10 classic road-trip games that don’t require a smartphone

You’d be surprised how long you can pass the time with the simple words, 'I spy with my little eye…'

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Published Dec 17, 2013   Updated May 31, 2021, 11:40 pm CDT

SPONSORED BY KIA

A long road trip means long stretches of time in the car with your companions trying to pass the time. Too often these days, that means endlessly refreshing Instagram and Twitter hoping something gossip-worthy pops up to break the monotony.

Not too long ago, though, we had to find more creative ways to stay entertained between stops. Before everyone began burying their faces in their glowing rectangles, we used to come up with games that kept everyone laughing and helped the miles fly by.

We’ve already told you what to bring on your next cross-country road trip. Now here are our favorite smartphone-free games to play with your friends.

10) Punch buggy

See a VW Beetle? Punch your neighbor (gently!) and yell out “punch buggy” before they spot the Beetle and do the same to you.

9) 20 questions

Whoever is “it” tells the rest of the car whether they’re thinking of a person, place, or thing. The other players take turns asking “yes” or “no” questions until someone figures out what they’re thinking of. Whoever guesses correctly is now “it.” If 20 questions get asked without a correct answer, the person who is “it” gets to go again.

8) License plate decoder

Take turns decoding license plates you see to discover their hidden meaning. For example, a car with ABC 123 could belong to someone who is “Always Buying Cats, 123 (and counting).”

7) Geography game

The first person names a place (say, the state you’re in), and the next player has to name a different place that starts with the last letter of what the person before them said. For instance, if you say “Texas”, the next person could say “Switzerland,” then “Detroit,” “Tanzania,” and so on.

How long can you go before you start making up names of places that don’t exist?

6) Hot seat

Everyone takes turns in the “hot seat” while the other players ask them a total of five questions that they must answer. For every question they refuse to answer, they owe the other players a soda at the next pit stop.

5) Karaoke

It’s simple really: Turn on the most Karaoke-worthy playlist you have and take turns belting out classics while the open road passes by.

4) Team storytelling

Everyone takes turns adding to a made-up story, until you end up with something completely bizarre that no one would have thought up on their own. Hey, it worked for Twilight!

3) Alphabet game

In this game, everyone must find all the letters in the alphabet (in order!) on signs along the side of the road. Once you spot a letter, yell it out and begin looking for the next one. No one else can use the same sign once it’s been claimed, so you’ve got to move quick.

If you want to make it harder, require that words must BEGIN with the letter in question.

2) I spy

Another way to turn everyone’s focus on what’s going on outside the car, not just inside it. Whoever is “it” picks something that is clearly visible and gives the other players a clue based on its color or the letter it begins with.

You’d be surprised how long you can pass the time with the simple words, “I spy with my little eye…”

1) Rock-paper-scissors

The classic. The one and only. The undisputed champion of road trip games. Rock-paper-scissors can help decide everything from who gets the front seat to who has to pay the bill at the roadside diner.

What did we miss? If you have any suggestions, let us know so we can write them down for our next trip.

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*First Published: Dec 17, 2013, 11:00 am CST