Getting from A to B doesn’t have to be a journey to boredom for kids if you have a selection of travel games at the ready. When driving, games that take attention outside the car often prevent car sickness as well as making the trip go faster. On planes, trains and buses the added pressure of other passengers might restrict the kinds of games you can play, but there are still options for the creatively-minded parent.

When you're on foot, kids need to focus on something other than how far they’re walking, so it’s a good idea to have a few games you can play to take their mind off things. A good travel game can also highlight differences between their own culture and the culture being visited and appreciate their surroundings even more or calm them down after too much running around.

Games for cars

  • Singing in echoes - This is a noisy one, so avoid it if you feel a headache coming on or if you’ve still got a long journey ahead. Take it in turns to make up a line of a song (nonsense words work best) with the rest of the family repeating it as a chorus. Another player sings the previous line and adds one on. Keep adding until your memories fail.
  • Passing cars - A nice easy creative game. Get the kids to make up stories about the people in other cars that pass you based on the quick look they get as they pass. Ask questions to get them thinking – What are their names? Where are they going? Is one of them a superhero travelling in disguise?
  • Buzz words - Gets kids concentrating on the radio and keeping quiet. Choose a word (start with easy ones like ‘song’ ‘listening’ or ‘news’) and listen out for it on the radio in songs or DJs’ announcements. Shout out ‘Buzz’ when the word comes up. Readers can look out for buzz words on road signs and advertising.
  • Licence plate games - Make a phrase out of the letters in a licence plate with the first one to make sense winning. Have kids spot their initials in passing plates (first to get all their initials wins). Choose a word and spell it out using license plate letters (use familiar things like pets or school friends to ground kids in unfamiliar territory). Use the numbers in licence plates to play car 21 – get the kids to add up all the numbers on a number plate in passing cars. GMZ 421, for example, would add up to 7, while 969 would break the bank with 24. Players can ask for another card (the first number of the next passing car), but if they go over 21 they break the bank. Take it in turns with the closest to 21 (but still under) winning. Or for an easier game, see how many different countries or states you can collect on licence plates.

Games for planes, trains or buses

  • Geography games - Expand your kid’s geographical knowledge by taking turns to name a capital city and its country. If this is too easy, try thinking up one for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Would you? - Read up about the country you’re visiting and prepare some questions for your kids that will challenge their cultural ideas. Try concepts like ‘In Sri Lanka they wash elephants in a river after a long day’s work. Would you?’ or ‘In Chile they eat chupe de cóngrio (conger eel soup). Would you?’ This a fantastic way to introduce your kids to different customs, languages and foods before arriving in a country to reduce culture shock. Use an LP guidebook to find out more info on a country.
  • Maps - Get kids to trace out the journey on world, country or local maps. Some tourist information centres offer free maps, which can be coloured in or cut up.

Games for walking

  • What you saw - When passing through scenery ask kids to look around for a minute, then have them close their eyes and tell you what they remember. An observational game that will have kids appreciating their surroundings.
  • Counting games - These are easy games to make up in a hurry. Select a frequently occurring local feature – such as windmills in Holland or bikes in China – and two players can count all of these features on one side. First to 100 wins. To keep the game interesting you can count down from 100. Count several things with various points for each sighting and the game can be about addition. If you’re near a roadway, counting arrows on signs is always a good one.
  • Stepping out - A quick game, but a good distracter. See who can take the biggest steps, the smallest steps, the silliest steps, the straightest step, a sideways step or the most backward steps (without running into anything).
  • Touchy feely tree - Walk a blindfolded player to a tree and let them explore it using only touch for a few minutes. Then spin them around and lead them away from their tree. Removing the blindfold, ask the player to find their tree.
  • Statues - A good game to relax with. Move around until the caller says ‘freeze’, then stay still the longest to win. Another version involves players sneaking up behind the caller to steal a token (a rock or anything that’s handy will do fine.) Rather than call freeze, the caller turns and sees who is still moving. Anybody caught moving gets sent back to the start.
  • Clouds - What do the clouds look like? Can you find a cloud that looks like: a person, your car, your pets, your breakfast...
This article was published in December 2011 and refreshed in January 2013.

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?

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