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Road Trip Game Plan: Best Games to Play in the Car With Kids

5 screen-free games to keep your backseat passengers entertained

Published on: March 29, 2024

Sisters in the backseat of a car playing a car game on a family road trip
Get ready to hit the road and have some fun with these car games.

Spring break is almost here which for my family means one thing: road trip!

While you definitely want to plan memorable stops along your road trip route, you also want to enjoy all the miles in between. I can attest from personal experience that repeat rounds of I Spy won’t quite cut it.

That’s why I pulled my family’s five favorite games from my book “Road Trip Games & Activities for Kids” to share with you here. I included adaptations so that everyone, from toddlers to teens, can join in. With a fresh mix of games, the journey will be as fun as the destination.

Fortunately, Unfortunately

This is my kids’ all-time favorite game. They crack themselves up by turning every “unfortunately” into a scenario in which the main character gets chased by baboons. (I have a visceral fear of those creepy primates.)

How to play: One person starts the game with a sentence that begins the story. It could be something mundane, such as “One day, my dog barked at the garbage truck,” or as extraordinary as “Earlier this morning, I became a mermaid.”

The next person adds to the story with a sentence that begins “Unfortunately … .” It will contain a scenario that turns the story for the worse.

The next person continues with a sentence beginning with “Fortunately … ” that somehow reverses the bad luck of the previous sentence.

Anyone can stop the game by announcing “The end” when it’s their turn. Here’s hoping baboons never make it into your game!

Make it easier

If your kids are having a hard time with the fortunately/unfortunately vocab, use good news/bad news instead. For example, they could say, “Good news: The avalanche was made of ice cream!” and “Bad news: I didn’t have a spoon.”

Make it harder

To make this open-ended storytelling game harder, have it come full circle. So, if the story starts with a pirate lifting anchor on her first voyage, the game won’t end until she returns to the original port.

Nickel Scenery

My daughter has an insatiable desire for toys, and is always saving up for a new stuffie or a figurine from her favorite movie. I’m betting your kids are eager to fill their piggy banks, too, which is one reason they’ll love this game.

How to play: As you drive, call out objects your kids will be able to see out the window — a barn, mile marker, billboard advertising a hamburger, car with a stuffed animal in its back window — whatever! The first person to see it earns a nickel.

Continue as long as you still have change! 

Make it easier

Look down the road for an object that will appear in a few seconds. Your kids will love the immediacy of finding it right away.

If your kids want everything to be equal (in which case, I so feel you), pick objects on alternating sides of the road. That way, the kids end up with the same number of nickels.

Make it harder

Instead of naming the object the kids are hunting for, give them a clue about it. So instead of saying “hay bale,” you could say, “It’s something that makes Mom sneeze” or “It’s a big hunk of horse food.”


 “Are we there yet?” “No.”
“Can I have another bag of Skittles?” “No.”

“Can we leave sister at the next rest stop?” “No.”

Your kids may not love it when you shoot down their requests, but with this game, they won’t hear the word no — or yes, for that matter.

That’s because the rules are that no one can say “yes” or “no,” but can use synonyms (yep, aye, nah, nope).

How to play: Go about your drive as you would normally. Listen for when someone else says one of the off-limits words. If you’re the first person to point it out, you get 10 points. If you accidentally said the word that shall not be named, you lose 5 points.

You can try to get each other to say “yes” or “no” by asking questions that don’t seem related to the game. Pay attention at all times, especially if you’re asked at the drive-through if you want ketchup with your fries. 

Make it easier

Before you begin, brainstorm words you can say instead of “no” or “yes.” 

Make it harder

Instead of playing for points, the person who catches someone saying a banned word gets to make up a new rule. For example, they might decide that no one can point or everyone has to spin around before getting into the car. 


In this game, your kids get to show off their encyclopedic knowledge of their favorite interests.

How to play: One person starts by choosing a category, such as breeds of dogs, things that are hot or professional baseball teams. 

Going in a clockwise direction, each person states one item that fits the chosen category.

Remember the items everyone before you has named, because if you repeat one of them, you’re out! If you’re stumped, you’re out. The last remaining player is the winner.

Make it easier

Be sure to pick categories your kids will know. For example, my younger daughter, Maxine, doesn’t know which animals are mammals, so I wouldn’t choose mammals as a category. 

Make it harder

Want to engage your whole brain? Play Categories while keeping a rhythm (pat lap, pat lap, clap, snap! and say the item on the snap). 

Start to End Geography

You’re on the road, so kids are soaking up geography facts … or at least the difference between a state and a country. (My kids are still working on that distinction.)

How to play: One person begins this game by naming a place. This can be a country, state, city, river or other geographic feature. The last letter of that place must be the first letter of the place the next player names.
So, if the first person names Kentucky, the final letter is “y.” The next person thinks of a place that begins with “y,” such as Yemen. The next player comes up with a place that starts with “n,” and so on. 

Make it easier

Young kids who struggle with geography can say any word that begins with the final letter of the previous place name. 

Make it harder

Geography whizzes can stick with one category, such as bodies of water, places in South America or capital cities. 

More road trip reads 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published several years ago and was updated more recently with new images and a new introduction in March 2024. This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase products through links on our site, ParentMap may earn an affiliate commission.

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