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Sure, kids love movies and video games, but the best road trip activities don’t require powering up. Besides, travel is a time for kids to connect with their families and the world around them. Here are screen-free road trip activities for kids to try on your next family car trip.
1. Paper Maps
Many kids are fascinated by paper maps. Before leaving home, print out your road trip course via Google Maps. Mark landmarks and things of interest so your kids can follow along from the backseat. This gives kids a sense of ownership in the car trip.
You could also encourage kids to follow your route in an old-fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas. Besides offering entertainment, even if you’re using GPS for directional guidance, a paper map comes in handy when going through a remote area with spotty Internet or when satellite directions go astray.
2. Travel Journals
Give each child a notebook to use as a travel journal during your road trip. They can use it to write about and draw their favorite moments from the journey. Kids might document roadside attractions, animals seen along the way, nature scenes, tasty meals, and memorable vacation activities.
Bring along glue sticks or roll of Scotch tape to add tickets, postcards, and other mementos to the books as you go. The journal acts as a form of entertainment as well as an affordable and meaningful souvenir.
3. License Plate Game
The License Plate Game has long been one of the best road trip games. Keep track of license plates spotted from every state in the USA during a long drive with Melissa & Doug’s License Plate Game.
4. Mad Libs
A round of Mad Libs spurs creativity and lots of giggles. Review grammar basics while concocting silly stories from players’ picks of adjectives, nouns, adverbs, and more. Even the driver can play along, making it a great road trip activity!
5. Alphabet Game
There are fun car games that require nothing more than a little imagination, like the Alphabet Game. This is how I grew up playing this old-school car game. The entire family takes turns naming what they would pack for family vacation. Each item must start with a letter of the alphabet.
Starting at A and ending with Z, all 26 items must be memorized in alphabetical order and repeated as you go. So, one player might say, “I’m going on vacation and I’m packing an alligator.”
Then the next person could say, “I’m going on vacation and I’m packing an alligator and a ball.” The subsequent player would repeat the first two items and continue onto letter C, and so on.
You get bonus points for alliteration, like saying “beach ball” instead of just “ball” for letter B. Well, there’s no point-scoring with this game, but it does make memorizing easier and more fun!
A fun and easy road trip activity for kids is coloring. Bring along a few coloring books for young children to use as you drive.
Buy some triangular crayons, too. These are perfect for use in the car because they don’t roll all over the place like standard crayons.
Even big kids and adults can join the coloring fun. There are all sorts of coloring books for teens and grown-ups who want to get crafty. Coloring is a relaxing way to pass the time at any age.
Older children will want some quality markers. My teen daughter recommends these Ohuhu Markers. Bonus: they come with their own handy carrying case.
Colored pencils are always entertaining, too. Prismacolor is a trusted brand for budding artists.
Before every trip, let your kids pick out a new Crayola Color Wonder kit for mess-free coloring on the road.
7. Twenty Questions
This is the classic game to play to pass the time on a road trip or anywhere you need a simple but fun activity.
The first person starts by giving a clue. For example, “I’m thinking of a famous person.” Or, “I’m thinking of a song.”
Then, each family member shouts out yes or no questions. You could ask, “Is the person a woman?” But you not, “Is the person a woman or man?” because that is not a yes or no question.
The clue giver counts the questions asked and wins if no one can guess the secret without going over 20. If someone does guess the correct answer, then they give the clue next.
8. Grocery Store Game
The Grocery Store Game was one of my favorite car activities when I was a kid and I still play it today with my children. This game puts a twist on the traditional 20 Questions, but works well for families because even young kids know what’s in a grocery store.
One player thinks of an item that can typically be found in a grocery store and then gives a clue like, “I’m thinking of something that can be found in the produce department,” or, “I’m thinking of something orange.”
Then, similar to 20 Questions, the other players ask yes or no questions until the grocery store item is revealed. You can put a time limit or number limit on the guessing if someone comes up with a real head-scratcher.
9. Do-It-Yourself Travel Crafts
Pack supplies to make travel crafts on the go. For more involved projects, it works best if an adult gets into the backseat to help out children, at least for a little while.
A sketch pad encourages young artists to create masterpieces using their imaginations.
Pipe cleaners can be bent into all sorts of fun shapes for crafts.
Googly eyes make every craft more fun. These come with their own adhesive.
Pom poms add a fun texture to craft projects.
Washable glue sticks will help to paste items onto the artwork.
Simplify your life by purchasing a craft jar filled with all sorts of creative goodies for use in the car or at home. It includes colorful popsicle sticks, letters of the alphabet, different shapes, and much more.
10. I Spy
With a game of I Spy, players take turns finding objects found along the route. One family member announces, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with…” and names a letter of the alphabet. Then everyone guesses the item. Whoever guesses correctly, takes over as the clue giver next.
Make the game even more fun with a deck of I Spy Travel Cards.
11. Lacing Boards
For younger children, lacing boards provide an engaging activity to take on the road, without taking up too much space. Preschoolers work on their fine motor skills while playing from the comfort of their car seat.
For a light option, buy a lacing cards set by Stephen Joseph. These come with a travel bag and weigh just .44 pounds (7 ounces). Themes include zoo, dinosaurs, princesses, transportation, and others.
12. Bead Kits
Girls and boys alike enjoy stringing beads to make colorful jewelry for themselves or for their mama with a Melissa and Doug wooden bead kit.
13. Sticker Books
Melissa and Doug’s sticker sets are amusing, too. These reusable stickers can be used on more than one road trip.
This Paint-by-Sticker Kids book looks like a rainbow of fun as well.
14. Road Trip Bingo
Great for a long car ride, Auto Bingo keeps kids engaged while they search for common road trip items. Flip the shutter-slide windows shut when your family finds things like stop signs or other road signs, cows, and motor homes. It’s a road trip scavenger hunt of sorts!
15. Wikki Stix
A toy plus a craft rolled into one, Wikki Stix keep kids content with a unique feel, bright colors, and bendable consistency. Make 3-D designs, stick to craft projects, or play with Wikki Stix as a fidget toy. What’s more, the naturally sticky texture means you don’t need to use glue or tape if you don’t want to.
16. Travel Toys
Order a bunch of travel toys online before your trip and keep them hidden from your kids. Then hand out the toys for good behavior or at particular mile markers. You can also find affordable toys and prizes at the Dollar Store.
If you’re feeling rather fancy, you can wrap them in wrapping paper before you go. An easier solution is to wrap them up in tin foil. Easy peasy but still fun to open!
Take a look at my picks for the 30+ best travel toys for kids of all ages. I share fun ideas for kids, from a modern rattle that all babies love, to sand toys for use at the rest stop, and even diversions for picky teenagers.
Once you return home, be sure to keep these travel toys separate from your children’s everyday toy chest. That way, the next time you travel, the toys will seem exciting and new again!
17. Travel Board Games
Many board games come in compact travel versions that are fun for long road trips. There are options for both little kids and older children.
For more fun games, read my list of the 30+ best travel games for families. From toddlers and preschoolers to tweens and teens, you’ll find games sure to please your children.
To stay organized and avoid losing game pieces, keep your road trip board games in an enclosed carrier.
18. Road Trip Printables
From Tic-Tac-Toe boards and word searches to coloring sheets and travel journal pages — you can find a lot of great printable road trip games and other fun road trip activities online. The best thing is, they’re free!
To print the coloring page of the honey bear above, simply click here and then select print.
Bookworms will love reading a good book during a long trip. Stock up on some new titles from your local library before leaving home. Or get kids excited for your trip with this list of travel books for kids.
Some kids might prefer comic books. That’s fine. The point is to encourage reading your children enjoy, not to make it a dreaded task.
Keep in mind that some kids may start to feel queasy if they try to read in the car. So if your child starts to feel sick, do not pass go. It’s time to move to a different activity!
Audiobooks keep the whole family entertained in the car on family vacations while avoiding screen time and using the power of imagination. Plus, if your children are prone to motion sickness, then audiobooks provide a nice alternative to reading.
The key is to choose a story that engages all the listeners in your car. Harry Potter is a good choice that appeals to children and adults alike. For more ideas, see our list of audiobooks for road trips that both parents and kids enjoy.
If you want to rent audiobooks, then try the library at Audible.com, which has more than 100,000 titles.
21. Travel Snacks
The key to happy travels with children is bringing a wide variety of snacks in separate, colorful containers. Then dole them out slowly. Otherwise, they’ll eat all of the snacks at once and spend the rest of the trip complaining about tummy aches. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
Pack healthy items like fresh and dried fruits, whole grain crackers and cereals, and individually wrapped cheeses. See our suggested travel snacks for kids for more tips.
Listening to good music is one of the best ways to keep everyone happy during a family road trip. Make a playlist before leaving home featuring the favorite songs of all family members. Ask older kids for suggestions to add to the list.
Choose melodies that are fun to sing, too. Some of my family’s favorite sing-a-longs include the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording, Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody, anyone?), and Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.
You might also want to have some lullabies ready to rock when young children need to nap on the road.
23. Travel Puzzles
From jigsaw puzzles to activity books packed with mind-benders, there are plenty of travel puzzles to take up a lot of time during your car trip.
Melissa & Doug are at it again with their kid-pleasing magnetic jigsaw puzzles.
Little ones will love The Amazing Kids Activity Book. It’s packed with games of all sorts for single players like mazes, easy crossword puzzles, dot-to-dots, and more.
Meanwhile, big kids will prefer Totally Awesome Mazes and Puzzles, packed with 200+ brain-challenging games.
You can’t go wrong with a classic Rubik’s Cube, either. My son loves to impress other kids with his Rubik’s Cube-solving skills. This brain teaser makes a great icebreaker on vacation.
Before Your Next Road Trip with Kids
Purchase a travel tray for road trip activities with kids. A cookie sheet can be used as a flat surface instead, but it’s not nearly as convenient or organized. Use the tray for coloring, making travel crafts, and playing games. Get a tray with lots of pockets to store art supplies and toys for easy access.
More Travel Tips for Families
Read about the best road trip from Phoenix with exciting stops at Southwest national parks and Las Vegas.
Discover the best national parks for kids in the USA.
Stay safe on the go with these tips to avoid losing your child in public.
Explore the outdoors with these nature vacations for families.
Save These Screen-Free Road Trip Activities
For future reference, be sure to save this list of unplugged road trip activities for kids. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. I hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!
What are your favorite road trip activities for kids? Let us know in the comments below!
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