Five equipment-free travel games which help ease culture shock by promoting gentle engagement (transport edition)

We made it to Phuket – by bus, LRT, train, minivan, and taxi. Not everyone appreciates the wisdom of travelling overland like this with two kids, aged three and six, but our reasons go beyond a desperate desire to reduce our carbon footprint/limit our flight-related radiation exposure/get hits off google for search terms like “Singapore Kuala Lumpur by bus”.

Travelling overland at the start of a trip helps reduce our kids’ culture shock. It allows them to experience a new place from a safe distance, behind a sturdy window pane, before they have to venture directly into the middle of everything. And yes, sure, we could achieve a similar result with a hop-on-hop-off city tour instead of a complex ballet of pivotal international connections, but then we’d never get those google hits.

The catch is, it doesn’t work if we pass the time on entertainment which shields them from the world they’re travelling into – in fact, it works best if we actively engage them in their surroundings, using the structure of familiar games as an extra cushion against the unknown.

So I thought, before I take you on our trip through Southern Thailand, I’d supply you with a list of our top five equipment-free, culture-shock-proofing, engagement-enhancing games for use on transport – plus modifications for all levels of player.

Five equipment-free travel games which help ease culture shock by promoting engagement (transport edition)

1. I Spy

The familiar “I Spy” formula can be played using colours instead of letters for non-spellers.

“I spy, with my little eye, something coloured pink!”
“Is it a ribbon?”
“Aaaaaarrrggghhnooooooo! Say, ‘Is it your dress?!'”
“…Is it your dress?”

This is the more familiar speller’s version.

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ‘D’.”
“It has to be ‘dirt’. We’re crossing The Nullabor.”

Like the intermediate version, but encompassing complex or technical descriptions and even opinions, rather than just simple nouns.

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ‘L’.”
“Limestone bedrock.”
“Very good. Your turn.”
“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ‘G’.”
“I give up.”
“It’s the ‘Gimboid’ who thought I Spy was and excellent car game for crossing The Nullabor’.”

2. Spotto/Car Bingo

Challenge everyone to be the first to spot a single, common item.

“First one to spotto a tree! Wow, so fast, and I think everybody won at the same time!”

Challenge everyone to spot a rare item, or a short list of several items.

“First one to spot a VW beetle!”
“First one to spotto a palm tree, a temple, and a motorbike!”

Challenge everyone to spot an extremely rare item, or a long, complicated, and/or technical list of items.

“First one to spotto a purple VW beetle, a cumulo-nimbus cloud formation, a pitched tent, a droughtmaster bull, a tableau of no less than three items composed almost entirely of no more than three chemical elements each, any nocturnal mammal out wandering during daylight hours, and an example of divergent evolution!”

3. Musical Mashup

Change the words of a simple nursery rhyme to reflect the scenery outside. Make up actions. Get everyone to sing along.

Example (To the tune of The Wheels On The Bus):
“The man in the rice paddy goes weed (pluck) weed (pluck) weed (pluck)! C’mon, you too, T!”

Take turns changing the words to, and making up actions for, a simple song.

…aaallll daaaay loooong. And now let’s hear it for P with verse two!”

Adapt progressively longer and more complicated pieces of music.

“Alright focus, people! We’re going to start performing our adaption of the second opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle just as soon as we pass under this next bridge.”

4. I Went To {Place Name} With A Billion Dollars And I Bought….

Take turns simply revelling in the absurd concept of being able to buy anything at all.

“I went to Thailand with a billion dollars and I bought that huge tree!”

Take turns thinking about the local and relative market value of items outside the window. Keep a running account of how much money you’d have left after each “purchase”. Start each new turn by repeating, from memory, the items so far “purchased” by the other players.

“I went to Thailand with a billion dollars and I bought that pink house back there (as you said, P), and a motorbike (as you said, T), and a mango drink. Which at local rates would set me back about USD$100k, leaving a remaining total of USD$999900000 with which Æ would buy…?”

Use the game as an opportunity to discuss the consistency and transparency of local law enforcement and the social, political and economic conditions which affect and flow from this state of affairs.

“I went to Thailand with a billion dollars. Now let’s pretend I racked up a speeding ticket and got caught without a valid visa.”

5. If I Lived In That House

This game was a surprise favourite. Pick a house. State, in simple terms, what you’d do if you lived there. Use ridiculous answers if desired.

“If I lived in that house, I’d eat rice. And have superpowers.”

Pick a house. State what you’d do if you lived there. Be prepared to briefly explain your answers in cultural, geographical and socio-economic terms.

“If I lived in that house, I’d eat rice. For breakfast! Because that’s common here. And then I think I’d spend the day working hard and enjoying few comforts, because that is not exactly a millionaire’s shack.”

Pick a house. Give a detailed and well-researched breakdown of your typical day, including the historical, cultural, geographical, socioeconomic and personal factors involved. Express as much as you can in the local language.

“If I lived in that house, I’d have K̄ĥāw for breakfast. This is a staple food of the region, for several reasons. First, local meteorological conditions dictate that…”

What Should We Try For Next Time?

It’s possible we may have reached our point of fatigue on some of these during our Thai trip (which we just arrived back from and will tell you about soon). If you have a favourite car game which gets kids discussing the stuff outside the window, please say. And feel free to give a straightforward name and description, rather than making us guess based on the first letter, or delivering it to the tune of a well-known nursery rhyme. It’s absolutely fine if you don’t do that.

Ian In Cyberspace suggests a great game called “squash” which involves watching for traffic markings on the road and yelling “squash” every time your car goes over them. Kids are encouraged to watch out of the window, maintain a prolonged focus, and scare the pants off the driver. Probably not suitable for public vehicles.

Suggestion from Grandma (that’s my mum) – a quieter version for public/shared transport is having everyone touch their toes/put their hands on their heads/etc instead of yelling out. Loud and quiet versions can be amended so the action happens whenever you see a nominated object out the window. Malaysian Meanders used to play this version, lifting feet (and putting a finger on a screw!) when going over railway tracks – but it doesn’t have to be lifting feet, or railway tracks.

Jen from And Three To Go has another good suggestion for spellers. Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, you look around until you see an object starting with each letter in order. First to get to Z wins. (The advanced version probably involves the use of a foreign script.)

Shape Game
Nanny (that’s my mother-in-law) suggested a find-the-shape game for small children. You can spot squares, triangles or circles in buildings, road signs, temples, agricultural buildings, or whatever else you happen to be passing. Good for the really young ones.

Paul remembers using a map to foresee and check off passing landmarks. An excellent game for slightly older kids who can grapple with reading and abstract symbols. Extend the game by giving them a calculator and a speedometer reading and having them answer “When are we going to get there?” all by themselves.

Counting Games
Sreejith Nair used to play counting games on long car rides. Pick a common item and see how many you can spot. Cars or trucks are popular, but bonus points for including something unique to the local landscape, like temples, or pictures of the Royal Family.

Leah of Kids’ Bucket List has an advanced version where the car is divided into teams and counts only things on their side. Up the ante by having points wiped when you pass a certain feature (such as a cemetery).

This post is part of a series on using travel games to ease culture shock in young children. See part two: Five equipment-free travel games which help ease culture shock by creating a mental cocoon (transport edition).

Click For More Tips On Travelling With Children.

The post Five equipment-free travel games which help ease culture shock by promoting gentle engagement (transport edition) appeared first at Journeys of the Fabulist and was shared as part of Family Fun Friday #73.