5 Tried-and-True Car Games

Long car rides can be a real drag, especially for kids. Here are 5 games to keep it fun.

Holiday road trips without car games? Talk about a long weekend.

Memorial Day Weekend was the unofficial start of road trip season. And we all know long car rides can be a drag. If you’re on the road for more than a couple hours at a time and there are other people with you, you’ll inevitably have to come up with some kind of activity to keep your minds from decomposing — especially if there are kids in the picture.

Reading might not be an option since it tends to make some people carsick. And unless you’ve each got your own devices and headphones, listening to music requires all the passengers to agree on the playlist. Not an easy feat considering some parents prefer not to listen to Justin Bieber or Lil Wayne for hours on end and kids won’t always appreciate Steely Dan.

As you’ll quickly discover, selecting the right game to play isn’t easy in the cramped confines of a car. “I Spy,” for example, isn’t especially great for fast highway travel. (“I spy something green and … behind us. Yep, it’s gone.”)

If you’re heading out with the family this summer, we know you’ll want to keep them occupied. So, to save you the trouble of trial and error, here are a few tried-and-true car games.

The License Plate Game

This car game is very simple and could potentially go on for years. Keep a list of all 50 states and check each one off as you spot a license plate from that state.

If you really like the idea, you can also shoot for international license plates. It’s not uncommon in America to spot plates from Mexico or Canada, and both of those countries have a variety of plates for different states and provinces.

The Alphabet Car Game

If the License Plate Game is a little slow-paced for your taste, maybe you’d prefer the Alphabet Game. (Clever titles, I know.) Start out looking for a word that begins with the letter A (“Alameda St. Exit 3 mi.”), then a word that starts with B (“Floyd’s Barbershop”), then C, D, and so forth until you complete the alphabet.

This can be played individually, cooperatively, or competitively. You’ll usually find that most of the action revolves around a few key letters. J is a tough one, and X is almost impossible. But you’ll drive past a Claim Jumper or Xerox Repair Center eventually — just make sure you’re the first to spot it!

20 Questions — a car game classic

You’re probably already familiar with this one. It’s my personal favorite because it will usually evolve in different ways with different groups of people.

One person comes up with an animal, vegetable, or mineral, and the rest of the car takes turns asking yes-or-no questions. If the askers can’t figure it out in 20 tries, the person who selected the answer wins. It’s as simple as that.

That’s just how I learned to play, though. There are lots of variations, so make sure to agree on the rules beforehand.

Unleash your creativity and invent your own car games

Sometimes the best games are the ones that you come up with yourself. Maybe you can assign points for spotting certain things: 10 points for a red van, 50 points for an airplane, 100 points for a UFO.

Other options include card games that don’t require table space, taking turns adding lines to a story that you make up as you go, and discussing supersymmetric string theory. Be creative and the miles will fly by.

Plugging in on the road

Some parents may hesitate to let their kids “plug in” on the road — chances are their eyes are glued to a screen enough as it is. Plus, if you don’t already own a portable game system, these aren’t exactly cheap. Newer setups, such as the PlayStation Vita or the upcoming Nvidia Shield, will run you upwards of $250.

Portable games are an option for long trips if you’re in need of some quiet time. A single game can last anywhere from 5 to 100 hours (not on a single charge, obviously), and many of them have connectivity options for online play or local multiplayer. Some games on the iPhone® or Android™ platforms (“Angry Birds,” “Minecraft”) also offer hours of child-friendly gameplay.

If you’re setting out on a lengthy road trip, eventually boredom will begin to creep up on you. But with these suggestions, you’ll be prepared for the miles ahead and able to keep you and your family relatively sane until you’ve reached your destination.

What are your favorite car games? Let us know.

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3 Responses to “5 Tried-and-True Car Games”

  1. Sharon
    May 28, 2013 #

    The rule in our car – the driver is in control of the radio. Because of this my kids appreciate Steely Dan. They are big Classic Rock fans and I'm proud to say they are huge Beatles fans. Don't limit your kids' music to what they want. Now that two of my kids are drivers, I have been exposed to some of what they like. Not a fan of my son's music, but my daughter has pretty good taste in what's popular today.
    Please unplug your kids as much as possible. They don't need to be constantly stimulated by electronics. Years ago I heard someone speak about the value of being bored once in a while. Gets your kids looking out the window, seeing things they have never seen (before they are behind you), day dreaming.

  2. Kathy Brown
    June 3, 2013 #

    We play travel bingo – instead of numbers we have cards where the grandkids look for items like – school bus, bridge, windmill, cow, horse. chickens, bird on a wire, church, school, smoke stack, tractor, wind turbine, haybails, etc. If you cannot find preprinted cards, make the cards with pictures from magazines – or just the words. The pictures really help with the younger kids.

  3. niks
    May 23, 2014 #

    Cool post

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