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Road trip with kids: 10 games to play to survive boring car journeys

Heading on a long car journey with the kids this weekend? Pass the time and beat backseat blues with these fun old-fashioned travel games.
Camper van in the countryside

You’re stuck in traffic, bumper to bumper for the next five junctions, the kids are brawling a​nd grandma needs the loo; ‘fun’ options are limited. Short of leaving the lot of them on the hard shoulder and cruising off into the distance, take a deep breath and suggest one of these fun games to play in the car – ‘I spy’ or ‘Would you rather?’ to relieve the tension. We guarantee, a round of ‘the quiet game’ or any one of these old-fashioned travel games and harmony will be restored, at least until you make it to the next service station. Here are ten to choose from next time you’re faced with road trip rage.

10 free and fun games to play in the car

1. License plate game

California license plate on a red car

A car full of kids, a few pads of paper, pens and the open road. That’s all you need to keep the little ones entertained as they search for license plates from different countries. Or if you’re in the U.S., different states. Scribble down the plates you find on paper (be honest) and the one that has the most wins. You can raise the stakes by giving double points for naming the capital city of the country spotted, triple points for diplomatic or official plates.

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2. I Spy

Mother and two kids at the back of a car - road trip with family

Probably the easiest game to play in the car: just utter the words “I spy with my little eye” and everyone will be on the lookout for the most obscure bit of scenery flashing by. It’s good for kids, and older generations won’t be able to resist this simple game’s sentimental charm. Items such as ‘road’ ‘clouds’ and ‘sky’ are all predictable choices, whilst things almost invisible to the human eye are more likely to get you the win, like ‘air’ or the leaves on that tree three fields over. However, nothing says ‘spoil-sport’ like selecting a target that zoomed past a mile back; make sure your choice is present at all times throughout the game.

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3. Punch buggy

The concept is simple enough: give a little love tap to your neighbour in the car whenever you find a Volkswagen Beetle. But, there’s some debate over whether the classic buggies, the New Beetle or the sporty modern version should be used for the game. Just don’t put too much power behind your punch; there’s nothing worse than fighting back tears after your little sister beats you down.

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4. 20 questions

Pick your answer and give the rest of the people in the car only 20 questions to figure it out. Seems easy enough, until you get someone that picks something obscure like Hervé Villechaize; trying to guess the evil henchman from James Bond classic, The Man with the Golden Gun, might get people asking “are we there yet?” That’s a question – you’ve only got 19 more to go.

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5. Hold your breath

Mother and two children soaking up the view in Montenegro

You’re heading in to any underground route, and whilst you could pretend it’s a dragon’s lair, this may incite even more backseat excitement from your little darlings. Instead, set them the challenge of holding their breath for the entire length of the tunnel. Time them to see how long they can hold on and whoever does so the longest wins. Of course, if you run in to traffic the game is suspended. It’s probably a good idea to let the driver or person in the front passenger seat figure out who wins.

6. Guess the time

Kids, grandparents and a dog next to the car - road trip with the family

You’re en route to Tayto Park, the cool-box is packed with sandwiches and fizzy pop, and you’re keen to scream your head off on the latest stomach-churning rollercoaster. How long is it until you’ll be scared senseless on Cú Chulainn Coaster, or get your thrills on the Sky Glyder? Take turns guessing how long it’ll take to reach your destination. Just don’t let the driver use GPS before making their guess, or worse, let them think they can speed to beat your guess!

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7. Memory game

Mother and daughter popping their heads out of a car window

There are a few names for this one (The Picnic Game, Casserole Game, etc.) but they all start in similar fashion; you say “I’m going out on a picnic and I’m bringing…” follow that with whatever item that comes to mind. Then the next player has to remember that item and add something else to the story. Get a part of the story wrong and you’re out. This one keeps the trip fun and can last for a good long while, so long as you give the younger travellers some leniency with their turn in the game.

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8. Quiet game

Pre-teen Girls and Boy in Minivan.

This is a true trump card in attempting to restore order in a car full of squabbling siblings. You’ve let the incessant arguing over whose turn it is to play Candy Crush on the iPad slide for the past 100 km, but no more. “Let’s see who can stay quiet the longest” – which really means stop moaning and give me some peace and quiet. It’s a good time to get creative and find ways to pick on your passengers without any noise, but this may result in actual expulsion from the car, so our advice is to shut up pronto!

9. Would you rather?

Family resting next to their camper van - road trip with the family

Would you rather put your hand in a bowl of electric eels or dance naked while roaches are poured over your head? Neither option is particularly pleasing, but you’ve got to pick one. That’s the premise of this travel game. Everyone takes a turn having to choose between a rock and a hard place. Alternatively, you could make it a game of awesome ultimatums, but where’s the fun in that? Admittedly, this one is more geared towards the adult audience, but it can easily be tailored for kids and be just as fun.

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10. Hot seat

Family with kids and grandparents in the countryside

This one is a decidedly grown-up game to play in the car, but still a lot of fun. Every person in the car takes a turn in the ‘hot seat’ – once you’re in it other passengers will ask you five questions that you must answer. Usually you can veto one of the questions, but you can see how wild this game could get… Try avoiding giving an answer that’s going to annoy fellow travellers and create an awkward atmosphere for the next four hours.

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Road trip with kids: 10 best games to play in the car

1. License plate game
2. I Spy
3. Punch buggy
4. 20 questions
5. Hold your breath
6. Guess the time
7. Memory game
8. Quiet game
9. Would you rather?
10. Hot seat

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