On a road trip, can the car ride itself be a fun part of the vacation? Yes, if you plan ahead for car games, books, music, and other ways to enjoy the time. Getting there can be almost as much fun as the vacation itself!
Car Games and Music Make Road Trips Fun
Road trips are great to save money on transportation and get a chance to explore off the beaten path. Our family has had its share of meltdowns on road trips, but sometimes the driving part of the trip has been some of the most enjoyable time. The difference is little planning and flexibility.
Building anticipation for the destination
Kids get more out of vacations by learning about the place before we arrive. Books with pictures or photos of the place, stories set in the location, biographies of famous people who lived there – all helped get our kids excited about the trip. Watching movies set in the place can make it seem more real.
Create memories during the trip
Car games can be projects. I gave each kid a blank book to draw or write in during long road trips. Along the way, we’d collect postcards, tickets, menus, and other scraps to help them remember the trip. In the car, they’d write and glue scraps into their books, creating memories.
Even before my kids could write, I would interview them and jot down their answers in the blank books. I’ve asked questions like: what’s your favorite song, who you look forward to seeing when we get home, what’s the worst food you tried during the trip, most fun in the place we’re visiting, favorite joke of the vacation. I loved finding out what my kids were thinking. Years later, those interviews are cherished reminders of my children’s personalities when they were little.
Traditional Car Games
Traditional car games can be fun. Alphabet works even before kids can read. It is a race to find the letters of the alphabet in billboards, signs, or license plates. You have to go from A to Z. You can’t go to the next letter until you’ve found the one before. Everyone gets stuck on Q. The first person to get to Z wins. We would team up when our son was too little to keep up with his older sister.
Would you rather? Everyone takes a turn asking whether the others would do one thing (say, eat a worm) or another thing (go to school in your pajamas). Car games can lead to some funny conversations.
20 Questions. One person thinks of a person, place, or thing. Everyone else takes turns asking questions that can only be answered “yes” or “no,” like “is it a place?” or “do we have one at home?” A player can guess the answer. The game ends when someone guesses correctly or 20 questions have been asked, whichever comes first. (Around age 8, my daughter stumped us with the object “an egg.”)
Some car games are best for little kids, like I Spy. One person sees something in the car and gives this clue: “I spy with my little eye, something blue (or striped or made of plastic, etc.)” Everyone else takes turns guessing.
Fortunately, Unfortunately is a build-a-story game. One person starts with a sentence beginning with “Fortunately” or “Unfortunately.” Like, “Unfortunately, the prince arrived after the princess had disappeared.“ The next person adds: “Fortunately, the princess left behind a clue to where she was going.” Players alternate “Fortunately” and “Unfortunately” sentences, until the story is finished.
One of our family’s favorite car games was Conflict, another build-a-story game. One person starts a story with one line. “Once upon a time, there was…” The next player adds a line to the story – or announces “Conflict,” and adds a hurdle or difficulty for the people in the story to overcome. “Suddenly, a dragon appeared, breathing fire.” The next player has to resolve the conflict or add another conflict. The game ends whenever a player wants to end the story.
Geography works if kids know the names of states, cities, or countries, and can spell them. The first player names a place, say “Philadelphia.” That ends with “a,” so the next player names a place beginning with “a,” say “Arkansas.” The game ends when you run out of places or can’t think of one.
Should I recommend GHOST, which inevitably ended in family squabbles? One person says a letter. The next person adds a letter, and the next person adds a letter, and so on. The goal is to add a letter without spelling a word. Three letter words don’t count. So, if the letters are C-A-R, the next player would not want to say “D” or “T” because both CARD and CART are words. If a player cannot think of a letter that will not spell a word, the player loses that round and gets a G. First person to lose 5 rounds has G-H-O-S-T and loses the game. Crankiness generally ensued long before we arrived at GHOST.
Music and books-on-tape in the car
Road trips can be more fun if you listen to a story everyone enjoys. The Harry Potter books-on-tape are wonderful, with the narrator using a different voice for every character. Hearing the Pinocchio story immediately brings back a road trip through Italy.
Car games can include listening to music, which makes the time zip by. A road trip from Philadelphia to Maine is defined in my mind by the Veggie Tales soundtrack we sang along to. My husband creates playlists for the car, with a few songs contributed by each of my kids. Sometimes we plug in one of the kids’ phones to the car sound system, and get to enjoy each other’s music.
Long car rides are also good for talking about what excites the kids about where we’re visiting. If you’re going to a hotel with a website, like Wyndham Lake Buena Vista resort, it’s fun to look at pictures on the site before you arrive. And if you’re headed on a road trip to Las Vegas, Chicago, or New York, check out this post. For practical rules on road trips, here’s a useful post.
Does your family have any favorite car games for road trips? Tell us about it in the comments.