5 Easy Travel Games for Kids on the Go

Spring is just around the corner for many of us, and with the milder weather come field trips, vacations, and other adventures. Sometimes it’s tempting to let kids bring hand-held game players with them on trips (it certainly does keep them quiet), but it also keeps them from talking, laughing, and learning.

So, here are five suggestions for games that are easy to play on the go – no special equipment is necessary, not even paper and pen. I think these games are actually a pretty clever form of classroom management (especially when a bus, van, or car is your classroom), and they also work well in a pinch if you have some extra time between activities during school time.

Here we go!

1. I Am Packing Grandma’s Trunk

This game is played along the lines of the Christmas carol, ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. It’s a memory game in which each successive player adds a new item to Grandma’s trunk after listing all of the things other people have added. So, if the first person says,

“I am packing Grandma’s trunk and in it I am putting a pitcher of orange juice“,

the second person says,

“I am packing Grandma’s trunk and in it I am putting a pitcher of orange juice and a dictionary“,

then the third person says,

“I am packing Grandma’s trunk and in it I am putting a pitcher of orange juice and a dictionary and a saber-tooth tiger“. And on and on.

I have played games of this that got up to 50 items being packed in grandma’s trunk – an amazing feat of memory on the part of anyone who could recall, in the correct order, all of the weird and wacky things on the list. The game need not be competitive. Kids can help one another out when someone can’t remember how the list goes. It’s a fabulous game for strengthening everyone’s memory and sequencing skills.

2. Rigmarole

This game has been around for at least a century and simply requires the creativity of the players. Someone starts a story, along the lines of,

“George Washington decided it was time to cross the Delaware. It was a foggy night and he and his men couldn’t see very well. They went down to the river to inspect the boats, but when they got there, George Washington noticed that there was a hole in his rigmarole….”

“…hat,” the second player picks up the thread of the story, “and he couldn’t stand the way the wind was whistling through it. Sadly, he wasn’t carrying any cloth with him to patch it up, but he did happen to be chewing a wad of chewing gum. He pulled out his gum to fix his hat, but it got stuck on his rigmarole…”

There, the third player chimes in with whatever funny or clever thing he can think of and the story goes on to become whatever the group wants to make of it. This one lets kids give in to silly flights of fancy as they try to top each person’s contribution.

3. Scramble

In Jane Austen’s novel Emma, we see characters playing a variation of this word game, teaching us that unscrambling words is a pastime that has been enjoyed for at least a few hundred years. As few as two people can play, but certainly everyone can join in if desired.

Moving clockwise, the first player speaks aloud the letters of a scrambled word. For example, the letters might be: I-T-T-R-H-S. The second player has the task of unscrambling that into T-H-I-R-S-T. Then it’s the second player’s turn to give a scrambled word to the third player, and so on.

Obviously, this game is appropriate for groups with children who are old enough to spell basic words, and it’s a wonderful mental exercise. Visualizing and putting the letters in the correct order is a very satisfying accomplishment, and because it’s a non-competitive game, I think Dr. Montessori would have approved!

4. Alphabet Categories

This simple game is suitable even for very small children who have just learned their ABCs. Pick a category. It might be breeds of dogs, street names in your town, kinds of vegetables, people’s names, names of flowers, etc. Moving clockwise, each player names an item in the chosen category starting with successive letters of the alphabet. For example, if the category chosen was names of countries, the game would go something like this:

Player 1: Australia
Player 2: Brazil
Player 3: China
Player 4: Denmark, etc.

There isn’t any winning or losing in this game; the kids just have fun seeing if they can find words to fit all of the letters. If you’ve recently been studying a specific topic (astronomy, the weather), you might want to choose those categories so the kids can review their knowledge. Pick categories you feel that everyone will be able to contribute to.

5. Singing Rounds

Long before radio or television, people turned to the pleasures of making music to pass long nights in the parlor or as an entertaining element of picnics, campfire meals or walks in the woods. Singing rounds is such a nice group activity because it gives everyone a part to play, even if the melody gets a little wobbly. It helps to put an adult (or child with a strong voice) with each section of the round.

For many kids, rounds will be their first experience singing harmony with another melody line. This kind of “ear training” enables kids to sing more complex songs when they’re older. Here are a few that work well with kids:

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Kumbaya
  • Are You Sleeping (Frere Jacques)
  • Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

Summing Up

Long trips can be tiring and even feel tedious if what’s outside the windows isn’t particularly nice or interesting to look at. By turning inside ourselves, we can find the resources we have to make any journey brighter for our companions. I hope these five games will give you some good ideas, and if you have any great travel games to add to my list, I’d love to hear about them!