Travel Games Unplugged

Keeping your backseat drivers entertained doesn’t require a battery.


For long road trips with kids, travel games are not only essential to maintain a driver’s sanity, they can be a memorable part of the journey. When I was growing up, one of the few places you could find me without a book in my hand was a car—just looking at detailed road signs was enough to make me queasy. Instead, I passed the time playing I Spy and the License Plate Game, mapping out our route via Etch-a-Sketch and trading Mad Libs stories with my sisters.

Today, parents can rely on any number of portable electronic games, as well as in-car, flat-screen televisions, to transform their vehicles into audio/visual centers on wheels. But relying on these entertainments comes with some caveats: Using handheld DVD players or video games can increase nausea (as much as any book), and crash tests have found that some removable seat-back DVD players can dislodge and cause injuries during a collision. Besides, one of the pleasures of traveling is escaping from all the trappings of home.

Enter the non-electronic travel game.

While there are many portable games on the market, to ensure the experience is pure fun, parents should avoid anything that has too many pieces, melts if it gets lost in a seat crack, requires siblings to touch each other, or could turn into a dangerous projectile during a collision. Here are four games that will keep kids occupied and off the grid.

Travel Tangoes

This portable version of the classic geometry game features seven magnetic shapes, a play surface and two spiral-bound books of 24 puzzles that close and hold together with a snap. Sets are available in object, animal, or people themed puzzles for $9.00 each.

Kids Travel: A Backseat Survival Kit

This spiral-bound kit from Klutz Press boasts 48-pages of four-color car activities and a 100-page game pad, along with a vinyl pouch that keeps the included art and game supplies organized. $19.95,

The Yo Momma Vocabulary Builder

Trap your family in close quarters for an untold number of hours, and you’re bound to hear a few insults thrown around. Now you can at least get those verbal slaps to sound more erudite—one of the authors of the popular situational series, Would You Rather…?, has released this primer of SAT-worthy insults, using words from “abstemious” to “xenophobic” in the context of zingers like, “Yo momma’s so emaciated, she can hula hoop in a fruit loop.” Music to momma’s ears. $9.95,

Roadkill Bingo

Death is a part of life, a lesson observant children will not fail to learn while on the road the first time they see the untimely final resting place of a squirrel or skunk. If you want to keep their eyes off the game cube and on the scenery outside (or at least, glued to the shoulder), Roadkill Bingo offers a morbid twist on the classic game. A set of four plastic cards with markers and instructions are available from Family on Board for $5 ($4 if you order 12 or more sets).

Themes: Family Travel, Shopping

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