How I survived 19 hours in the car with my 5 year old son

I found out a few weeks ago that Jim needed to go out to AZ for 3 days for work. Since his high school friend and co-worker lives out there, he wanted to stay over the weekend as well to hang out. That meant I’d be a single mama for 7 days. Obviously I’d be working full time still, so during the week it wouldn’t be that much more work, but over the weekend, I’d be Christopher’s sole entertainment, which meant no alone time for me until bedtime each night.

Can you feel my panic?

I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for Christopher and me to visit my parents. The only problem was that on such short notice, plane tickets were $500+ each. No way was I going to pay that much! Especially when it’s only a 9.5 hour drive. Only. Haha!

I knew I needed to do some serious planning if we were going to survive this trip. We’ve driven from Milwaukee to Mayville, NY before, but it’s always been the three of us. And then Jim and I usually take turns sitting in the back with Christopher, so we can play with him or watch movies or whatever.

He and I have driven to Minneapolis before alone, but that’s only 5.5 hours. And even then it’s gotten a little treacherous with me trying to hand him things or changing out audiobooks or whatever. I didn’t want to endanger our lives (too much anyway).

So here’s what I did…


I went to Target and loaded up on snacks. I didn’t want to eat fast food on the road. It would slow us down and make me feel greasy and gross.

I didn’t feel like consolidating, and I knew, with only two of us in the car, we’d have a ton of room, so I loaded them all in a big box, pre-opened all of the lids, and belted it into the front seat of my Prius.


I packed two bins of toys. I originally intended to switch the bins half way through the drive, but we didn’t need to. So we had fresh toys for the ride home.

I belted the toy bin in the seat next to Christopher, so he’d be able to reach whatever he needed, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the bin sliding across the seat or falling onto the floor.

Each bin contained books (easy reader and picture books), coloring books or paper or High Five magazines, markers or scissors and glue, a measuring tape (I thought that might be fun), toys (cars, planes, ninja turtles), Etch-a-Sketch or similar toy, small puzzles or beads, etc. He played with some stuff, but I brought a lot more than we needed. That was fine with me! We had plenty of space.


I got 6 audiobooks from the library. Then a couple days later went back and got 6 more, so we’d have different books for the return trip.

My car has a 6 disc CD player, so I pre-loaded the CDs before the drive and put corresponding post-it notes on the books numbered 1-6, so I wouldn’t have to load while driving. It worked really well. I handed Christopher the stack of books, and he told me which disc he wanted to listen to. (We ended up doing them in order on the way there, and on the way back, we only listened to a couple of the books.)

MOST IMPORTANTLY, Jim loaded up the iPad with new movies before he left, so Christopher had plenty of his more recent favorites to keep him entertained. And that meant I got to put in my ear bud (only one ear, so I could still hear him), and listen to my audiobook. I listened to Armada on the way out and Graceling on the way back. I squeezed in about 4 hours of listening each way. That helped a lot!


Each time we stopped (minus the first two times because I forgot), I gave Christopher a surprise from the trunk. He loved this! I had raided the Target dollar bins and picked out activity books, flash cards, an easy reader book, stickers, and a cardboard cut out of a race car with special markers and even glitter! I grabbed a few big picture books from the library as well: a cat book, a DC Comic dictionary, and a Lego encyclopedia. I got Lego sets too, but he couldn’t do those in the car alone unfortunately.

The activity books and the race car were big hits, but the biggest hit of all was a roll of masking tape. I got this idea from Jennifer at That’s What She Read. Thanks so much! On the way home he spent three hours on and off cutting pieces of tape and sticking them all over the window.

He enjoyed this activity so much that he continued working on the window for twenty minutes after we got home, and he has been sticking tape to the windows in my car and Jim’s car for the last two days. Haha.

It better come off.


A couple of times I gave Christopher some chocolate as a treat instead of giving him a surprise. He calls Hersey’s bars “Wonka Bars” since we watched Willy Wonka and the Chococolate Factory. On the way out he had a half bar without a problem. On the way home I gave in and let him have a whole bar. He ate all but once piece and then had a stomach ache for the next few hours. Oops!

I also packed some small candy treats for myself: Sour Patch Kids and Haribo Gummy Bears – my favorites!


The drive wasn’t bad at all. Christopher got a little grumpy around the 6 hour mark on the way out there, but I think it was more related to lack of sleep (I’d woken him up at 4:30 AM to avoid Chicago traffic) and the fact that I was on the phone with my sister at the time, so he wasn’t getting enough attention. The activity books required that I grab them every two pages and read him the (thankfully brief) instructions on what to draw.

We missed an exit near Cleveland on the way out, so we lost about 15 minutes there, which made me a little grumpy too. But the drive home was event free! It seemed a lot faster too because once we hit Chicago it felt like we were almost home (even though we had two hours left).

I won’t be rushing out to do this drive again any time soon, but it’s good to know we can handle it when we need to. We had a great time visiting with my parents and my brother and his family. Christopher got some good grandparent and cousin time. I got to read a whole book and hang out with my family. It was a great weekend!

Have you taken any road trips this summer? How do you keep your kids entertained?

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad it went well too. I took my work laptop just in case I couldn't stand to drive home on Sunday and needed to stay out there and work remotely for a couple of days. I'm glad that wasn't necessary. šŸ™‚

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