Travel Games: Fun Ways for Kids to Pass the Time on Road Trips

The following post is by editor Kara Fleck. It has been updated for 2011.

Like many families at this time of year, the Flecks have been hitting the road, visiting relatives for the holidays.  We”re fortunate that the majority of our extended family lives with a day”s drive for us so we can travel to visit our loved ones on a regular basis.

Our kids travel fairly well in the car, in fact my middle two will usually sleep once we get on the road. We”ll see how the baby does, but so far she travels pretty easily for a four month old.

But, for my oldest, who doesn’t nap, a long trip can be tedious.  Even kids who travel well can sometimes get bored and antsy during a long road trip.  We have a few travel games that we like to play as a family to help to pass the time.

A few of our favorite travel games …

The License Plate Game

I can remember playing this while going on road trips with my grandparents as a kid.  They had a set of cardboard game boards with a license plate for every state.  You moved the red plastic slider up when you found a new state”s plate. (I wonder what happened to those?)

Today, I have a license plate app on my smartphone that lets us play this game when we travel.  But, you can still find travel game boards, like this one from Melissa & Doug.

You can print some car maps from Alicia at Magical Childhood The website you can use, too.  has a license plate game and also printable

Mad Libs

Mad Libs are a family favorite, providing silly fun and grammar practice at the same time.  The small size of the tablets makes them perfect for travel but you don”t have to purchase the tablets, you can print some sheets for free from the web.  Attach them to a clip board and grab a pencil, and you”re all set.

Scavenger Hunt

This is another game borrowed from my own childhood.  My mom made up a set of index cards with drawings of different items for us to find while we were on road trips.  Mom would divide the cards among us at the start of our trip and we would turn in the cards to her as we found them.

You could expand on this idea but including things you feel, hear, and even smell (my kids think the “skunk smell” card is a riot … unless we actually come across that one).

A few ideas for a road trip scavenger hunt:

  • a red barn
  • a dog
  • a man wearing a hat
  • a woman wearing a hat
  • a railroad crossing sign
  • a big bump (a “feeling” card)
  • a rainbow
  • an airplane
  • a green car
  • a taxi
  • a semi-truck horn (a “hearing” card)
  • a fire truck
  • a mail truck
  • a police car
  • a skunk (a “smelling” card)

A few holiday themed items:

  • blue Christmas lights
  • green Christmas lights
  • someone wearing a Santa hat
  • a  vehicle with a wreath on it
  • reindeer
  • a snowman
  • inflatable yard decor

You can also play a variation of this using the letters of the alphabet:  try finding each letter of the alphabet, in order, on the road signs that you pass.

I Spy Bags

Fun for younger kids, I Spy bags are fabric bags with a clear window and tiny objects inside to “spy” – a little like hide and seek or a scavenger hunt on a much smaller scale.  Our family”s I Spy bags were purchased from an etsy seller, but you could also make your own version.

What are your family’s favorite travel games?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Great ideas, Kara! I love the scavenger hunt ideas with smells and sounds included. My girls love playing the license plate game, too. They each have a US map on a clipboard and they color in the states as we see them. They almost have fully-colored maps – so exciting!

    I usually bring special stickers for making sticker pictures, plastic canvas/yarn/yarn needles, and pony beads/pipe cleaners for crafty fun in the car. 🙂
    Amy@Let’s Explore´s latest post: Mini Clipboard Gifts

  2. I also have free printable maps to play the license plate game here:

    There are two– one with the states labeled and one without (in case you want to add to the challenge and have kids figure out where the state is).

    We always bring crayons and the kids color in the states they see as they go. Sometimes we do one map each and sometimes a family map for the whole trip. It’s been great to teach them where the states are. 🙂
    Alicia´s latest post: New teen writing network launches

  3. I love the idea of scavenger hunt cards. My oldest is only 3, so he can’t do the reading required for many travel games, but cards with pictures would be cool. We often do that verbally (“see if you can find a horse”), just to give ourselves 3 minutes of quiet between the 9 zillion “why” questions.

    Our favorite travel game is: Drive at night while the kids are sleeping!
    Alissa´s latest post: 1000 Words

  4. Definitely some great ideas there! My kids and I love to play the license plate game on our road trips! It’s really fun! Lol. Another thing that helps keeps the kids occupied on the drive is our TV Everywhere app with DISH Network. Since I work/subscribe with DISH I just purchased the Sling Adapter and hooked it up to our equipment at home and it allows my kids to watch recorded shows we have or even a live feed of their favorite cartoon right on my phone. They really love it! It definitely helps pass the time for them on our longer trips.
    @ Alissa I like your favorite travel game lol, I’ll be using that one next time haha.

  5. So helpful! I just posted on our summer road trip we just planned and this is great!

  6. So now instead of a board, apps has taken the place through which you can play games of your choice. Even if games are not there, iPod will make your work easier.

  7. Oh my gosh! I loved Mad Libs when I was growing up….in fact, I’m 30 and I still get a laugh from them. 🙂 Great list!
    Stacy´s latest post: Fix and Forget Friday – Spiced Apple Pumpkin Butter


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