory. Consonants only? Only letters from bumper stickers? Every other letter? Everyone spells their own name?
And just recently someone suggested numbers instead of the alphabet. 1 through 9 were 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, illusive letter.
2. Imaginary Hide and Seek
I thought maybe my kids came up with this one 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 each other player 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.
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 game may have another, more well known, name but the idea is pretty simple.
The first person 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” person number two 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.
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. We don’t to 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.
5. The License Plates Game
This is a driving game that lots and lots of people play but it can be loads of fun. You’re searching the license plates of all the cars nearby for any car not from your state.
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 and several Canadian provinces and Mexican states. My daughter made a score card 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 being able to rattle off at least 2 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’s 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!
6. Colors of Cars
This is one 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.
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.
7. Words from the Letters in License Plates
This game is definitely for the older, more linguistically capable passengers of the car.
The idea is to choose one license plate and find a word that includes the letters in 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
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 it, he’s started to look to the 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.
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.
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!!!
Then maybe it’d be time for a long, quiet walk.
11. Spot wildlife
This is a great game to play in more rural areas. In California the wildlife is usually deer and raccoons but we’ve seen bear, antelope, dolphins and elk. And on business trips my husband has seen bald eagles, armadillos, road runners, otters, turkey 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 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.
12. BONUS: Build a story
If you’ve got a car load of folks that would prefer to work together rather than compete how about combine to create a story. Each person gets a turn to add a few lines to some simple introduction.
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.
If you’ve got some passengers that are really up for a challenge we sometimes play two or three games at once. We’re looking for out of state plates as we’re scanning the road sides 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.
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!
Don’t forget to pin it: