5 Fun Travel Games That Will Make Your Kids Smarter (and Keep You Sane!)

Travel Badge. Traveling with KidsRemember way back when we walked uphill to school both ways? In a snowstorm. In boots too big for our feet? A time when vehicles didn’t come with DVD players? When there were no hand-held devices to keep you occupied as the boring old miles rolled by? Remember when we had to learn self-control and regulation by doling out our “Are we there yet?”s wisely because on a long road trip we were only given three? (Maybe that was just me. I did like to ask a lot.)

Remember that?

Well, the bottom line is this: road trips can be boring. As kids, we had to adapt. We had to learn to entertain ourselves. We had to get creative. Invent and modify games. We had to learn to be in our own minds. We had to learn patience. We had to get along with our siblings or figure out how to quickly make up after a fight–because we were in it together and goodness, don’t make me suffer alone!

Today? We strap our kids into the vehicle and hand them a device to absorb their attention. Which is all right. It’s nice as a parent to not hear this a million times: “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored.” And “Cynthia is touching me/kicking me/looking at me.”

But are we doing our kids a disservice? Are we adding to their owly impatience? Their inability to self-regulate and entertain themselves? I know my kids certainly don’t look out the window as often. (Cue study findings about the correlation between an increase in screen time and a decrease in self-control, self-discipline, increased aggression, lowered attention spans and more.)

So, let’s mix it up old-school! Not only will these five fun classic travel games beat the boredom blues and prevent the summer slide, but they’ll also boost your child’s development.

(Summer slide is the loss of academic skills over the summer because kids aren’t engaged in learning experiences. That’s not to say put your kids in summer school–playtime and family time is important too! What they are saying is to challenge your kid’s intellectual skills throughout the summer. Read, play, explore, play math games and more. Keep that brain moving!)

Ready? Set… Let’s play!

Five Classic Travel Games for Kids

Game: Who Are They?

As you pass another vehicle use your imagination to create a story about the person driving. Be creative and try to imagine what that person is like and how they came to be there. You can be silly or serious.

Some starter questions: What’s their name? Where are they going? What’s their favourite thing to do? What are they afraid of?

You can play this game alone, or with others. If playing with others, each person can take their own turn without interruption as they create a history for the other driver. Or, players can build off of each other’s stories and ideas.

Variation: Guess who lives in a house or works in a business you pass.

There are no wrong answers with this one, only hours of creative silliness. For kids who fear being wrong this is a great, fun way to let them show their silly side in a safe environment.

Developmental perks: patience, self-expression–this can become an emotional outlet where they express and regulate their feelings through others, verbal skills, creativity, empathy–understanding others have lives too, and more! (Those are just a few of the developmental perks for this one.)

Storytelling Chain

Group storytelling. Everyone makes up one line for the group story.

So, one person starts the story by saying one sentence, then the next player takes over, adding their own sentence to the story. On and on until you have a story!

Once upon a time there was a girl…

I love playing this one with my kids and niece and nephew–whenever it is my nephew’s turn “the girl fell on her face and died.” Why do I love it? Because it forces the next person to get creative to keep the story going. And sometimes, because they know this is going to be his answer, they set him up for his famous line. Not only do kids learn patience and taking turns, but they learn teamwork and the joys of building a hilarious, rambling story with others.

Developmental perks: Taking turns, teamwork, verbal skills, creativity, storybuilding skills, patience, listening skills, social skills, communication, self-expression, and more! PLUS if you have someone in your group who is very set on how a story should go, this game can help them learn to work through their frustrations of not always having it their way and learning to see something from another’s point of view. (They can learn to let it go! It may take time… be patient! Help them see the humour and intrigue in another’s viewpoint.)

Car Ride I Spy Booklet

Cut pictures and words out of a magazine and glue them on a piece of paper. Check things off as you find them on your trip. For example, pictures of a dog, a bus, a crosswalk sign, the word “exit,” the letter “X,” etc.

Developmental perks: reading, visual identification skills, fine motor skills (if your kiddo makes the book, they’re cutting, gluing AND learning categorization–what sort of things do they see riding in the car?) and more.

Out and About-- Activities for Kids and Families (make every day an adventure)

5 License Plate Games

Ah, the BIG classic car ride game. What’s sweet about this one for preventing the summer slide? With the different variations you can not only work on literacy skills, but you’ll also work on some math skills. It’ll get your kids looking out the window, strengthening those eyes for some far-sighted seeing. As well, some of these variations boost creativity, work on some geography skills and more. Plus, they’re fun!

License Plate Find It

Pick a number or letter and try to find it on a license plate. Playing with a friend? See who can find it first. (Learning how to compete with others–winning with grace, losing with grace.)

License Plate Phrases

Make a phrase or word from the letters and numbers on a license plate. For example: license plate “RSN 542” could become Really Silver Nickels or Reason #542.

Collect States & Provinces

Look at the license plates on the vehicles around you. See how many different places you can find. Can you find all the provinces and territories or all of the states? See who finds the most.

License Plate Numbers

See how high you can count by finding numbers on license plates. Start with finding 1, then watch the next plate for 2…

Alphabet License Plate Game

Most license plates have numbers and letters. Search for the whole alphabet in license plates. Start by looking for the letter “A.” Once you have found that, go on to letter “B.” On you go through the whole alphabet—go in order!

Boost the challenge: Take only one letter from each license plate. In other words, you can’t take the letters “A” and “B” from the same license plate.

Rest Stop Track Meet

One person chooses an activity for the next rest stop (or gas station stop) whether it is to run to the nearest tree, do ten jumping jacks, or play five minutes of Frisbee or soccer. At the next rest stop, someone else chooses. Not only will this help relieve the ants-in-your-pants that builds up in small kids, but it will help keep the driver stay alert, too.


Thanks for playing today. Have a fabulous road trip!

This post was sponsored by The Genius of Play. Check it out here, there’s tons more great stuff for you and the kids: TheGeniusOfPlay.org


1001 boredom busting play ideas

Want more travel game ideas? These games and MANY MORE are available in Jean’s book 1,001 Boredom Busting Play Ideas. It’s available in paperback and ebook for a low, low price so you can have more family fun! Find out more about it here.

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