5 Best Word Games for Vacation Family Fun

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My family is a Scrabble family. Every holiday or vacation, we bust out our board, extra trays, and our battered Scrabble dictionaries. We know how to stack words like pros, we have strange rules we’ve adapted over the years, and at least one person uses all of their letters per game. There are no “cats” in our games – try “qat.” Or “oi.” Or “aa.”

Scrabble and other word games have become honored parts of our family vacations. Rarely do we just sit on the beach and relax—going to the lake is really just an excuse to play a word game in the sunshine. So for the rest of you linguistically inclined families, here are five of the best to entertain you on a road trip or while relaxing on the sand:

Apples to Apples

Apples to ApplesThis is the game that will definitively teach you the difference between nouns and adjectives. Each player gets a stack of red noun cards—celebrities, places and objects. One person pulls a green card with an adjective on it. The others pick the red card that best picks that adjective. Then the person with the green card gets to decide who has the best noun-adjective pairing. The winner keeps the green card, and whoever has the most green cards at the end wins. The game is fun, slightly controversial and a great way to learn a lot about the way your family and friends think.



Scrabble dictionaryIt’s a classic for a reason, folks. Build words, show off your vocabulary, and try and stump your competitors by knowing all the obscure two-letter words (like “qi”). But remember to bring along a Scrabble dictionary—not only will it help you win, but you wouldn’t believe the crazy words they accept.

Variations on Celebrity

I’ve played a 150 versions of Celebrity, but here are the two I like the best:

– Write down a bunch of celebrity names on pieces of paper and then divide into teams of two. One member of the team picks a name, then starts a timer while they use key phrases to try and get their teammate to guess the correct name. The quickest team wins the round.

– For a simpler game, get your group into a circle. One person starts by saying the name of a movie star, then the next person has to name a movie or television show that person was in. The next in line has to come up with a different celebrity who was in that same movie, and so on. If someone gets stumped, they have to leave the circle, until only one person remains.


Banangrams croppedFor word game experts, Bananagrams is an insanely quick game that’s over in minutes. You spread the lettered tiles face down on a flat surface. Every player takes a certain amount depending on who’s playing, usually 8 or 10. The second you say “peel,” the game is on, and you have to create words using the letters you have as quickly as possible. When someone uses all their letters, they yell “split,” and everyone has to take another letter from the pile. You can get crazy bogged down with a “q” or “v” or “j” or any letter that doesn’t easily fit into the crossword style jumble you’ve been creating. Fun and fast, this is the game for those who can’t stand how slow Scrabble can sometimes be.


Would You Rather

Perfect for entertaining kids (or imaginative adults!) “Would You Rather” is one of those games that never goes out of style. Bust it out on a road trip and keep everyone entertained for hours. Here are some of the best ones I’ve come up with:

  • Would you rather have roller skates permanently attached to your feet, or have to ride on a cow every time you leave the house?
  • Would you rather have a snake tattoo on the side of your face, or lose three fingers on your non-dominant hand?
  • Would you rather have the ability to fly, but never know when you would lose that ability; or never be able to fly at all?


Recommended Reading:

The Book of Word Games by David Parlett (Echo Point Books & Media)

coverFor a more complete list of word games, try this comprehensive guide. Parlett is the inventor of his own games, as well as a witty and entertaining author who specializes in writing about card and board games. This book covers over 150 word games, including car games like “I Spy,” more common ones like “Boggle,” or obscure British games like “Aesop’s Mission.” It’s a must-read for any lover of word games, or any family who would rather play Scrabble than lie out in the sun.








Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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