Road-trip games for a fun journey

By Susan Boyd

Whether your child plays select or recreation soccer, chances are good that in the next six months you’ll travel at least 300 miles to a tournament. It’s not only becoming more and more acceptable for any team to travel, but it has also become expected.

Even though a decade of these trips set back our retirement 20 years, we always looked forward to them. They were opportunities to explore different parts of our country and spend quality time as a family. However, traveling proficiently required a learning curve.

Being cooped up in a car for hundreds of miles across empty prairie lands didn’t always result in loving togetherness. Instead, the trip sometimes quickly devolved into petty arguments, mega sulking spells, and lots of “Are we there yet?” voiced in strained pleading tones, especially on the ride home after a less than triumphant contest.

EXPLORE THE LANDSCAPE. It became important to not only find ways of passing the time but also ways in which everyone could participate. We hated relying on DVDs because they just isolated everyone and stole their attention away from the landscape we were discovering.

Following are some of the delights we bonded over, plus a few new ones I wish we’d had on those trips. Several of these can also be used on planes and even in the hotel room. On rainout days we were able to entertain an entire team in the lobby of our hotel. For a minimal investment, we managed to gather a wide variety of fun.

You all know the standard road games like the alphabet game, auto bingo, and license plate hunt, which work, but not always for all age categories. I still recommend them because they require little expense (auto bingo cards run $1 to $2 each) or no expense at all. The problem comes when you enter the truly “open road” sections of a trip where signs, animals, plants and structures are at a minimum. Hunting for the letter Q in no man’s land usually leads to giving up at worst and restlessness at best. Plus those games don’t work on an airplane. You should keep them in the road trip repertoire but consider adding a few upgrades.

For example, University Games offers a twist on travel bingo for $7 called Travel Scavenger Hunt, which consists of a pack of cards. Individuals or teams work to discover all the items on the card. The game works on the road or even in an airport because there are special “hear it,” “feel it,” and “smell it” categories. The game is rated for ages 7 and above, so it should work for the entire family. We teamed up older with younger players and even had 3-year-olds shouting out discoveries.

Loaded Questions On the Go by All Things Equal sells for about $10. This is a great game for the road, the hotel room and on the plane. Again, it’s a pack of cards with four small pencils where one person chooses a question off the card (“What’s your best ability?”) and everyone else writes their answer on a sheet. Someone reads the answers and the person who chose the question has to guess who gave each answer. You can keep score, but we never did. It was more fun to see what answers came up, who was attributed to that answer, and why. Answers and reactions usually result in some good laughs. The driver can participate but needs “shotgun” to fill out the answer.

My favorite road trip go-to is Mad Libs. Each pad is around $4 and has dozens of games. Besides teaching some basic English grammar, the fill-in games provide some major laughs. You can rotate who controls the pad and fills in the answers. We reserved nouns and verbs for the youngest kids as those are easier to think of.

ART OPTIONS. There are also several options for quiet singular play. The newest option is adult coloring books. These provide far more complex drawings to color in than regular coloring books. You can keep several levels on hand plus a box or two of colored pencils to keep everyone entertained. I shy away from crayons because they tend to melt in the heat of a car parked long hours in a tournament lot. Crayola sells a box of 50 sharpened colored pencils for $13.50. A small pencil sharpener will set you back less than $2.

Some great options for kids are Harry Potter coloring books by Hot Topic for $16.50 and Creative Haven Country Scenes for $4. Dover Press makes smaller coloring books for kids that are the size of a small paperback and sell for $2. Pepin Press has books of tile cards that are 5x6 inches, printed on thick cardboard, and come in a variety of tile designs (Barcelona, Art Noveau, Dutch), which sell for $13.

If coloring isn’t their thing, there’s a fun puzzle by Smethport called Magnetic Doodle Balls for $5. It’s a covered grid board around which kids move and drop iron balls using a magnetic wand. They can make any number of designs and pictures. The board is the size of a regular magazine, but be sure to keep track of the wand which has a storage spot on the board.

University Games created Spot the Difference Travel Game where cards come in a tin. The cards have two pictures and players need to find the differences between the two. Kids can play alone or you can time players to see how many differences they find in 60 seconds. Every smartphone has a stop watch, which is what we used rather than dealing with egg timers.

On the route or once you reach your destination, there are three terrific options that help kids learn something about where they are visiting. National Geographic Kids has the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas for about $6. The book provides interesting facts about the areas through which you travel, unusual roadside attractions, historical markers, and viewpoints along with maps and some games.

If you have AAA membership, there’s still that wonderful Triptik that they created with paper inserts and now create online. There’s a AAA mobile app that allows you to place your Triptik on a smartphone or a tablet. Each Triptik highlights restaurants, charging stations for electric cars, gas stations, various attractions and historical sites, and side trips along your route. Kids can follow along, pick a place to eat lunch, find a spot to take a break, and figure out how much longer the trip will take.

Once you get to your destination, Idea Box Kids has a wonderful tool for making everyone’s trip fun. Called the Adventure Box, it contains dozens of Family Fun Day coins that kids can choose from the box. Each coin details an adventure to find in your new town such as A Cupcake or Donut Shop or A Zoo. It sells for $18. They also offer an Airplane Box for kids with coins that suggest things like How Long Can You Balance a Snack on Your Nose and Go on a Little Walk, which sells for $9.

MAKE YOUR OWN GAMES. You can also create some games fairly easily. I always print off alphabetical lists of states that the kids can cross off as they find license plates. Tournament parking lots can be a gold mine for completing the list keeping all the non-soccer family members busy during warm-ups. A small bag of coins can create a fun guessing game. Kids take out some coins and hide them in their hands. Everyone guesses how much total money is being held. Closest guesser gets to hide the next coins. We also play the distance game when you can see far enough ahead to the horizon. Everyone guesses how far it is to some landmark (a rock, a tree, a structure, or the crest of a hill), then watch the odometer, and the person closest without going over (a geographical Price is Right, I guess) wins and picks the next landmark.

We also played the car game. Each person is assigned either a car model or color (easiest for younger players) and counts how many of them they find in either a certain distance or time. We kept white and black out of the color choices as those colors are plentiful.

Once you collect some games, you’ll need a place to store them while traveling. I’m a big fan of locking plastic bags. They come in a variety of sizes and keep pieces together. Some are already self-contained. Games on the Go from Continuum is a collection of 50 games in a license plate replica package of flip cards that are held together with a clip that you can attach to a purse, soccer bag, or cooler. Everything is kept together easily and conveniently.

For the other games you can use Etna’s Car Seat Organizer a cube that has 10 outside mesh pockets, a cooler, and a hard top for playing or drawing on. The entire thing is portable with straps for carrying and costs $20. There are also fold down tables for seat backs from Car Gadgets that have a flat table surface and three pockets for storage. We wore ours out, and they proved helpful for everything from eating on the fly, to setting up DVD players, to being a drawing surface, to being a lap top/tablet table. These are only $11.50 each, so it’s not unreasonable to buy two of them or even more for that minivan.

Activities for road trips should be compact, have few small parts that can get lost, and be fun for all ages in the car. These few suggestions fit those parameters, but are certainly only some of the options available. All of these can be purchased through the manufacturers, but Amazon also carries all of them at often reduced prices and with free shipping if you are a Prime member. Most are also available through Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble. You can do a search to see where you might find them cheaper.

We kept our games in a half file box that had cut-outs for handles and a lid found in any office supply store. The boys decorated it with dozens of soccer logos and stickers and that box saw us through over a decade of travel. It was easy to transfer it into other vehicles if the boys were traveling with friends and from the car into the hotel room. Players would ask if the boys had the box because they knew it contained some fun time wasters.

We put two decks of playing cards in the box and a set of die just to be prepared for some downtime. Eventually we had to create a second box as the boys began playing in separate parts of the country, but the overall cost was not that high to duplicate the best games and worth the expense as the games were well-used. As exciting as soccer can be, there will always be long lapses of boring waits and miles of traveling in order to participate. Finding some great distractions can fill the empty stretches with fun.

(Susan Boyd blogs every Monday at, where this article first appeared. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a soccer parent.)

8 comments about "Road-trip games for a fun journey".
  1. Thomas Brannan, April 20, 2016 at 6:28 p.m.

    US Soccer should ban away tournaments and maybe all tournaments for players under 14 years. And those over 14 should have to show good cause to travel. Tournaments exist because they are a social occasion for the parents and a source of revenue for those putting them on. If money is going to be spent, spend it on educating the coaches at the younger age groups. But that really flies in the face of the American Soccer Culture. Is this how players are produced? Now we have articles on how to prepare yourself for the trip, or at least reminiscing about it. Simply amazing. Problem is that this isn't a unique perspective. It is a normal perspective. I guess I will anticipate the backlash.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, April 20, 2016 at 10:54 p.m.

    Or else just roll back the clock and begin breaking out "elite" players at U11, giving everybody U10 and below the same playing and training opportunities.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, April 20, 2016 at 10:56 p.m.

    Same low cost opportunities.

  4. Thomas Brannan, April 20, 2016 at 6:35 p.m.

    Estimated number of miles traveled for Soccer: Well I drove 200 - 240 miles round trip four or five times a week just for Chicago Magic – so I drove about 52,000 miles a year for practice and games alone. But I'm insane. That car, the Toyota Sienna, is still running with 215,000 miles and counting. It will forever be the "soccer" car. Every time I vacuum it out I find some small bit of soccer gear!

    Estimated number of dollars spent on Soccer: Probably around $10,000 a year per kid not counting the gas. So it's important to know that the sport is their passion. Otherwise that money would be better invested in a college fund!

  5. Thomas Brannan, April 20, 2016 at 6:35 p.m.


  6. Thomas Brannan, April 20, 2016 at 6:37 p.m.


  7. Bob Ashpole, April 20, 2016 at 10:50 p.m.

    "Whether your child plays select or recreation soccer, chances are good that in the next six months you’ll travel at least 300 miles to a tournament. It’s not only becoming more and more acceptable for any team to travel, but it has also become expected."

    And people wonder why kids quit playing soccer in droves when they become teens?

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now, April 24, 2016 at 5:06 p.m.

    Laughable comments on this article. Let's just force kids to only play against other kids from their hometowns. That should make them better players right? Absurd.

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