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Car Games For a Family Road Trip: Maps, License Plates, and Greek Pantheon

Updated on March 9, 2016
A family road trip is a lot more fun with a few car games to pass the time during a long drive.
A family road trip is a lot more fun with a few car games to pass the time during a long drive. | Source

Are We There Yet?

The cries from the back seat are all too familiar: "Are we there yet?" "Johnny's touching me!" "I have to go to the bathroom!" "I'm hungry!" The hours in the car seem to stretch endlessly into the unchanging, nondescript landscape. Next time you are at your wits end trying to make time pass more pleasantly, try one or more of these games during your family's trip to grandma's house. The games listed here will appeal to a wide range of ages.

Slug Bug

This well known car identification game requires players to be the first to spot a Volkswagen Beetle outside their window. The first person to spot the car has to say "slug bug red!" identifying the car's color. In the unusual circumstance where multiple VW Bugs are in view (for example, if you are passing a car dealership), identifying the car's color will prevent cheating and it makes the game more interesting. Usually when we played this game growing up, my family used a point system. Each Volkswagen was worth one point and the person who got to 10 points first was the winner. You can set your own point values and limits to make the game more interesting or to help younger children work on their addition skills. For example, each car could be worth 5 points, or different colors of cars could be assigned a different point value.

Yellow Car

Yellow Car is a variation on Slug Bug, but it is wide open to interpretation. In this game any yellow car counts toward your point total. The keep it simple version of this game just assigns one point to any yellow car you see, but our family enjoys mixing things up. For our purposes, we sometimes choose a special category of yellow car that gets bonus points. For example, a school bus, a Truly Nolan car, or a black and yellow sheriff's car. Our family also distinguishes between yellow and gold cars. Gold cars get more points. For longer journeys, you may want to tally up to twenty points before you announce a winner.

  • School bus: 3 points
  • Truly Nolan: 5 points
  • Yellow truck: 2 points
  • Yellow car: 1 point
  • Gold car: 2 point

If you have a teen in the car, chances are s/he can name more Greek gods than you: that is, if he or she is a fan or Rick Riordan!
If you have a teen in the car, chances are s/he can name more Greek gods than you: that is, if he or she is a fan or Rick Riordan! | Source

Naming Games

The basic premise of a naming game is to draw from your common knowledge and experience to pass the time. Keeping the rules of the game simple enables even the person driving to play.

Name that Disney Movie

If you happen to be a parent of small children, you may have been exposed to the wide universe of Disney and PIXAR movies. This game is very simple but anyone can play. The subject matter is surprisingly universal. How many Disney movies can you name? In this game, everyone in the car offers the name of one Disney movie when it is their turn. Go around the car round-robin style. When you repeat a movie that has already been named or can't think of another title within the allotted time frame, you are out. The player who names the most Disney Movie titles wins. You will probably be shocked at how long this game can last, with so many titles to choose from.

Disney/Children's Movie Sequels

After you name every Disney movie you can think of, try this non-competitive but funny game. Try to come up with silly sequel names to well-known Disney movies. Be creative and have fun with it. You don't have to limit the sequel titles to Disney movies. Some of our sequels from a recent trip included Bambi 5: Thumper's Revenge, Down, and Land Before Time 39: Bride of Little Foot. It is helpful, of course, if you are feeling a little silly and can supply a short description of the plot of your movie.

Words that Begin With Z

This game is so simple anyone can play. Just like the Disney movie game above, everyone in the family must name words that begin with the letter Z, round robin style. If you repeat a word that has already been used or if you can't think of a new word, you are out of the game. Make sure you decide ahead of time if names like Zachary, Zane, or Zephaniah will count towards the total.


Yet another naming game, this one draws from Greek and Roman mythology. Who can name the most Greek or Roman gods or goddesses? This game is a bit advanced for younger children, but the popular Rick Riordan series of teen fiction based on Greek myths has sparked an interest in ancient mythology in my young teenager. While I quickly ran out of names to use my husband and daughter spent almost a full hour naming characters from Greek mythology. It also sparked a discussion about the differences between the major and minor gods in the Greek Pantheon. My daughter enjoyed being more knowledgeable than anyone else, though her dad was stiff competition.

Dad's Girlfriends

Another silly twist on the naming game is to play a game where you invent hideous-sounding names (fictional, of course) for your dad's ex-girlfriends. Start with the letter A, and move up, all the way to Z. Each time it is some one's turn to come up with a name, say "When Dad was a lad he went out with Agatha." On the next person's turn, they have to add a second name beginning with the letter B and add it to the sentence. "When Dad was a lad he went out with Agatha and Brunhilda." Then next person would add "When Dad was a lad he went out with Agatha, Brunhilda, and Cuthberta." The object is to see who can remember the most names without any help.

Snack Stop

In this game you have to name foods that you are going to pack on a trip to grandma's house. But to add a level of difficulty to it, you could disqualify any food names that include the letter "a" in it. This would disqualify chicken enchiladas but chili cheese fries would be fine. If the travellers in your family are old enough to read and spell, I recommend the second version.

Would You Rather Card Game

The makers of the popular card game of this name have created hundreds of scenarios containing two awful choices that a group must discuss and decide upon. Would you rather eat ants covered with chocolate or raw squid? You might consider purchasing a copy of this card game if you don't feel inspired to come up with your own zany choices, but if you are creative enough, you could use the general idea of this game to make up your own scenarios. This isn't a competitive game. Each person in the car should take turns proposing different scenarios.

License Plate Games

When you get tired of the endless variations of the naming game, try out some of these license plate games.

Out of State!

One game we liked to play as kids was Out of State! The object of this game is to identify as many out-of-state license plates as possible. The person with the longest list of unique license plates wins. In this game it is helpful to jot down the license plates you have seen, but if you can't do that, then set a time limit for playing this game and when a person sees a new state license plate they can say "Utah, out of state!" or "Mississippi, out of state!"

To take this game to another level with older children, you can print a map of the United States and give your children stickers, a highlighter marker, or colored pencils to color in the states that the license plates belong to. While children are still learning their states, use the state names on your map.

Print A Map of the US for Your Family Road Trip

Print this image or find a blank map image at the web site below to play one or more variations on the license plate games in my article.
Print this image or find a blank map image at the web site below to play one or more variations on the license plate games in my article. | Source
License plates give travelers plenty of game options. This vanity plate is easy to decipher, but what about the other vanity plates on the road?
License plates give travelers plenty of game options. This vanity plate is easy to decipher, but what about the other vanity plates on the road? | Source

Melissa and Doug, a maker of toys and puzzles, has a license plate game on the market that has no detached small pieces. Instead, it uses a map of the United States and attached license plate markers that you can flip to keep track of the license plates you have seen. I recommend if you have children who are in the upper elementary ages that you keep a point system going with this game. Assign one point to the player who sees the license plate, then let them name the state's capitol city for a bonus point. If they can't name the capitol, give other players in the car a chance to name the state capitol.

Vanity Plates

A variation on Out of State is Vanity Plates. In this game, you look for vanity plates such as the one in the photo, then try to decipher them. Our family always enjoys trying to figure out what a vanity plate says, then figuring out what they mean. Most vanity plates are meant to be understood, so this is a fun game to play during a long cross-country road trip, or in a heavy-traffic area, such as on California highways.

Which of these games will you play on your next road trip?

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  • Barbara Stickly profile image

    Barbara Stickly 6 years ago

    Driving xcountry with a friend I grew up with last summer we played a lot of these games too. Didn't even need a kid to get silly! Another one we played was billboard Alphabet. Starting with A you found a sign with a word starting with A, then B, etc. A sign can only be used once!

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks so much Dim, what a heartfelt and kind compliment! I am going to have to take a look at your car games hub and link up with it. It will be fun to see your variations on some of the familiar favorites!

  • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

    Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

    Brilliant for so many reasons. (I wrote ¨tips to help your car journey with children over a year ago) I just looked at it after reading yours. That is one reason I see yours as ´brilliant´ It is so professional as are all your hubs. The way you lay them out. Headings , subheadings, your paragraph layout, that´s before I even think of the wonderful content of your hub.

    I just need to learn from you(if you don´t mind) without it being ´copying you´

    I love your hubs. Thank you for another great one.

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    We have so much more fun when we play car games! When I was growing up my family sang a lot of renditions of the Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald. I attribute "teaching myself to read" to playing the alphabet game repeatedly on the trip to Grandma's house and eventually recognizing the words I was reading. Thank you and hats off to you with the 5 kids.

  • mothercristina profile image

    mothercristina 7 years ago

    Great post! I have 5 kids, so I play car games all the time with the kids while the husband drives. He always wants to join in since we have so much fun.

  • Sundaymoments profile image

    Matthew Dawson 7 years ago from United States

    Great Job; I have bookmarked this hub as I travel a lot with my kids and these are some fantastic games that WILL keep them occupied! (I remember playing Slug Bug when I was a kid "LoL") what a great hub.


  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks 2Patricias, I know what you mean. When I started to read the animal, vegetable, mineral component of the pub game I thought you were describing 20 questions, which is a guessing game where the person who is "it" describes a mystery item, object, person, or idea and everyone must guess that item within 20 questions. But the pub game is truly unique and I've never heard of it, but I can easily see how that would work as I lived in an English villiage in East Anglia for a while as a young girl. Thanks for this excellent addition to the ideas.

  • 2patricias profile image

    2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

    I used to like car games, but mostly this hub makes me think how glad I am that my kids are now grown. They got on with each other most of the time, but their chief form of in car entertainment was picking on each other.

    If we were on a journey on side roads (as opposed to motor ways) we played the pub game. No this not involve me drinking a lot to dull the pain!

    You could choose from catagories such as person, colour, animal, plant, object. Then when we passed a pub (public house) you scored a point if the name of the pub fit into your category. So if your category was 'animal' and we passed a pub called The Bull, you scored a point. The White Bull was a possible score for 2 players.

    Don't think this would work in the USA, but fun in the UK.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    Thanks for a very clever idea.

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thank you Stephanie, we thought those days were long past for us, then we had three kids during the last 5 years. Keeping them from going into boredom-inspired tantrums is a challenge at their young age, but these games do help.

  • Stephanie Henkel profile image

    Stephanie Henkel 7 years ago from USA

    These are some great ideas to keep kids occupied on a road trip! I remember the days of kids asking "When are we going to be there?" for hours!

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks Bobbi, I appreciate that. My sister and I did that, too. We passed many hours playing the alphabet game on the drive from our home to our grandmother's house in Indianapolis.

  • BobbiRant profile image

    BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

    When I was a kid, my sister and I loved playing car games whenever we went on vacation. love this hub.

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Thanks JR! Those are powerful words. I hope your journey is skirmish free and peaceful too. We discovered that the nighttime journey from Indianapolis to our city in Iowa makes these kinds of games a necessity, and since we have some very young people in the family, we needed to keep them simple enough for everyone to join in. Regards!

  • jrsearam profile image

    jrsearam 7 years ago from San Juan, PR

    Not just good but powerful, peace keeping, sanity-sparing, life-saving techniques for surviving the psychologically trying and physically draining experience of long road trips with the kids. Great hub, thank you for the great game ideas! I think I can get a good three hours out of them just playing the basic versions but with a little variation I can probably entertain them for as long as it takes for them to fall asleep. Wow! That means I could possibly drive from San Juan to Rincon without a single "are we there yet" or some ridiculously senseless little skirmish, in the back seat! Blessed are the peacemakers...God Bless you!

  • wannabwestern profile image

    Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

    Anaya, those sound like a lot of fun. You probably have a great time travelling, even across the most desolate stretches. Thank you for your ideas, I will definitely add those to my arsenol of games!

    Thanks Jalus, hope your journey is fun-filled and low-stress.

  • profile image

    Jalus 7 years ago

    These are some really good games and we are taking a trip in a few days - Thanks!

  • Anaya M. Baker profile image

    Anaya M. Baker 7 years ago from North Carolina

    I still love car games! My fiancée and I took a trip across the country a few summers ago, and needless to say we revived a lot of road games from childhood. The alphabet game is a favorite of mine, people compete to find the letters of the alphabet on things outside the car, in order from A to Z. Once a letter has been used, no one else can use the same one.

    A couple others we made up (unless we just thought we were that clever):

    What's in the kangaroo pouch? - If everyone you know had a kangaroo pouch attached to them, what three items would they keep in their pouch.

    Brand Names that replaced the object: i.e. Kleenex, Zippo, Ajax, Sno-Cone, etc.

    Last sign- When pulling out of a town or city, take turns reading anything you can see. A road sign, a billboard, a sign on a building. Eventually you wind up on a highway with no words. First person to not get one in ten or so seconds loses.

    Great hub, thanks for the ideas!