When you’re traveling great distances with children, it can be tough to keep the peace in the backseat. Prevent whining and boredom by packing a bag of toys and activities for the road. Here are games you can play wherever you’re stuck – in the car, on the bus or up in the air!

For all ages

Treasure bags

Have two bags, one large and one small, ready for on-the-go activities. In the large bag (a shopping bag or cloth tote bag) put a deck of cards, and books and toys suitable for traveling. (See below for a few suggestions.) On small strips on paper, write hints that describe each of the games and toys, and place them in the small bag. Then have your child close his eyes and pick a strip of paper from the small bag. If he can guess what the item is, he gets to pick out and play with the toy or read the book from the large bag. Depending on the length of your trip, have your child pick a treasure hint from the small bag every so many hours or miles. In Travel Wise With Children: 101 Educational Travel Tips for Families, Mary Rodgers Bundren gives a few examples of treasure hints:

  • “There are 52 of me and if you figure this one out you’re a real joker.” (deck of cards)
  • “I’m red, green, and purple all over. Mark my words – I rub off.” (markers)
  • “Open me up and you will get all the letters of the alphabet.” (new book)

How fast?

Have everyone (except the driver!) close their eyes and listen to the noises made by the car’s engine. The winner is the one who guesses the speed closest to the actual speed of the car.

How far?

“Each player looks off to the horizon and agrees on a landmark – a tree, a mountain, a barn,” writes Carole T. Meyers, author of Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities. “Then each player guesses how many miles away the landmark is and how long it will take to get there. When you are ready to begin, set the odometer and state the time.

“When you arrive at the landmark, check guesses against the odometer and clock. The player whose guess is closest wins.”


If your child loves to collect, use your trip as an excuse to find stamps, post cards, snow globes, or other mementos from your travels. “Carry along some extra bags to fill with sea shells, rocks, or other interesting finds,” writes Bundren. “Sorting and counting projects are a natural outgrowth of trip collections. How many different kinds of rocks did you collect? Categorize them into sizes. How about shells?”

Bundren also recommends collecting “books pertaining to your travel region, both fiction and nonfiction.” Reading these books will not only help your child learn about the local landscape, they will also bring back memories of the trip.

Word games

Silly license plate sentences

Have your child choose a passing car. Using the letters on its license plate, help him make up a phrase beginning with those letters. For example, DLA could be Dinosaurs Love Artichokes while SBWG could be She Bowls With Globes. The funnier your sentences are, the better!


Choose a word, then let the rest of the car race to name its antonym, or opposite. The winner gets to pick the next word. Here are some words to get you started:

  • brave
  • summer
  • polite
  • guilty
  • push
  • cheap
  • quiet

Pig Latin

“Most children quickly learn this playful code language derived from ordinary English,” writes Meyers. “Words are formed by moving the first consonant or consonant cluster of each word to the end of the word and adding the sound ay.” Here’s an example:

  • “Can you speak Pig Latin?” turns into “Ancay ouyay eakspay Igpay Atinlay?”

If a vowel is at the beginning of a word, leave it there but still add the ay to the end:

  • “Are we there yet?” becomes “Areay eway erethay etyay?”

A to Z

Find words beginning with “A”, on signs around you. Have your children take turns, after “A”, go to “B”, and so on. Can you get to “Z” and finish the alphabet?


Someone in the car thinks up a title for a story. Based on the title, the next person starts the story – “Once upon a time there was a _____…” The third person continues the story, and so on. You may want to set time limits for each player or for the length of the story itself. Meyers recommends, “If you have access to a tape recorder, it is fun to tape your stories and play them back later.”

Fun with math

What am I counting?

Have your child silently pick something she sees outside the window, such as red barns, spotted cows or telephone poles. As the car passes her selected object, she counts out loud while the rest of the car tries to guess what is being counted. Whoever guesses correctly becomes the next counter.


“The object of this game is to be the first player to reach 100,” writes Meyers. “Starting with 0, each player takes turns adding any number from 1 to 10. For example, the first player might start with 5. The next player might add 6 for a total of 11, saying aloud both the number and the total. The next player might add 10 for a total of 21. The game continues until someone reaches exactly 100. (You know you are a winner when it’s your turn and the current total is between 90 and 99.)”

Dig for digits

Someone in the car picks a number, any number, then everyone races to find it on a billboard, street sign, or license plate. The winner of each round gets to pick the next number.

Mind your Ps and Qs

Meyers explains, “Each player looks for Ps and Qs on signs, license plates, etc. A particular P and Q may be counted only by the first player to see it.” Set a specific time or mileage limit so the player with the highest count of Ps and Qs wins.

Geography games

Track the miles

Whether running errands or driving out of state, take a local map of your route for your child to follow. Not only does it help develop her sense of direction, you’ll have a better way to answer “Are we there yet?” If your child is reading, have him call out the driving directions as you go along.

Places and things

Players alternate calling out a city, state, country, island, body of water or mountain. The challenge is choosing a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. For example, the first player says, “Reno.” The second player might say, “Oklahoma.” And the third player might follow with, “Australia.” If the game bogs down, set time limits.

This game is also called Alpha and Omega when the theme involves narrower categories, such as words for fruits, birds, sports, etc.

Color inside the (state) lines

For longer road trips, take along a printout of a U.S. map and some crayons. As you spot an out-of-state license plate, have your child locate and color in that state on her map. January 2008