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19 Things to Do in a Long Car Ride (Boredom Busters for Adults)

Need things to do in the car for adults? Here's our best tips for things to do in vehicles (with dozens of long car ride trips under our belts).

What to do on long car rides? For adults?

woman and man smiling, getting gas for their long car trip

I wondered that, myself, after we moved to the desert (El Paso) a few summers ago.

We had no idea how great of a location this was both in and of itself, as well as a jump-off point for lots of day trips and long weekend trips.

Not to mention, we have family that are all either 7 hours, 8 hours, or 11 hours away (by car).

We made the initial 11.5-hour drive from Houston to El Paso, and have since traveled to:

  • New Mexico (3 hours)
  • Dallas (9 hours)
  • Galveston (11.5 hours)
  • Arizona (9 hours)

Needless to say, in just a short amount of time, we’ve become experts on things to do in a long car ride.

And while there are a gazillion articles out there about things to do in long car rides for kids…there really aren’t a lot of resources for things to do in the car for adults (when there’s hours, upon hours, to fill).

Kids fall asleep, pop in their ear buds and otherwise ignore you, or maybe it’s just the two of you on this one (ooh-la-la!).

And, we adults should have a bit of fun too, right? Here is my list of best activities for long car rides for adults – both fun and productive ways to pass the time.

Things to Do in the Car for Adults

Sometimes when I go on a long trip in our automobile, I'm looking for some fun ways to pass the hours. And other times? I'm looking to be productive.

For me, if I can get a few things done while stuck in the car, then it's almost like winning some time back in my life.

In fact, for each car ride, I usually:

  • Choose 4-5 things we can all do for fun.
  • Choose 2-3 things I'd like to accomplish.

Then on the road, I let our moods dictate which I choose to do, when.

Let's start with the fun side of things, with fun ideas for adults on long car trips.

Psst: and if you happen to be traveling with a preschooler? Here are screen-free car activities for 4-year-olds that we've used.

Fun Ideas for Long Car Trips – Things to Do When Bored in a Car

FUN is the name of the game here – why not make a long car trip as fun as you possibly can (since, they can get stuffy and otherwise boring, rather quickly)?

Here are things to do when bored in a car.

1. Listen to an Adult Comedy Sketch Podcast

three adults driving in car laughing because of funny comedy podcast

Whether you're driving alone, or with someone else, you can pass a lot of time and miles while snort-laughing together.

In fact, I would venture to say a mile filled with laughter passes in 1/2 the time as a mile spent in silence (just an observation – math may or may not actually work out…).

Go to your Podcasts app on your phone (re-download it if you have to), then use this list of comedy sketch podcasts to choose one.

Hint: do you need your phone for directions? No worries – when the directions-lady announces what to do next, the podcast gets paused, then it automatically resumes afterwards.

2. Play the Carpool Chaos Game

Have you ever heard of the road trip game Carpool Chaos?

It's a deck of 160 cards filled with challenges, games, hypotheticals, etc. Has pictures on the bottom of each card to show who it's most appropriate for, FYI.

3. Listen to a True Crime Podcast Together

There's almost nothing better to pass the time then by listening to a juicy crime mystery together – with multiple episodes and parts.

Just hook your phone up to your car (ours does this when we plug it into the USB port, or by Bluetooth), find the podcast you want, and start listening over your car's speakers.

Some of my favorites are:

Ooohhh the discussions these can create for couples or friends stuck in the car together!

4. Make Weird Jelly Belly Combinations + Guess them

Did you know Jelly Belly has a free app? Download their free Jelly Belly Shaker app for lots of recipes, and grab a bag of 49 assorted Jelly Belly beans.

The driver does the taste testing, and the passenger gets to create the flavor combinations. See how many they can guess!

5. Play Mad Libs

One long car trip to Dermott, Arkansas (8 hours), I brought along a book of Mad Libs. I must admit that our car passengers – all adults – thought I was a little silly at first…until they started playing along.

Everyone had a roaring good time – and it was only adults, back then!

6. Taste Test a Category of Snacks

Have you noticed how snack brands have been filling up entire shelves with variations of their food?

Just look at this Reese's exhibit at our local Walmart:

huge shelves filled with all kinds of Reese products

I used this to our advantage and surprised my husband with an impromptu taste-testing session on our last road trip.

I picked out these three products, and we each tasted them.

Photo of Reese's fast break, outrageous, and sticks bars

And it sure gave us something to talk about.

You could also do this for:

  • Pop Tarts (have you seen all the varieties out there now?!)
  • Weird potato chip flavors
  • Take your pick

7. Stop at the Weirdest Roadside Attractions You Can Find

Something that can keep the conversation and miles flowing? Is a good, weird, roadside attraction.

Use this site, or this site, to research a few oddities that will be right along your route.

8. Add to a Car Ride Journal

Pick yourself up a small journal to keep in your glove compartment or center console (back of the seat pocket works, too).

Each long car ride, bust it out and write down things everyone sees and loves, something funny someone says (like a good ol' college quote board!), and otherwise things you want to remember from this long car ride together.

couple taking a long car ride, text overlay "17 Things to do in the car for adults"

Don’t forget to date it, put the destination, mileage, and amount of time you were in the car together.

Psst: got kids? As they get older, pass the journal around and let everyone take a turn (well…you’ll have to write FOR the driver) writing down what they’d like to about the car ride.

What a fun memory journal to create for everyone!

9. Play a Round of Car Scavenger Hunt

Have you ever heard of a road trip scavenger hunt?

The fun thing about this one is that there are actually “Smell” cards and “Feel” cards. Like, you have to smell a skunk, or feel a bump on the road to be able to discard that card.

There are also swap cards, in case you have one that's too tough.

Such a fun way to pass the time – especially if you figure out a cool prize for whoever wins.

10. Read Aloud Spooky Stories

I just loooovvveee this series of spooky stories to tell in the dark (or, on long car rides😉), ever since my aunt and uncle got a set for us when I was a kid! Telling spooky stories out loud is pretty fun, no matter if it’s in a car or around a fire pit.

11. Ask Couple’s Questions

Is it just the two of you? Great – here’s a free printable filled with Intimate Pillow Talk Conversation Starters. Just remember to print them out ahead of time!

Or you could use this really fun gift I got one year for Christmas: the Book of Questions. I was hooked as soon as I looked at it – I brought it on many car rides with my aunt and uncle, my husband, and others.

Psst: here's my review of best conversation starter decks for married couples.

Productive Things to Do on a Long Drive

Who says you have to try and have fun the whole time? I like to get something productive done with all that time, too (while I'm the passenger, of course).

1. Bring a Mini-Project to Work On

I actually enjoy bringing 1-2 mini-projects along on our car rides to chip away at. To me, it feels like an efficient use of my time!

Some small projects I’ve worked on in our car include:

  • Recipe Box Update: I have a recipe box I bought as a teen, and I like to add in recipes that we love and want to keep. As we try new recipes and decide they’re “keepers”, I put them in a pile on top of the box. One car ride, I brought that pile, a pen, and the box with me, and worked on updating everything. That felt great!
  • Two-Week Meal Planning: Yes, I actually wrote out a meal plan for two weeks during one of our multi-hour car rides. Then, I wrote an ingredients list based off of recipes I picked out. Boy did I feel super organized the next grocery shopping trip after we got home! To do this, I brought along a piece of paper, pen, my recipe binder of recipes I’ve printed out/ripped out of magazines to try one day, and my recipe box.
  • Brainstorm Holiday Gift List: Again, I brought a pad of paper and a pen, wrote down each person on our holiday gift list, and then started brainstorming what we could buy them. Saved a lot of time later by giving me some great ideas.
  • Organize Your Smartphone Screen: Organize your smartphone home screen. Make sure you have apps on it that you use each day, and clear off the apps to other screens that you use less often. Also, delete out any apps you no longer want. You can also create folders and organize all your apps on your first screen (and actually get to see half your screen background or so again).

2. Read an eBook

I detail here how to get free eBooks, plus how to move any PDF eBook file or other type onto your Kindle app so that you can read it from anywhere (and not just on your desktop computer).

Be sure to pick an eBook out, and load it up on your Kindle app.

3. Brainstorm Couple’s Goals

Ever feel like you have NO time to talk about couple’s goals together? Wait until the kids nod off (if you have any), and start daydreaming together.

Remember that in the brainstorming part of setting couple’s goals (or any goals), you don’t filter. Let out exactly what comes to mind – however unattainable it may seem – and don’t judge when your partner let’s out what is on their mind.

You can keep a list, if you’d like!

Hands-Free Ideas for Long Commutes

Maybe you’re driving alone. OR, the driver actually wants to do something other than stare at the dash lines on the road (I’ve found that can be quite meditative!).

How can you entertain yourself on a long car ride…if YOU’RE the driver?

I’m dedicating this section for hands-free ideas for long car rides that driving adults can do.

Things to do on a long car ride by yourself:

1. Do a Visualization Activity

I heard this from Carrie at the Female Entrepreneur Association, and it would work beautifully during those long hours of driving by yourself.

At home, brainstorm different things you want to accomplish/do/be in your life. Write each down on a small slip of paper and put it in a small box or mason jar. Take it with you, then take out one small slip of paper at a time and do a visualization exercise around it. What would life look like if you accomplished that/were that/did that?

Hold onto that vision for as many miles as you can, then move onto the next slip of paper.

2. Pop in an Old Mix CD (Time Capsule CD)

For over a decade, my husband and I have taken turns creating mix CDs ahead of time for specific road trips in our lives. In fact – I was doing this before he and I started dating.

Like the time I moved from PA down to Florida for my second job out of college. Or the first time Paul and I made the trek from Houston to Arkansas for a family Thanksgiving.

And you know what? We still have all these CDs. It’s so much fun to take a trip down memory lane and remember where I was at certain points of my life by popping in a time-capsule CD.

3. Listen to an Audiobook or Podcast

You can’t read while driving (please – don’t do that!), but you can certainly listen to an audiobook or a podcast. Check out my article on 11 sources for full-length audiobooks free to download for your next trip.

One podcast I really enjoyed? The free Serial Podcast, Season 1.


4. Practice a New Language

Did you know you can check out audio language courses from your local library (use inter-library loan – ILL – to get access to resources your personal library doesn’t have)? Pop a new language CD into your CD player and get to practicing!

5. Dictate Notes on Your Phone

I used to drive back and forth each weekend from college to the farm where I grew up, just a 1.5-hour drive.

I started finding some of my best writing ideas and life ideas while making this trip by myself. Back then, smartphones couldn’t be dictated to with voice-to-text apps, so I actually bought a mini-voice recorder and kept my thoughts that way.

Today? I just keep a blank note open on my free Evernote app, press the “speaker” button when I want to record something, and get to talking. The app recognizes commands like “new paragraph”, “period”, “next line”, and things like that. And the whole thing syncs with my Evernote desktop app – which means I can simply copy and paste my thoughts into new documents for future articles or wherever else I need them to go.

It’s a beautiful thing!

Sooo…what are the “essentials” that will make your long car ride much more bearable (besides some of the fun activities from above)? I’m glad you asked.

Long Car Ride Essentials – Road Trip Survival Kit for Adults

Like I mentioned earlier, my family and I have been on quite a few long car rides over the last decade. Not only that, but given our new location, we’ve got tons of long car rides on our horizon.

It just makes sense for us to travel the 7 or 8 hours to visit family on this side of the country, since it costs $1500 or so in airfare to visit family on the other side of the country!

I’d like to talk about some long car ride essentials that have really, really added to our comfort and enjoyment over the last decade.

(Hint: they’re not all things you need to go out and buy; many you probably have in your home!).

1. Get Your Car Washed

Right before each annual trip to OCMD (Ocean City Maryland) as a kid, my parents would make sure our car was cleaned out, vacuumed, and otherwise, shining.

I continue this tradition to this day. Sitting in a clean, clutter-free car makes any car ride more pleasant. And if you’re going for the long-haul? It’s practically essential so that you:

  • Don’t start feeling claustrophobic
  • Can fit all of that luggage/gear from your road trip survival kits
  • Don’t have to smell last month’s after-school snack for hours on end

Speaking of odors…let’s talk about putting a NICE odor into your car. I really, really recommend you add a very pleasant smell to your car. But you know what? I wouldn’t add a chemical-based smell to a small cabin where my family is going to be breathing for hours upon hours.

Instead, I found these awesome essential oil-diffusing car vents. Super cute, and a natural way to make things smell amazing.

Here's another natural way to get those odors out (without adding additional scents, in) that you can just slide under one of your seats. Boom!

2. Designate a Trash Area (that’s Out of Sight)

You’re likely going to be creating trash as you travel the long hours it takes to get to where you’re going…but you don’t want to feel claustrophobic.

So, before you take up all the precious space for luggage and such, take a minute to think about the most out-of-sight (yet, reachable) area where you can stash a trash bag or car trash receptacle.

For us, in our wee-sized Ford Focus? It’s behind the passenger seat. I can reach it, easily (as long as I set it up ahead of time), or my husband can reach it from the driver side.

If you need all the floor space you can get for luggage or legs, then try this back-of-the-seat, collapsible trash container (bonus: it’s leak-proof!). Works like a charm.

3. Bring Wipes (And Make them Accessible)

Having wipes on hand is just a good idea (and by “on hand” I mean, within arm’s length of the passenger or driver), whether you have kids or not. Just be sure to take these inside when you’re NOT on a long car ride, as they tend to dry out in the hot sun.

4. Bring a Stash Snacks

You can pack refrigerated snacks and food – just bring a car cooler, like this one that hangs on the back of a seat, and remember to freeze some ice packs ahead of time – but I prefer to just pack more “durable” snacks. Not only can we snack on them as we go, but when we get to our destination, we have something to snack on before getting to the grocery store.

I hope I’ve given you tons of idea for how to pass the time in a long car ride. Whether you’re driving alone, driving as a couple, or driving as a family, there are lots of ideas for long car rides for adults to enjoy themselves (whether the kids have fallen asleep, or not).

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.

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Monday 28th of March 2022

You mentioned lots of great things to do, but what about snacks? What snacks would you recommend?