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The Ultimate Guide to Road Trip Games

Road trip games: playing tic-tac-toe in the car.

Road trip games are a lifesaver, whether you're trekking cross country to sight-see or simply cross-county to see the grandparents, you're a college student on a butt-numbing quest to see how many states you can pin in a single weekend, or you're simply idling in traffic on the way to the airport.

Sure, you can flip through Facebook or have the kids watch Frozen for the 1,000th time, but why not use some of that road time to have a little fun while fostering a deeper connection with your fellow travelers? 

Read on for our ultimate guide to road trip games to get started!      

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Observation Road Trip Games

Let's begin with a couple of classic road trip games that have their basis in the boredom of staring out the window!

 

Road trip games: the game of I Spy

• I Spy

Player 1 picks an object and starts out with the phrase "I spy, with my little eye, something..." and completes the phrase with a description of the object. Remaining players try to guess the object, either by asking elimination questions—Is it in the car? Is it edible? Is it purple? Is it reactive with water?—until they're able to directly guess.

 

• Counting Cows

If you're driving through a particularly rural area, players divide into teams based on the side of the car, i.e. left side team versus right side team. Each team tallies points as it observes cows. If the car passes a cemetery, the team opposite shouts "your cows are buried!" and the cemetery-side team loses its points. Part of the fun is attempting to distract the other team.

 


Verbal Road Trip Games

For this category of road trip games, the only equipment you need is your brain, your vocal chords, and your ears! The great thing about verbal games is that the driver gets to be involved as well.

I. Alphabet Road Trip Games

For all of these alphabet road trip games variations, the one restriction is that you can't re-use words.

Road trip games: the alphabet game

• The Classic Alphabet Game 

The group goes through the alphabet, one letter per player, and lists a surrounding object starting with that letter. If you're a bilingual family or you're learning a language together, add other languages into the mix.

 

• Hawaiian Alphabet Game

For an added challenge, restrict your choices to the 12 letters of the Hawaiian alphabet: A, B, D, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, V, and W.

 

• Alphabet Categories Game

Instead of using surroundings, try to confine your words to a category à la Scattergories: foods, movie titles, medical terms, etc.

 

• Freestyle Blitz Alphabet Game

Drop the categories and go free-for-all. To make it challenging, players have to come up with the word as quickly as possible. The group can decide on a time limit—5 seconds, 3 seconds, etc., so when a player begins to stall, the shot clock-style countdown begins. (Believe me, it's a lot harder than it sounds!)

 

• Word Chain

The group decides on a starting word. Players then take turns listing a word starting with the last letter of the previous word. Example word chain with the starting word "car": roommow wonkyyo-yoorangutan.

 

II. Word and Number Road Trip Games

Road trip games: the game of Word Ladders

• Word Ladder

Also called doublets or word golf, this was originally invented by Lewis Carroll. Players choose two random four-letter words and attempt to link the two step by step by changing one letter at a time.

 

• Ghost

Players take turns adding letters to the fragment of a valid word, in a "hot potato" style attempt to avoid being the one to complete the word for that round. Players complete the word in a round earn one letter from the word "ghost" and, like the basketball game Horse, are are out when they complete the word.

Here's a sample round with three players and some commentary:

— Player 1: H-

The word can go in any number of directions at this point.

— Player 2: He-

There aren't really any English words that start with H+consonant, so player 2 is pretty much limited to vowels.

— Player 3: Hea-

Adding another vowel to force player 1 onto a consonant.

— Player 1: Hear-

Player 1 chooses a common consonant.

— Player 2: Hears-

Player 2 is closing in on the game by adding an "s" because there really aren't many options to choose from...

— Player 3: Hearse-

A last-ditch effort to stay in the game...

— Player 1: Hearses

Player 1 is at a dead end, and receives the letter "G" for this round.

 

• Kangaroo Words

Another word game in which players take a larger "kangaroo word" and attempt to find one or more smaller "joey words" from the larger word's letter set. 

Standard version: joey word letters must be in the same sequence as the kangaroo letters, and two words have to have related meaning. For example: "male" from "masculine"; twin joeys "tin" and "can" from "container."

Easier version: letters can be used out of sequence, and words can be unrelated.

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• Fizz Buzz

Players take turns counting one letter at a time, substituting "fizz" for multiples of 3 and "buzz" for multiples of 5. (For numbers like 15 which are divisible by both, players say "fizz buzz.")

 

III. Verbal Guessing Road Trip Games

 

• Charades

The classic word guessing game where one player tries to get the other players to guess a word or phrase by acting out the words, or its syllables. And of course, you can't say anything. You know, kind of like how Beetlejuice couldn't say his own name:

 

• DIY Taboo

You don't need the actual game board to play this in the car! At your next rest stop, have a designated non-player (the driver, for example, or the person who can't ever seem to stay awake in the car) jot down a list of words, common phrases, or people onto small pieces of paper. Place the words face down on the stack, divide the car into two teams, and have one person per team attempt to describe the word on the paper for the rest of their team to guess, without saying that word.

 

• Twenty Questions

A player in the "hot seat" comes up with a subject, and the rest of the group asks questions in an attempt to guess who or what the player is thinking of.

 

• Who Am I?

Similar to twenty questions, but with a twist. Each player assigns another player a specific person by writing their name on a small strip of paper. Without looking, the player places the paper on his or her forehead so other players can see it. (This is easiest with sticky notes!) Each player then has to ask elimination questions in order to guess their assigned person.

 

Two Truths and a Lie

• The player in the "hot seat" calls out three statements about him- or herself: two facts and one falsehood. Players take turns trying to guess which fact is false. The more outrageous the truths, the better!

 

IV. Imagination Road Trip Games

• Walrus (AKA Existential Rock-Paper-Scissors)

Players take turns naming people or things that "beat" the previous player's example, with arguments for their reasoning. Kind of like Apples to Apples, this is a totally subjective game.

Examples: tank beats tricycle, Superman beats Batman (unless Batman has Kryptonite in his utility belt), sharknado beats tornado.

 

• Would You Rather?

Players take turns by listing uncomfortable situations and attempting to match or beat the previous situation listed, hilariously explored by Mike Myers et al. at the Fog City Diner in the 1993 classic So I Married an Axe Murderer:

• Fortunately-Unfortunately

Players take turns listing off pairs of bad situations and bright sides:

— Player 1: "Unfortunately, there's a man-eating lion in the car..."

— Player 2: "Fortunately, it already ate..."

— Player 3: "Unfortunately, now it has really bad gas..."

— Player 1: "Fortunately, we can roll down the windows..."

— Player 2: "Unfortunately, window buttons are all broken..."

 

• The Actor Game

For a car full of movie buffs, each player is assigned two actors and must list off how they're connected.

Example: one player gets Jackie Chan and Woody Harrelson.

1. Jackie Chan > Chris Tucker, Rush Hour

2. Chris Tucker > Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

3. Jennifer Lawrence > Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games

 

• Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Similar to the Actor Game, except you try to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon. Can be played using other ubiquitous Hollywood actors. (Oracleofbacon.org has tabulated over 80,000 IMDB entries to create a list of the Center of the Hollywood Universe, of which Mr. Bacon is actually #455.)

 

• License Plate Acronyms

Players take turns changing the letters on license plates into ridiculous acronyms. For example, a license plate with BDL-3341 could become "Bum Diaper Litigators" or "Burgers of Doom, LLC."

 

• Imaginary Hide-and-Seek

The group picks a location well known to all players. One player is seeker, and the other players "hide" by choosing one spot in the location. The seeker then "walks" throughout the location by asking questions like "Is anyone in the living room?" Players can get creative by shrinking or expanding as they like: for example, hiding in the silverware drawer.

 

• The Singing Game

One player sings a line from a song and each player follows with a line from another song that fits in some way:

— Player 1: "Yes yes, you're gonna lose that girl..." (The Beatles, "You're Going to Lose That Girl")

— Player 2: "...from a land down under..." (Men at Work, "I Come From a Land Down Under")

— Player 3: "...Goodbye Rosie, the Queen of Corona..." (Paul Simon, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard")

— Player 1: "...all by mysellllllf..." (Eric Carmen, "All By Myself")

...and so on!

Of course, if the game totally devolves into a chorus of the best road trip songs, that's OK too. (I can't think of a time when I've ever been disappointed to belt out "Don't Stop Believin'.")

 


Hand Road Trip games

You can't beat classics like rock paper scissors as road trip games to play in the car! (Though you may need to be prepared to arbitrate, because competition can get pretty fierce.)

I. Rock-Paper-Scissors Games

• Classic Rock Paper Scissors / Roshambo

Players call off "rock-paper-scissors-shoot" and choose one of the three, with the following winning combinations:

• rock breaks scissors

• scissors cuts paper

• paper covers rock

 

• Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock

Invented by software developer Sam Kass, popularized by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Same combinations as above, with seven added combinations:

• rock crushes lizard

• lizard eats paper

• paper disproves Spock

• Spock smashes scissors

• scissors decapitate lizard

• lizard poisons Spock

• Spock vaporizes rock

 

• Odds and Evens

Players call evens or odds, count off "one-two-three-shoot," and either hold up one or two fingers. Players determine whether the sum total of all the fingers is even or odd, and the player who originally called it wins the round. 

It's also a great determiner for who gets to take a friend's apartment:

• Morra

Similar to odds and evens, except that more than two players can play, and players can use more than two fingers. Each player calls out his or her guess of what the sum total will be, players count off "one-two-three-shoot" and hold up anywhere from one to five fingers. Players determine whether sum total of all the fingers and the player closest the the actual amount wins the round.

 

II. Other Hand Games

• Thumb War

Players lock fingers of opposite hands and attempt to pin their opponent's thumb.

 

• Mystery Writing

Player 1 uses a finger to "write" a word or phrase on Player 2's hand. Player 2 must guess the word or phrase without looking.

 


Pencil and Paper Road Trip Games

Some of these road trip games are really quick to learn, so they're great for kids... and some of these can get super complicated, so they're great road trip games for adults as well! 

 

I. Tic-Tac-Toe Games

• Classical Tic-Tac-Toe

One board of 9 squares, two players take turns respectively duking it out for a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row of X or O.

 

• Wild Tic-Tac-Toe

The same as Classic, only players can switch between X and O at will. Two variations exist:

— Standard: the player who completes the row of X or O wins the game.

— Misère: the player who completes the row of X or O loses the game.

 

Road trip games: the game of meta tic-tac-toe

• Meta Tic-Tac-Toe

Players create a "global board" by stacking 9 "local" tic-tac-toe boards into a 3 x 3 grid. Player X chooses any of the 81 squares to play on, which sends player O to that local board. Player X may then play at any local board he or she chooses.

When a player has won a local board, it acts as a winning tile on the global board. The goal for the global board is just like the classic version with three winning tiles in a row.

 

• Quantum Tic-Tac-Toe

Here's a fun variation for you physics nerds out there! This version works on the principles of quantum entanglement, what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." Basically, it operates like classical tic-tac-toe, but changes the amount of marks allowed in a tile: up to 8 smaller "spooky" marks or one large "classical" mark.

— Players X and O take turns making smaller spooky marks in two squares. Each spooky mark gets a subscript number to note the number of the turn, and this number shows that the two squares are now entangled.

— Players continue to play until connected tiles link up into a closed loop, creating a cyclic entanglement.

— The next player may begin to collapse all the tiles in the cycle, meaning that they start a chain reaction where they choose one large classical mark for a tile, which sets off classical marks for all of the linked tiles in the closed loop.

Confused? Check out this written guide, or listen to this Austrian guy with good comedic timing explain:

• Order and Chaos

On a 6 x 6 board, player X (Order) tries to make a row of 5 squares and player O (Chaos) tries to block it.

 

• Gomoku (Five-in-a-Row)

Players draw a grid, at least 15 x 15 squares, and take turns placing their X or O to create a sequence of 5 in a row.

 

II. Connect-or-Fill Games

• Car Bingo

Write up a big list of stuff you're likely to see on your trip, fill them out in a grid, and start looking! Feel free to make the items easy to spot, like road cones or speed limit signs; trip-specific, like state welcome signs or local landmarks; or more rare, like speed traps or tow trucks.

 

• Dots

Players create a grid of dots and take turns linking one dot at a time with a single line. When a player completes a square, they write their initial inside. Players continue until all of the dots are connected, and the winner is the player with the most initials on the board.

 

Road trip games: the game of Paper Soccer

• Paper Soccer

Players create a soccer pitch by drawing a 9 x 10 grid of dots, with goals in middle of the short sides of the pitch. Starting in the middle, players "kick the ball" by taking turns connecting dots one at a time. If the line touches the border of the pitch or the previous line of the ball, the ball "bounces," i.e. the player gets to move again. A player wins when either he or she kicks the ball into the opponent's goal or when his or her opponent doesn't have a valid move left.

 

• Connect Four

Draw a 6 x 8 grid and designate the bottom of the grid as "gravity." Players take turns "dropping pieces" into the columns like the real-life Connect 4 game. The player who, you guessed it, gets 4 pieces in a row wins.

 

• Nim

This is an ancient game, which we're translating into a paper and pencil game. Players draw several "heaps" of objects—for example, three groups of 4,6, and 7 circles, respectively—and take turns crossing out (i.e. removing) any number of objects from the same heap. The object of the game is to force the opponent to take the last object. 

 

Road trip games: the game of Sim

• Sim

Players create a board by drawing six dots to create the outline of a hexagon, then drawing a line between every possible dot. Players then take turns coloring the lines one at a time, each player with a different assigned color. The object of the game is for each player to avoid drawing a closed triangle solely composed of his or her own color.

 

• DIY Sudoku

This one takes a little bit of time to set up, but if you're a sudoku fan, it's kind of cool to reverse engineer a board!

You're essentially creating a solved sudoku puzzle first. As a reminder, the puzzle is a grid of 3 x 3 larger tiles, each tile made of a grid of 3 x 3 squares. Each column of the board contains the numbers 1–9, each row contains the numbers 1–9, and each tile contains the numbers 1–9.

The tricky part is going through your numbers, 1–9, and making sure you're not doubling up anywhere. Then copy your board, leaving a bunch of squares blank in each tile. Next, tou can either give it to someone else to solve, or wait about an hour and play your own board. (I guarantee you're not going to remember the solution you just wrote up!)

 

III. Pencil and Paper Guessing Games

• Hangman

The classic word guessing game: Player 1 comes up with a word, draws placeholder lines for each letter of the word and a gallows above the spaces, and the group attempts to guess the word as Player 1 draws the poor stick man's body one piece at a time.

 

• DIY Mad Libs

One player writes down a story 1–2 paragraphs in length and erases nouns, verbs, and adjectives at random. Next, he or she asks the group to fill in the blanks, then reads the story aloud. Hilarity ensues.

 

• Battleship

Two players draw themselves two 10 x 10 grids, a tracking grid and a primary grid, labeling each grid 1–10 vertically and A–J horizontally. Each player places ships along their primary grid by marking an X to denote the ship's size: a carrier (5), a battleship (4), a cruiser (3), a submarine (3), and a destroyer (2). Players then take turns naming a specific square (e.g. A4, J9, etc.) to place hits on their opponent's board, which they mark on their own tracking grid, and continue until one player sinks the other's entire fleet.

 

• Drink Cup Battleship

This is a quickie version you can play while waiting at a fast food stop! Each player punches down the button on his or her fountain drink lid and take turns guessing which soda the "battleship" is on. At the end of the round, punch the button back up to reset.

 

• Pictionary

Break the group into two teams and take turns, with one player drawing a word or phrase and the remaining players guessing what they're drawing.

 

• Paper Telephone

Player 1 begins with a phrase or word, which he or she writes down on a small piece of paper and passes to Player 2. Player 2 reads the word or phrase, then attempts to draw the word or phrase, and passes it to Player 3. Player 3 then attempts a written description of the drawing. Continue taking turns writing and drawing until it gets back to Player 1, who reads the description or attempts to describe the drawing. Cue raucous laughter.

Note: make sure you've all used the restroom before playing this game, because otherwise it will totally make someone pee their pants.

 

• Ditloids

Players take turns breaking down a well-known title, phrase, or name into a combination of words and numbers and having the remaining players guess what it is. Smaller parts of speech like conjunctions and articles usually don't get abbreviated. Also, feel free to get creative with representation, like substituting "U" instead of "Y" for "you":

— H P and the H B P = Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

— 24 H in a D = 24 hours in a day

— U C D if U W 2 = "You can dance if you want to..."


Road trip games: tic-tac-toe in the car with a travel mug

What are your favorite road trip games? Let us know in the comments below!

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