Long journeys with excited children can be tiring and stressful for everyone. With minimal planning, though, car rides and plane trips can be made easier.
Our suggestions here are for games and activities that are free, don’t need any equipment and can occupy everyone from toddlers to teenagers and parents too – including drivers. Most don’t even involve looking down, in case that brings on travel sickness – and you may even find the activities stimulate your children’s imagination even beyond your journey, in a way that endless DVD-watching simply doesn’t.
We’ve arranged our activity ideas by age but these are only guides – your children may enjoy doing things in any of the age groups we’ve suggested.
‘Spot the…’ – at the start of the journey, agree a list of things you may see on the ride: a blue lorry, a woman walking a dog, a post van, a ‘ducks crossing’ road sign, a hot air balloon. Tick them off your list as and when you spot them!
Pub legs – look out for pub names or signs that include legs and see how quickly you can shout out the relevant number (Queen’s Head = two, Duck = two, Dog = four, Red Lion = four and so on).
Boiled sweet sucking – everyone puts a boiled sweet in their mouth and tries to make it last longer than anyone else’s! You could award a prize for the player whose sweet outlasts all the others.
Singalong – with very young children, simply putting on a CD with their favourite songs or lullabies and singing along to it will help while away the journey. You could also borrow an audio book from your local library – you can get them suitable for a range of ages from toddlers up to adults.
Keep quiet – if the anticipation and excitement gets too much, wind down by playing ‘who can keep quiet the longest’.
Think of a number – one player thinks of a number between, say, 1 and 100 (you could pick a smaller range for younger children or a higher one for older children). Another player guesses a number and the first player has to say whether the guess is too high or too low. All other players take a turn to guess until someone guesses correctly – in the next round, they can be the player who chooses the number for the others to guess.
Fingers out – on the count of three, each player puts out a hand, either as a fist or with one or more of their fingers extended. At the same time, they shout out a number between zero and whatever is four times the total number of players. One player adds up the total number of fingers extended. If any player guessed the exact number of fingers shown, they score two points. If they guessed closest to the number of fingers shown, they score one point and if there’s a tie, no points. The first player to reach a given number or points – say, six or 10 – wins.
Tell a story – one person begins the story with ‘Once upon a time’ (or any other beginning they may fancy) and every other player adds a new sentence to help the story take shape. When everyone has contributed, start again so every player can add a second sentence and more.take some snaps
Take some snaps – give your children a camera each (even just a disposable one, if they’re too young to have their own digital camera) and encourage them to take photos of interesting or unusual things they like on the journey. At the end of the holiday you can get these printed out and put them into a book about your holiday.
Rock, paper, scissors – at the count of three, each player puts out their fist to show the shape of a rock, a sheet of paper of a pair of scissors. The rock beats the scissors, the scissors beat the paper and the paper beats the rock; the game is a draw if two or more players throw the same shape.
Number plates – see who can spot the most new registration cars, or make up words from the letters in number plates – ‘PRT’ could be ‘port’ or ‘parrot’ – or think of acronyms such as ‘Pongy Red Turtle’. (Younger children could count the number of cars they can spot in a particular colour, or the number of lorries.)
Navigate – give the children a map of the journey and challenge them to follow the route, including giving the driver prior notice of any landmarks you’re about to come across. Depending on the length and route of the journey, you could do some research together in advance to find places to stop at en route that have interesting attractions or landmarks – meaning the holiday can start before you even arrive at your main destination!
Alphabet city – the first player thinks of a city, country or continent beginning with ‘A’ and then says, for example: ‘I went on holiday to Alcudia.’ The next player repeats that line and adds a place beginning with ‘B’, ie ‘I went on holiday to Alcudia and Birmingham’. The next player then adds somewhere beginning with ‘C’ and so on, until a player can’t remember the list or makes a mistake. (If you’re playing this game over and over again, you could always start with a letter mid-way through the alphabet, such as the initial of a player, to ensure you can use a variety of letters!)
Suitcase game – another variation of the above is to replace the place names with an item packed in a suitcase. So the first player might say ‘I put an abacus in my suitcase’, and the second player, ‘I put an abacus and a bear in my suitcase.’ As an extra challenge you could add an adjective for each letter too – ie ‘an alarming abacus and a beautiful bear’.
Guessing game – another variation of the above is to replace the place names with an item packed in a suitcase. So the first player thinks of a person, place or thing and all other players take it in turn to ask questions that need ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Set a limit to the total number of questions that can be asked (eg, 10 or 20) – if no one has guessed the object by then, the first player wins and gets to think of the next person, place or thing.