20 Extended Car Trip Activities for Large Families

Family road trip

These days, with the ease and prevalence of portable devices, filling the time on lengthy car trips isn’t the daunting task it used to be. Everything from coloring pages to educational games to narrated stories can be downloaded and brought along on the road. But if you’re mindful about the screen time you allow your kids, you may not want them glued to an iPad for the duration of a multi-hour journey. (Besides, in large families, when not everyone has a device, the fight for gadgets can get intense!)

To minimize screen time—and the bickering over whose turn it is with a device—get back to basics on a long car trip with old-school family activities. These wholesome pastimes don’t just fill the space until you reach grandma’s house or the Grand Canyon. They also build camaraderie, create happy family memories, and (in some cases) foster brain development and skills mastery.

Here are 20 activities large families can try for good, clean fun in the car.

1. I Spy

This time-honored game of observation is a classic for a reason! It requires no equipment and keeps kids’ attention engaged. Take turns selecting something visible to all in the car—but keep it a secret. Start off stating its color or some other distinguishing characteristic, like “I spy something red” or “I spy something round.” Other players guess the object in turn. Modify this for younger children by adding extra clues each round.

2. The License Plate Game

Another easy activity you likely grew up playing yourself is the license plate game. Have all passengers keep their eyes peeled to spot license plates from all 50 states. When you see a new one, shout it out! One person can serve as the “secretary” who keeps a written log. Will you find plates from all states before you reach your destination?

3. Songs in a Round (or With Hand Motions)

Even if it’s been a long time since elementary school music class, you probably remember a handful of tunes that can be turned into rounds, with lines sung in succession by individual singers. If your kids don’t know any rounds, now is a great time to teach them. Start with easy melodies like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Frere Jacques.” You may find you have the makings of a family band! 

Just like rounds, you might also recall some songs with simple hand motions. Reach back into those childhood memories (or do a quick internet search) for the gestures that go along with “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “The Wheels on the Bus.” Let older kids get silly by making up motions of their own.

 4. Scribble Me This

Here’s one for when you’d like a bit of quiet time. You’ll need one piece of paper per child, plus something for everyone to draw with. On each piece of paper, scribble a shape—any shape—and distribute to all your passengers. They must then incorporate the scribble into a meaningful drawing. An obtuse triangle may become a long nose, while a half circle could turn into a setting sun.

When everyone is finished, they get to show off their work to the rest of the family. The bonus: Kids who are concentrating on their drawing are kids who aren’t fighting with their siblings. 

5. Mystery Bag

If your car is packed to the gills, this one may be a challenge. But if there’s room for one more small bag (or pillowcase), a mystery bag can be a fun tactile experience for kids. Fill an opaque bag with random objects—the more interesting to touch, the better. Each child takes a turn reaching in to pick one object without looking at it.

The challenge: to see if they can identify what they’re holding. Award one point for each correct guess! You may even do this with items you need to bring along on your trip anyway, such as socks, a toothpaste tube, or a packet of tissues.

6. 20 Questions

Person, place, or thing? So begins this quintessential guessing game. One person thinks of something from one of these three categories. Other players must take turns asking yes-or-no questions to narrow down the end result. Don’t forget to keep track of the number of questions asked! If you don’t discover the answer by question #20, the secret-keeper wins. 

7. Car Charades

Everyone but your driver can get in on car charades. Just like you’d play at a party, this mobile version of the classic game involves simply pantomiming actions for other players to guess. You can, of course, boost the difficulty and variety by forming teams, establishing themes, etc., but you may have just as much fun without extra rules.

8. Don’t Say It 

For an ongoing gag that can last the entire duration of a trip, try this “forbidden” word game. Often played at baby showers (where you’re not allowed to say “baby”), this works well on car trips, too. Settle on a word everyone is likely to want to use (such as “drive” or—for extra mischief—“bored”) and have a supply of reward tokens, like clothespins or colored pieces of paper.

Any time someone is caught saying the taboo word, they must give their token to whoever caught them in the act. The person with the most tokens at the end of the trip wins.

9. Travel Scavenger Hunt

As you start your trip, jot down a list of items you’d like to spot along the way. You can place this list somewhere visible in the car, or if you’re prepping ahead, make copies for each member of the family to have close at hand. Get everyone in on the list-writing and make it as basic or as outlandish as you like. (You never know, you just might see a purple school bus or a galloping ostrich somewhere on the road!) 

10. First Letter-Last Letter

This word game may be easy to understand, but it makes kids and adults alike think on their feet. The first player starts off simply saying any word. The next person then has to say a word that begins with the last letter of that word. (If the first word is “flower,” for example, the next word must start with R.) To add challenge, choose a theme (like girls’ names or words about sports) and set a time limit (as in, anyone who takes longer than three seconds is out).

11. Name That Tune

If you have a list of songs on your phone, or access to a music streaming service, get the family in on a vehicular version of Name That Tune. Start a song at its beginning or at random and see who can identify it first. Driving through the middle of nowhere and don’t have internet? Just hum!

12. Question Jar

Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be difficult to ask the questions that take your family relationships deeper. But there’s no time like a long trip to get into real conversation with your spouse and/or kids.

Ahead of your journey, write down several conversation-starting questions (such as these ones specifically for kids) on strips of paper and place them in a jar. Pass the jar around to have each member of the family draw a question to answer. You might be surprised at what you learn about your family members.

13. Hangman

The game of hangman has been around since time immemorial. One person conceives of a secret word, then draws blank spaces for its letters. Other players must guess the letters that make up the word. Wrong guesses result in a stick figure drawn piece by piece on a hangman’s noose.

When the poor little stick man is complete, time’s up! (Though it’s up to you to decide exactly when this happens. When playing with younger kids, he may get a hat, shoes, facial features, etc.) This unusual way of thinking about words can help kids hone their spelling and linguistic skills

14. One Sentence at a Time

Something amusing always results when a large group of people tries to tell a story. In this activity, each person in the car gets to add to a tall tale one sentence at a time. To make the game last a bit longer, have everyone write their sentences down, or try writing one word at a time. Then read the whole silly story out loud.

15. The Alphabet Game

The alphabet game means different things to different people. For this version, choose a broad category, such as colors, cities, or fruits. Then take turns going through the alphabet to try to come up with something that fits the bill. A is for apple, B is for banana, C is for cantaloupe, etc. Switch categories each round. While this game may seem simple to your grown-up sensibilities, it’s a surprisingly effective for boosting cognitive ability and language development in kids.

16. How Many Words in One?

When the “are we there yets?” hit, break out this brainteaser. Choose a word with multiple letters and write it in large print on the top of a paper. Then ask everyone in the family to see how many other words can be formed with the letters of the original.

17. Telephone

Kids these days may never have used a landline, but they can still understand the concept of a garbled message. If everyone sits close enough to each other, this age-old game can safely be played in the car. One person whispers a sentence into their neighbor’s ear, who must then pass it on in a whisper to the next person, and so on. By the time it reaches the last person, there’s a good chance the message will go through some funny changes!

18. Do you want to visit the land of Ogg?

You’re going on a trip, so it’s only fitting to play a game that starts with this goofy question: Do you want to visit the land of Ogg? Whoever is “it” (it’s best if this is an adult, to start) explains that in the land of Ogg, there are sheep but no goats, puddles but no water, doors but no windows, and so on. In sum, everything in the land of Ogg has a double letter. Meanwhile, other players must figure out the riddle by asking questions. Once someone has cracked the code, it’s their turn to be “it,” creating their own rules for the land of Ogg. This game works best with older kids and teenagers.

19. The Left-Right Game

This one requires a little forethought (or internet access) and is another you may have played at showers or holiday parties. In a home setting, it starts with all players in a circle, but in the car, just establish who is sitting to everyone’s right and left. Then choose a desirable item like a tasty snack that can get passed around.

Look up or pre-print your favorite “left-right” story. These whimsical tales are full of characters like Mrs. Right who has left her mittens right where she thought she did. Every time the reader says the word “right” or “left,” the snack must be passed in that direction. By the time the story closes, one lucky winner ends up hanging onto the prize.

20. Customized Family Games

Finally, if you really have time to plan ahead, consider making car trip games truly unique with games customized to your family. DIY printable versions of Mad Libs, crosswords, bingo, and others are all available online. Wouldn’t it be entertaining for your kids to fill a crossword puzzle with answers only they will know? (Like which of them peeked at their Christmas presents early last year or who’s known for their hilarious knock-knock jokes.) Tailoring familiar games to your own family makes a memorable, creative surprise for everyone. After all, it’s going to be a long trip, so you—and your kids—might as well enjoy it!

 

 

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