7 Great Family Games To Bring Along When You Travel

Everyone’s fingers pointed toward me, Mom’s the werewolf!” They were correct as usual, I was the werewolf. The game we were playing, One Night · Werewolf, required skills I did not possess namely; lying, strategizing on the fly, and then more lying. I was terrible at it, but it wasn’t about how well I could play the game, it was about the laughter it induced and the lifelong memories we were creating with our kids.

Like many families, we try to sit down together for meals as often as we can. It gives us a chance to catch up and connect, but that brief time can sometimes feel forced and that type of environment doesn’t always inspire openness. When we want to really connect with our kids, we pull out a game and let the quality time begin!

I remember sitting on a phone book at my Swedish grandparents’ house playing a card game called “Pounce” after each holiday meal. My Grandpa Otto would easily win a hand and then hold back, letting everyone else have a turn to be the victor. As sweet-loving Swedes, we always took a dessert break mid-game, but then rushed back into the cramped living room for a few more laugh-filled rounds.

My family dealt me into games as soon as I was able to hold the cards and being a part of the adult camaraderie was exhilarating! Those precious memories drove me to gift our young children with plastic, spring-loaded card holders that allowed them to hold a hand of cards before their little fingers could manage it on their own.

We could bring very little with us when our family moved overseas, but we made room in our suitcases for all of our games!

Years later when we returned to the US, our eldest son shared new games with us that had become popular in our absence, so now all of those are in our game cabinet, played regularly, and brought along whenever we travel.

Here are 7 games you need to bring on your next trip:

    1. Settlers of CatanThe Washington Post hailed Settlers of Catan as the Monopoly “of our time.” I prefer Settlers of Catan to Monopoly because unlike Monopoly, this game does not end with all but one competitor left dejected and destitute. Here is the company’s description, “Picture yourself in the era of discoveries: after a long voyage of great deprivation, your ships have finally reached the coast of an uncharted island. Its name shall be Catan! But you are not the only discoverer. Other fearless seafarers have also landed on the shores of Catan: the race to settle the island has begun!”  At first glance, this game can seem overwhelming with all of it’s components and instructions, but once you play a round or two, you’ll be eager to play again and begin strategizing! Settlers is recommended for 3 or 4 players, but two players can also enjoy this fun game: 2 player setup. Extensions can also be purchased for 5-6 players. Once you get hooked, you’ll want to check out the expansions: Seafarers, Cities and Knights, Traders and Barbarians, and Explorers and Pirates and for kids, Cantan: Junior. They all have suggested variants and scenarios that can take the game to another level. Here’s a little history of the game:  http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-man-who-built-catan.

    1. Ticket To Ride – As described on its site“Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.” This game is easy to learn and can be completed in about 30 minutes. The basic U.S.A. game acquaints players with the layout of the country and location of cities and states, but there are numerous other versions of TTR available including Ticket to Ride Europe which takes you on an exciting train adventure through the great cities of turn-of-the-century Europe, and Ticket To Ride – First Journey for younger players. 
    2. Mah Jong – Surprisingly, I became a Mah Jong aficionado while I lived in Costa Rica. This game has been played for centuries, is believed to have been created near Shanghai, and was brought over to the United States in the 1920s by expatriates and entrepreneurs who had become devotees while living in Asia. Here is additional history about the game, and another great article by Stanford scholar Annelise Heinz, discussing how she believes The Game of Mahjong Shaped Modern America. Three friends and I played Mah Jong weekly on the patio of my friend’s home, perched high on a mountaintop overlooking the beautiful central valley of Costa Rica. While the social aspect of our time together was wonderful, I was entranced by the movement and play of the chunky tiles covered in unusual designs. Determined to have my own set, I traveled into downtown San Jose and purchased one from a Chinese import store. Our family loves to play Mah Jong and it’s fun to be “in the know” when we hear it often mentioned in popular culture.

    1. Mexican Train (Dominos) – Easy, fast, fun and portable!
    2. Pounce, or Nertz, or….. is a card game for two or more players, but works best with no more than six. It is played like solitaire, with each player in command of his own deck of cards, but all building piles are shared between all players. To play, each player will need their own deck of cards (we like jumbo style.) To win, you will need fast hands, quick thinking, and more than a little luck.

  1. Bananagrams – I’ve enjoyed Scrabble for years, but it can sometimes be difficult to find other language-loving opponents who are willing to match wits. Thankfully Bananagrams was created! While similar to Scrabble, there is no cumbersome board and players have control over their own game allowing flexibility instead of frustration. This anagram game comes in a convenient small carrying bag, so you can just as easily play on a boogie board at the beach, or a table on a train. Bananagrams also now comes in a kids version so younger children can become enthusiasts, and an even smaller version so you never have to leave home without it.
  2. Heads Up – The app version of this, is our family’s go to game while we’re waiting for a meal, standing in a line, or just sitting around the campfire. This game originated on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and is now available as an app you can use virtually anywhere! It’s a word guessing game where your family/friends try to get you to say the word on the phone or tablet which is held up to the your forehead. Tilt down when you get a word correct and tilt up to pass. At the end of the 60 seconds, Heads Up will show you a list of the words you got correct and those that you passed on.

Take games with you whenever you head out the door! Many popular games come in a travel versions, but for those that don’t it’s easy to make color copies of game boards, cover them in clear contact paper (so they’re protected and can be folded up), bag up the game pieces and you’re ready to go!

Invite your kids to the table for one of these fun games and take your family time to a whole new level.

If I didn’t mention one of your favorite games, share them in the comments section so we can all give them a try!

Pura vida, Penny

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