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Family Files

5 tips for screen-free family fun on the road

road, white car and text how to take yoru road trip from "I'm bored" to miles of smiles

Summer is full swing and many families are packing up and hitting the road. As a child, I loved road trips. Different scenery, anticipating the activities we would do or the people we would see, even just watching the world whiz by from the backseat – I enjoyed the open road and the excitement that road trips bring.  I’m sure my parents would have a different account of how content I was in the car on long road trips. 

This summer, my family took an epic road trip across country – we rocked out to music, had great conversations, and played some games along the way. We even played the tried and true “License Plate Game” and were thrilled to find 25 states on our first day of the trip! Our grand total for the game was 49 out of 50 license plates and it was great fun checking out plates on the highways and in the parking lots along the way.

Speaking of highways, as the miles go by, the inevitable road trip question is bound to emerge: “Are we there yet?” Imaginative, engaging road trip games and activities can help your family pass time and endless miles in the car as well as provide a great time to bond, converse, and have fun. Use these ideas for hours of fun, engagement, and boredom busting on your journey:

Games Galore!

Beyond traditional travel games and card games, think outside the (game) box when planning games for the road. Magnetic games are great like checkers and board games are great to have in your game stash.  Trivia card games help keep brains active! Go-to road trip games like 20 questions, the License Plate Game, and I Spy come in handy with little to no planning. 

For something new, try this

The Alphabet Game. Pick a topic (for instance, animals) and a letter (A), and then have everyone name animals that begin with that letter, like aardvark, antelope, ape. Each person in the car can take turns picking the topic like cars, TV characters, countries, cities, foods, names, and on!

Write Away

Create your own travel journal or purchase an inexpensive notebook prior to your trip and write about your road trip experiences.  Kids can describe what they see along the way and collect and glue small trinkets, stickers, postcards from stops along the way.  Younger children can draw pictures about the landscape, interesting sites or landmarks, or locations they pass.  As a bonus, the travel journal can be a keepsake after the trip!

Map It Out

Purchase stickers and a map or atlas of the area you will be traveling.  Children can use the stickers, highlighters, markers, and pens to mark the route and indicate landmarks while you’re on your journey.

Story Time

Stocking up on reading material for your trip is a great way for kids and adults to pass the time.  Before the trip, stop by your local library to borrow road trip reads for all ages.  The library might even have books on road trip games!

For something new, try this:

Team Storytelling.  Ask each family member to create a line for a story and have everyone add a line until you're all stumped.  For an added challenge, try rhyming the last word of each sentence.  Example “There once was a girl named Pat”…. “who always wore a yellow hat”…. “one day she left town”… “to see a big clown”…. “who had a big orange cat.” To make things really interesting, go as fast as you can, rhyme as much as possible, and take turns out of order (pointing to someone new each time). Write down the story as you go, then have kids create drawings to coordinate with your silly tale. When you're done, you'll have your own custom-made family story.

Cue the Questions

Encourage curiosity questions to make the trip interesting! Try these ideas:

  • Would You Rather?  Each family member takes a turn thinking of a “Would you rather?” question that each person in the car must answer.  Example:  “Would you rather have pizza or spaghetti?” or “Would you rather go to the ocean or the mountains?” 
  • “That’s not something we see every day!”  Each family member takes turns spotting and pointing out something that is unusual or out-of-the-ordinary during a set time interval.  Signs, businesses, landscapes, and natural elements can all be used for this activity.  
  • “I wonder where that car is going?” A family member chooses an interesting vehicle and makes up story about where it is going. A big rig operator hauling a truckload of cookies, a grandma going to a quilting convention, a family going on a camping trip – options are endless for this creative activity.  To add an educational twist, using the state on the car’s license plate, determine if the car is going toward or away from the state.
  • “Let’s Search It!” Using your smart phone, search interesting town names, historical markers or other items that catch your family’s attention.  An alternative to this game is to play “I’ve Always Wondered….”.  In this activity, a family member states something they’ve always wondered about like “what clouds are made of.”  Family members can then share their thoughts on the questions posed and check accuracy with an Internet search.
  • Curiosity Questions. A great way to get to know more about each other is to ask “curiosity” questions.  Once the question is asked, each family member should share their answer. Some ideas:
    • What makes you happy?
    • What is your favorite sport to play?
    • What are your three favorite vegetables?
    • Where is one place you would love to go/visit?
    • What’s one thing you COULDN’T live without? What’s one thing you COULD live without?
    • If the people in our family were animals, which animals would they be? Why?
    • If you could change your name, what would you change it to? Why?
    • What is your favorite season? Why?
    • If you were the parent in our family, what rules would you make? Why?
    • Tell me one new thing you’ve learned this week/on this trip.

With a little planning, creativity and preparation, these ideas can keep all in the car entertained and engaged. Happy road trip travels!

Meet the Author:

Karla Belzer is a family life educator serving in northwest Illinois since 2015. Prior to her work with Extension, she worked in health and human services for over 20 years. She specializes in mindfulness, social-emotional development, aging well throughout the lifespan, and educator professional development. She is passionate about helping people of all ages live their best life.