10 Screen-Free Road Trip Ideas

Posted By Allison on Aug 16, 2017

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Hey there!

Need some ideas for your next road-trip?

Electronic devices like DVD Players, tablets and smart phones can be lifesavers on long travel days.  My family owns our share of these devices and they keep us entertained on the road. However, we don’t like to use them non-stop to pacify our children on long drives. There are several reasons for this.

First, I find that when my kids play electronic games or watch movies for too long, it makes them grouchy, which makes me grouchy. That’s no fun and makes the day feel longer.

Second, most of the games listed here are brain builders. They will make the whole family smarter while you have fun together.

More importantly, road trips are great opportunities for families to connect with each other and experience the world. When children (or parents) spend all their time looking at a screen, they miss out on valuable opportunities.

Here are some road trip ideas to entertain your whole family (even the driver!) when the electronics are put away.

10 Screen-Free ways to keep the whole family happy on a long road trip | tipsforfamilytrips.com | travel toys | travel tips | ideas for families

Mad Libs

Mad Libs are the perfect family road trip activity! They are fun, cheap, and kids never grow out of them. My teen likes them just as much today as she did five years ago, and now takes the lead by writing in the answers for our family.

Even young children can play Mad Libs with a little help. My first grader could provide nouns, adjectives and verbs with frequent reminders of what they are. My preschooler could give colors and numbers. Throw in a bunch of silly adjectives and the occasional bodily fluid and everyone will crack up. BONUS: It’s educational!

Mad Libs are available on paper or as an app. We keep the big Best of Mad Libs pad in the car with a pen, and it’s always ready to go. Buy it on Amazon.com and at most other book stores for under $5.


Guess the Animal (20 Questions)

We use animals because that’s what my children like. You could use any category – cartoon characters, famous people, dinosaurs… One person chooses an animal and everyone takes turn asking questions. You can limit questions to yes/no or not – whatever works for your family.

When I Go to London

There are lots of variations of this memory game. The first person says, “When I go to London, I am packing (fill in the blank).” The second person says “When I go to London, I am packing (first person’s item) and (new item).” The items can be silly.

You can substitute your destination for “London.” For example, “When I go to Disney World” or “When I go to the Grand Canyon.” You could also select items in alphabetical order – the first item starts with A, the second with B, and so on. That makes them a little easier to remember. Play goes around the car adding a new item to remember every time. See who can remember the most!

License Plate Game

You know this game. Just try and spot license plates from all 50 US States. Bonus points for Washington D.C. and the Canadian provinces! Play all together or make it a contest.

Once you get started with the license game, it can be addictive – especially if you travel to a national park or theme park that attracts visitors from far and wide. When we did this in the Black Hills, we found ourselves wandering the parking garage at Mount Rushmore and successfully found some of the small and distant states we needed.

We were given a reusable Melissa and Doug Licence Plate Game a few years ago and it’s a fun toy to keep in the car. Or, make your own checklist. Print a list of U.S. states here and give everyone their own list or play as a team.

Pick The Song

Load up your iPod or smart phone with every family member’s favorite songs and connect it to your car stereo. We take turns choosing songs. The passenger parent finds and plays them. Everyone gets a little of what they like and we get to introduce our kids to some of our favorites.

Variation: Play Name That Tune and see who can guess a well-known song first.

Teach a Song

This is a great time to teach your kids a funny camp song or family favorite from your youth. When I was young, my grandma taught us a song she sang when she worked at the Grand Canyon before World War II. My cousins and I sang it over and over as we drove to the Grand Canyon.

I have taught my kids a silly little song that my great-grandma taught me. She was born in 1905 and her great great grandchildren born more than 100 years later are still singing it. What a cool way to pass down your family history!


Hours of uninterrupted reading was something I loved when I was growing up and a road trip was the perfect place to do it. For major road trips, it’s fun to surprise kids with a new book or let them choose their own.

Our library now offers digital book loans that can be downloaded to electronic devices. If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow ebooks from Prime Reading for no additional cost. Selection can be limited, but these books won’t weigh down your luggage and can’t get lost! Ebooks may technically be screen time, but I think that reading a good book doesn’t count.

Need an e-reader that is great for reading, but won’t tempt kids with apps or video? I love my Kindle Paperwhite.

Coloring Books

Have you heard? Coloring books are for all ages now! Classic coloring books are still an inexpensive option for children, and my teen enjoys the sophisticated coloring books that are now available with better paper and intricate designs. Find them on Amazon.com or at most bookstores and discount stores.

August is the time to buy crayons at back-to-school sales for practically nothing. You can stock up and pull out a new box for every road trip – perhaps with a new coloring book. You might consider paying a little extra for triangular crayons that won’t roll onto the floor.

Back-to-school is also a good opportunity to buy markers, twist up crayons, colored pencils and gel pens at a discount. Melted crayons and lost marker lids can be a problem on road trips, so consider that when you pack.


For a big road trip it’s fun to pack a small surprise or two. Pull out a new toy every so often to reward good behavior and keep kids excited about a long day on the road. Katie recommends her family’s tried and true travel toys in this post: 10 Travel Toys that Fit in One Backpack.

Not all the toys need to be new. I let my kids pack their own “fun bags” and I give final approval or recommendations as needed. We can usually count on collecting new fast food meal or souvenir toys along the way too.


A good audiobook can engage the whole family for hours, and is good for a little quiet time. Download them to your device and play them through your car speakers, or listen individually with headphones. Need some ideas? Check out this post: 10 Great Books You’ll Want to Borrow From Your Kids.

Borrow audiobooks from your local library or consider a free trial to Audible, which includes two free audio books from Amazon’s vast library.

What keeps your kids entertained in the car?


Allison on EmailAllison on FacebookAllison on InstagramAllison on Pinterest
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.


  1. I might have to try out some of your tips. Unfortunately, I am one of those parents that rely on my iPad to entertain the kids on the road. The kids love playing games and watching TV through our provider DISH. Having the Sling Adapter hooked up to my Hopper DVR the kids can watch live TV on the road anywhere, we can get a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. A co-worker at DISH told me about this option and ever since I got it, the kids have been so quiet in the car. I do however, think they are starting to rely on it too much and plan on changing it and limiting how much TV they are watching. I am definitely going to try Madlibs with the kids on our next trip.

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  2. Thanks for your comment! It sounds like you have a nice set-up. We love our DVD player too, but we all get so much screen time and the car is a good place to talk and interact as a family, so a few limits and these alternate activites have worked well for us. In my How Do You DVD post I listed the rules that we have for screen-time in the car. Maybe that’ll give you some ideas too. Start slowly and I’m sure you’ll figure out what works for your family.

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  3. These are such great simple, no materials, no fuss ideas. I am going to print this out and stick it in my glove compartment for those desperate road trip moments.

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  4. When our kids are old enough to know their alphabet, we play, “I’m going on a safari, and I’m bringing…” which is a variation on your #4 When I Go to London tip. With the safari list, each item must be in alphabetical order. You can use adjectives. “I’m going on a safari, and I’m bringing an antelope, big bear, cool skateboard, doggie…”

    On our visit to Hawaii, we noted that the License Plate game isn’t very interesting. We never saw an out of state car.

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    • I bet my kids will enjoy that game too. Thanks! That’s funny about license plates in Hawaii. We were lucky to find one of those on our Black Hills trip. At home, we live near a military base and find Alaska and Hawaii surprisingly often.

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    • I bet my kids will enjoy that game too. Thanks! That’s funny about license plates in Hawaii. We were lucky to find one of those on our Black Hills trip. At home, we live near a military base and find Alaska and Hawaii surprisingly often.

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  5. Great tips! I have 3 teens and a tween so their favorite activity now is sleeping! Within a few short miles into the trip, 1 or 2 will have already konked out. So it does get easier! 🙂

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    • My kids have never been good nappers and neither am I, so we’ll see how it goes, but they are already much easier now that we are out of the toddler years. I’m sure by their teens I’ll be begging them to talk to me.

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  6. What great suggestions! I remember playing some of those games during road trips as a kid (ahh, the good old days). We haven’t used any DVDs with our 18 month old yet since I know she’d demand them on every trip, even to the grocery store 🙂 I’m going to start introducing some of your ideas to her so that we can avoid the screens a bit longer!

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  7. We are just entering the age where my toddler can be entertained. I’ll be trying out some of these ideas for sure and keeping them with us as the boys grow. Thanks for linking up today!

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  8. These are such great tips and perfect for road trip aka summer season soon. I am guilty of entertaining the kids with the Ipad/Iphone. I need to remember these ideas since we used to do a few of them before the Apple technology came along. Thank goodness they still bring books along for the rides. My kids love Madlibs. I love that License Plate and memory game too.

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    • I don’t think you need to feel guilt over using a DVD or iPad to make the miles go by faster. I think we all recognize the need for kids AND parents to limit screen time, both at home and on the road, and it’s nice to have a few ideas for keeping car time fun and interactive. I am grateful for the new ideas I have picked up from all of these comments. Thank you!

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