Have you ever been stuck on a road trip inside a car, motorhome or any other vehicle with children under the age of 15?
I'm so sorry.
Kids struggle with road trips. Even if it's something they do regularly, like our daughter did, they still struggle with the concept of ‘how far there is to go', sitting still for long periods and a change in their routine.
After 18 years of travelling with a child, let me just say that we've had our fair share of tears, tantrums and thrown socks. Yes, teenagers still throw socks- who knew!? 🙂
Children's car games – what NOT to do!
I remember one memorable summer about 15 years ago when I was caught out unprepared on a road trip and didn't have any childrens car games handy.
I improvised and created the infamous road trip game “Can you see the Monkey in the tree”.
Not familiar with it? Every time we drove past a tree, ANY tree, I had to ask “Can you see the Monkey?”
Our beloved daughter (then a toddler aged 2 and a half) would look at the tree, ponder the question thoughtfully as she stared at it, then declare “YES” really loudly.
I should point out that we were in Northern England. There were no monkeys. But, if I forgot a tree, she started to cry because “I'd missed the monkey in it.” So, I was stuck.
We played this game, non-stop, for two hours on our road trip. TWO HOURS. Yes, that warrants excessive use of capital letters.
It also warranted a double vodka when we arrived…
I won't tell you what I was thinking. It certainly didn't give me any mother-of-the-year points!
So here are some better road trip toys, games & activities for children. They're mostly quiet (yay) and mostly EASY and suitable for kids of all ages. I wish you luck with your family road trip!!
Fun driving games for kids
Many of these car games for children can be played without any extra accessories. However, did you know you can buy ACTUAL i-spy packs or Road Trip bingo wipeable sheets?? That sounds much easier than running out of printables each time! Check out the top road trip games for kids HERE
Depending on the age of your kids, this may not be the best road trip game… once you start you might get ‘sky' 17 times in a row. We play the rule that the object has to be visible at all time (no “there was a sheep back there!”) and also that you cannot repeat a word.
If you prefer, one of these amazing i-Spy books might be just the thing. You can various ones, covering road trips, animals, vehicles etc, or get one like this which covers everything.
Pink/ Yellow Childrens car game (adults can play too!)
This one is strangely addictive. You're looking for yellow and pink cars.
You get one point for a yellow car, two points for a pink car (I'll allow your judgement on what is pink and what is red!) If you see a car of either colour, the first to shout it out wins the points.
Keep track of the score and play until a set point or until a certain score. For us, we play the first to 50 points chooses dinner. Or gets first bathroom break. Or the loser has to do the washing up!
License plate game
Depending on which country you're road tripping in, this can work in several ways. You can print off a map and get the kids to colour it in as they spot licences for each country or state.
This works best somewhere like Europe or the USA, not the UK- we don't have such a large range of different countries. (In Europe, you'll be spotting the EU badges- you'll need to know the 2 letter country codes… or just Google them!)
If you are road tripping in the UK, try and go through the alphabet- find licence plates with an ‘A' on it, then ‘B' etc. (Just a note, we don't use ‘I' or ‘O'… don't try to find those!!!
If you're lucky enough to be in the USA, treat them (or yourself) to one of these adorable travel-sized maps- you could scratch off each state as you find it. Europe and world ones are available too, but not in such a cute size!
Ah, road trip bingo. It was one of my favourite car games when I was a child. I'm pleased to say it's evolved a bit now.
You can get some brilliant printables free for various car bingo activities. Print them off, give everyone a pen or pencil (ideally on a string around their necks!) and let Road Trip Bingo commence. It's surprisingly fun! Alternatively, buy a wipable, reusable pack HERE. (UK version can be found HERE.)
I like the fact that the game is played with road signs and animals- makes it easier to spot things for younger children. If you want to make it harder, only the first to see and shout gets to mark it down.
Alternatively, get a car travel bingo set with a spinner, and just match the image the spinner lands on to the image on the mat. Easier for little kids to join in too.
Best Board games to play in the car
If you're going to play board games in a car with children, prepare yourself for things to get lost on the floor or tantrums. BUT, board games are a way to pass the time and there are some great ones without many loose pieces!
Some of our favourites include:
Guess Who Travel car game
Did you know you can get Disney, My Little Pony and many other editions of this popular childrens car game? It used to keep me and my brother entertained for hours!
Battleship- Easy travel game for kids
Another perfect kids car game with very few moving pieces. Battleship is also a great car board game for adults to play with a single child on their own in the back.
If you've never heard of this, you're in for a treat. As long as your kids can sing, of course! But it will keep them entertained for HOURS. (You can thank me later…)
Pop-up car board game for kids
We used to call this ‘Frustration' when I was a kid, but now there are many versions available. It's a great board game for car journeys– the dice is contained so can't roll under the seat or fall down a gap. And the pieces are pretty large, so not easily dropped.
Quiet Road trip activities for kids & tweens
Once the initial excitement wears off, it's a good idea to have some quieter activities for them to get on with by themselves.
Magnetic Drawing Board
These are brilliant! Allow your little one to draw again and again- without running out of paper or dropping their pencil. Hours of entertainment!
Tell me I am not the only person who remembers these!?! I can't believe they're still going. I used to play with my Spirograph for HOURS when I was younger (like, last week…) Perfect Childrens quiet road trip activity.
These were a godsend when Jade was younger. We'd buy her a couple of sticker books and let her stick them in as she liked. It saved dropped crayons on the floor… which always seemed to roll under the seat. Just expect stickers on your car doors- Princess Jasmine is destined to be in your car forever!!
You can pick up sticker books cheaply for any subject, or head to Amazon for a road trip themed one!
My daughter has no patience for puzzles, but I used to do them for HOURS when I was young. (Still would, if I had time!) Pick a puzzle book with lots of variety and age-appropriate for your kids and see how they do.
I've only recently discovered Perplexus – but they keep ME entertained for HOURS. It's a giant maze inside a ball which you have to get a metal ball through. It's ridiculously addictive… just what you want from a road trip game. They come in different age ranges- there is even a Star Wars and Harry Potter version!!!
Best Children's Audiobooks for travel
We've tried all sorts of audiobooks and podcasts and there is a HUGE variety out there. My absolute favourites are the Harry Potter ones read by Stephen Fry– if you enjoy Harry Potter this is one for the whole family to listen to.
You can get them (and many other kids audiobooks) FREE as part of Audible– the audiobook subscription service which allows you to rent audiobooks for an unlimited time; each child could pick their own to enjoy. If you only listen to one book a month, it's already paid for itself! Try Audible FREE for 30 days
Best Travel Activities for Kids- Books for road trips
If your little ones enjoy reading, books are a great way to keep them entertained. There are LOADS of children's road trip books on Amazon.
Alternatively, make use of your local library if you're only away a short time- it's a great place to get new books each trip.
If your kids will colour quietly, this is a great idea. There are plenty of free printables you can print off and let them enjoy. They might even enjoy a map of the route so they can see where they're going. Maybe you could get them to write notes and make a small journal for the trip! Just add a car tray to avoid dropped pens.
Childrens Car Games and road trip activities- make them a surprise toy bag!
I LOVE this idea. Pick up some cheap toys and put them in small bags (or even wrap them in foil) to be unwrapped at certain stages in the journey (first fuel stop, first 100 miles, first toll etc.) This gives them something to look forward to.
Keep one toy back as a surprise in case of dire emergencies!
Best car games for kids online
I'm a Tetris girl myself (and now I'm humming the music!!) but a Nintendo DS is a great quiet childrens car game. There are a HUGE range of various games, for all ages and level of ability. Some of them are even educational.
Just insist they play either without the sound or with headphones on- or the beeps will drive you crazy!
Disney Now – Best Childrens Car App
Put Disney Now on an iPad, put their headphones on and enjoy a little quiet time. There are hundreds of shows to choose from- just remember you either need WiFi or a way to stream if you haven't downloaded anything in advance.
Get a seat organizer for the back of the seat, Let each child pick a movie to watch. If you want to save your sanity, get wireless headphones that they can listen to at the same time. Hang an iPad on the back of the chair and turn the backseat into a movie theatre. (Popcorn optional but likely to end up on the floor!)
Road Trip Activities for kids- Tips to help your road trip go smoothly!
I may have only had one child to deal with, but I remember road trips when I was a kid- and how my favourite activity was torturing my little brother! So, your most important job is to stop squabbling. This only happens by setting firm, clear boundaries, ideally before the road trip starts.
If something goes under the seat, it is lost until the next break. We had to be very careful what we dropped (hence the string around the neck!) In the same vein, make sure their portable travel car seat is secure and approved- they will be doing a LOT of wiggling and squirming!
Try not to put things where kids can see them but can't get to them– this will only lead to tantrums. Give them a few things to play with and hide everything else. You can change the toys at each rest stop.
A lot of these activities will depend on your little (or big!) ones. From the age of about 12, Jade would sit quietly with her headphones on, listening to music she'd downloaded. The only meltdowns came when she realised she was out of battery and/or wifi.
Plan breaks in advance– ideally somewhere with a park for them to let off some steam. If they know how far they have to go between stops, it can help them mentally prepare. Just add some extra time in case of traffic!!
If you are going hiking or camping with kids, make sure you have enough food, drink and changes of clothes; wet, tired and hungry kids are worse on the way home!!
I hope these tips helps keep your road trip go smoothly! Eventually, everyone gets sick of sitting in one place and kids are no different. The tantrums seem to happen just when you've had enough too!! Keep smiling – the adventure will be worth it! 🙂