Travelling with a car full of kids need not be a test of your patience. Sure, there are hand-held computer games and DVD players for some relief during long trips, but travelling can also be about enjoying the journey and family fun. Here's a list of great activities and car games to while away the hours.
1. Memory book
Buy a hardcover book with blank pages in any stationary store; pack a roll of tape, some coloured pencils, a pair of scissors and a camera. (Digital shots can be printed out during a pit stop for lunch. Don't forget batteries, ink cartridge and paper). Pass the book around and let each person record their experiences, sketch interesting things they have seen, paste in post-cards, photos, recipes, tourist information, reviews of restaurants, and descriptions of hotels, motels, or campgrounds.
If stopping to visit old friends, get them to sign the book. By the end of the trip it will be a wonderful treasure that adults, teens, and younger children will cherish for years to come. It will also be a great reference for when someone says -- "What was the name of that place that served those huge home-made fries?"
2. Scavenger hunt
Prepare a list of 10 items for each child to spot along the route. Each list is different. Whoever spots their ten items first wins the game. Then the lists are switched. A typical list might consist of a man riding a bike, a woman walking a dog, a taxi, a police car, a horse in a field, a pigeon, or a park bench. A good list has a blend of easy, moderate and some difficult items to find. The winner's prize is a little extra something when the family stops for refreshments.
3. Spell me
Each child has to spell their first name using only the first letter in the license plates of vehicles around them. First one to find all letters wins. Another spin on this game is for one adult to think of something just seen like "freeway off-ramp" and the kids have to guess the word or phrase. As skills improve, it turns into a charade.
4. Red car/blue car
Younger children can play this game. One child counts the red vehicles and another child counts the blue vehicles. If there are three children, simply add a colour. The children set a number – 10, 25, or even 100. Whoever reaches the target number first is the winner.
Older children may want to switch to model types. For example, one child counts the number of American models while another counts the number of Japanese models. There are infinite spins on this game. For example, adults pick out a car ahead and the kids have to figure out which country it is from (eg. the Volvo comes from Sweden.)
5. Character cars
They are out there, those funky vehicles that make us laugh. It could be a amusing bumper sticker (write the slogans down in the memory book), or the Volks bus with 1,000 travel decals pasted all over the body, or that small vehicle with the great big couch tied onto the roof. Or even that vintage car with the "Ah-OUU-ga" horn. See who can find the funniest vehicle.
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6. Wheel fun
Not all trucks are born equal when it comes to the number of wheels. See who can find the truck with the most wheels. Large trucks often pull more than one trailer -- so the wheel count can be quite high. While looking for the truck with the most wheels, check out the license plates. These truckers are often on long hauls running across Canada or into the U.S. See who can find the license plate that indicates the driver has driven the longest distance.
7. Stock the ark
This is a great game for younger children or groups of kids. One or two children form a team and they try to find two of every kind of animal. Mum or dad -- whoever is not driving -- can keep track with pen and paper. Find two dogs, two cats, two crows, two horses, two cows, or two sheep.
8. Create your own tapes or CDs
Mum and dad need to get some books from the library but this is great fun. Research some of the highlights of your route and pick out interesting facts. Read some of the history and points of interest from the books onto tapes or a CD using a recorder. (Visit the city web sites and include information such as the local radio station's call numbers, and addresses of the tourist information offices). As you approach the city, pop in the tape or CD and listen. By the time you reach the city everyone will be ready to explore. Label the tapes and have them ready to go. Pass the tapes along to other families who might be planning the same trip.
9. Crazy sign stories
Kids and parents will hoot with laughter. The game starts with one person -- child or adult -- who begins the crazy story using a road sign passed. For example, the sign might warn of a train crossing ahead. The first person begins the story -- "Well, I was just skate-boarding along, when this sign warning of a crossing ahead, jumped right out, and whacked me on my head. I picked myself up and asked the sign, "Hey, dude, what's with you? The sign glared at me and said, "I was crossing a head. Can't you read the sign?" One shouldn't make a crossing sign even more cross (that's a double cross) so I grabbed my skateboard and ran until I saw a sign saying 'fresh eggs for sale.'"
At this point, the first person hands the story over to someone else who has to carry on with the ridiculous story line, for example, "Now, that sign made me wonder if a fresh egg is full of wise-cracks?" The egg story goes until another sign is spotted.
10. There are numerous web sites that offer entertainment advice for travelling with children and games to play. Simply search "travel games." However, most offer toys or games to sell. Some have ready-to-print "connect the dots" games. But one of the best -- hands down -- is www.momsminivan.com. It has suggestions for children of all ages and great games, too.
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