Travel games for kids: fun for long waits and quiet places

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Kids don’t believe everything comes to those who wait, so it helps to have some travel games at the ready to make waits pass more smoothly. Longer travel games come in handy in restaurants, queues and at public transport lines, because they distract kids from the time it’s taking for something to happen.

Sometimes you might just want your little treasures to keep quiet. Quiet games can teach children that loud behaviour is not always okay, as well as buy a few moments of peace in a hectic day. Although many museums are becoming more interactive there are still many old-style museums that will have a ‘look, don’t touch’ feel that frustrates kids. With a bit of preparation, these games can get children to appreciate looking in a museum as much as you will.

Here are some great games to keep the kids engaged and entertained when they have to put up with long waits or quiet places:

Games for waiting

  • Storylines
    A good game for the whole family that is limited only by imagination. Start a story with a sentence (‘Once upon a time…’ might be a good place to start) with the next family member adding the next sentence. Add one that doesn’t make sense or finish your sentence with a cliff-hanger to keep it interesting.
  • Alphabet games
    Alphabet games can run for hours if need be, so they’re perfect for undetermined waits. Name a category, then run through the alphabet naming something from each category. Animals (‘Aardvark, bumble bee, cat’) are easier, but harder topics can be famous people or song titles. Double points for double letters, like bumble bee. In other alphabet games, you can choose a category and all the players have to name something beginning with that letter before moving on to the next letter (eg ‘Apple’, ‘Asparagus’, ‘Artichoke’). For older kids make up a structure, such as ‘My name is blank from blank where they make the best blank’ filling in each of the blanks with a name, a location and an object starting with each letter of the alphabet.
  • Guessing games
    Guessing games can be good for shorter waits, as kids can get frustrated or bored. Most guessing games are based on simple yes or no questions, using general questions (‘Is it alive?) to narrow it down to specific guesses (‘Is it a rabbit?’). In ‘guess the food’, one player will nominate a describing word (‘crunchy’, ‘sweet’ or ‘red’) with other players asking questions to guess the food. Use other categories like animals or famous people. You can prepare some cards with categories or names on them. Keep the games located in your travels, using famous people or animals from the country you’re visiting.

Games for quiet places

  • Guess the letter
    Another one for readers. Draw a letter on the palm of another player with their eyes closed. Try whole words if guessing a letter is too easy.
  • Whispers
    Pass a whispered message from one player to the next saying the message only once. As players pass it on from one to the next the message will become garbled. In a reasonably sized group (usually more than five people), the message should end up as nonsense when the last player says it out loud to the group.
  • Did you see?
    A game that might involve a bit of preparation. Make a list of things to see in a gallery or museum by asking the kids what they think they’ll see or prepare a list beforehand based on an LP guidebook. Kids can check off their list with a prize or treat for the most complete list. Remember to have a range of items that are both common (so kids achieve something easily) and rare (to challenge them). You can debrief and talk about items on the list. More complex versions of the game might involve getting more than one of each item (eg seven paintings with a blonde man in them).
  • How many…
    Guess how many of an object you’ll see on your museum visit and get the littlies to count them up as they go. Good objects include sculptures, gold frames or security guards.
  • What was it?
    A simple game that will get kids looking at exhibits or paintings. Give the kids a minute or two to look at an exhibit, then ask them ‘What was it?’, ‘Who used it?’, ‘When did they use it?’ or if it’s a portrait ask ‘Who was it?’, ‘What did they do?’. Ask any other questions to stimulate the imagination. Be prepared to answer some tricky questions yourself.
This article was published in December 2011. This article was refreshed in September 2012.

Here's one more way to keep your kids entertained on the road: The Not For Parents Travel Book, packed with cool stuff to know about every country in the world. Everyone knows which is the world’s highest mountain, but do you know which country banned chewing gum?