Every summer, we take a long road trip with our kids. We’ve driven to Yellowstone National Park, the Outer Banks, and even Glacier National Park. Lemme tell you, it takes some planning to keep the kids occupied (especially if you try to limit screens). Here’s a list of sanity-saving, road trip boredom busters I’ve used with my kids, ranging from free games and family-friendly podcasts to our favorite family audiobooks!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Podcasts For The Whole Family
My kids are on a trivia kick, so right now, we’re loving podcasts like Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast.
Here are a few of our other family favorites
– This American Life (for older kids)
Pros: You can download podcasts ahead of time to avoid roaming charges. If you have Audible, you can get podcast series in one downloadable file.
Cons: It’s so tempting to look for new podcasts and rack up overages with your phone company.
Mystery Road Trip Bags
I got the idea for road trip mystery bags from Make and Takes. I made paper sacks and handed them out when we saw landmarks or passed state lines. It kept the kids excited and paying attention to where we were on the trip.
– When we crossed the Kentucky state line, the mystery gift was a themed deck of cards and instructions for a few games.
– When we saw the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time, each kid got a gift bag with a new Mad Libs book.
Inexpensive places to find mystery bag items: The Dollar Tree, Target dollar bins, and clearance sales (if you’re a planner).
Pros: This can be all homemade items or toys your kids have forgotten about.
Cons: A downside to this is if your kids nap during the road trip and miss spotting something. Just roll with it, though, and pick a different landmark to look for. Also, there tends to be a lot of trash or recycling accumulated over the course of a long road trip. Watch out for all the plastic packaging!
Audiobooks For Families
One June, we drove all the way to Yellowstone National Park from Omaha. The total time it took for that road trip? About the length of “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” and half of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
A few books my family liked:
“Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales” (ages 8-11, but the short story format is great for younger kids and those with short attention spans)
“The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo (ages 7-10)
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling (ages 9-12)
“A Cricket in Time Square” by George Seldin (ages 10+)
Or consider reading one of the classics:
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Ian Fleming (ages 3-12)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum (ages 3-12)
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (ages 8-12)
“Pippi Longstocking” by Astrid Lindgren (ages 8-12)
“Mary Poppins” (book 1) by P.L. Travers (ages 10-12)
“The Sword in the Stone” by T.H. White (ages 11+)
Pros: You can download audiobooks ahead of time to avoid roaming charges.
Cons: You may purchase a book that doesn’t interest the family
Miles Of Smiles Game
Miles of Smiles is a pretty simple but guaranteed to make you laugh. Everyone in the car smiles his or her biggest smile at passing drivers.
Keep track of how many smile back. Waving is allowed.
Pros: Super easy to play; it’s a mood booster
Cons: You may feel ridiculous
Table Topics was incredibly fun for us as we road tripped through Michigan. Table Topics offers kid-friendly questions that are light-hearted but also offer interesting insight into family members.
Think: “If you had a super power, what would it be?”
These cards are great to bring into restaurants to make the wait go by quicker.
Pros: Easy conversation topics; portable (great to play while waiting at restaurants too)
Cons: Finite number of questions
Name The Most Game
Someone begins by naming a category. The remaining players then have to wager how many items in the category they can name. Once one player feels like they couldn’t outdo the other, they challenge their opponent to, “Name them!”
Pros: Free; unlimited categories
Cons: Arguments are all but guaranteed
Would You Rather
You can create the questions on your own (ie. “Would you rather eat only pizza or tacos for a whole week?”)!
Of course, if you don’t have the creative power to come up with the questions, there are plenty of free lists of questitons online, like at Homeschool Base with 130+ ideas.
And of course, you can purchase books with Would You Rather questions, as well.
Pros: You can play this for free; kids can flex creative muscles coming up with new questions
Cons: It usually gets gross pretty quickly
My daughter was 5 when we started doing this road trip game, and she loved it. It’s similar to Categories, in that players list things in alphabetical order. “I’m so hungry, I could eat an apple pie.”
The simple version would be the next player picking up with the letter B: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a beet.”
The more difficult version would be to repeat what was said before you before adding your letter: “I’m so hungry I could eat an apple pie and a beet.”
Pros: It’s a FREE; categories can change depending on age level; encourages creativity
Cons: It may make you hungry
Don’t Say It Game
All of the passengers in the car agree on five words that cannot be said saying during the road trip. Saying any of these words earns a point…but you do not want points. You could also create penalties for saying a word..
This game is the most fun when words used frequently on a road trip are chosen, such as “stop,” “eat,” or the driver’s name.
Cons: Sometimes leads to kids over-policing each others
Road Trip Bingo
Remember those old-school road trip bingo games with the sliding windows? They still exist!
Pros: Bingo games can last forever
Cons: Bingo games can last forever
Automobile 21 Game
The object of Automobile 21 is to be the first to find the number 1 through 21, in order, on the license plates of passing cars. Any individual license plate may be claimed by only one person and may be used for only one number.
Pros: Free; great math skills builder
Cons: Kids may lose interests before you can finish the game
Ten Pairs Game
The object of Ten Pairs is for players to spot license plates that have double (or triple) digits of a number of their choice. Each player picks a different number between 1-9. This is the number to watch for.
Participants check passing license plates for their numbers. Each time you spot a plate that has two of your digit, you point it out and score a point. If the number appears consecutively (ie. B58-221 instead of B58-474) you score 2 points. If you spy triple repeat (EKW-444) you score 3 points.
More than one player can score off a license plate. The first player to reach 20 points is the winner.
Pros: Free; great math skills builder
Cons: Kids may lose interests if it takes too long
Color By Sticker Books
There was a six-month period when my kids were obsessed with Color By Sticker books, and it was a great. It entertained them for long stretches of time.
You can find books in many categories, but the ones my kids preferred were animal books like:
– Unicorns (this one’s a little easier to do)
These aren’t to be confused by the reusable sticker books, which will be better for preschoolers and early elementary ages.
Pros: Quiet activity; creative option without much mess
Cons: The only one for my family is that the kids fought over it
Finish The Story Game
This game helped get us through Tennessee on our long drive to the Outer Banks one summer. Basically, one person begins a story, and each person picks it up adding a sentence or two to it.
It can get pretty silly, which kids love.
Pros: Another free game; it’s great for creativity
Cons: Some younger children may struggle with contributing to the story
Scavenger Hunt For Kids
We tested the Scavenger Hunt Cards out on our Michigan road trip. They’re less frustrating for kids if you’re playing the game in a city or passing through towns.
Pros: Keeps the kids occupied for long stretches of time
Cons: A little hard for kids under the age of 7; depending on the theme, there may be long stretches of no sightings (ie. city theme hunt while you drive through the countryside)
Alphabet Objects Game
Players try to spot items in the passing scenery (not in the car), but the objects start with each letter of the alphabet in order.
An actual letter in a license plate or sign may be used.
Pros: Free; easy for most ages
Cons: Boring stretches of the road could derail the game
My kids are under 8 years old, so this game is just now starting to become easy for them. For this game, you pick a category (“countries” is a good one for grade schoolers), and then run through alphabet naming one thing in that category that starts with each letter.
Be sure you pick a category that best suits the youngest member of the family. A few categories to get you started:
– TV shows
– Disney characters
Pro: Great for literacy and learning your ABCs
Cons: Things always seem to peter out half-way through the alphabet
Stand-up Comedy That’s PG-Rated
Comedians lighten the mood of any lengthy road trip. If you’re looking for a few family-friendly stand-ups (AKA clean), here are some of my favorites:
– Dimitri Martin (more like PG-13 for older kids)
– John Mulaney (more like PG-13 for older kids)
Pros: Full stand-up special can eat up a whole hour
Cons: There’s always that one joke with the curse word you forgot about.
Pretty simple concept: Each player tries to repeat a tongue twister as many times as possible without making a mistake.
– She sells seashells by the seashore
– Toy boat
– Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
– Rubber baby buggy bumpers
– How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood
– Unique New York
– One smart man, he felt smart; two smart men, they felt smart; three smart men, they all felt smart
– Red leather, yellow leather
– Six thick thistle sticks
Pros: Fun and short
Cons: Short lasting
Player 1 thinks of a word and tells the group “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with ____.” The other players try to discover the mystery word by asking questions that define words that also rhyme with the first word. Player 1 must answer the questions with the new rhyming words.
– Player 1 says “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with cat.”
– The next player asks “Does it fly at night?”
– Player 1 says “No, it’s not a bat.”
– Another player asks “Do you wear it on your head?”
– Player 1 says “Yes, it’s a hat!”
If the players are stumped, Player 1 wins the round. If not the player who uncovers the mystery word wins the round and thinks of the next word.
Pros: Great literary skills builder
Cons: It’s a little tough for younger kids with limited vocabularies
Wipeable Activity Books
My kids went through an artistic phase that involved forgetting about crayons and leaving them to melt in the car. Wipeable activity books saved the day.
Pros: You can reuse activity books
Cons: Over time, some of the marker stops wiping off 100%
Travel tickets can be used as a rewards system for those mystery bags I mentioned earlier. Kids can earn tickets for every half-hour of the trip, for example, and they can redeem tickets for prizes.
Or, do the reverse and have a bag of pre-counted tickets for your child and every half hour, they hand you a ticket. When the tickets are all gone, your trip is done.
Pros: It provides a visible indicator for “Are we almost there?”
Cons: Ticket debris everywhere; parents ends up keeping track of the time for the kids
I’m lucky to live in Omaha and have direct access to Fat Brain Toys, where I find awesome travel games. For non-Omaha readers, you can find a lot of their items online, so you’re not missing out.
One of the first travel items I bought for my kids was a Fat Brain Toys creation, Coggy (ages 6+). It’s a matching game with 40 challenge cards. It’s a chain of gears, so there aren’t a ton of pieces to lose.
Pros: Challenges get progressively harder
Cons: No real complaints!
State Activity Sheets
One way for kids to learn more about where you’re headed is through activity sheets that may share a little bit of facts along the way.
When my kids were younger, coloring sheets worked fine as well.
Don’t want to hunt down free printables? Here are a few activity book options:
Pros: Great way to learn about a destination; printables are free
Cons: It might feel like homework for kids
Snap Categories Game
Players clap in unision to this pattern: Clap hands on thighs twice/clap hands together twice; snap fingers of left hand; snap fingers of right hand’ repeat pattern.
One player begins the game by naming a category on the “snap snap” portion of the patter. Without missing a beat and not repeating items, each player in turn must name something from the categoy on the “snap snap.”
Pros: Creative game that can pull in older kids; helps with pattern recognition skills
Cons: The driver is not going to be able to play this game. Obviously.
Going On A Picnic Game
The first player begins by saying “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing _____.” The player must fill in the blank completing the sentence with a word or phrase beginning with the letter A, such as apples or aged cheese.
The second player repeats the setence just as the first player said it and adds an item that begins with B. “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing aged cheese and bagels.”
The game continues with each player repeating the complete list of items and then adding something that begins with the next letter of the alphabet. The winner is the last person who can repeat the whole basketful of items collected without making a mistake.
Pros: It’s an easy, all-ages friendly game
Cons: Your kids will come up with some pretty gross picnic items, I guarantee.
I have a love-hate relationship with SmartGames’ IQ Puzzler. My kids love it so much that I’ve replaced it with a new set after pieces from the first one went missing. It’s a brilliant game for kids who love spatial reasoning games.
The game gets progressively difficult with challenges (120 challenges!), so kids as young as 6 can get into the game. Its small case is ideal for travel. The little pieces? Not so ideal for travel.
Pros: Kids can progress with this game; fun without feeling like learning
Cons: The little pieces are so easy to lose
Rainbow Spot-It Game
Go through the colors of the rainbow, starting with red, and call out things you see with that color.
Everyone must find 10 red things before moving on to the next color.
Pros: Great game for all ages
Cons: Some landscapes are less colorful than others
Straight Face Game
If your family has a flair for drama or humor, this is going to be a fun car game. Players ask one person a series of questions, but that person can only answer with an invented phrase (“rhubarb” “the cat’s tail”).
If the person answering questions laughs, they’re out.
Pro: Great game for building improv skills
Cons: The game doesn’t last long
Quick lesson: Anagrams are fun for kids, but wooden ones are not great for road trip. The answer is, of course, magnets.
Pros: Creative puzzle game that builds math skills; magnets make it less likely you’ll lose pieces
Cons: You’ll still lose pieces
Two Truths and a Lie
My fourth grader is really into the game Two Truths and a Lie. The game is pretty simple: One person shares two truths and one lie and the other people have to guess which one is a lie.
Pros: You can learn a lot about each other
Cons: You can learn a lot about each other
How Many Can You Name Game
Name a category and your child has 10 seconds to name as many things in that category as possible. You can make categories very general (“animals”) for young kids, and specific (“animals with no teeth”) for older kids.
Pros: Easy game to start and learn
Cons: Inevitable arguments about the time keeping or quantity of words
Scratch Paper Art
Scratch paper is coloring with a twist. Kids scratch their drawing into the black paper, and the colorful designs undernearth are revealed. This particular kitt by pigipigi comes with stencils, too.
Pros: All you need is the wooden scratcher and paper. and voila, art!
Cons: Lots and lots of black dust in your car
Word Chain Game
For Word Chain, simply choose a topic, such as food. The first person says a word, the second person says that word plus his own, the third person says the first two words plus her own, and so forth.
Person 1: Pizza
Person 2: Pizza toppings
Person 3: Pizza toppings spillage
You continue until someone can no longer remember the word chain.
Cons: This is hard to keep going
You can play this game anywhere. Spot It! is a card game of sorts that plays with visual perception. You really only need one version, but of course, Zygomatic makes a variety of Spot It! themes. You can get the original version, or go find one with animals, Disney characters, or sports.
Pros: There’s a theme for every interest; they make junior versions for younger players
Cons: Cards end up on the floor of the car. Always.
What Do You Know Game
Have you or one of the kids find something out of the window, like a horse. Everyone says what they know about horses.
Pros: Great way to teach your children about different animals, locations, and get them to ask questions.
Cons: You might find out you know very little about things
Att a rest stop, one person is chosen to secretly write down a number. Then, each player chooses a color and gets a paper and pencil. Between rest stops, players tally how many cars in that color they see.
When you reach your stop, compare and see who got closest to the correct (correct meaning the secret number) number. When you take off again choose a new color.
Pros: It’s great to build color recognition skills and counting skills
Cons: This game can last so long, one person will inevitably forget about it.
License Plate Magnetic Travel Game
Everyone knows the License Plate Game, right? It’s hard to keep track of what you spot, though. I like this magnet travel version of the game.
Of course, you could always just print out a free version.
Pros: The whole family can be involved with looking
Cons: Finding that elusive Alaska or Hawaii license plate
Bring a few rolls of dimes with you for this one, plus a baggie for each kid.
Have each child choose a color at the start of the road trip. When they see a car in that color, they earn a dime that they can save in their baggie. When you reach a pit stop they can spend their dimes on whatever they want!
Alternate rule: Kids lose a dime if they exhibit bad behavior.
Pros: Great for kids who are motivated by incentives
Cons: Who has dimes anymore?
Time And Distance Game
When you are on a long stretch of road, pick a landmark near the road and take a poll of your passengers:
– How far away is the top of that hill (or that water tower, or bridge etc.).
– How long will it take us to get there?
As you do, make a note of the numbers on the mileage indicator and of the time. Give a prize to the one who guessed the closest time and a prize to the one who guessed the closest distance. Double the prize for someone who was right on the dot.
Pros: Great activity to build awareness of distance and time
Cons: It’s pretty tough for little kids…and even adults
When my kids were young – I’m talking toddlers and preschoolers – they were still working on fine motor skills. so many of the typical road trip games were beyond their ability to play.
But lacing toys? These were fun games to my littles. You can find just about any shape for lacing on Etsy!
Pros: Quiet activity; builds fine motor skills; easy to undo and start again
Cons: Somehow those strings disappear
The Teacher’s Cat Game
This game had us all laughing, kids and adults. To begin, start with the letter A. The first person says “The Teacher’s Cat is an (think of a word that starts with A) cat”. Go around in a circle to each person while they say “The Teacher’s Cat is an (fill in with a word that starts with the letter A) cat. Some examples: Angry, Awful, Artistic, Adventurous, etc.
When you run out of ideas for A, move on to B, then C, etc.
Pros: Great vocabulary builder
Cons: Not many
Imaginary Traveler Game
The sillier the answers, the better this game gets.
Taking turns, and continuing with consecutive letters of the alphabet, kids imagine where they might go and what object they want to take along on their trip. For example, “I’m going to Aunt Amanda’s and I’m taking my Aardvark.” “I’m going to Bermuda and I’m taking my Blue Balloon.”
Pros: Creative game that the whole family can play; free
Cons: Thinking of X words
Road Trip Journal
If your pre-teen or teen isn’t into group games, maybe a more pensive activity is for them. Trip journals are good writing prompts.
For younger kids, like under 9, get a combo journal with writing prompts and activity book like this one by Rob Taylor.
Pros: Quiet activity; great for creative writing
Cons: Kids may feel it’s a chore if it’s not their idea
I See A Rhyme Game
Taking turns, participants complete the sentence “I see a ____.” Each player must rhyme the last word with the previous player’s word.
“I see a dog.”
“No, I see a log.”
“But I see a hog!”
When you’ve exhausted one rhyme, start with a new word.
Pros: Great vocabulary builder
Cons: It’s a short-lived game
One player starts a story with a sentence such as “Fortunately, the coach is coming.” The next player counters with a sentence such as, “Unfortunately, the coach looks really mad!”
The next player starts again with “Fortunately…”
Pros: Creative play
Cons: Younger kids may get stuck in a rut and repeat answers
If you have old Trivial Pursuits laying around, grab one of the boxes of cards for your next road trip. Take turns quizzing each other.
But, if yours are as dated as mine, you might want to buy a more recent addition, or even one made especially for a road trip. There’s a Family Edition that has separate questions for kids and adults.
Name 5 Game
Choose a category such as states, flowers, or animals. Going through the alphabet, each player must name five things in that category.
For example, if animals is the category, the first player may say aardvark, antelope, ant, anteater, ape. The next player starts with B: baboon, boar, bear, bullfrog, bird.
Pros: Great for kids learning the alphabet
Cons: Figuring out the sweet spot for which age this is best for
5-Word Sentence Game
Make up a sentence of exactly five words. The trick is, each word must begin with the same letter of the alphabet. The first player begins with “A.”
“Ansel Adams ate an alligator.” The next player uses the letter “B.”
Tip: You can allow small words like “a” “an “and” and “the.”
Pros: Great vocabulary builder
Cons: Not many
Share your road trip games & tips!
I’m always looking for new ideas. Let me know what your family enjoys on long road trips!
Leave a comment below!