I love summertime in Kansas City!  As a teacher, it’s my chance to get out with my family and explore all this city (and the surrounding suburbs) have to offer.  What’s not to love about Kaleidoscope, the trains at Union Station, Worlds of Fun, Oceans of Fun, Deanna Rose…I could go on and on.  Oh!  I forgot about Shatto Dairy, the Museum at Prairie Fire…we live in a fantastic city!

But every once in awhile, we get the urge to hit the road and see what our neighboring states have to offer.  Now, this isn’t as spontaneous as it sounds.  This takes research and planning, because we like to do things on the cheap (hence no mention of places like Hawaii).  My hope is that these suggestions will save you busy families time and money, when you’re looking for a chance to get out of town for a bit.

Visit a zoo in a neighboring state

While we love our zoo in Kansas City, we are lucky to have some amazing zoos within a few hours drive from us.  The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska is just 3 hours away. The new Alaskan Adventure splashground is perfect for these dog days of summer.  The St. Louis Zoo is also very highly regarded. The new Polar Bear Point exhibit just opened, and Caribbean Cove, which has stingrays to touch and sharks to watch, is open for the summer.  Other amazing zoos across the country include the San Diego Zoo, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the free Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

‘Tis the season for state fairs

My husband grew up in Iowa, so every August, we trek 3 hours north to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair.  We absolutely love it!  My kids can’t get enough of the livestock competitions because, well, we live in suburbia and had no idea there was so much judging criteria for rabbits, chickens, etc. But let’s be honest…we go for the food.  Our family’s favorites are the Jr. Donuts, pork chops on a stick, the “beef sundae” at the Iowa Beef Producers’ tent, Wonder Bars, and grilled ears of Iowa sweet corn.  Other notable state fairs are in Texas, California, and Minnesota.

Hit the beach

If your family loves sinking their toes in the sand, there are plenty of places that will satisfy your need.  I used to live in Chicago, and I loved to visit the many beaches that lined Lake Michigan.  I also have friends who take yearly trips to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and swear it is paradise.  When I lived in Washington, D.C., my friends and I spent a number of summer weekends at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, one of many fantastic beaches lining that state.

Go camping

My parents love to tell the story about the one and only time they went camping with another couple and 4 children, all under age 5.  It was hot.  The mosquitos were as big as birds.  It rained every night and flooded out the tents.  The highlight of the weekend was four perfectly-cooked, sunny-side-up eggs on the camp stove.  Now, this was 1977 (and my parents aren’t campers).  Camping has evolved into a “home away from home” experience.  Go to Pinterest and type in “camping with kids.”  You will instantly see hundreds of ideas for camping with kids on the cheap.  I particularly liked this infographic.

Before you pack up the trunk and hit the road for a nearby campground, try camping in your own backyard.  Let your kids experience sleeping outdoors within steps of your house (and a bathroom) and see how they handle night noises and sleeping on the ground.  Roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire pit.  Tell ghost stories.  Read or play games by flashlight.  While it is your backyard, you can turn this into an overnight “escape” if you aren’t sure everyone is ready for an actual campground.

Whether you are going on a week-long vacation, or a quick, overnight jaunt, do your research before you go.  Pinterest is my Google, and I can always find fun ideas for making the most out of our family vacations…no matter how small.