Ah, the road trip, that great American pastime. While these days we have smartphones, tablets and satellite radio to keep us occupied during those long on-the-road hours, in simpler times the folks crammed in the car would play games to pass the time. We advocate a return to that golden era; whether your journey takes you to the best hiking trails in America, the most bizarre landmarks in America or the coolest treehouses across America, these old-fashioned, participatory activities are so much more fun than staring silently at a screen. Suitable for passengers of all ages, these are best road trip games for both families and friends.
Best road trip games
While You Were Sleeping
The best car game out there for pranksters young and old, While You Were Sleeping uses the vehicle’s sleeping passenger to create some merriment. To play it, wait until someone falls asleep; then, scheme with your fellow car-mates to make up a story about something that happened while that person slumbered. When he or she wakes up, passengers tell the tale and try to get the sleeper to believe it. The most convincing storyteller, who never goes off script and manages to convince the sleeper of the absolute “truthness” of the story, wins the game.
The classic guessing game is always a great go-to. One person chooses an object from three categories: Animals (which includes people), vegetables (any kind of plant or something that comes from a plant, like a fruit) or minerals (objects—including man-made ones, like a toaster); then, the rest of the passengers get to ask 20 yes-or-no questions about the selected object before trying to guess it and win the game.
A challenging “who is it” game that’s suitable for all ages, Botticelli starts when one player chooses a famous person, living or dead. They then share the first letter of that person’s last name (or, to make it easier, their first and last initials) and players start asking questions about said person’s biography to try to guess who it is. The trick here is that the chooser has to be familiar with some aspects of the famous person’s biography in order to play the game well.
The Movie Game
Another classic, the Movie Game starts when one player chooses a famous movie actor (let’s say Harrison Ford.). The next player names a movie that person appeared in (in this case, Star Wars). The next player names a co-star in that movie (Carrie Fisher) and the person after names yet another movie that person has appeared in (The Exorcist!). If a player can’t think of an answer or gets it wrong, they get a strike; three strikes and you’re out. The last player standing wins.
License Plate Game
A classic car game that long predates smartphones and even handheld video games, the License Plate Game has gotten many a pair of siblings through eternal road trips. To play, you’ll need a pen and paper as well as a mental list of all 50 states—you can even write them all down or bring a printed copy of the map of the U.S. As players ride, they keep an eye out for license plates, marking down the state origin of each one they see. Each mark gets a point. The winner is the one with the most points at the end.
Most fun when including the littlest ones in the car, this is a fun game in which players take in all of their surroundings. The “spyer” will say something like: “I spy with my little eye something blue”—a billboard, for example—and the guesser will have to identify the object, asking yes-or-no questions along the way (“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” “Is it something inside the car?”).
The Singing Game
A must-play for music buffs, this game starts when one participant sings part of a song. To continue, the next rider takes the last word of that song phrase and sings a fragment from a different song that starts with that word—and on and on. For example, if the first player sings, “Celebrate good times, come on!” the second player could sing, “Come on, get happy” and a third player could sing, “Happy birthday to you.” Got it?
Two Truths and a Lie
An especially fun game to play with new friends, Two Truths and a Lie is perfect for road trips, where random people often get thrown together in a car due to convenience. The player states two truths about themselves as well as one lie, trying to make the lie as convincing as possible. The other folks in the car will have to pick out the fib. Count on this game to inspire lots of laughs and humorous misunderstandings.
The Alphabet Categories
This is a pretty simple game, but it really helps pass the time. Players pick a category—say, fruits—and take turns alphabetically naming things in that category (“Apple,” “banana,” “clementine,” etc). If a player gets stumped, they either get a strike (three strikes and you’re out) or, for a more cutthroat version, are eliminated outright.
The ABC Game
Also known as the Sign Game, this option relies on the many signs and billboards spotted on a road trip to keep travelers occupied and entertained. Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, all players keep an eye peeled for a sign or billboard (you can even throw in license plates, if you want) starting with the letter “A,” then one beginning with “B” and so on. It really helps the time fly.
Name That Tune
Turn up your car radio to play this fun game: the passenger riding shotgun dials in to a radio channel and the first player to name the song that’s playing gets a point. Players can decide to award extra points for ultra-obscure songs or super-oldies that younger participants might not be familiar with.
Don’t Say It!
On a car trip, there are certain words that get spoken again and again: “gas,” “bathroom,” “hungry” and “thirsty,” for example. This amusing game puts a car-wide ban on all these words; in order to express the concepts, players will need to use a lot of creativity to get their point across (“We need to stop for fossil fuel,” for example). Things get fun when players forget the rules and say the forbidden words, and a penalty is imposed. We suggest you try making the penalty a fun one—having the offender buy a round of soda bottles, perhaps?