A flight attendant on British Airways once complimented me for playing Go Fish with Tiny Traveler instead of letting her bury her nose in videos while I did the same (which I am guilty of, too, sometimes).
Rich and I don’t mind playing games when we travel. Long Flights, car trips, layovers or just waiting for a slow table server can be hard on everyone. Games help the time pass for us, too. Our daughter loves the distraction-free one-on-one time with me and her dad.
Here are 27 Games that we have found work really well for travel because of their portability. You can put them under the tree or use them as stocking stuffers. Your kids will like them so much they’ll want to play them at home, too!
Tip: Sometimes portable games come in very unportable boxes. Ziploc bags can make them much travel-ready.
27 Classic & New Tabletop Games For Absolutely Everyone in Your Family
Classic Games To Go
Classic games like Go Fish, Old Maid or Uno are perfect because you can play them absolutely anywhere. You can adjust the rules to make them work with preschoolers. And Kids will play Uno well into their teen years.
Conveniently, Melissa & Doug sells a travel pack that includes Go Fish!, Old Maid and Rummy all featuring colorful gender-neutral graphics.
Hasbro has mini travel-size versions of its best-sellers. Most of them need a table for play, but they’re handy when you want an easy game everyone is familiar with, say at a family reunion or on vacation with friends.
Try compact versions of Boggle, or Yahtzee to go. Or buy a four-pack that includes surprisingly complete compact versions of Clue, Monopoly, Connect 4 and Hungry Hippos. They should offer something for every age you’re traveling with.
Hasbro also has a very compact “roadtrip” edition of Battleship for two people sitting next to each other on a plane, train or the backseat of a car. School-age kids up to age 10 or so like this guessing and strategy game.
The purple Cow’s collection of travel-size games inludes bingo and tic-tac-toe for little kids and chess, backgammon and code-breaking for older kids and teens. They’re all magnetic and all come in slim, light cases you can tuck into bag.
Innovative Card Games
We played a print-at-home version of Kids Against Maturity when they were developing it, early in the pandemic. We had a blast. It’s too heavy to bring on a plane but easy to pack on a car trip.
In this PG-rated alternative to Cards Against Humanity, players hold several cards with words and phrases and use them to complete sentences begun on other cards. The person with the funniest, most absurd or most sarcastic sentence wins the hand. Best for tweens and teens.
There are expansion decks when you start repeating sentences too often.
Kids Create Absurdity is a G-rated alternative for school-age kids, but it won’t be quite as entertaining as Kids Against Maturity for adults who are playing along.
We’ve brought Here To Slay on our last several vacations. They consider it a card-based roll-playing game but you don’t have to love fantasy games to like playing it.
Your goal is to amass a band of warriors and some handy weapons that you can use to slay monsters. Once you start playing it makes sense quickly and games never take more than half an hour.
If you like it, there’s a Christmas-themed expansion pack, Here to Sleigh.
The publisher, TeeTurtle, has a lot of quirky, portable strategy games, but most are definitely for teens and adults.
Thames & Kosmos has a whole line of Exit the Game games. They are escape room or mystery games and are meant to be played only once. The novelty is as much a part of the appeal as the clues and puzzles players have to figure out.
They have novice games that are good for middle schoolers while high schoolers will get drawn into the more advanced games.
• Coup was my daughter’s favorite game from about 4th to 7th grade.
It’s a strategy game that begins with each player getting two cards. Players try to acquire money, keep opponents from acquiring money and take each other out. The last person left holding a card wins.
You can play this game for tweens and teens with two people but it’s better with three or more. Rounds go quickly. You don’t need to put cards down or see each other so it works anywhere, including in the car.
And it’s as light and compact as a game could possibly be.
The publisher, Indie Boards and Cards, has of good strategy games that are(hard enough to be interesting but don’t take hours to learn.
The popular strategy game Settlers of Catan has a two-player Rivals for Catan card game, where players vie for control of a newly settled colony.
It’s simpler and quicker than the Cata board game, And two expansion packs mean you won’t get board. Use the gold sacks to leave the box home when you go on vacation.
Another good choice for tweens and teens.
• If you haven’t played Exploding Kittens, you really need to. Kids like the action but the real draw are the ridiculous drawings and characters on the cards, like TacoCat: a Palindrome.
This is the game you want to have in your backpack when you’ve just discovered your flight has been delayed for three hours. It will get you laughing and kill a lot of time. Older school-age kids to teens.
• If you like Uno but want to take things up a notch try 7 Ate 9 for your 6-9YOs. Pairing the right cards involves basic arithmetic, and you can mod the game to make subtraction an option, too, to make things interesting and sneak more arithmetic into your holiday.
Portable Games With Dice & Tiles
Niya is a card-based strategy game set in Imperial Japan. The cards are pretty and it’s very portable. The goal is to take over the Emperor’s Garden. Try it with older school-age kids and tweens.
The Publisher is Blue Orange, which produces a lot of quirky games for 7 to 12YOs. Several, like Sherlock Express and Flip are very compact and easy to learn
We forgot to pack games for our trip to the Pacific Northwest, so we picked up Tofu Kingdom (also by Blue Orange) in a Powell’s Book Store in Portland. We bring it on almost every trip now.
After dealing one character tile to each player, the dealer has to figure out which player is the real Princess Tofu among palace denizens who lie and try to mislead him or her.
It’s the most compact game we own and perfect for tweens and teens. And a round goes very quickly so it’s ideal to play in restaurants. We manage with three players but it’s better with four or more people.
• Zygomatic’s Spot it! is one of my perennial recommendations for 4 to 8YOs. We were hooked on this game for a while at one point. The tiny tins are portable, the rules are simple and there a few variations to the rules to mix things up a bit.
Plus, there are a dozen of variations including ones with Minions and now Marvel Comics emojis. Play this through the preschool and well into the elementary school years.
• Asmodee’s Dobble is identical to Spot It! and comes in a Harry Potter theme, which will also please a variety of ages.
Maybe Travel Games
I would bring Hail Hydra on any family reunion or group vacation where there will be teenagers.
Every player takes on a super-hero persona, but two or three players secretly work for Hydra. As the team battles a series of bad guys trying to destroy New York, the Hydra agents have to undermine the good guys without being found out.
Between rounds players sideline the folks most suspected of being Hydra. This leads to finger pointing, accusations and debate and can be most fun part of the game.
It’s a game for six to nine players and you need a space for a scoreboard and some chips but you don’t need to be around a table to play.
Gamewright has several clever card games that we’ve gotten a lot of mileage from, including Sushi Go! and Sleeping Queens.
The challenge is that their games often require spreading cards out, which isn’t ideal for a car or plane. But they’re great for after-dinner or on a rainy day at your destination. Most of their games are great for older school-age kids and tweens.
• Ring It from Blue Orange trvels in a compact tin so it’s pretty much made for travel. Imagine Slap Jack at a faster pace and with a bell.
I wouldn’t play it on a plane or train because of the bell. But I think it could be fun with a crowd at a beach house. And it’s ideal for picnics, camping and maybe a beer garden. For school-age kids.