How to Have a Mystery Road Trip Adventure With Your Kids

Want to discover new places or rediscover forgotten favorites with your kids?

Do you want to get away for a while, but you’re not sure what to do or where to go?

Embark on a mystery road trip adventure with your family.

Let your kids take control… of not the wheel, but the destination. You lead the way and put your kids in charge of which direction you turn during your travels.

In this article I’ll show you how to plan and go on a mystery road trip adventure with your family.

Have a mystery road trip adventure with your family. Kids take control, not of the car, but the destination as they tell you which way to turn on your travels.

Why Go on a Mystery Road Trip Adventure?

Sometimes, a last-minute road trip—destination unknown—is just what you and your kids need as a fun break from all of their scheduled activities.

It’s a great way to discover places in your neighborhood that you can get to via car, bike or foot! Plus, there’s a sense of adventure in not knowing where your road trip will take you.

A mystery road trip adventure is perfect for those days when your family can’t decide what to do next or where to visit, eat or shop. You can do it as a specific activity or as a break while you are out running errands. You can even take a mystery trip when you’re out of town on vacation.

Warning: The mystery road trip adventure is something your kids will want to do again and again. The good news is that it’s a different adventure every time.

This road trip is simple. You head out, usually in a car, but you can also do this while riding bikes or on foot. Then, every other street (or every minute if you’re in a car), someone different tells you which way to turn until you reach a mystery location.

kids in the car

You can have a mystery road trip adventure with your family any day of the week.

Before you hit the road, here are a few things you can do to make the most of your mystery road trip adventure.

You Will Need

  • Your family
  • Appropriate clothes and shoes
  • Transportation (a car, bicycles or you can head out on foot)
  • A journal
  • A camera

Optional:

  • Timer or stopwatch
  • Some spending money
  • A snack or lunch
  • Outside play items (balls, Frisbee, jump rope, bubbles, etc.)
  • Paper and pens, crayons or markers

Preparation Time

None (unless you need a few minutes to gather the optional items above)

Activity Time

1 hour (or as long as you want to play)

Location

An unknown destination in your neighborhood that you can get to by car, riding bikes or walking

These days, schedules, calendars, technology and GPS all rule your road trips. This way is much more fun.

#1: Plan Your Trip

I realize this trip is supposed to be spontaneous, but it doesn’t hurt to plan a little. You’ll want to have an idea of where you are going—parents get a turn offering directions too—so you have a fun activity you can do when you get there. Here are things to keep in mind, when you are planning your mystery trip.

Pre-Adventure Questions

  • Do you want to go somewhere to play?
  • Will this be an outside or inside activity?
  • Will it be an active or quiet activity?
  • Do you want to visit a place?
  • Do you want to visit people?
  • Do you want to eat?
  • Should you bring lunch or money for lunch?
  • Do you want to shop?
  • Should you bring money to shop?
  • Are you going by car, bicycle or foot?
  • Do you want to go wherever?

Now you know what clothes to wear/bring and whether you need to bring a meal, snack or some money to eat out.

Note: No matter what you “plan,” it doesn’t hurt to bring a jacket, snack, a few toys and a little bit of money just in case.

On the day of the mystery road trip adventure

Decide if you will start directly from home or in another area of town. As I mentioned before, you can even do this to explore new places while on vacation.

snack

You can do the mystery road trip via car or have an adventure once you reach your destination.

Determine your mode of transportation. Will you go via car, or go on a bike ride or walking adventure? Note: You can also drive to a park, zoo or botanic gardens and go on your mystery adventure once you arrive.

Set your time limit. Figure out how much time you want to spend getting to and from your destination, as well as how much time you will have at your destination.

Gather your essentials. Pack up whatever clothes, accessories (sunblock) or food you will need. You may also want to include paper and pens, crayons or markers so your kids can write about or draw a picture describing your adventure.

mystery snack bags

Whether you plan to stop for lunch or not, it never hurts to take a snack. Add to the mystery and write question marks on your snack bags.

Put your gear together. You may also want to take one or more of the following, depending on your potential destination: baseball gear, Frisbee, jump rope, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a blanket for a picnic, etc. I know this seems like a lot of prep to go on a spontaneous adventure, but it will be worth it!

#2: Explain the Rules and Head Out

Before you embark on your mystery road trip adventure, gather your family and explain the rules.

Here’s a primer you can use to tell them how it works.

Mystery Road Trip Adventure: The Rules

Destination: It’s a mystery! You’ll decide as a family where you’re going.

Departure: The adventure starts at home or when you arrive at the designated starting point.

How it works: Everyone, driver included, gets a turn to tell the driver/leader which way to turn.

pointing which direction

Kids love to be in control of where you’re going.

Depending on the number of players and how far you will go, you may need more than one round of turns. You can also play until you arrive somewhere fun and not keep track of turns.

Note: It works well to have the youngest go first and the driver go last to make sure you end up somewhere fun.

Commands: Each person will point and say “turn left” or “turn right” within a certain amount of time or distance. If you are driving, give each person 1 or 2 minutes to give a command. (You can have an older child be the timekeeper.)

If you are riding bikes or walking, give each person 1 or 2 blocks to give a direction command.

pointing left and right

Have your kids take turns telling you which direction you should drive. As the driver/leader, you get a turn too!

Note: You’ll want to discourage your kids from taking you in a circle.

Safety: The driver will only turn when it is safe and appropriate to turn.

Arrival: When all turns are up, the last place you turn into is your destination. You, the driver, can continue to drive until you come to a destination that will fit what you wanted to do or will be a safe and fun place to do “whatever.”

#3: Go Play

Once you arrive at your mystery destination, explain what you’ll do.

Even though you’ll have an idea of the different places you could end up, it’s good to be prepared for anything.

Here are some possibilities:

The park: There are lots of possibilities here. You can play on the equipment, take a walk or a hike, look for bugs and flowers, look at clouds and/or get out your toys.

in the park

You can have a bunch of different adventures and lots of fun playtime at the park.

You could also have a picnic. Aren’t you glad you packed a blanket?

A store, the mall or the library: You and your kids can walk, look around and talk to the people who work there. Be sure to ask what they do and why they like working there.

Note: Remember to talk in hushed voices at the library. And then get a library card if you child doesn’t already have one and check out a few books.

at the mall

There are lots of specialty stores your kids can explore at the mall: pet stores, arts & craft stores, home & garden stores, music stores and more.

If you end up at the mall or a store, give your children a few dollars to spend so they can buy a treat for themselves or a gift for someone special.

Post office: Discuss what happens at the post office and then go inside and look around. Talk to the people who work there, and if they’re not too busy, ask questions about their job.

writing a note

While you are at the post office, get a card, write a note, address it and then mail it.

As long as you’re at the post office, buy a card, envelope and stamp. Then write a note and mail it to someone special. It’s a great way to keep in touch and to get in some handwriting practice.

Restaurant: Use this as an opportunity for you and your kids to try new foods.

eating out

A restaurant can be a fun—and delicious—learning opportunity.

You can also use mealtime to discuss the importance of making healthy food choices, as well as how a restaurant works, food prep, costs, tips and more.

A friend’s or relative’s house: Stop by to visit a friend, neighbor or relative to just say hi.

visiting grandma

Everyone was happy when our mystery road trip turned into a surprise visit with grandma.

If no one is home, leave a note or a picture. Make sure everyone signs it. Aren’t you glad you brought along paper and pens?

You can also use this as an opportunity to take a walk around and explore their neighborhood.

Additional options: Go for a bike ride or walk around your neighborhood. If the season’s right, try out a pool or lake. You can also have an adventure at a museum, historical location, a nature preserve, farm, theater, gym or amusement park.

on the carousel

You never know where you’ll end up when you go on a mystery road trip adventure.

The opportunities are endless. Where else can you go? What other adventures can you have?

#4: Document Your Adventures

Keep a journal for your mystery road trip adventures.

Before, during and after your road trip, take lots of pictures. You can also have your kids draw pictures at each destination that you can add to the book.

When you get home, have each person write about his or her favorite part of the trip and then sign it.

keep a journal

Be sure to have your kids document their mystery road trips through stories, pictures they take and/or pictures they draw.

Keep your mystery road trip book in a place of honor at your home, so you can look at it and add to it anytime!

Some Final Thoughts

Whether or not you have a destination in mind, when you head out on a mystery road trip adventure with your family, you will end up at both interesting and ordinary places. Regardless, you will learn something new at each one and make some incredible memories.

The best thing about mystery road trips is that you can get there by any mode of transportation, you can find exciting things to do each season and they’re different every time. These adventures can be treasured bonding time that turns into invaluable family memories.

What do you think? Have you ever gone on a mystery road trip adventure? What was your destination? What did you do there? What did you and your kids discover or learn? Leave a comment or a fun photo below of your mystery road trip experience.

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About the Author, Johanna Hyland

Life is a road trip for Johanna…from flossing, kayaking, teaching and making days fun - all while raising 3 kids with special challenges. Discover her creativity and humor at JoStory. Other posts by »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Johanna! What a fun way to be spontaneous and explore. It doesn’t take much to go have an adventure!

  • Johanna Hyland

    Thanks Jennifer. This adventure never gets old. So simple and so fun for any age.

  • Heide Estrada

    Johanna, this is such a simple and great idea! Can’t wait to have a mystery road trip adventure with my kids, I know they will love it. :-)

  • Johanna Hyland

    Heide, thanks! Your adventure awaits! My older kids and even my girlfriends still want to play this. It is simple all around fun for all. Enjoy!

  • Eric Hyland

    Very nice. My wife and I are going to do the mystery road trip here soon just because it sounds fun even for adults.

  • Johanna Hyland

    Eric, thanks! We are all kids at heart. Take some photos of your fun adventure and post one here. Love to hear all about it!

  • Cassidy Hyland

    You just made going to the store and running errands ten times more fun! This is a very great idea! :)

  • http://johannahyland.blogspot.com Johanna Hyland

    Thanks Cassidy! It sure does make the everyday outings more of an adventure.

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