Most of these road trip games are classics, but they have variations that make them easier and more fun to play. Adults may play along, or they may be needed as facilitators and arbitrators, settling any disputes that arise and making sure that each child gets a turn. Games will speed the miles and can be educational as well. The grandchildren just might be so entertained that they'll forget to ask, "Are we there yet?"
1. Horse Sense
Use the scoring system from Horse Basketball to determine the winner of a spelling bee. When a word is missed, the player gains a letter. When a player accumulates all the letters of H-O-R-S-E, he or she must neigh like a horse and leave the game. The winner is the last person still playing. For a variation, call out math problems instead of spelling words.
2. Sing That Word
The first player sings a song and stops on any word. The next player must sing a song containing that word, stopping on a new word. The next player has to think of a song containing that word. A player who is stumped must drop out of play. Make this game easier by playing in teams.
3. The Dictionary Game
One person thinks of a word--"vine," for example. That person offers a clue to the word by saying what it rhymes with: "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with line." The others think of possible answers, but instead of guessing them outright, they must clue them in a similar manner, saying something like, "Is it a hole in the earth containing coal?" The first person has to say, "No, it is not a mine." The round continues until someone guesses the first person's word. That person is the next one to think of a word. If, however, the first person can't come up with the word to fit a guesser's definition, that player gets to be it.
4. License Plate Bonus Game
This classic game involves trying to spot a license plate for each state of the Union. Usually the whole group works together to accomplish this task. You can make it more competitive and more educational by awarding a point to the first person to see the license plate and awarding points for coming up with the state capital or slogan. You could expand that to more arcane trivia, such as state birds and trees, but it might be wise to have a reference book to verify answers. Don't Know Much About the 50 States is a good choice (compare prices).
5. Customized Road Bingo
This one requires a little work ahead of time, but it will pay off in fun. Print out some simple 5 X 5 grids on the computer and fill them in with items that are likely to be seen on the trip, making each sheet different. If you are going to be traveling through lots of towns, use names of restaurants and retail establishments. If you will be in a rural area, use tractors, windmills and farm animals. The winner can be the first to get five in a row, or you can play blackout. If you create the game on the computer, you can print a new set for each road trip, and you will think of new items to add each time you make a trip.
6. Shortened Songs
Sing a simple song in its entirety, then sing it again, dropping the last word. Drop one more word each time you sing until you are down to singing a single word. "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is a classic choice for this treatment. You can turn this activity into a game by eliminating singers who make a mistake. It's harder than you might think. Try Frere Jacques in the English or French version as well.
7. Alphabet Search
Each player conducts a search for the letters of the alphabet in order. When a player sees a letter, he or she calls it out, and no other player can claim that same sighting. To ease the pain of the tough letters, let players have one pass, which presents them with a dilemma: Should they use it on Q or save it for X or Z? For a mind-boggling variation, start at the end of the alphabet and move to the beginning.
8. Trivia Time
Use the cards from Trivial Pursuit or Brain Quest to stage a showdown. Players get a point for each correct answer. The first player to reach a preset number wins. Brain Quest makes it easy to ask questions on different levels as there are editions available for each grade level, but the moderator may have to juggle several different versions. If you opt for Trivial Pursuit, use the family or kids' version. For larger groups, divide the players into teams. For an additional twist, allow each player a certain number of "Ask an Adult" options.
9. Packing List Game
In this classic game, the first player says, "I'm going to (destination) and I'm going to take _____," filling in the blank with the name of something beginning with the letter A. The next player must repeat the first player's statement and add something beginning with B. Players who are stumped must drop out of play. To make the game more difficult, have players modify their noun with an adjective beginning with the same letter, such as "abundant apples" or "bouncy balls."
10. Will We See Gophers?
This game builds anticipation for the vacation activities to come. A player thinks of an activity the family will do after arriving at their destination. The other players ask yes-or-no questions to eliminate possible activities. The player who guesses correctly gets to be "it" and must come up with another activity for guessing. This activity is from Disney's Family Fun Magazine.