Travel Tales / Travel Tips

The License Plate Game

If you’ve never played the License Plate Game, you’ve probably never been on a road trip.  If you’ve been on road trips and not played the License Plate Game, you’ve been missing out on one of the simplest and cheapest forms of car entertainment.

Way back in the pre-portable-TV-screen-and-DVD-player-built-into-your-car days, kids had to find ways to actually entertain themselves in the car.  There were lots of games we learned or invented, but nothing was easier than writing down which state license plates we’d seen and counting who could find the most.  It’s a game I’ve continued as an adult, because what else are you gonna do driving across states like North Dakota?

I haven’t just continued the game, I RULE at it!  On my last road trip I managed to spot ALL 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, half the Canadian provinces, and even a few Mexican states.  So as we prepared to drive from Los Angeles, CA to Durham, NC, I was ready for another round of victory.  By now I recognize all the state plates (including the states that have multiple designs) and know the best places off the highway to look for tourists, so obviously I was well-prepared for this challenge.

My home state is one of the hardest to find because there are so few people

My home state is one of the hardest to find because there are so few people.  This DE car was at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.

Turns out not a lot of Northerners want to visit New Mexico and Texas in the summer.  In fact, there seemed to be NO cars from anything other than the neighboring states.  By the time we’d hit Oklahoma, I gave up.  Clearly I-10 and 1-40 aren’t as tourist packed as the interstates farther north.  And for some reason, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas don’t draw the same throngs as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.  This would be my first road trip NOT playing the license plate game because I was losing, and losing is no fun. (Losing is even worse when there’s only one person playing :/ )   So instead of losing, I decided to be a quitter.

Yellowstone is great for finding license plates because people visit from all over the country/world and bison like to use the roads as trails, meaning you will spend a lot of time looking at the cars in front of you

Yellowstone is great for finding license plates because people visit from all over the country/world and bison like to use the roads as trails, meaning you will spend a lot of time looking at the cars in front of you

It wasn’t until Tennessee that I began to wonder if maybe I had given up too soon.  At the Bush’s Beans museum, café and factory in Dandridge, TN I saw at least a dozen different states!  Who knew beans were so popular?  But still, it wasn’t really enough to get me playing again, I had given up on one of my favorite pastimes.

Photo-op outside Bush's Beans museum, factory and cafe

Photo-op outside Bush’s Beans museum, factory and cafe

The first round of our travels ended at an apartment complex in Durham, NC, where my father-in-law is temporarily residing due to a house fire.  Had it not been for that fire we would never have even seen this apartment complex, but it is the MOTHER LODE!!!  Located between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the place is crawling with out-of-staters!  There’s about two dozen different states represented in the parking lot, and all states I hadn’t seen yet.  Our California Prius even ended up next to another California Prius!

I’m back to being as excited as a kid in a candy store at the site of new license plates.  And I learned a few valuable lessons from the experience:

  1. Don’t give up just because something isn’t going your way at first!
  2. Bush’s Bean factory is the best stop near I-40 for finding out-of-staters, and eating beans.
  3. The only places that rival Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon in terms of license plates are college towns!
I WIN!!!  The 50th state I needed on our 2013 road trip.  Don't know how I found Hawaii before Mississippi, but I did, twice.

I WIN!!! The 50th state I needed on our 2013 road trip. Don’t know how I found Hawaii before Mississippi, but I did, twice.

 

Have you ever played the License Plate Game?  If so, did you ever find a secret jackpot I should know about for my next trip?!?!?!?

 

 

License plate game

License Plate Game I made for my sister’s northern cross-country drive that includes Canada. Click the link below for a full resolution pdf

 

License plate game

Bush’s Beans Visitor Center

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One thought on “The License Plate Game

  1. Pingback: My Love-Hate Relationship with the South | destinationdenise

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