The Best Games for Beating Boredom on the Road
A family road trip, or any vacation involving long travel times for kids, is nearly always something of a gamble. It can be a pleasurable experience that you'll all look back upon fondly, or a veritable ordeal that tests the patience of parents and the conduct of even the best-behaved children. The key factor is boredom. Allow the kids to get too bored, and you'll witness their enthusiasm turn to irritability, resulting in endless variations of, “Are we there yet?” and ever more imaginative feats of sibling-bothering. Embark upon your trip with a series of fun travel game suggestions, preferably those that involve the whole family, and you can instead reignite the kids' playful sides and help you all pass the time in peace.
An American Classic: The License Plate Game
On a road trip anywhere in the United States, a classic and always enjoyable form of entertainment is the license plate game. It's quite simple: Spot different states' license plates and shout them out. Add a notepad and pencil, printed map or phone app to keep score, and it can become a competitive game of tracking who gets the most states, or a whole-car effort to spot as many different plates as you can. For a long road trip with older children, you might even devise a points-based system based upon more and less commonly seen state plates. Award bonus points for Canadian provinces or Mexican states. Devise your own family rules to keep it interesting. Can you name the state capital? Bonus point! Offer a fun fact about the state? Bonus point! Claimed a state your brother already got? Lose two points and get your eyes back on the road.
Keen Eyes Required: A Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt requires a little advanced planning, but you can easily create a game that's challenging enough to keep the kids occupied throughout a long vacation. It's essentially a list of items that the kids must spot while traveling. You could create individual lists for each child, which is good if there's a large age gap between them, or make it a group effort. Include some easy items, such as “a black dog,” “a police car” or “a kid with an ice cream cone,” as well as some unlikely ones to keep it challenging, such as, perhaps, “a one-legged pigeon” or “a lady with a red hat.” You can also make destination-specific hunts and have the kids eager to spot the first yellow cab as you approach New York City, a red phone booth in London or a Joshua tree in the California desert. Offer a prize for checking off every item on the list.
Now I Know My ABCs: Alphabet Bingo
The alphabet bingo game is adaptable for children of all ages, as long as they know their ABCs. A little-kid version involves spotting the letters from A to Z in order. With some encouragement and repetition of the goal (“Can you see an X? Let's look for an X”), you'll have the children scanning their surroundings, reading road signs, license plates, storefront windows, billboards and more. Another version is to spot things that begin with the letters A through Z in order, taking it in turns to involve the whole family. Dad spots an armrest on a seat, you see a banana in your bag, the kids might remember the chocolate treats you brought along, the drink in the cooler, and so on. Some letters are certainly harder than others to complete.
I Went to the Animal Fair: Collect the Birds and Beasts
Tell the kids that you need them to collect all of the animals that they see as you travel, instructing them to look out for birds, farm animals, pets and more. They should shout out the animals' names, and keep a log of all the birds and beasts they've spotted. It can be a competition to see who has the biggest farm or zoo at the end of the trip. Help them look for birds in the trees and overhead, from city pigeons to circling hawks above country roads. Spot horses, sheep and cows in roadside fields, squirrels and ducks in a park, cats darting through neighborhoods, and dogs on their daily walks with their owners. In wilderness destinations, they might see chipmunks, skunks and deer in the forest, or, in more exotic locales, such creatures as alligators and snakes. Who knows if you'll see lizards along a hiking trail, butterflies in a garden or maybe even a man with a parrot on his shoulder.
With a relaxed approach to the "rules" of travel games, your family will develop its own versions and let them become more silly and entertaining as the miles progress. Even though they're just intended to help pass the time, these amusements can often be just as memorable a part of a vacation as any other adventures.
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.