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

Updated on April 20, 2018
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Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and writes about children's lit, the American West, and investing.

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

Yellow car is a variation on the classic game "Slug Bug." The variation I learned involved a punch in the arm every time we saw a Volkswagen Beetle. Ah, the good old days.
Yellow car is a variation on the classic game "Slug Bug." The variation I learned involved a punch in the arm every time we saw a Volkswagen Beetle. Ah, the good old days. | 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. No cheating. This game is old school.

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.

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.

Pantheon

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.

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

Memory Games

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 to play one or more variations on the license plate game.
Print this image or find a blank map image to play one or more variations on the license plate game. | 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.

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

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

See results

© 2010 Carolyn Augustine

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