Are We There Yet? Five games for long journeys

Planning a long car journey with kids? An iPhone/iPad may buy you an hour but the author of Are We There Yet, Jo Pink, advises switching off the screens and trying one of these fun games for long journeys instead… 

It’s that time of year, when, car packed up to the roof with beach balls, windbreakers, and more clothes than might be strictly necessary, families brace themselves for the long drive that invariably begins the summer holidays. It could be hours of torment trapped in a small space with fractious children, or you can take author of Are We There Yet Jo Pink’s advice, and fill it with games. Here she explains why she believes car games are better than in-car screen time, and shares five to try…

Nobody likes long car journeys, especially children. Since becoming a mother, I’ve realised that your kids will soon let you know if they’re bored; so on a long journey, various strategies have to be adopted to keep them entertained. And make sure you don’t forget the perennial job of preventing them from going to sleep on each other, from picking small fights and car sickness.

Car games not only help solve the boredom of a long journey, but they can help to keep children’s minds focused, so they don’t fall sleep when you want them to stay awake.

In the 60s and 70s car journeys meant long hauls, uncomfortable roads and even less comfortable cars. During the summer months – when it used to get really hot and sticky – car journeys with bored kids were enough to drive anyone mad. Playing car games with my parents and brother made the trip pass that much quicker – my dad always refused to break any kind of speed limit, ever.

In the last few years the rise of in-car DVD players has helped to keep children entertained on the road, but they’re far from a perfect solution. You end up leaving a house where the kids are hooked up to a screen, travelling in a car where they’re hooked up to a screen, and then when you arrive at your destination they don’t know what to do other than find another screen to watch.

Car games are cheaper, far more interactive and let the children either entertain themselves, or involve others. Mostly, though, car games are just simple fun, designed to make you enjoy the time you spend couped up in a car together, rather than dread it.

So, let your car journeys become a voyage of discovery for every member of the family.

Five Games for Long Journeys

Treasure Hunt
The Treasure Hunt game needs a small amount of preparation before you set off on your journey. For each child construct a list of 10 things they have to spot on the journey. You can even incentivise them with a chocolate-for-objects-spotted scheme…

Each child has their own list and a pencil so they can cross off each item as they spot it through the trip.

The kind of things to watch out for will vary depending on what kind of countryside or urban landscape you’re heading through. A mountain might be a good thing to spot if you are going skiing and a skyscraper might be handy if you’re going on an inner city trip.

Here’s some ideas of things you might include:

Fir tree
Dead tree
Fire engine
Police patrol
Bird of prey
Pink car
Orange car
Stripy car
Alsatian dog
Traffic cone
Railway bridge
Goods train
Passenger train
Red bus
School bus
Burger King
Ford showroom
Petrol station

Name That Beaten Out Tune
This one is a tried and tested favourite on car journeys. Instead of humming or playing a familiar TV theme tune, players have to beat out the tune against a car seat or anything that will make a noise: legs, containers but not a brother or sister!

Some that are normally recognised within 10 seconds:

The Muppets
The Simpsons
‘Happy Birthday To You’ ‘Jingle Bells’
The National Anthem

Variation: You can try humming if the rhythm of the tune isn’t a big enough clue.

Playing Tip: With older children you can move on to films or even pop songs, but it’s best not to try too wide a range of subjects or you’ll be guessing all day, followed by the bitter accusations: “That didn’t sound anything like (insert name of song here)” or, “I’ve never heard of that”.

For the older, more complicated tunes, a clue or two might be necessary. Keep the guessing down to a narrow field – such as cartoons, Disney film songs, No.1 hits, nursery rhymes etc.

There’s more acting required in the mime game. One player has to act out an action, such as cleaning teeth, or sending an email, or taking a photograph, and the other players have to guess what it is.

Here are some ideas to get you going:

Cleaning shoes
Using the phone
Throwing a basketball
Putting on a coat
Painting a wall
Eating a banana
Using the microwave
Flying a kite
Writing a letter (don’t forget the envelope and stamp)
Putting on sunglasses

Playing Tip: Start with very easy simple actions before moving on to the more difficult variations.
Variation: Be an animal – this one can have the car in fits of laughter (certainly my meerkat had such an uproarious reaction we had to stop the vehicle once, not because it was a great impression, either, the driver just couldn’t stop laughing).

Without telling the rest of the car what they are, players have to mime popular, distinctive animals, from moles to meerkats, from kangaroos to koalas.

Importantly, players are not allowed to use any sound effects whatsoever. They can use their hands, for instance; to act out a cat licking its paws and cleaning its fur, or to show how big their ears are.

When I Went on Holiday…
This is a favourite old game that people know in many different forms. Basically, it’s all about remembering a long list. Or, if you’re bad at it, forgetting a short one.

A player starts with the sentence: “When I went on holiday I remembered to pack… a toothbrush.”

The next player could add, for example, toothpaste. So they say: “When I went on holiday I remembered to pack a toothbrush and some toothpaste.”

The next player adds another item to the list. “When I went on holiday I remembered to pack a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and my pet iguana called Alfonse.” Gradually, the list grows until someone is bound to get the sequence wrong. And then they’re out.

Variation: Personalise it with: Coming back from ___________ I saw… And make players add things they really have seen or visited during the trip.

Playing A-Zs is great for the car and is educational too. Each player takes it in turn to use the next letter of the alphabet to name a certain subject or object. The great joy of this game is that you can make it as difficult as you want by choosing your subject accordingly.

Animals: aardvark, beaver, crocodile, dolphin, elephant, frog…
Girls’ names: Anna, Britney, Chelsea, Diane, Ellie, Fay…
Boys’ names: Ashley, Barnie, Charles, David, Edward, Finton…

Trees: ash, beech, chestnut, Douglas fir, elm, fig…
Countries: America, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, France… Cars and car names: Aston Martin, BMW, Chrysler, Daewoo, Escort, Ford…

Playing Tip: Set a time limit the bong out for the last five seconds – Bong, Bong, Bong, Bong, BONG! Give players three “passes” so you can skip difficult letters.

Are We There Yet, by Jo Pink, published by Portico, £5.99,

Do you have other ideas for (off-screen) games for long journeys? If so, we’d LOVE to hear them in the comment section below…