10 road-trip car games with kids that don’t need electronics

Hours locked up with children in a car on a long road trip may sound like one of the seven levels of hell, but there are ways to help the miles fly by that don’t involve electronics.

Sure, you could tranquilize your kids with video games and movies, and there are times you need to, but there are good, old-fashioned car games that have stood the test of time and are still fun to play even in our always-plugged-in society. Here are 10 of them that have been play-tested in my car on many a road trip:

1. License plate phrases
Most state and province license plates on North American roads are a combination of letters and numbers. When a car drives by, each person in the car has to create a funny phrase using the letters on the license plate. For example, if it’s AJG 224, you yell out Archie Juggles Girls. Things can get goofy very quickly.

2. Last letter, first letter
This is a word game where one person starts with a word then the next person has to call out a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. The first person to break the chain, loses. The words should be part of a theme. In our car, we use place names like cities, countries and states.

3. 20 Questions
This venerable guessing game is always a hit. One person thinks up a person, place or thing and everyone else has to guess what it is in fewer than 20 questions, which can only be of the yes-no variety. My oldest son memorized a long list of the names of the solar system’s minor planets like Make Make and Sedna to make sure we’d never guess.

4. Alphabet game
Find something in the car or in the passing scenery that starts with each letter of the alphabet. The first person starts with A, the next with B and so on until you can’t continue. Unless you’re driving in Quebec, have an X-ray in your pocket or are passing a zoo, letters like Q, X and Z can be a challenge so you may add a rule to skip them.

5. I Spy
I spy with my little eye, something that is orange. What is it? Everyone has to guess quickly, because things disappear in the blink of a little eye when you’re in a car.

6. Collect license plates
Travelling on interstate highways means you see license plates from many states and provinces. Keep a running list to see how many you can spot during your trip. Alaska or the Northwest Territories can be a difficult find and Hawaii is pretty much impossible.

7. Car bingo
This takes a bit of advance preparation. Create bingo sheets with a grid of commonly seen items along the road like a gas station, police car or billboard. The first person to get five down, across or diagonally is the winner. You can create your own grids or find printable templates online.

8. Restaurant race
Each person selects a restaurant chain like McDonald’s or Subways. Every time you see the restaurant by the side of the road, on a billboard or on an exit sign, you collect a point. The person who gets the most points after a set time is the winner. Play it before lunch time and the winner can choose where to stop to eat.

9. Counting Cows
In rural areas, cows are a common sight in passing fields. Kids in the back seat look out their side of the car and count cows that they pass. The goal is to count the most, but if you pass a cemetery, your cows die and you have to start over.

10. Find 100
Pick an object and be the first person to spot 100 of them. Can Dad spot 100 flags before Mom finds 100 billboards? It’s cheating if you pick something too plentiful like blades of grass or car tires.

What games do you play in your car? Let us know in the comments.

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