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Camp PBS Parents

Creative Car Games for Summer Road Journeys

road journeyRoad trips are as integral to summer as barbecues, camp and swimming. But if a long car drive is all about getting from Point A to Point B, why not plan your next family road trip as a road journey instead?

A journey suggests new experiences, exploration and learning, all of which are possible during family travel. Kristin Townsend, a mom and educational consultant from Burke, Virginia, shares her motivation for using time in the car for creative games: “Not only do they get our minds moving, but they start a lot of interesting discussions and help my husband and me clue in on what our kids are thinking about these days.”

Use any of these creative car games or curiosity questions to make your next journey more enjoyable without having to pack any extra supplies!

  • “That’s not something we see every day!” Karen Burkhart, a mother of two elementary school-age boys who travels regularly between the United States and Canada, plays this game every time they visit her family and friends in Canada. Alpacas, French-language signs and ferry crossings have been among the creative things the Burkhart family has spotted during long car journeys. Burkhart comments, “We have some good laughs!” Try this activity either as a game you play the entire time you are in the car, or as a speed game to see who can spot the most unusual or out-of-the-ordinary item during a set time interval.
  • “I wonder where that car is going?” A fun game to play with very young children. Choose interesting vehicles and make up stories, such as a grandma visiting her grandkids, a family traveling to go camping, or a big rig operator and what’s in his haul. Another way to make this game educational is to look at the state on the car’s license plate and determine if the car is going toward or away from the state.
  • Category ABCs. Pick a category such as fruits and vegetables, first names or even PBS KIDS characters and go through each letter of the alphabet, taking turns coming up with items beginning with the letter. For an extra challenge, go backward through the alphabet.
  • The Alphabet Hunt. For younger children, instead of trying to think of words that start with a certain letter, encourage letter recognition by working your way through the alphabet visually, suggests Anna Grashorn, mom to a young son in Columbus, Ohio. She encourages using signs, billboards, license plates or anything else outside your car to work your way through the ABCs.
  • The License Plate Game. Make a list of all the different states’ license plates you find on your route. To make the game more interesting, have goals and prizes, such as a special snack when you find 10 states or a prize for the first person to find a license plate from a state with a certain letter, such as N, in its name.
  • “Let’s Google It!” If you have access to a smartphone, you can Google interesting town names, historical markers or other items that catch your family’s attention, suggests Townsend. Alternatively, make a list of some of the most unusual signs or town names you see and Google them once you return home as a way to relive the fun of your vacation.
  • Curiosity Questions. Most children love to talk about themselves, so this game is a natural winner. Here’s a list of questions we’ve used in my own family to get you started, but chances are you will begin to think of your own questions to use. Have each family member answer each question, and be surprised at some of the answers you discover.
    • o What makes you happy?
      o What is your favorite sport to play?
      o What are your three favorite vegetables?
      o Where is one place you’ve never been that you would like to go?
      o What do you like best about your friend _________?
      o If we could open a zoo in our backyard, what five animals would you choose?
      o If you could choose your meals for one day, what would you choose?
      o What is your favorite season? Why?
      o What do you think our next family car should be like?
      o If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would you choose?

    All of these games have been used successfully by young families, perhaps even your own! Don’t forget other classic games such as I-Spy and Twenty Questions. With these ideas in your back pocket, your next road journey will end with you not only reaching your destination but also having gained some fun memories along the way.

    More fun activities while in the car:

  • DIY Travel Games for Kids
  • Science While Riding the Car
  • Reading Activities in the Car
  • Eye Spy Rainbow Bottle
    • Karen

      Great ideas!  We’ve got two long trips coming up so we’ll give these a try!  Thanks for the tips. 

      • Jessica E

         You are welcome!

      • Karenbkirk

        Great article, Jessica. I am anxious to take a trip with our four grandaughters now that I have some great ideas …..thanks to you ! I especially liked the curiosity topics !

        • Karenbkirk

          Great article, Jessica. I am anxious to take a trip with our four grandaughters now that I have some great ideas …..thanks to you ! I especially liked the curiosity topics !

          • Jessica E

            Happy Trails to you and your grand daughters!

    • Coupon Kait

      We definitely love the alphabet and license plate game. We’ll have to try some of the others!

      • Jessica E

         CK–you are like me–I had tried those two games, but we tried the others on a recent trip and they were a hit!

    • Jennifer Kennedy

      Fun article with some fun ideas we’ll have to try for our next road trip!

      • Jessica E

         Have a fun trip Jennifer!

    • Kristin

      Great tips. I can’t wait to hear the stories our kids come up with when we play “I wonder where that car is going” this summer. 

      • Jessica E

         Thanks–we tried this game on our last trip and it was a hit!

    • Shawnbard

      Great article!

    • Bridget

      Thanks for the great ideas. 

    • Christy

      Lots of great ideas here.  Thanks!

    • Dawn

      Great ideas! We have a couple of road trips planned this summer so these should help pass the time =o)

      • Jessica E

         Thanks Dawn!  Happy Trails!!

    • 1singularity1

      Really excellent ideas – they’re fun but also can last a while, so the driving time less likely to become cranky time!

      • Jessica E

         I am all for avoiding cranky time!!

    • Lukenna1

      very nice job and great ideas

    • Krisrojas

      Great ideas! Thanks Jessica!

    • SO13

      Can’t wait to try “that’s not something we see everyday” and the other unique ideas.

    • Jartbauer

      Great suggestions!  I remember traveling to northern Michigan and playing the ABC game and to Florida playing the license plate game.  I will be sure to try out the “you don’t see that everyday” game!

    • Barb

      Wow! what creative ideas!! 

    • sarad

      Long trips in the car are such a challenge with young children. Thank you for the great ideas.

    • Mary Kuehn, MOPS mentor

      What a great collection of ideas…I copied to be sure.

      I count cars…red ones which we count together….blue…green…black…white…silver…and ORANGE…now that is a challenge!

      Also cound flags, particularly near a holiday. They take a side and count…I mediate.

      Look at changing trees…target an especially noteworthy one and watch it often…weekly in the fall… My grandson called this…”Our Changing Tree” when he told his mother…very special!

      Thank you! Mary Kuehn

      • Jessica E

         Mary, what great ideas!  I love the counting cars and flags ideas in particular.  I may have to use that for our next long car trip!

    • Karen Tolhurst

      Dear Jessica,
      I really enjoyed your article!  You have many wonderful, doable
      suggestions for traveling families.  Thanks.
      Karen T.

      • Jessica E

         Thanks Karen!  I am so glad you enjoyed it!

    • lizh

      I love the “Where is that car going” game and guessing what’s in the big rig. A great chance to talk about spatial concepts, hot/cold, liquid, etc. And if there’s a known logo on the truck (like General Mills) you could get even more specific about what products might be inside. Thank you for the springboard!

      • Jessica E

         Thank YOU Liz, for the great ideas about spatial concepts, hot/cold, etc.  I love when moms share and brainstorm!

    • melissa

      Thank you for the great article! This will come in handy this next week!

    • Juliet

      Great project! Could you clarify step #4? These are supplies not listed above and where does this “cloud” go? Do you have a picture showing this part? Thanks.

      • Michelle King Cohen

        wondering the same – it seems that step is for a different project, perhaps?

      • Danielle PBS Parents

        You are both absolutely right! That step is for a different project, our “rainbow mobile” craft.

        Thank you for pointing that out and keep on crafting :)

    • Tori

      Awesome ideas! Do you mind if I add a couple of these to ? I love the “Let’s google it” game idea. I hope it doesn’t use up all my data!!

    • Scott

      I really like your “Curiosity Question” game. Do you mind if I use it for my website ? Ill give you credit!
      Thanks again for the article,

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    • Kevin G

      I love all these games their a CD that is really cool that I bought for my kids and I when we travel. Its call Ride Along with Dooey Car Ride Adventures. it was only $11.99

    • GizmoTcbc

      cool article Jessica! You have some
      great road trip games. I have a few
      but with a few variations. I have a 9
      and 7 year old and we frequently have to take 3 hour trips to Portland. I really like your take on the Curiosity
      Questions game! Well have to try it.

    • Lindsay Worrell Casey

      Thanks for all the fabulous ideas!!! I liked them so much I shared this link on my blog along with my kids travel rewards system!

    • Armstrongw

      I would recommend a free educational game for young children (3-7 age) – Trip to Zoo for kids

      This application presents various animals in a zoo. The game introduces various animals to the child (e.g. elephants, turtles, birds, dolphins and many others). The child learns what the animals eat, and how to fix a broken fence or vehicle. This knowledge is acquired by performing actions in the right order, such as unscrewing a vehicle wheel or washing and feeding animals.

    • Christywalton

      One of the fondest memories of family vacations can involve the trip en route, with road trip games and activities providing family bonding and even some educational benefits.

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