Keeping kids occupied on long car journeys: the ultimate guide to in-car games

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Road trips can be a challenge for families with children. Parents often struggle to keep kids entertained and happy - while also staying focused on the road themselves.

To make your next road trip a more enjoyable experience for everyone, we've compiled a comprehensive guide on keeping children occupied, preparing for your journey, and ignoring distractions 👇

Road trip games for young children

In-car games can be a lifesaver on long car journeys. These activities keep children entertained and help sharpen their cognitive skills. Here are a few games that require no preparation:

  • I-Spy: One person selects an object within view and says "I spy with my little eye, something that." and then provides a clue. The other players take turns guessing the object. The person who guesses correctly gets to choose the next object.
  • 20 Questions: One player thinks of a person, place, or thing, and the other players ask yes or no questions to figure out what it is. Players have a maximum of 20 questions to determine the answer.
  • The Alphabet Game: Players try to spot objects, signs, or number plates that begin with each alphabet letter in order. The first person to reach 'Z' wins.
  • Car Colour Bingo: Create a simple bingo card with various colours listed on it. As you drive, have the children look for cars in those colours and mark them off their cards. The first player to complete a row, column, or diagonal wins.
  • Would You Rather?: Take turns asking "Would you rather" questions, prompting players to choose between two options. These questions can range from silly to thought-provoking, making the game engaging for children of various ages.
  • Word Association: One player starts by saying a word, and the next player must say a word related to the first word. The game continues with each player adding a word associated with the previous one. They are out if a player hesitates too long or repeats a word.
  • Name That Tune: One player hums or whistles the tune of a well-known song, and the others must guess the song's title. The person who guesses correctly gets to choose the next song to hum or whistle.
  • The Quiet Game: Challenge your children to see who can stay quiet the longest. This game encourages good behaviour and gives parents a brief respite from the noise.
  • Alphabetical Picnic: This begins with the first player announcing, "I'm going on a picnic, and I'm bringing…" followed by an item that starts with the letter "A", such as apples. The second player repeats the phrase, including the first item, and then adds an item beginning with the letter "B". The champion is the individual who can successfully recall the most items in alphabetical order.
  • Storytelling: Take turns to create a story by contributing one sentence at a time. This collaborative storytelling game can lead to hilarious and imaginative tales.
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Car sing-along-songs

Singing along to your favourite tunes is fun for the whole family and a great way to pass the time on long car journeys. When selecting sing-along songs, consider the following:

  • Age-appropriate lyrics: Choose songs with kid-friendly lyrics that everyone can enjoy. Some popular options include children's classics like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," "The Wheels on the Bus," and "If You're Happy and You Know It."
  • Catchy melodies: Opt for songs with catchy melodies and simple, repetitive lyrics. This makes it easier for young children to sing along and memorise the words.
  • Mix it up: Create a playlist that includes a variety of genres, from pop and rock to country and folk. This will keep the sing-along experience fresh and entertaining throughout the journey.
  • Include favourites: Ask your children for their favourite songs, and include them in the playlist. This personal touch will make the sing-along experience more enjoyable for them.

Want some inspo? Lucky for you we’ve found Britain’s top 20 driving songs - as well as some songs that will help you focus on the road.

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Portable and compact games for travel

In addition to instant in-car games, consider bringing along portable games to keep children entertained during rest stops or at your destination. Here are a few compact, travel-friendly options:

  • Travel-sized board games: Many popular board games, including Monopoly, Scrabble, and Connect Four, come in travel-sized editions that are perfect for on-the-go fun.
  • Card games: Classic card games like UNO, Go Fish, or Old Maid are easy to pack and can provide hours of entertainment for children of all ages.
  • Magnetic puzzles and games: Magnetic games, such as chess, checkers, or puzzles, are ideal for travel as they help prevent pieces from getting lost or sliding around during the journey.
  • Colouring books and crayons: Bring along colouring books and washable crayons for creative children.
  • In-car craft kits: travel craft kits can be purchased from various craft stores or online retailers and encompass an assortment of items, from colouring books and crayons to stickers, tapes, and cut-outs. To maintain a clean and mess-free environment, it's best to steer clear of glitter and similar materials. In the same vein, it's advisable to leave felt-tip markers and other ink-based pens at home.
Road trips are fun for all the family
Road trips are fun for all the family

Top in-car apps for kids

In-car apps for kids can be a lifesaver on long car journeys, keeping children entertained while allowing you to focus on driving. Remember to download and set up these apps before your trip, and consider investing in headphones or a tablet mount for a more comfortable in-car experience. Don't forget to take breaks during your journey, allowing children to stretch their legs, take toilet breaks, and give their eyes a rest from screens.

Check out Stardew Valley or Mindcraft for something engaging and fun, or Audible’s range of children’s books for a change of pace.

Road trip tips for parents

Planning and preparation can significantly reduce distractions and make your journey smoother.

Plan your route and stops

Before hitting the road, map out your route and identify interesting stops along the way. Consider rest areas, parks, attractions, and restaurants that cater to families. This will help break up the journey and keep everyone excited.

However, while having a plan is important, be prepared to adjust it as needed. If the kids are getting restless or you come across an unexpected attraction, don't be afraid to change your schedule to accommodate.

Make a packing list

Create a checklist of essential items for the trip, such as clothing, toiletries, medications, snacks, entertainment, and any necessary documentation.

Prepare your vehicle

Ensure your car is in good working order by checking tyre pressure, fluid levels, and brakes. Pack an emergency kit with a flashlight, first aid supplies, blankets, and other essentials.

Create a snack and meal plan

Pack a cooler with healthy snacks, sandwiches, and drinks to avoid the need for frequent fast-food stops. Be sure to include items that are easy to eat on the go and cater to everyone's dietary needs.

Maintain a comfortable environment

Keep the car at a comfortable temperature and consider using sunshades to block direct sunlight. Bring pillows and blankets for naps, and ensure everyone has a comfortable seat.

Stay safe

Make sure everyone is wearing seat belts, and use appropriate car seats or booster seats for younger children. Monitor the weather and adjust your driving as needed to ensure a safe journey.

Avoiding distractions and staying focused on the road

Driving with children in the car can be a fun and enjoyable experience, but staying focused on the road can also be challenging when faced with the distractions they may cause. To ensure a safe and pleasant journey, it is essential to manage these distractions effectively.

Set ground rules

Before starting your journey, establish clear rules with your children about behaviour in the car. Teach them to entertain themselves independently in the car, as this will minimise the need for your involvement and allow you to focus on driving.

Secure loose items

Ensure that toys, snacks, and other items are securely stored to prevent them from becoming a distraction or hazard while driving. It’s also a good idea to keep frequently used items such as tissues and water bottles within easy reach to avoid having to search for them while driving.

Use technology wisely

Hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets or in-car voice command systems, can help you maintain focus on the road while still addressing your children's needs. Remember to use these devices responsibly and within legal limits.

Assign a co-pilot

If you are travelling with another adult, designate them as the "co-pilot" to handle any distractions or issues that arise with the children while you focus on driving.

Stay calm and composed

Children can sometimes become upset or fussy in the car. Stay calm and composed in these situations, pulling over if necessary to address any issues before continuing your journey.

Keep your eyes on the road

Resist the urge to turn around and look at your children while driving. Use your rearview mirror to check on them if necessary, but minimise the time spent looking away from the road.

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Updated on 15th May 2023