Games for a family road trip need three ingredients in order to maximize their vacation mileage: portability, a minimum number of small parts, and kid-friendly fun factor. Avoid the “Are we there yet?” blues and take a detour around the “tech trap” when you add one or more of these travel-ready games to your emergency road kit. From modern spins on retro favorites to cleverly designed all-in-one sets that kick searches for lost pieces to the curb, these are the best road trip games for families.
1. The Alphabet Game
In this classic road trip game that doesn’t require a board or game pieces, players attempt to find words starting with every letter of the alphabet, going in order from A to Z. You can look at billboards, road signs, branded trucks, restaurant names, and more. It’s up to you whether to play cooperatively–with each player building off the group’s progress–or competitively, with everyone going through their own alphabet. Either way, when players spot their next word, they call out their letter and the word (“A! Arby’s!”) so everyone can keep track. Some people use the rule that if someone spots a graveyard, they can declare it and all other players will go back to “A”.
Another version of the Alphabet Game is for someone to pick a category (the original game is “groceries/food”, but it could be animals, places, famous people, or something else), and the family will take turns naming items from that category that begin with ascending letters from A to Z. For example, if one person starts with “aardvark,” the next person could follow up with “butterfly” and so on.
2. Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Hangman
A retro game made road-ready, Flip to Win Hangman by Melissa & Doug is one of the best road trip games for beginning readers (ages 6 and up). Designed with flippable, magnetic wooden letters, each game comes with an erasable whiteboard and a self-store dry-erase marker. The sturdy set really holds up to repeated kid (and adult) play, which is good because it’s addictive! It’s so fun, in fact, you’ll want to buy a second game for Grandma’s house!
3. Coggy by Fat Brain Toys
Get kids’ mental gears spinning as they build visual spatial skills with Coggy by Fat Brain Toy Co. The mind-building travel game is designed as a single strand of connected patterned cogs, which players match to a series of corresponding pattern cards. Gears make a satisfying click as they pivot, making Coggy one of the best travel games for kids who need some sensory input when they’re cooped up in the car.
4. I Spy
No self-respecting list could leave out this classic kids’ road trip game! Players take turns selecting an object around them (ideally something in the car or that will remain in sight for a while), and giving the others a clue about it. The traditional formula is “I spy, with my little eye, something [color], or something beginning with [letter].”
But if you want to get preschoolers even more involved with the game, try the I Spy Travel Card Game from University Games. Similar to the board-free classic, this road trip game is seek-and-find style for ages 4 and up. The game contains 48 jumbo cards with simple pictures and corresponding text. Pre-readers will feel grown-up as they “read” about common road trip sights, and then race to be the first to locate them.
5. Travel Blurt
A favorite party game gets a travel makeover in Travel Blurt, a fast talking word recall game for on-the-go play. Pit sibling against sibling or parent team against kid teams in a hilarious competition that will have everyone laughing out loud. A handy travel case and magnetic scorecards help keep the fun at your fingertips. One of the best road trip games for groups, Travel Blurt is for three to four players, ages 10 and up.
6. License Plate Game
Have your kids “collect” as many license plate states as they can find, writing each one down to keep track. They probably won’t find all 50 (looking at you, Alaska and Hawaii), but especially if you’re driving cross-country, you’d be surprised how many people you’re sharing the road with. This is another kids’ road trip game that lends itself equally well to collaboration or competition: do they work together or collect their own lists of plates? Or go a step further and have them learn while playing with the Flip to Win License Plate Game by Melissa & Doug.
Easy to play and fun for all ages, it’s a scavenger-hunt style game that helps kids learn U.S. states and capital cities. The beauty of this smartly designed game—and what makes it one of the best road trip games available—is that the parts stay put. No more fishing loose pieces out of car seats and seat cushions, thanks to sturdy, flippable, magnetic wooden pieces! Adults will enjoy taking a trip down memory lane as they play along with the kids and revisit a childhood classic. Great for gift-giving, this game is for one to two players (or teams), ages 8 and up.
7. Interstate Highway Bingo Cards
Lure your family members away from their devices and into the driver’s seat on your next road trip travel adventure with Interstate Highway Bingo Cards by Regal Games. Fingertip shutters reveal photos of common road trip sights, such as a horse, rest area, farm house and police car. Be the first to get five pictures in a row, and become the king or queen of the road trip! The four-card set makes it easy for brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles to get in on the scenery-spotting competition.
8. 20 Questions
Especially with younger kids, it often seems like the questions are endless. 20 Questions is a perfect way to get it out of their system. You’ve probably played it before, but just to refresh your memory: one player thinks of a person, place, or thing. The others take turns asking yes-or-no questions; after each question, they get a guess about what/where/who it is. If they don’t solve it after 20 questions, they lose.
9. Guess in 10-Cities Around the World
It’s the Game of 20 Questions, minus 10! In “Guess in 10-Cities Around the World,” players draw clue cards and, through the process of elimination, make guesses to identify one of 52 diverse metropolitan locations. Kids and parents will learn about the food, culture and monuments associated with the world’s most famous cities, from Rome to San Francisco. For parents looking to increase learning mileage on the road, this game for players ages 8 and up is one of the best road trip games to pack in your overnight bag.
10. Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Travel Bingo
A family favorite in Melissa & Doug’s winning line-up of all-in-one travel games, Flip to Win Travel Bingo keeps all the small parts on the board – and helps keep boredom at bay. Each set contains four laminated double-sided cards, with themes including vehicles, signs, country and city. The best road trip game for families who love Bingo, this game is designed for two or more players ages 4 and up.
FlashDash by Winning Fingers helps backseat travelers get the wiggles out, without waging a sibling turf war. A combination of the popular games Simon and Bop it, contained in a compact handheld electronic cube, FlashDash features four different speed and memory games, with lights and optional sound. For kids who need to move on long car rides, this Android device alternative is one of the best new road trip games. Designed for ages 6 to adult.
12. Cow on My Side
This simple kids’ road trip game is a lot of fun for families driving through the countryside. When you see cows on your side of the road, yell “Cows on my side!” You get a point for each time you call a group of cows. If you spot cows on the opposite side, you can yell “Cows on your side!” and steal a point from your opponent. Passing a cemetery? The first person to yell “Ghost cow!” steals all the other side’s points.
Of course, you can always bring along a tablet or computer and put on one of these kids’ movies for road trips, but sometimes it’s nice to just engage everyone with some old-fashioned fun. Especially if your trip is on the longer side, it’s a good way to turn those potentially torturous hours into quality family bonding time.
Writer Jackie Perrin has covered the best of family travel for nearly two decades, for media ranging from newspapers and magazines to TripAdvisor.com. At home and on the go, she manages a crew of companions. Follow her on Pinterest, TripAdvisor and Instagram, @NYfamtravels.
Related: Most Fun Family Beach Games