Road Trip!: The License Plate Game

I don't remember one single family road trip growing up that we didn't play the license plate game, and I'm pretty sure my mom would be hard-pressed to think of single trip from her childhood either. It's one of the classics, one that my husband willingly plays along with now, and one that I can't wait to teach my kids!


One of the simplest car games there is--find a license plate from every state. It can be on any vehicle during your trip, moving or parked.

Keeping Track:

  • $ - Pen and paper. The original. Old-school. Make a list of all 50 states and cross them off as you locate them.

    • Pro: Easy. Classic.

    • Con: We've been known to use fast food napkins for lists when accidentally embarking unprepared....

    • Bonus Activities: List the states without looking them up. Spell the states' names correctly. Name the capitol city of each state. Identify each state's two-letter address abbreviation.

License Plate Game - PrairieTaleTravels
  • $$ - "States and Plates, the License Plate Game" app. Free app or $.99 for full version.

    • Pro: We play with the free version, and it works great even when data/wifi isn't available! The ads are unobtrusive and the concept is easy as is!

    • Pro: The app comes with a few bonus features including each state's capitol, motto, bird, flower, and an image of the standard state plate.

    • Con: While phone apps are generally pretty convenient, there's just something about it that can feel less exciting and more removed from the game.

    • Con: Additionally, we seem to be more forgetful about tracking our plates with the phone version. If you're actively using your phone for another purpose (maps, GPS, music, etc.), it can be inconvenient to click over to the app and sometimes plates can be forgotten in the process.

  • $$$ - Melissa & Doug Children's License Plate Game. $16.99 for the board game.

    • Pro: Attractively painted with bright colors and includes a lap-sized map and mini pictures of each state's plate. It's a really fun novelty item for road trips to keep everyone interested and invested in the adventure.

    • Pro: Each piece is well attached, so while they recommend this game for ages 8-12, I am perfectly fine letting my 2 year old play with the board.

    • Con: While it comes with instructions for playing a two-player game (nutshell: you get credit for the ones you spy vs. opponent gets credit for theirs; first person to see plate gets point; most points wins), I can see there being tension of who gets to control/hold the board and having to say fun things like, "She who sees the plate, flips the piece," and "It's Maggie's turn this hour, you will get it back for the next,"...and on and on and on...

    • Con: We have only flipped the pieces a couple of times and the paint is already starting to we are chip, so wear is inevitable and potentially a faster process than one would like.

License Plate Game - PrairieTaleTravels

Competitive Variations:

  • Each person tracks their own plates, and most points wins. (Not my favorite for road trips because, while competition can be healthy, it can also lead to heart break. We prefer the "team effort" approach. Buuut...)

  • If you have multiple cars going on your journey, having each car of people be a team can be really competitively fun and exciting.

Does your family already play the License Plate Game? Any fun variations to share? Prizes awarded?? Share below! I'd love to hear how everyone else plays the classic game!