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All you need for these games is a little bit of imagination.

SOMETIMES, FUN-LOVING groups of people find themselves in places where fun resources are scarce. Especially when traveling–you and your mates might be hankering for some playful competition in places where board games and even card games aren’t an option. Say you’re all in a hot tub, or a hut in the jungle, or a turbulent five hour bus ride, or hiking, or waiting in the coils of a very long line. You’ve all admitted that you tend to get way too into Scrabble, but what can you do? Here are a few games that require absolutely no materials — no table, no boards, no cards, not even a pen and paper.

How’s Yours?

In this game, a group of people teams up against one guesser to give clues that strike a balance between too easy and too hard. It’s kinda like twenty questions, but the only question the guesser can ask is “how’s yours?”

1. The guesser leaves the room (or just covers her ears and hums if you’re all stuck in a small space together).

2. The rest of the group comes up with something that everyone in the group owns or has. A few examples: an email account, a passport, a refrigerator, or a degree.

3. Once decided, the guesser approaches a person with the question, “how’s yours?” The questioned person gives a truthful clue that will eventually help the guesser figure it out, but nothing too vague or too obvious.

4. The guesser is only allowed one guess per clue given, and the guesser can either go around asking in a fair circle or pick on people indiscriminately for clues.

5. Vague clues like “mine’s made of matter” or “mine’s pretty good” are pointless because the guesser will never get any closer.

6. If your clue is too obvious and the guesser guesses the object on your clue, then you lose and you’re the next guesser. If the item is a passport, for example, you probably don’t want to say, “mine is full of stamps.” Better clues for passport: “mine might be worth something in the black market,” or “mine has an expiration date.”

I Went To Market

This may seem like a pure memory game at first, but there’s actually more to it than that. It’s also about using mental associations and mnemonics to think of things that only you are likely to remember. Optimum group size is 2-5 people.

1. The first person starts, “I went to market and bought a _____.” Say it’s a magazine.

2. The next person lists what has been said before, then adds something. “I went to market and bought a magazine and a pocketknife.”

3. Person three: “I went to market and bought a magazine, a pocketknife, and a margarita.”

4. Whoever equivocates is eliminated until one winner is left.

Twenty One

This is a memory game where you substitute words for numbers. In this game, go for speed – if you break the momentum then you are penalized with annoyed glares from the other players.

1. The group forms a circle and starts counting one person per number.

2. On multiples of 7, the person who says the number also makes a rule where one number becomes a sound or a word. So the person who lands on 7 might say, “from now on, 4 is “shazaam.”

3. Then the counting continues, and the person who lands on 14 might say, “the number 9 is now Bob Ross.”

4. The person on 21 makes a third rule, and then the counting starts over at one, with the new rules in place. The object of the game is to get to where all numbers have been replaced by something else. Whoever forgets to replace a number is out and/or drinks.

Would You Rather

More a rhetorical exercise than a game, this one’s about thinking up scenarios that are equally weighty. Creativity is key. The best part of the game is to see where the subjects and tones wander. It can get heavy and philosophical, but it’s most fun to shoot for levity and laughs. A few to get you started:

1. Would you rather have a leg that has fallen asleep for a week, or a funny bone tingle in your elbow for a week?

2. Would you rather live in a hunter gatherer society or 12,000 years in the future?

3. Would you rather have a permanent boogie hanging from your nose or a permanent piece of parsley stuck in your teeth?

Two Truths and a Lie

A getting-to-know-you game, but still a little spicier than obligatory ice-breakers.

1. Each person comes up three “facts” about themselves, two of which are true and one that is not.

2. Then everyone else guesses which two are true and which is the lie.

3. If you manage to stump everyone, you get a point.

TIP: There can be a lot of lag time between turns since it takes a lot of thinking up. Make the three “facts” similar in format. For example, 1) I have this tic where I rub rub my fingernails underneath each other 2) I have this tic where I bite my lower lip when I’m trying to recall something 3) I have this tic where I smell new food before eating it. Or, “I have this cousin who … / when I was a kid I wanted to be … / I used to have this nickname … / Every morning I … / I once won this contest … etc. If you have at least two truths of a kind, then making up a lie is easier.

Fortunately Unfortunately

This is a storytelling game that works well in bad luck circumstances. It will get you thinking about how much worse (and better) things could possibly be.

1. The first person comes up with the premise. “Once there were two identical twins who could always hear each other’s thoughts.”

2. Person two adds with a turn-for-the-worse plot twist. “Unfortunately, one day, one of them got the Price is Right theme song stuck in his head.”

3. Person three takes the story on a turn for the better. “Fortunately, this gave the other a great idea: a road trip to Los Angeles to be in the live studio audience.” Take the story as far as it will go, and see how badly (or happily) it can end.

Trace Messages

This is a sweet and cozy game for two. No winners, no losers, just good tactile fun with language.

1. Person one thinks of a message of several words for person two.

2. Person one then chooses and area of person two’s skin that person two cannot see. The upper back works well, or the forearm as long as person two doesn’t peek.

3. If the message has more than one word, decide together what ‘spacebar’ will be.

4. Letter by letter, person one writes her message on person two’s skin. Person two cannot guess until either a full word or the full message is complete.

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About The Author

Cynthia Ord

When Cynthia is not on some long-term travel jaunt, she is based in her hometown of Denver, CO. Her favorite topic of writing and research is tourism’s impacts. She also likes to tap into the offbeat and the quirk of a new place. She is a staff writer and editor at The Travel Word and tinkers with her own site,

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  • KarinMarijke

    Fun games, thanks for sharing.
    To add another one: lateral thinking games. 

  • Chris House

    Apologies for the length of this comment, written after some NYE red bulls.

    the games above are great for adding some flavour to eventful trips, they
    usually only involve a few people at a time. What do you do in a bigger group
    when everyone needs constant distraction? If you have travelled long enough in
    the Americas, you will have been trapped in a chicken bus from hell, spending
    painful hours that passed with inexorable slowness. Maybe in your seatless hell
    bus there was a small boy lying asleep against your cramping calf, an old man
    grabbing your underwear to stay upright as the bus swerved, and a fruit vendor
    with elbows made of flint sitting between your legs. There was in my bus.

    This is
    the time to break the safety glass on your ulimate travel survival game,
    Contact. But use with caution. Contact is the penicillin of travel games, and,
    if overused may lose its potency. Also, Contact is so addictive, so inclusive,
    that once people start playing they often lose track of time and end up missing
    their stop, and facing a more hellish bus for the return leg.

    So, how
    do you play?

    is a sort of verbal hangman-meets-crossword, with politics.

    Elect a king. Everyone else is a serf. (Feel free to call your king Mr.
    President or whatever else best reflects your socio-cultural values). The
    king’s goal is to stay king for as long as possible.

    2) The
    king chooses a word and tells the serfs the first letter for starters. The
    serfs earn a new letter from the king every time they stump him or her with a
    riddle of their own, until a serf finally guesses the king’s word, thus becoming
    the new king.


    “I’m thinking of a word that starts with ‘e’ ” (is thinking of

    serf (any serf can guess): “Is it that the universe is getting

    “No, it is not entropy.” (The king has solved the riddle so doesn’t
    owe the serfs the next letter.)

    Serf A:
    “Is it a species that is native to a place?”

    Serf B:
    “contact!” (this means he thinks he knows the answer in case the king

    “Umm … is it … earlybird?” (the king only gets one wrong guess)

    Serf A:

    Serf B:
    “Is it ‘endemic’?”

    Serf A:

    The two
    serfs have just outsmarted the king, who now must tell them the next letter of
    the word.

    “I’m thinking of a word that starts with ‘ea’.”

    any serf can throw a riddle out there (now beginning with ‘ea’) and any other
    serf can yell ‘contact.’ The idea is to conspire with others and come up with
    something only they know.

    king only owes the crowd a letter if he fails and the ‘contact’ yeller gets the
    correct answer. Only the first serf in any round to yell ‘contact’ can take a

    if either the king of the contact yeller guesses any plausible answer, they are
    right. For example, if Serf A’s riddle is, “Is it something you can find
    in your ear?” and the king answers, “no, it is not an earwig,”
    he is right, even if Serf A was thinking “earwax.” ‘Plausible’ is
    decided by the group.


    several rounds, the crowd of serfs has ascertained that the kings word begins
    with ‘earthq’. In order to solve the king’s word and be crowned the next king,
    a serf has to submit his guess in the form of a riddle that the king tries
    desperately to dodge by giving a different right answer. 

    For example:

    serf: “is it a natural phenomenon in which the earth’s tectonic plates
    start to move, causing the ground to shake?”

    king can only save himself if he can answer something else (beginning with
    ‘earthq’) that could also be correct. An impossible task, the king admits

    “Yes, it is an earthquake.”

    Even if
    the king deferred to a ‘contact’ yeller, who then guesses ‘earthquake,’ the
    round is still over and the knowing serf who made the riddle is the new king.

    notes on etiquette

    a group will find that people share areas of specialty not shared by a specific
    king. Dutch travelers will likely know Dutch prime ministers, for example. How
    much you use this tactic is a personal choice, but the game seems to work best
    when it is only used to unseat (or get a letter from) a particularly
    knowledgeable king when conventional questions have failed.

    must be theoretically possible for all travelers to know the answer to any
    questions. For example, questions like “The date of my mum’s
    birthday” are not allowed.


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