It never, ever fails: Within 30 minutes of stuffing the car to its gills with luggage and people for a getaway, you're left wondering how you can get away from everyone's complaints of boredom. And to think, only hours more to go! Despite popular in-car entertainment such as DVD players, truth be told, not everyone's car is equipped to offer the convenience of penguins or Dora as a babysitter for the next 50, 100 or 200 miles.
That's why we've compiled a list of road trip games that don't require any tools, paper or accessories beyond the open road. We have suggestions for passengers at every age level, although each game can be tweaked accordingly.
- I Spy
Probably the classic make-time-go-by game of all time. One person looks around and chooses an object that the others have to guess, with their only clue being these words: "I spy with my little eye something that begins with (insert the first letter of the object's name)." Or the clue can be the object's color. The player who guesses the object gets to go next. The tricky part? It's not fair to "spy" something that's whizzing by the car at highway speeds. A landmark (mountain range, forest) that will be in the players' view for a few minutes is best.
- 20 Questions
"Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Only 18 more times to go! In 20 Questions, whomever goes first thinks of, well, anything. The first question is always, "Animal, vegetable or mineral?" After that, the players can ask pointed questions to try and guess — go around the car in a circle asking for clues such as, "Does it bark?" or "Can you peel it?" for example, although the answer to those questions can only be "yes" or "no." If you reach the 20th question without a winner, everyone has one last chance to figure it out before the "thing" is revealed and another person starts a fresh round.
- License Plates
There are many ways to play with license plates, depending on the age of your kids. Young participants can call out letters in alphabetical order; the first one to Z wins. Next, have them look for doubles — or better yet, triples! — of letters and/or numbers in the plates. The one who has the most at the end of the day/trip wins. Older kids can "collect" out-of-state plates they see. (Make it tougher by going in alphabetical order.) Or they can try to build words or phrases using the letter sequence in the plates. A plate with the letters E, F and T, for example, might become the word "effort" (using those letters to start the word, in the middle and at the end). Those could make "Ed's Favorite Tacos" if you're running with phrases.
The concept is that players keep track of how many Volkswagen Beetles they spot on the road. We've heard of variations in which the game is limited to New or vintage Beetles, or versions where the older Bugs are worth more. In the game's original version you were supposed to punch your seat mate when you spotted a Bug, but most parents find that any game that involves hitting can get out of hand pretty quickly. So keep score some other way — tapping your seat mate, counting on your fingers (first to 10 wins) or something more in keeping with the Bug's peaceful hippie history.
- Where's the Alphabet?
Perform this as teams or solo players. You'll want to utilize road signs, billboards, shop names — any reading material outside the window qualifies as long as it's spotted on your side of the car. (If you're the front-seat passenger, focus on the right.) You'll be looking for every letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order, although the letter can be located anywhere in the word. Say there is a fruit stand with a sign for Granny Smith apples — there's your A. The exit for the Brooklyn Bridge would cover B, Road Closed is C and so on. First one to the letter Z wins. If you see "Road Closed," however, you'll probably be happy to have the nine other games listed here.
- Name That Tune
As with the classic TV game show, the winner here is the one who figures out the name of the "mystery song" first. For those with singing/whistling/humming talent, this can be as much karaoke as a guessing game. Choose a theme for the game, such as show tunes, movie or TV themes, or Justin Timberlake. (Good luck, adults.) The winner gets to be the singer for the next round. If no one can carry a tune in a bucket, then try guessing the songs on the radio. Really want to mix it up? Hit the "seek" button so no one gets an unfair advantage from sticking to one particular station's format.
- The Picnic Game
A memory builder for all ages. One player says, "I went to a picnic Saturday and I brought..." then says a picnic favorite that begins with the letter A, like apples. The next player repeats the opening phrase, and after "...I brought" they repeat the A item then add one that begins with B: "I brought an apple and some bananas." The third player repeats the opener, the A and the B portions, and then adds something that begins with C. Get it? Can your travelers get through the alphabet, remembering all the items everyone contributed? Try keeping track of 23 items plus figuring out what you can take to a picnic that starts with X!
- Count the...
Probably even the most enthusiastic young'ns will catch on to this being busywork, but for awhile it'll be all they'll think about! And there is a bonus: Interest is likely to reignite on its own shortly after it stalls. Count the... can be anything: cows, telephone poles, headlights, train cars, blue pickup trucks — you name it. Shouting out the thing to keep track of is all that is required.
This one is simple: When you come to a tunnel, see who can hold their breath the longest. True, it may not be one best played by the driver (lightheadedness, anyone?), but everyone else can give it a go. We used to be amazed at our own skill at this as kids.
- Geography Lesson
Geography is much more fun outside the classroom, isn't it? For this game, choose countries, cities or states (or go nuts and try rivers and lakes or capitals). Let's say your theme is states. The first player names a location, and the next player has to rattle off another state that starts with the last letter of the previous player's state. Therefore, if it were Michigan, the next state would have to start with N, like Nebraska. The A could be Alaska, and so on. Note: This one makes our brain hurt.
Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. First published on www.edmunds.com and excerpted with permission.