7 Road Trip Games That Train Your Astronaut Skills

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Space Nation Navigator

We packed the car this morning and started our 6.000 km road trip around Europe. That’s about the same distance as from London to the center of Earth’s core! We are going through several countries and cultures, with five kids and a dog. Long days on the road with the kids can be challenging and they really put your social skills to the test (being confined in a small “tin can” for a longer period of time is truly a test of your astronaut skills). So, I decided to list up seven different games, some of which were part of our recent Astronaut Training Bootcamp, but are still scalable to do as a family.

Road trips can be tiring and challenging – but they can also be quality time that brings people together and strengthens the bonds.

EVA – Extra Vehicular Activity

Game: Identify license plates of cars from other states or countries. This game can be played during a long drive, or even over a period of several days on the road. In space travel, EVA refers to activities that take place outside of the vehicle. In this case, it refers to vehicles that come from outside the state/country you are in.

Skills: Vigilance, memory, geography

Materials: None.

How to play:
1. The players compete to find cars with plates that come from furthest away. Plates from next state give 1 point. Plates from a state that does not have borders with the state you’re currently in give two points. Every time you find a plate that comes from further away than any previous plate you get extra 5 bonus point.

Additional game play: If you are driving within the US you can give 10 bonus points for plates that are not from the US (like states in Canada, Mexico etc.) or if you’re driving within the EU you can give extra 10 points for plates from outside the EU, or 20 points if the plates have a different alphabet (Cyrillic, Arabic…). But you have to be able to tell without googling that the plates are from outside EU/US. If you get that wrong you get 10 penalty points.


I saw this one on Autobahn 7 in Germany today. Japan! That’s a new record hard to beat. I met the driver at a gas station about an hour later and he told me he drove all the way, taking shore in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast and then crossing Siberia to Europe. Respect!

Alien Life Form

Game: Spotting animals and shouting out when you do. One of the big missions of space exploration is the search for extraterrestrial life. This game trains you in spotting and identifying such aliens.

Skills: Vigilance, memory, biology

Materials: None.

How to play:
Each time you see a new animal you have not seen before on the trip you shout “Alien Life Form”. Domestic animals are worth one point. Wild animals are worth two points. If you spot an animal you don’t know, you only get one point and the person next to you clockwise gets a chance of naming the animal getting one point as well if successful. Animals no one can recognize earns 5 points to the spotter and 5 points to the one who successfully identifies the animal (usually with the help of Google).
If you spot a roadkill you have to be the first one to shout “Dead Alien”. That takes 2 points away from everyone else playing.
The person with the highest score at the end of the day wins.

Alien life form spotted along the road in Zambia.

The Fortunate Space Traveler

Game: Identifying challenges and solving them by turning an unfortunate situation into a fortunate one. One of the most important astronaut skills is good problem solving. When you are entering uncharted territories you can never be fully prepared for what may come your way. Therefore you have to train your ability to react to unexpected situations and find the solution to any problem that may arise.

Skills: Problem solving, creativity, fast thinking

Materials: None.

How to play:
The first player starts by setting the stage: Where are we and what are we doing? Examples: “We are heading to Yellowstone. Unfortunately, it has been invaded by aliens.”
The next player (clockwise) responds: “Fortunately, I just finished my course in alien linguistics.”
The next player: “Unfortunately they are under attack by a pack of wolves.”
If you stumble you get a strike. If you strike three times you’re out.
The last man standing is the winner.

The Astro-Nautical Navigator

Game: Finding locations on a map based on (an emergency transmission from) a GPS coordinate. With everyone having a GPS tracker and an interactive map of the entire world in their pocket we seem to be losing our map reading and navigational skills fast. On other planets, we do not have satellites that locate us and tell us exactly where we are and what is around us. There we need to rely on old school map reading methodologies and navigational coordinates. At best. This game trains the skills needed to understand maps, coordinates and scales.

Skills: Navigation, map reading, GPS understanding, geography

Materials: A printed map. A ruler.

How to play:
One person is the plotter. The plotter googles the coordinates of a place. That place can be a castle, a mountain, a town, an island, a harbor or anything.
Another person is the wayfinder. The wayfinder then has to locate the place based on the coordinates on a paper map.
You can have one plotter or take turns. The winner is the wayfinder with the highest number of correctly identified places.

Churchill’s Cigar and Whiskey Bottle

Game: Taking the cigar out of the bottle. Note, the cigar has a bolt through it so it seems impossible. But it’s not.This is a mind game that really tries your patience. It is a good reminder that what seems impossible can actually be impossible. And that it is remarkable what can be fitted into a small space. Just think of a space craft. Or the Tardis. The Space Nation astronaut trainees had to solve this challenge in the vehicle on their way to location in Iceland on the first Space Nation field training exercise in Iceland.

Skills: Precision, problem solving, balance, patience

Materials: A bottle, wooden pin, a bolt, thin metal pin and a round wooden ball. You can buy this as a kit.

How to play:
You try to remove the cigar from the bottle without breaking anything. And I’m not going to tell you how, but everything in the bottle has a purpose. Everything. This should keep someone quiet in the car for a while.

The Naked Man in the Ocean Challenge

Game: A quiz. You can ask yes and no questions until you have figured out how he got there. And there is a totally logical explanation to it.This is a simple quiz which I heard when I was a teenager. And it might take you a continental coast to coast trip to solve it. Or a flight to the Moon and back, depending on how fast you are. In fact, it trains the skills needed to identify an unknown problem and figuring out a solution. You eliminate posibilities to narrow down to the correct answer. Similar to what the crew on Apollo 13 had to do when their spacecraft got damaged and they had no clue why, or how they would make it back.

Skills: Systematic problem solving, creativity, reverse engineering

Materials: None.

How to play:
One person knows the answer and challenges the others to solve it. The question is: There is a naked man in the middle of the ocean. There is nothing visible around except for a single straw in his hand. What happened?
The others in the car take turns in asking yes and no questions to get closer to the right answer.

The answer is here: Двое мужчин были в воздушном шаре и теряли высоту. Им пришлось бросить все за борт, даже одежду. Поскольку этого было недостаточно, нужно было прыгать через борт. Этот парень нарисовал короткую соломинку. (You can decode it with the help of Google translate).

The Capcom Exercise

Game: Communicating an image with no words. One of the most important people on the ground for any astronaut is the Capcom – or Spacecraft Communicator (originally Capsule Communicator). Every astronaut has a specific Capcom dedicated to direct communications with her, usually another astronaut as they are thought to be best to understand the situation that person is in when in space. Your Capcom may know your communication style and traits even better than your own family does. This close cooperation and understanding is of great importance because often quite complex things need to be explained fast and effectively. That is what this exercise does and is very similar to a mission from the first field training exercise in Iceland where the astronaut had to assemble a miniature satellite (which was actually a lamp from IKEA).

Skills: Attention, hearing, communications, team building.

Materials: Pens and paper.

How to play:

Round 1.
You create teams of two players – one is the astronaut and the other is the Capcom.
The Capcom gets two minutes to make a drawing. Can be anything. The astronaut can not see it. (If they sit next to each other in the car, make sure the astronaut is looking out the window or the Capcom’s drawing is hidden by a jacket or backpack or something.
The next five minutes the Capcom needs to instruct the astronaut to recreate the image with a pen and a pencil without showing the astronaut the image.
Discuss the results, what the outcome was, what were the challenges and what really works in the way it was communicated.

Round 2.
Reverse the roles. The astronaut becomes the Capcom and the Capcom becomes the astronaut.
The Capcom gets three minutes to create a drawing, which can be a little more complex than the last one.
The next eight minutes the astronaut has to recreate the image without seeing it. There are no instructions from the Capcom, instead the astronaut has to ask “Yes or No” questions to understand the image and know what to do.
Discuss the results, what the outcome was, what the main challenges were and what worked best in the way the questions were framed.

Filming a Capcom challenge in Iceland. The trainees had to assemble a small “satellite”, which was actually a lamp from IKEA, in bad weather wearing a space suit and getting the instructions via radio from the Capcom.

And if this isn’t enough, you can download The Space Nation Navigator App where you find a high number of different kinds of quizzes, puzzles and challenges to train your astronaut skills.

What are your favorite road trip and team building games? Add them in the comments and we might include them in our follow up post with a shout out!

Ps. I created a space themed road trip playlist on Spotify which you can find here: Space Nation Playlist

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