Way before anyone even dreamt of putting mini TVs on the back of car seats to occupy the kids, parents had to be more inventive when it came to avoiding cries of “are we nearly there yet?”
These days, many of us embark on road trips with an abundance of technology to keep ourselves entertained. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need a few old-school car journey games in your armoury, though. Fear not the fading battery on the tablet, the scratched DVD that won’t play, or the terrible local radio stations – here’s our list of four great car games almost guaranteed to keep tantrum-throwing children (and adults) at bay.
1. I spy
This classic guessing game can be played anywhere, but a car journey is perfect for a bit of I spy action, with a constantly changing array of things outside your window to choose from.
In case you’ve forgotten how it goes, the first player secretly chooses an object they can see either inside or outside the car, before saying: “I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with…” followed by the first initial of the object. Everyone else in the car takes a turn to guess what the object might be (expect some very rogue answers from the under 5s) and when someone gets the answer, it is then their turn to pick an object.
Variations of the game include a version where, instead of saying the first letter of the chosen object, the player instead names the colour: “I spy, with my little eye, something that is green”. This is generally more straightforward if you’ve got small people in the car and also speeds up the game, allowing more rounds and giving everyone a better chance at having a turn.
2. Number plate bingo
Motorways packed with foreign lorries and the cars of visiting tourists are a happy hunting ground for a bit of number plate bingo. In the old-school version of this game you’d have to look out for oval stickers representing the vehicle’s country of origin (for example NL for Holland or E for Spain). These days, though, the initials feature on vehicle number plates, so you’ll need to be eagle-eyed to spot them.
If you’re feeling organised, print off a list of all the European licence plate country codes for each player. They can then tick off each nation as they spot a code bearing its initials.
Simplify things by playing a version where the first person to spot the initials of a new country shouts out and gains a point, with the winner being the player who spots the largest number of initials first.
Bonus points for cars that come from even further afield can add to the fun, as can guessing which country some of the more obscure initials actually represent.
3. Round robin storytelling
Great for boosting creativity and for all-round hilarity is a game of round robin storytelling. Here, the first person invents the opening line of the story, before each person in the car in turn adds a line to the plot. With each player only delivering one sentence, you can expect surprising plot twists aplenty, with the game only finishing when a player manages to draw the story to a close – or it gets so convoluted that everyone gives up.
Deciding on an overall theme, such as a ghost story or a love story, is a good idea if you’ve got young children in the car, making it easier for them to understand and take part.
4. The yellow car game
Back in the day, almost every family had their own colour-related vehicle spotting game that they played on long car journeys. The yellow car game is just one example.
In this version, the aim is to be the person who spots the highest number of yellow vehicles on the trip. A points system where a yellow lorry is worth more than a yellow car can make things more interesting, or pick a colour that’s more common if you want to speed things up.
Like all these car games for kids, the yellow car game can keep boredom at bay but be warned…those cries of “are we nearly there yet?” may well be replaced with shouts of “he cheated!” Of course, you could add extra points for a yellow AA van!