Just hearing the phrase “family vacation” can conjure up an abundance of memories, some pleasant and exciting and others that are better left in the dark recesses of our minds -- think family feuds and car catastrophes. As families expand and your children beget their own children, family vacation takes on a whole new dynamic as you find yourself frantically searching for creative ways to keep the younger grandchildren -- and even the older ones -- engaged during long flights or drives.
If stress creeps in at the very thought of traveling with youngsters once again, take a look at our suggestions for some great mental diversions to keep them busy during long travel days. From solo activities to activities for everyone in the group, our list provides some fantastic options for avoiding the doldrums. Don't spend hours being barraged with "Are we there yet?" requests, when you can keep everyone engaged in a more productive way!
The Best Travel Games
Mad Libs are the timeless word game designed to beautifully blend creativity and grammar into one exciting activity. The "On The Road" installment of this familiar series is great for road trips and will allow those playing to use their surroundings to draw inspiration.
At less than nine inches tall, Mad Libs takes up little space and can be easily shared around the car (or plane or train or boat for that matter). The game is best suited for children eight and older who have at least a working knowledge of the parts of speech needed to complete a Mad Lib -- here's looking at you, adverb -- but is also a great teaching opportunity for the adults if the kids get stuck. Don't forget your copy of "Mad Libs on the Road" for your next trip!
- Fun for kids and adults
- Large enough to write in but small enough for easy storage
- Mentally stimulating activity
- Not great for younger children
- 48 pages
- Brand: Mad Libs
- Dimensions: 5.2 x 8.4 x .2 inches
Great for the car, Auto Bingo can provide hours of entertainment for the kids in your life. Each set comes with four uniquely arranged bingo cards that can be played by up to four people at once, or a single card can be played solo by one child. Use the sliding windows to cover objects that are seen during the drive, and the first person to find five in a row wins! The sliding windows eliminate the need for messy dry-erase markers used in similar games.
Regal Games also has a license plate-specific set of cards for purchase. This travel game is great for kids of all ages. The younger ones may enjoy just opening and closing the sliders, so they will stay occupied even if they don't fully grasp the concept of the game, making it a success regardless of who’s traveling and playing together.
- Reusable game boards
- Fun for a wide age range
- No messy erasing
- Boards can't be updated
- 4 unique bingo boards
- Transparent sliding windows
- Recommended for players 3 and up
- Brand: Regal Games
- Dimensions: 7 x 7 inches
Another great win from the trusted Melissa and Doug name, this Flip-to-Win Memory Game takes a classic and makes it fun on the go. The game consists of a wooden frame with 24 flaps and 7 double-sided themed inserts for repeat play. The board comes complete with two score sliders to add a competitive element to the game, but it can easily be played solo as well. Get creative and make your own inserts using handmade drawings or stickers if you are feeling especially crafty!
- Durable design
- Game cards can be stored in the game board
- Great for girls and boys
- Flaps can be loud when closing
- Durable wooden frame
- Colorful themed inserts
- Brand: Melissa and Doug
- Dimensions: 11.7 x 8.7 x .9 inches
- Weight: 1.55 pounds
On a long road trip or flight, it can be easy to want to use any means necessary to keep young passengers calm, and in the 21st century, that often entails screen time. Dr. Biscuit's Radical Road Trip is designed to engage your grandchildren's minds and keep them entertained while on the go without the use of a tablet or smartphone.
They can enter the civic arena by collaborating on and sending a postcard to the White House at your next pitstop, or face off in one of the other 60 games included in the pack. There are no dice, magnets, or other smaller pieces to keep track of, just the box, gamebook, and a dry erase marker for keeping score on the scoreboard that is conveniently located on the inside of the lid. When not in use, the game can be easily stored under a seat or in a bag. While designed for play in the car, it can be adapted -- with the help of some imagination -- for use in the air as well.
- Small for easy storage
- Fun for both younger and older children
- Limited pieces to keep track of
- Not designed for solo play
- Spiral-bound game book
- Dry erase marker and scoreboard
- Built-in spinner
- Dimensions: 6.5 x 6.6 x 2.8 inches
- Weight: 15.2 ounces
Take classic I Spy and add a road trip twist: search for a driver who is picking their nose or get a trucker to blow their horn. The game comes complete with 68 cards outlining different items or actions to look for and awarding points to the first passenger -- or driver -- to discover each one. Some cards even award bonus points for specific actions or unique circumstances that might arise.
One drawback for younger children is that the cards do not include visual representations of the activity, and therefore gameplay requires that at least one passenger can read the cards. While this is a certain miss, ultimately it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the game that will certainly entertain for hours as everyone passes the time by actively searching for the next opportunity to win a point.
- Good for kids and adults
- Easily stored under a seat or in glovebox
- Large print on cards
- Cards require reading; game has very few images
- Not well suited to fast driving on interstates
- 68 cards
- Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.5 x 5.5 inches
Games on the Go offers up age appropriate activities no matter where you are: in a car, on a plane, or inside on a rainy day. While some cards are designed to be specifically road trip centric, others can be performed anywhere. Broaden your grandkids' imaginations by creating stories together, build their vocabularies by completing word puzzles, or build rapport by reliving fun memories. Keep in mind that age ranges are just suggestions, and it might be necessary to gauge interest levels as you play to determine if you need to move on to different cards to fully engage the players involved. The cards may pull from the ring over repeated use but hold up well in general when taken care of.
- No materials required
- Can be clipped to a bag or purse or stored in a glovebox
- Cards include age ranges for each activity
- Cards may rip after repeated use
- 50 cards connected by carabiner
- Brand: Continuum Games
- Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 6 inch cards
- Weight: 3.2 ounces
If you are looking for a quieter game for the kids, either because others are sleeping, or you need to focus, Jump in' is a great option as players will work to help all the bunnies hop their way to the safety of their holes using logic and skill. The puzzles are designed to engage a wide range of ages, increasing in difficulty with each level and even challenging adults at the "Master" and "Wizard" levels. The beginning levels are great for younger kids and for those just learning the game mechanics. The pieces and booklet fit inside the travel case, although it is important to note that the lid does not latch, so you may need a rubber band to secure it or to keep the case in the original box to avoid losing pieces. The game is exciting, challenging, and, most importantly, fun for most elementary school-age kids and older. Younger players will likely need more assistance. Make sure to look at SmartGames’ other great travel options, and be sure to download their customer support app for everything from ordering replacement pieces if one gets lost to looking up clues for an especially challenging level.
- Mentally stimulating and fun
- Tiered levels for a challenge at any age
- SmartGames customer app for support and clues
- No expansion packs beyond the initial 60 puzzles
- Lid does not latch
- Compact and portable travel case
- Puzzle book with 60 challenges
- 8 play pieces
- Intended for players 7 and up
- Brand: SmartGames
- Dimensions: 6.7 x 9.4 x 1.8 inches in box
- Weight: 11.2 ounces
Travel Game Buying Guide
Travel games come in many varieties, and it is important to consider a few factors when selecting the best games for your grandchildren. Age, ability level, interests, and attention span are all important to think through.
Age And Ability Level
The interests of a three-year-old and a 12-year-old are vastly different, and it can be hard to find one product that will entertain every child at the same time. The ultimate goal is to focus on finding an activity that will engage as many in the group as possible, and more than likely erring on the side of engaging the younger kids first as they are the least likely to entertain themselves. Additionally, while companies do their best to assign appropriate age level recommendations, it is important to remember that all children develop differently, so don’t discount a product simply because your grandchild falls outside the recommended ages if you’re confident they are capable of learning and joining in. Parents are a great resource for better understanding each child’s individual development and interests.
Number Of Players
It is important to keep in mind how many players you are looking to entertain. Some games are designed specifically for a single player, while others don’t really get exciting unless you have three or more people actively engaged. Age range applies here as well since attempting to actively engage kids of disparate ages in the same activity is probably going to fall flat fairly quickly. Choose a game that is designed for the number of players who will actually play. Variety is often the best plan as most travel games are fairly inexpensive and you can plan for multiple contingencies simply by getting two different products.
Portable games are more likely to have pieces lost or broken with repeated trips in and out of the vehicle or suitcase. Look through reviews and make sure that it sounds like the materials will hold up over time. If your grandchildren are especially rough-and-tumble, consider looking for something of higher quality, or alternatively, find the cheapest option and buy two in order to have a replacement on hand. Determine what you are willing to spend for the length of time the product is likely to last to ensure you feel content with the value you receive.