This article was originally published in September 2021 and updated in December 2023. 

If you’re getting out of town, there’s a good chance it’s in the family car. The trick is keeping your child occupied for all that time on the road. Here are ideas that boost imagination and memory, and cost little or nothing at all.

1. License plate game: Check out passing cars and trucks to search for license plates from all 50 states.

2. Scavenger hunt: Help your child make a list of items to look for on the road, then cross them off along the way.

3. Road trip BINGO: Like the scavenger hunt, this activity keeps your child focused on the world around them. Make your own BINGO card with objects you expect to see, or print a free version from online.

4. Counting games: Pick an object, like a blue truck or a school bus, for your child to count. Before they start, set a timer, and start by having each family member guess the final number.

5. Alphabet game: Using road signs, billboards and license plates, have your child find all the letters of the alphabet, in order.

6. ABC picnic game: This memory game kicks off with “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing…” Each family member takes turns adding an item for each letter of the alphabet. Here’s the tricky part: You also have to remember every other item, in alphabetical order. Yes, that means listing 26 items by the time you get to Z!

7. 20 questions: You know the drill: One person thinks of a person, place, or thing – then family members ask up to 20 yes-or-no questions to guess what it is.

8. Word searches, crossword puzzles, and maze books: If your child doesn’t get car sick, bring along some blank activity books to pass the time.

9. I Spy or seek-and-find books: You can find great options at the library, and they’ll keep your child occupied for miles and miles.

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10. Follow along on a map: Did you know there are road atlases especially for children? Set your child up with a map of your journey, so they can follow along and call out landmarks, state lines, and more.

11. Travel journal or sketchpad: Encourage your child to document their journey. What do they see along the way? Tip: Use colored pencils or washable markers, since lost crayons can melt and make a mess.

12. Audiobooks: Listening to a good book can keep your child entertained for hours, and with a library card, it’s free!

13. Podcasts: There are lots of podcasts out there just for kids, from story series, to mysteries, to programs about science and history.

14. Quiet time: Does your child usually take a nap at a certain time of day? Stick to their schedule on the road too. Remember to bring a favorite pillow or blanket to help them settle in.

15. Make up your own story: Start with a person, thing, or place, and have each family member add a sentence about what happens next.

16. Music: Rock out on the road! Create a playlist with your child’s favorite songs, or make your own music with a family singalong. (“99 Bottles of Milk on the Wall,” anyone?)

17. Jokes: Bring along some kids’ joke books from the library, or have your family come up with their own comedy gold.

18. Toys from home: Kids love being included in decisions. And this a big one! Have them pick a couple toys or activities to bring in the car.

Safe travels!