Here's the scene. The whole family is looking forward to vacation. You are going somewhere exciting and new! There will be sun! Sand! Surf! Mountains!
The problem? It's one heck of a car ride.
So what, you'll just pull out the iPads, right?
Sure, it's easy to strap on the headphones and give each kid his or her own screen to watch what they want, but will it challenge their critical thinking skills, improve literacy, strengthen math skills, enhance family bonds?
What about instead of the packing screens, you take along a hefty arsenal of screen-free, old-school road trip games for kids? And what if they are car games that parents will like, too?
So, here's your challenge. Take at least one road trip without using screens (OK, GPS is fine.) and instead try some of these road trip games. You could even start with a shorter trip. Say, one hour in the car, all together. See how it goes. Promise a big bowl of ice cream if you all get to your destination in one piece. I bet you can do it!
Below I have two categories of games to play in the car: thinking games, which require just you and your brains, and hands-on games, for kids who like to have something to do with their hands.
Thinking Road Trip Games
These thinking games are super old-school and great road trip games. No props, necessary! If you have tried out my lists of 20 waiting games or 15 word games, then you will recognize a few of these. But, there are plenty of new ideas, here, too!
The addition game
The first person says a number. The second person says a second number and adds them together, declaring the sum. The next person says a third number, adds it to the sum declared by the second person and declares the sum of those! Continue on as long as you wish. Decide ahead of time if you will limit the game to single or double digit numbers.
Invent a song
One person chooses a theme. It can be any theme from apples to zebras. Another person has to invent and sing a song about that theme for at least one minute.
A classic game! One person says a word and the next person says the first word that comes to their mind. This goes back and forth until everyone is laughing themselves silly.
The alphabet game
Family members look out the windows and call out the letters in the alphabet in order as they spot them on road signs. The first person to get to Z wins!
One person chooses a category such as "fruits" or "animals". Players alternate calling out words from that category in alphabetical order. Alternative: players take turns doing the entire alphabet's worth of words in one category.
Learn a few tongue twisters and see who can repeat them the most times without messing up. Here are a few tongue twisters to learn.
Two truths and a lie.
Everyone takes a turn making three statements. Two are true and one is not. Family members try to guess which is the lie.
How many can you name?
Name a category and your child has 10 seconds to name as many things in that category as possible. Make categories general ("animals") for young kids, and specific ("animals with no teeth") for older kids.
One person chooses 5 random letters. Kids come up with sentences in which each word starts with the designated letter. For example, HRTB. Harry read three books.
Try your hand at inventing limericks! They lend themselves to lots of giggles.
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, continue until someone can no longer remember the word chain.
Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? One person thinks of a thing and everyone else gets to ask up to 20 yes or no questions in an effort to guess what it is! This is a classic car game for kids!
Hands-On Road Trip Games
We absolutely must have travel games to play, either single player or multi-player. I also have a list of travel games here, but I've included more favorite road trip games below! (Affiliate links included.)
Auto Bingo! We have a couple of these and we love them! Perfect for extra-long car rides.
I love Table Topics To Go to start conversations in the car that aren't about whether or not one sibling has moved across the invisible "territory" line.
I have written many times about my love for Mad Libs! Such a great game, and excellent for building literacy skills with humor!
All You Need Is a Pencil: The Stuck in a Car, Plane, or Train Activity Book: Games, Doodling, Puzzles, and More! This is a fun book of activities with no plug-in required. Don't forget to pack a pencil!
Magnetic travel games. We have a magnetic sudoku set that has gotten a lot of use and you can find loads of different magnetic travel games for road trips, like Sudoku or Tic Tac Toe, depending on your children's interests.
How about a classic Rubik's Cube? I've never been able to solve the darn thing...
Wherever your travels take you this summer, these screen-free road trip games for kids are essential to have. Screens in the car keep families from interacting with each other (okay, so that is not always a bad thing...), they discourage looking out at the world and kind of defeat the purpose of getting out of the house!
And, hey, if you really need the family to retreat to their own corner of the vehicle, put on an audiobook the whole family will love. I have just the list of audiobooks for family road trips that you need right here.
Happy (screen-free) travels!