Road Trip Activities for Children

Coloring pencils for kids on a road trip

“I love resting in the back seat on a road trip. It gives me time to think.”

Yes, that would be nice, but have you honestly ever heard this from any child?

Backseat moods in the real world are usually more akin to the Grizwolds as they painfully made their way towards Wally World. Sadly, the enthusiasm of a vacationing parent does not always trickle down to their children, fidgeting and complaining along the highway. You may even recall being in the same position yourself on a long-distance road trip and wondering “Are we there yet?” So, how can you make the journey more enjoyable, memorable and peaceful for your young ones?

Get a jump on things

Plan ahead. If you are already on the road and desperately scouring the internet to quell an uprising in the back seat, your odds of success may be a bit lower. The bulk of this article assumes that you are doing some advance planning and that your goals are more related to savoring the shared experience than simply having a bicker-free vehicle. Some of the following suggestions require a bit of downloading, while others you can just keep in mind to use as needed.

Life’s a journey, not a destination

Do your kids know how to read a map? Even if you plan to rely on a navigational system, you might want to invest in a hardcopy map or even an atlas. Your kids may actually like being consulted on the plan and hearing the details of the route you have chosen. This also gives them the opportunity to search online for stops that they might enjoy—such as popular foodie finds, Instaworthy hotspots or famous ballparks.

If you really want your kids to enjoy the trip, give them things to look forward to along the way. Remember, you may not be together in any of these places ever again! If you are only focused on covering distance, and your stops are only for fuel, fast food, and restrooms, your family road trip may be a one-time event. Sure, you will spend a little more on these side adventures, and the trip may take a few days longer—but it’s worth the memories and the photographs.

Family interaction—really?

Yes! Speaking of memories, you lose a lot of the value of a family trip if each person silently rides along in their own cocoon of interests. Here are a few options to actually share the experience. Let’s start with some easy car games. Even if you have not played any of these in years, you probably remember the basics. These are classics because they have stood the test of time.

I Spy—Someone chooses an object, says “I spy, with my little eye . . .” and then usually describes something visible that is in a certain color or starts with a certain letter. The other players then ask yes-or-no questions to narrow down the search. The role of Spy can be rotated or awarded to whoever guessed the last object correctly.

20 Questions—The beginning player chooses a person, place or thing. It should be a subject that most in the group would know about. The other players then take turns asking yes-or-no questions to narrow down and identify the chosen person, place or thing. If someone guesses correctly they get to choose the next subject. As the name implies, there is a 20 question limit!

Progressive Story—This is a funny game that requires a good memory. Each person adds a sentence or two to a developing story. As their turn comes around they have to recite the whole story up to that point and then add their new sentences. If you flex your imagination and your vocabulary this could quickly become a family favorite.

The License Plate Game—Another old standby, this one involves scanning the roadway for license plates from different states. This can be as simple as writing each one down. Or, you could turn up the competition a bit by adding extra points for seldom-seen plates from faraway states. This can also easily lead to a conversation about the various state nicknames and emblems.

Mad Libs—They still make these booklets and they are just as funny as ever, especially if you have a witty family.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate!”

In the rush of day-to-day activities, it is easy to forget that your family is made up of unique individuals, each with their own take on life and the future. Viewpoint questions can remind you just how much you treasure your family. Just one word of caution though; be sure that this does not turn preachy. Children can smell your attempts. You may want to pick up a copy of The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock (or another similar book).

Weird and wonderful

Depending on the personality of your family, you may even choose to do something zany. Perhaps you could teach yourselves “Pig Latin” and to use it for extended periods of time. This language game has been around for more than 100 years. One of the most commonly heard terms is “amscray” (Pig Latin for “scram” as used by The Three Stooges). The rules are easy and can be found in a simple internet search.

Technology to the rescue

Many music files, audiobooks, games and other activities are downloadable. The secret is to think about your possible needs then download more than you think you will need. Once you are actually on the roadway, some of your online finds will probably turn out to be duds. Of course, many areas of the country do not have easy internet access, so this is another task best handled in advance.


Bring your pens, pads of paper and devices with downloaded activities. Also, be sure to pack some snacks. If you have a group of hangry riders, your family vacation will feel more like a prison on wheels than a blank slate for cherished family memories. Keep them fed!

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