Two years ago my two kids and I started noticing something odd around town. There seemed to be an inordinate number of out-of-state license plates. Of course, we live in a tourist destination, and we commonly see Quebec, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New England states mix in with our New York plates every year from Mid-May to Labor Day. But at some point something happened. Whether North Americans decided that traveling by car was much safer than by air, or our lovely little town in the Adirondack Mountains started receiving amazingly good press, we will never know. But the fact remains: we could now see cars from all over without going farther than the local supermarket.
Rather quickly a game developed. What state would we see next? Could we possibly see all fifty states? What about Alaska? What about Canada? Which one would be the most interesting? Which state or province would have the most unique license plate – by far?
When I was growing up my father loved taking long, extended vacations by car. We drove from Albany, New York, across the country to California, down through Mexico to the border of Guatemala, and across Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska. I have seen almost every license plate in North America, and I already knew where THE best license plate would be from. The Northwest Territories of Canada has a license plate shaped like a Polar Bear!
The kids and I have seen cars from the mid-Atlantic states: Maryland, Virginia, Georgia. We have a lot of Snow Birds here, grandparent types that spend the winters in Florida and register their cars down there too. We saw quite a few from South Carolina, so Snow Birds must roost there, also. Then came the Midwest: Ohio, Illinois, Kansas. Every once in a while we would see Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. The rarest ones would be Montana, Oregon, Nevada. The cars came from across Canada too: Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia.
Last winter we stopped for gas and found ourselves behind a car from the Yukon Territory. Two young men had come down to play hockey at our local American Hockey League team. My kids were excited – I asked the hockey players about the Polar Bear license plate and they confirmed “Yes, it still exists.” We still had a chance of spotting it. Recently I found myself behind a car from Alaska. I almost missed it because the Alaska plates are so similar to the old New York plates.
The kids were quite excited when I told them. Now we just need to spot Hawaii and we have all 50 US states. But we have yet to see the Elusive Polar Bear License Plate. Wanting to take long, extended vacations by car may be inherited, because I feel a road trip coming on.
If you want to play a license plate game with your kids, don’t just stick to spotting the states. I play a word game with my older son, trying to form the letters into words. EGP- 123 is eggplant, AZC-321 is Aztec, and so on. Or for further ideas, try a great book or game:
- Nifty Plates from the Fifty States has a map, 50 license plate shaped cards with information on each state, pencil and notepad all in a nifty license plate shaped box. I might want this one for myself.
- The License Plate Game, Puzzle & Activity Book has over 85 games, puzzles and activities, all based on license plates.
- Ultimate Sticker Puzzles: License Plates Across the States has lots of in car activities, with the bonus of using included license plate stickers and map to play the license plate state game.
- Trunki is particularly great for younger kids as there are no loose pieces. When a state’s plate is spotted, the piece on the board is just flipped over! It’s a great way to learn the name and location of all fifty states.