Squabble-Free Travel with Your Kids

Do you spend a lot of time in the car and struggle to keep everyone happy during your ride? Do you find yourself resorting to just about anything just to keep your kids busy? There is a better way than screen time—and it’s way more fun! (And don't tell them, but they will be learning at the same time!)


When my daughters were young, we spent a good bit of time in the car: going back and forth to school, visits to their grandparents, running errands and lots of weekend trips and vacations. Early on, I discovered that the best way to pass time and keep them occupied was by playing a variety of different car games. Some of the games were as simple as counting the number of magnolia trees we passed on the way to school (we live in Louisiana) and others were based on games they played at home with friends. They loved them and the time flew by when we were playing. In fact, it really helped them learn to be able to entertain themselves—with no TV or videos to watch, they relied on their own creativity to invent tons of new games or twists on the old ones. They still laugh about “Copycat”, a game they invented when they were very young—it really amounted to one person just repeating what the other sai, but they thought it was hilarious!   Absolutely no materials were needed for the games we played in the car and there was no preparation—we didn’t even have to be able to see each other to play the games! 


With grandchildren traveling with us from time to time now, we are dipping back into our bag of tricks to keep them occupied, as well. Here are some favorites of my crew:

I Spy - Easy for all ages, this is always a good way to start. Person #1 looks around the vehicle and declares, “I spy something ___(color)____.” Each person takes turns guessing the object. We limit the selections to things that are inside the vehicle since those are the things that will be moving along with the kids. (You wouldn’t want to pick something on a sign that you quickly pass and no oje else would be able to find.)

Categories - Person #1 begins by naming a “Category” (for example: Farm animals, candy bars, etc.). Person #2 then names a specified number of 5 things that fit into that category. There is no winner or loser, but the kids don’t really care!  Another version is that Person #1 names the category, then everyone takes turn naming something that fits the category until you reach 10 items. Then the next person takes a turn naming the category, etc.

It is very easy to individualize this game so that everyone can play. With very young children, you can pick your categories carefully and lower the number of items. Likewise, with older children, you can choose more difficult categories and designate a higher number of items.

Scattergories - This is a car-version twist on the boxed game, similar to the one listed above. You do need a paper and pencil for this version. In this game, person #1 comes up with a category and writes down a list of 10 items that fit the category. This list is kept secret. (If everyone has paper and pencil, you could all make a list at the same time and then take turns using the lists.) Person #1 names the category and the other participants take turns guessing items until all items on Person #1’s list have been named.

Alphabet Signs - This is an oldie, but goodie. I played it as a child and my grandkids are playing it now. It is so easy—-Beginning with “A”, simply go through the alphabet, calling out the letters as you see them on billboards and signs. Each person works on their own usually, but if you are worried about squabbles, you can team up to make it a family project. You’ll find yourself wishing for bar-b-que joints, exits and zoos to complete your list!!

Famous People - This game is best played with children that are a little bit older, but can be adapted for younger children as well. Person #1 names a famous person—first and last name. Person #2 names a famous person that begins with the first letter of the last name that Person #1 named. Example:  Person #1 names George Washington. Person #2 must name a person whose name begins with a “w”, such as Will Smith. Person #3 must then name a person whose first name begins with an “s”, such as Susan Sarandon, etc. 

To adapt the game for younger children, simply let them think of anyone that they know that begins with the named letter.  Or to simplify it even more, just name the first name—-the next person thinks of someone that begins with the last letter of the name: example: Person #1 says Susan, so Person #2 must think of a name that begins with “n” etc.

Twenty Questions - Based on the usual Twenty Questions game, Person #1 thinks of either a book or movie that they are sure everyone is familiar with. Other people take turns asking “yes” or “no” questions to give them clues until someone is able to guess the answer. Depending on long the game has been going on, sometimes we just keep going until the answer is guessed, but if it seems too difficult, then limit the game to 20 questions and let someone else be the Leader.

I’m Thinking of . . . - This version 20 Questions works just the opposite. Person #1 thinks of an object and then gives one clue about the object. “I’m thinking of something that _____.” Each person then takes turns guessing the object. If it is not guessed after several tries, Person #1 adds to their clue. Example: Person #1 says “I’m thinking of something that is round.” Then, “I’m thinking of something that is round and bounces.” Then, I’m thinking of something that is round, bounces and we play games with.”, etc.

ABC Animal-style - Starting with A, each person names an animal that begins with A. After each person has named one, move to letter B and move on through the alphabet. Sometimes we have to get really creative like “quick fox” for letter Q or something like that, but that just makes it all the more fun!

BINGO - This is fun and really easy for all ages. Every time you see a yellow vehicle, you say “bingo” and get one point. You can make up your own rules, but for our version, the vehicle must have a motor.  That means that a yellow bicycle doesn’t count, but a yellow motorcycle does! The first person to 20 points wins that round and you start over. If you happen to see a whole lot full of yellow vehicles, declare “bingo lot” and get an automatic 3 points rather than calling out each of the vehicles.

Have you tried any of these games yet with your family? Do you have a favorite game that I didn’t mention?