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My husband Andrew and I, we love playing board games, both alone and with friends!
Luckily, we didn’t have to say goodbye to board games just because we went traveling!
Nowadays there are quite a lot of travel size games for adults you can choose to take on your next trip. Whether you are traveling by car, bus, train, or airplane, travel games will never let you get bored during long-haul flights, monotonous train rides, and exhausting airport layovers.
That’s why my today’s topic is the best travel board games for adults. There is no shortage of travel games for children out there, but many of them are either too easy or simply boring to play when you don’t have children. So for this post, I decided to specifically choose a few travel games for adults: some of these are my all-time favorites, some are my friend’s staple games for board game nights, and some are just interesting games I found and am curious to play.
The cool thing? All of them have a smaller travel version that won’t take too much space in your bag, which makes them the best games to play while traveling. Also, most of them are suitable for 2 players, which is what we are always looking for as a travel couple.
Ready to pack some fun into your hand luggage? Read on!
Pssst… If you have kids, don’t leave immediately, many travel board games from my list are actually family-friendly! They are just not necessarily children-oriented.
Why play board games – 5 good reasons
1. You may learn new things about each other
Generally, board games are a great way to spend quality time together and maybe even learn new things about your friends or partner. Also, they help you find out more about your new acquaintances who you just met on a trip and invited to play, which might be the beginning of a new friendship. Whether you play against each other, in teams, or cooperate to beat the game, the engaging process of playing board games may show new sides of everyone’s personality you never knew existed!
2. It’s so much fun!
Up until we put all our belongings into storage and left to travel the world, we had many cool board games at home. We used to either play alone (let’s call it our kinda geeky idea of a date night) or invite a few friends to have a board games party.
Sometimes we’d also go to local cafés that are board games-friendly and often have some selection of unique board games you can play while you are there. This way even if you happen to get bored with the games you own, you can always go out and play something new!
By the way, you can absolutely look for such cafés when you travel. We uncovered an amazing place with thousands of board games when we were looking for ways to have fun in Copenhagen, check it out!
3. They are healthier than video games
I’m not gonna list here all the bad ways in which screen time impacts your health, but it’s a known thing. Games that are good for you are board games! They don’t affect your eyes and sleep, and you usually move more when playing a board game than when you sit in front of your screen, which is in many ways better for your physical wellbeing.
Another great benefit of board games vs video games is that they never run out of battery! Same as a good old paper book, board games are electricity-independent and also don’t make you recharge any of your devices.
4. Board games make you smarter
Not every board game is good enough to really make an impact, but the majority of ones on my list are!
In the process of playing board games, you engage in solving puzzles, building strategies, finding solutions, and making countless decisions. All these activities make your brain work in different ways. The more you play, the better you understand how it all works: you start to make better choices, you can predict the game situation farther forward, and the smarter you get.
Problem-solving skills are crucial for your dream life! Every life decision either takes you closer to your goals, or it doesn’t. Thanks to board games you learn to make better decisions and realize the consequences of your steps, which helps you a ton outside of a game board.
Some games also improve your teamwork skills, that will help you in numerous life and work circumstances!
5. They distract you from all kinds of travel stress
Even for the most experienced digital nomads who travel all the time, it may be stressful. No two trips are exactly the same: different cultures, different languages, various tricky local rules. Every new airport is a new experience, every tour company has its own policies, not even mentioning all those things that can go wrong (they rarely do, but we still worry every time, right?).
Well, maybe after your 50th flight you stop worrying about the amount of liquids in your hand luggage and whether or not you forgot to put your cute passport cover back on after the customs control. But until you get to that point, you have a lot to stress about.
Travel board games can easily distract you from all that noise in your head and bring you into a calm and positive mood instead of constant anxiety.
How to play board games while traveling
Depending on a game, you either need a dedicated surface like a desk to play or don’t. Simple card games like Uno can be played literally everywhere, but other ones require a bit of space. For most travel sized board games, a tray table like the one they usually have on Economy flights is more than enough.
Here are some places I could think of where you can play your travel board games
- In the back of the car on a road trip (don’t involve the driver!)
- In the airport lounge during a long layover or when there is extra time before boarding
- Anytime, anywhere, if you travel in a trailer or a motorhome
- On any flight as long as you have a tray table in front of you
- On the ground when you make a stop for a picnic at some beautiful field or forest
- In your hotel or Airbnb after a long day of exploring
- On a train with your travel buddies or neighbors (look for a restaurant car if there is no table in yours!)
- Whenever you are waiting for your camera to capture a thousand photos for that cool timelapse
- In a board game-friendly cafe or bar
This is not an extensive list! Everyone’s journey is different, and you’ll surely find your own places to play board games. Whenever you get bored and there is a reachable surface, go for it! There are even games you can play alone against the game itself in case you travel solo or are an introvert like me!
With that said, let’s finally take a look at my list of the best travel size board games!
10 best travel board games for adults
1. Struggle for Catan – Easy Civilization Building Board Game For Couples
This is a simplified travel version of a highly popular classic Catan board game: it doesn’t have an actual board or any little pieces, just a set of 110 cards with resources and city expansion options on them. It’s also suited for 2 players as opposed to the classic game (3-4 players), which makes it a great fit for traveling couples like us!
In Struggle of Catan you harvest resources like brick, wool, and grain to build and grow your kingdom. You’ll pave new roads and employ knights as you go, and strategically allocate your resources to survive during challenging times when there is shortage of goods at the market. You win when you grow your cities enough to get to 10 points, but it might be tricky when your opponents poach your knights and roads!
2. Exploding Kittens – Fun Travel Card Game For Adults
This fun game was first announced on Kickstarter and went really viral – it reached the goal of raising $10 000 in the first 20 minutes! This alone puts it on the list of best travel board games of all time! Despite the theme, it’s actually a family-friendly card game, unless you purchase a special adult version.
The idea is based on a widely known Russian roulette: when it’s your turn, you draw a kitten from the shuffled deck and hope that the top one is not an exploding one. There are many different cards that let you prevent an explosion or “see the future” and act accordingly. The game is quick and fun, which makes it a cool one to play anytime, anywhere.
Take a look at this quick 4-minute explanation by Matthew Inman to get the idea:
Consider purchasing a travel case to drastically minimize the size of the game for travel purposes.
3. Monopoly Deal – Quick Travel Sized Version Of A Famous Board Game
I never quite liked the well-known classic Monopoly board game because of how long it was. It would always get boring at some point and even if you win it’s not that fun after you waited another hour for it to finish.
I guess I wasn’t the only one feeling like that about classic Monopoly, as they eventually created a shorter travel-sized version that is suitable for my list of interesting board games to play! This one doesn’t have a board nor does it incorporate any essential tiny pieces that can easily get lost. You still have to buy properties and pay for rent, but the game ends when you collect 3 full property sets under your wing.
The more players you have, the longer it takes, with the two-player version being played for as quick as 5-15 minutes! Such a cool twist to an old long Monopoly, and especially great for travelers who are looking for short airport or airplane travel games.
4. Tic Tac Toe – Simply The Best Travel Board Game
I’m sure you know how to play it – and this wooden edition looks so cool and elegant that I couldn’t help but include it to my best travel board games list. Among my other travel games for adults mentioned here, this one is the easiest.
Tic Tac Toe board game is as simple as it can get: three items of yours in a row and you are a winner!
Whenever you have a few minutes to waste before airplane boarding, on the road, or even in a cafeteria waiting for the food, it’s a great opportunity to play Tic Tac Toe. This one is for those times when there isn’t enough time or space to properly sit, unfold, and play another game from start to finish. It’s also said to be a good conversation starter so you can even offer to play with someone you just met on your trip!
There is an even smaller version, but I like this one better and it is also suitable for travel.
5. Carcassonne – Medieval Village Board Game For Adults
Carcassone is a tile placing game with a simple mechanics and a very short rules list. Together you build a medieval French village and claim different kinds of territories. It involves some strategic thinking as with each step you need to decide if it’s worth it to put your limited troops on new lands versus laying your hands on someone else’s property to share the profits.
The end result depends on your strategy but is often unpredictable when there are more than two players. Also, sometimes you get lucky to draw the one specific missing tile before the very end and win the game when your chances were really low.
Check out this nice overview of a Carcassone gameplay by Watch It Played channel:
Carcassone won’t be on your top of games to play while traveling if you are a backpacker. I included it because it’s one of our favorites: it is suited for two players as well as for a bigger company of friends. This one won’t fit your pocket, but it’s a good option for picnics and road trips. As opposed to more popular card games, Carcassone tiles are thick enough to be played outside even when it’s windy.
There is also a travel-size Carcassone version available on Amazon that has smaller tiles and might be a better idea for your trip, but it doesn’t have enough reviews for me to recommend it properly and I haven’t checked it out myself as we have a standard edition.
6. Unstable Unicorns – Cute Travel Board Game To Play
In this game you get to build your own stable with baby unicorns, grow and protect them – can it get any cuter than that? The cards pretty much say exactly what you should do, and every player has an instruction card with a clear order of actions on it so you won’t forget anything.
The person who has the most colorful clothes is considered the unicorniest and starts the game! The cards are beautiful, the gameplay is well-thought, it’s very cute and fun to play, that’s why it made my list of best travel board games today!
Many people find the rules a bit confusing at first, so I suggest you watch this short video by Magic Orthodoxy to get the gist of it:
Besides the base game, there are many expansion packs with llamas, dragons, and even a 21+ adult NSFW pack. You can take a look at full version with all the expansion packs if you want to have it all, but it’s a bit too much for travel.
7. Never Have I Ever – One Of The Fun Travel Games For Adults Only
Who doesn’t know this game? If you ever struggled coming up with ideas when it was your turn to play, this fun board game edition is for you. It actually has lots of ideas written down on cards so you don’t have to invent the vehicle. It also makes the process faster as nobody waits too long for anyone to think!
Obviously, this is not a game for a family trip (actually, they have a special family edition just for that!), neither is it among games you should play with new acquaintances (unless everyone is super open about every aspect of their private life). And forget about playing this particular one in public transport!
The best time for Never Have I Ever is when you travel with a group of old friends. Opposed to common belief, it doesn’t require involving alcohol, although it helps shy people to open up. You may find out lots of new things about your friends!
Warning: Skip this one if you are super shy and easily offended as there are lots of innuendos and sexual context.
Average Time: Not specified, stop when you had enough.
Players: Best for 4-12, but possible even for 2.
8. Uno – Classic Card Games For All Ages
Uno is a staple card game for any occasion. It’s quick, super easy, and doesn’t require a big surface to play (just enough space for two piles of cards). It’s really family-friendly and loved by both children and adults: my 5-year-old sister picked it up in a matter of minutes and someone always happens to have it when we go out of town with a group of friends.
Basically, you have to match the current top card with something from your hand. It should be either the same color or the same number, but there are a few cards that let you “cheat” in form of reversing the order, skipping your turn, or giving the next player a hard time. The tricky part is having to call “Uno!” when you are left with one card or facing a penalty if someone else catches you! The game usually takes a few rounds and ends when someone scores 500 points.
Average Time: Varies. Can be 5 minutes or an hour. You can choose to make it fast by playing a quick round or two and count points to find the winner instead of waiting for 500 points.
We have this classic version, but there is also a more popular version in a tin, which is a bit bigger but still claimed to be travel-friendly.
9. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza – Fun Travel Game To Play With Friends
This game is quick, simple to understand, fast-paced, and really fun!
You each have a set of cards and you have to call the next name from ‘Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza” sequence while putting your own card on top. The hardest part is to trick your brain to say what you have to say instead of what it says on your card. When the card actually matches the called name, you have to put your hand on top: the one who is the last to do this loses the round and grabs all the cards. Whoever is out of cards first, wins the game. It’s really one of the best travel board games for adults if you just want to spend some quality time with your travel buddies without thinking too much about the game rules!
Prepare to have fun and laugh a lot with your friends! There are a couple of unexpected characters there as well.
Here is the overview from the creators Dolphin Hat Games themselves:
10. Chess – Good Old Classic Board Game
Although I’m not a big fan of this game, my husband loves it and plays all the time!
I’m sure I don’t need to explain the mechanics of chess to you. But in case you somehow don’t know about chess, it’s a classic strategy game between two players where you have to predict each other’s actions several moves ahead based on the current on-board situation in order to win. I couldn’t help but include this in my list as it’s an ancient game that has been played around the world since 7th century and will probably be on our list of must have board games to play forever.
The travel version is usually small and magnetic. The full set fits in your pocket and thanks to the magnets all the pieces stay put on their places even when your vehicle catches a rough road patch. In fact, you can even take the board, turn it upside down, move to someplace else, and continue the game there with the field situation intact! How cool is that?
Final thoughts on best travel board games for adults
Whichever game (or games) you choose for your next journey, don’t forget to put it in your hand luggage. You won’t necessarily have time to play while exploring a new city or engaging in cultural activities. Well, maybe a quick round during lunchtime or at your accommodation after a long day (that is, if you have any energy left for anything but lying down).
But when it comes to getting to your destination, there are lots of opportunities to play – like that 9-hour layover we had in Poland last year – and you usually don’t have your luggage with you at those times. Grab a travel size board game in your carry on – and thank me later!