As a parent, I have found that the worst part of travelling has been bored children.
They have an in-car DVD player (a gift from their grandparents), and their hand-held game-consoles, but every so often they decide they want to do something else.
Here are a few of the things we do.
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Step 1: I-Spy
A long-term favourite that is even older than I am.
The driver starts, calling out the ritual chant;
With my little eye,
Something beginning with...
The rest of the passengers then keep guessing things until somebody guesses correctly, or they all give up. If somebody guesses correctly, it is their turn. If everybody gives up, the driver (or whoever said the rhyme) takes another turn.
Points may be awarded, or small sweets (this is a great way to make a bag of M&Ms last a lot longer than usual).
Allowances must be made, of course, for the age of the contestants. You could say Something beginning with a "wuh" sound, or you could say Something green. At the other end of the scale, you say Something cuboid" or "Something with four stomachs."
If you have small passengers, try and avoid objects that will disappear from view quickly. If you have quick-witted passengers, then you can concentrate on those same objects.
Step 2: Licensed to Spell.
This game is based on license plates. It requires pencil and paper to keep track of scores.
One contestant calls out the letters of a passing car's license plate. The other contestants then have to call out a word with all those letters in it in the same order as on the plate.
Everybody who makes a word gets points, one for each letter of the word (so long words score more).
Players take turns to be the license-plate caller.
If nobody can make a word, a challenge is raised. The contestant who called the plate letters in the first place must then come up with a word. If they can, they get 10 points and another go. If they cannot make a word, everybody else gets 5 points, and the next contestant takes a turn at calling the letters.
Instead of words, you call phrases where each word begins with a letter of the plate. Since everybody's phrases will be the same length, the first to call a phrase gets three points.
We sometimes also give a bonus of 10 points to any player who can make the driver (me) laugh out loud at a phrase.
If players are poor spellers, you can rule that the letters can be in any order, or award a point for each letter included in the word.
Step 3: Five Car Stud.
Shuffle a deck of cards and place it face-down
Give each suit a property. For instance:
- Hearts are "cars with exactly two people in."
- Clubs are "sports cars"
- Diamonds are "motorbikes"
- Spades are "speed limit signs"
If you are playing with small children, it is a good idea to use properties such as red car or truck.
If you are playing in an airport, you could use rucksacks, suitcases on leads, arguments and automatic weapons.
Each player draws a card from the top of the deck, and then waits until it comes up. For instance, if they drew the three of diamonds, they would have to hold the card until they saw three motorbikes passing.
When their card is complete, they set it aside and draw another.
There are no turns, cards are just drawn as needed.
In most card games, picture cards are worth "ten", but in this game they are free cards - if you draw a picture card, it's yours, no need to count, draw another.
The game finishes when the journey ends or the cards run out, the winner is the player with the most cards.
Step 4: Bingo!
Of all the games I'm presenting here, this takes the most preparation.
You can buy travel bingo games, but where's the fun in that?
Before the journey, spend some time with good old Google Images and collect images that you may see on your journey, be it road signs, car badges or aircraft.
Print the images into grids, one for each potential player. Depending on the attention span of your children, give each grid 10-20 images. Some images can be used on more than one grid, but every grid must have two or three images that are unique to that grid, to prevent dead heats and arguments.
Give each child a grid and a pencil - when they see something on their grid, they can cross it off, and the winner is the first to cross them all off.
If the game proves popular with your children, you can print the grids on card, laminate them, and mark them off with a dry-wipe pen, like those pens that come with Nobo wallplanners.
If you can't be bothered making up your own grids, they are available online as well, but be careful to select cards that suit your journey. The example below is from About.com's homeschooling section.
Step 5: Pass the Monsters!
This game can be played at home as well as whilst travelling. All you need is a pencil and paper for each player. If you are in a car or bus, you will need something to rest the paper on as well.
Starting at the top of the paper, each player draws head of a monster, and then folds the paper down to hide all but the very bottom of the neck.
Players pass the drawings round without peeping under the folds, draw the body and arms, and then fold the paper down again.
This is repeated twice more (legs and feet), and then the pictures are all unfolded at once. The pictures get passed around for a giggle, and whoever finished a picture off gets to give the monster a name.
If you have children who claim to be unable to draw, then re-name the game Pass the Worms - each player draws a section of a worm's body and colours it in with glorious technicolour imagination. Decide how many times the players are going to pass the worms around and on the last go the players finish off the worm. Unroll and admire.
Depending on your passengers' interests and artistic skills, you could play Pass the Rockets, Pass the Truck or Pass the DNA Helix. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.
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