KC on the Cheap

So President’s Day weekend was calling my name, and we are just coming off a bit of a financial slump with Kareem having lost his job etc. Too cold to camp, we were racking our brains to find a fun getaway we could treat our kids to…. after throwing around LOTS of ideas (and now generating lots of fun long-weekend getaways to try out some other time!), we landed on Kansas City. Mostly due to a deal on lodging that I got for there- I have said it many times, but flexibility is key when trying to travel on a budget! Be open to the deals.

I have been to Kansas City a handful of times, but never was super enthralled with it. Had a good time each time, but was never really compelled to return. I was usually there because of an event happening, not as a destination. Well, this time it was a destination and I was determined to find some fun- and as close to free as possible!- things to do there.

We arrived late- later than I wanted to- Friday night. We got some food and got to the hotel to get some sleep- I knew we were going to be busy!

Being Presidents Day weekend, I wanted to include some presidential stuff, so on Saturday we hit up Independence, MO. Truman Home National Historic Site includes multiple sites that were significant to President Truman’s life, and guess what- it’s all free! Some of it was still closed due to COVID, but we had a nice home tour and saw some other sites as well.

We hit up the Presidential Library and Museum. We spent much more time here than I thought we would. The kids were very engaged, and it was awesome. The tickets for this were $12 a piece, but all the kids were free, so total was $24. Pretty great!

We hit up Clinton’s soda fountain for ice cream, which was super affordable. This was the spot where President Truman worked as a kid.

We walked around some other sites in Independence including the Community of Christ Temple which will reopen to visitors on March 1. We also visited the Visitors Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We did the (free!) tour and watched the (free!) films and did the (free!) exhibits and playroom. The kids really enjoyed this stop.

We also stopped by the National Frontier Trails Museum. I don’t remember the breakdown in ticket prices, but it cost us about $24 total for our family of six. We really loved this museum. And afterward, we hiked out to see the swales (ruts leftover from the wagons on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Santa Fe Trails) which was one of the kids’ favorite parts of the whole trip. And that was free, of course.

When doing places like this where we know that evening entertainment may be limited, if we are staying in a hotel, we try to get a hotel with an indoor pool for some (free!) wear you out type of evening activity. We also like a hot breakfast provided. 😀

On Sunday, we visited two art museums. At the Nelson-Atkins, we did the outdoor sculpture park trail. We did not do the interior of the museum this time, but it is free. We also visited the Kemper Contemporary Art Museum which is much smaller than the Nelson-Atkins which was a contributing factor to our choice of bringing small-ish kids with us. This museum also had free entry and free parking. There was also an area for the kids (or any visitors, it was not just for kids) to create art.

After that, the biggest ticket item we did was the science museum. The tickets were $14 each. However, we had FIVE HOURS of fun there and could have stayed even longer. It was definitely worth it.

The science museum is located in Union Station which is still a working train station. We walked around there and enjoyed the beautiful architecture. We walked across the freight bridge over the tracks, and they have a model train exhibit which stole Jimmy’s heart. All the kids really enjoyed it. And this was all- you guess it- free!

We ate at Fritz’s restaurant and walked around Crown Center. Fritz’s is very reasonably priced, and the kids loved seeing the trains deliver the meals. It was very fun.

We did an evening sunset at the Liberty Memorial high atop a hill in the middle of the city. Which, of course, was also free. And a really lovely memory together.

On the way home, we went out of our way to visit St. Joseph, MO and the Pony Express Museum. This Museum charged $8/adult and $2-$3 per child, depending on age. Kareem wasn’t able to join us, so we did this very cheaply as well. This was very neat, but it was the only site we really enjoyed in St. Joseph, so I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to go there again.

We hit up Let’s Make Art. If you’ve followed me for long, you know that we are big fans of LMA and their YouTube channel. We got to see the store and the kids got to go in the back and see their filming studio. They loved this! We let them pick something out from the store, but my cousin had given them each $25 to spend on the trip, so it was free for me. 😀

We needed some outdoor time- it was so gorgeous out! So we went hiking at one of the four remaining covered bridges in Missouri. (More about that here.) This wasn’t a long or strenuous hike, so we lingered and had a lovely time.

We also stopped in Marceline to see Disney’s boyhood home and dreaming tree and barn. My stepson is a HUGE Disney fan, so I knew he would love this. And so we enjoyed the sunset from the barn.

So. A very FULL weekend that did not empty our pockets! Attractions for six of us altogether was about $150. Can’t beat that! We used some Christmas money we had gotten and a tank of gas, and it was really worth it. None of the kids wanted to leave, and they all had lots of great things to say about the trip. A success!

Congaree National Park with Kids

Congaree National Park was an absolute treat.  I am always looking for National Parks to visit on our trips, and I came across this one about halfway between Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.  Perfect!  As I started researching, I found that it is regarded by many as one of the most underrated national parks in the system.  It really offers a lot more than you might expect from a national park with virtually no roads through it! 

The park is located near Columbia, SC.  It is some of the tallest deciduous forest on Earth and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, according to the NPS.  

We opted for hiking as our choice activity, as we only had a few hours for our stop.  But you can canoe, kayak, and camp here as well.  There are even canoe trails!  They offer frequent ranger-led activities too, and a great junior ranger program, which we did while we were there.  

We started with a picnic at the picnic area outside the visitor center which was as fun as it looks here- hah!

Attitudes improved once they had some food and got amped about the cool hike! It’s amazing what a little food, rest, play, and water will do for a person.

We did the Boardwalk Loop Trail which had a really cool “tour” pamphlet associated with it.  You can also get this digitally if you prefer.  It was super informative!  Between that and our Junior Ranger activities, we learned a ton!  🙂  While planning this trip, I read that the boardwalk floods from time to time, so check before you go.  We also spurred off on another trail- I think it was the Bluff Trail.  Gorgeous!

The park is swamp and forest.  On the Boardwalk Trail, you will see the river floodplain, an oxbow lake, swampland, and hardwood forest.  It is incredibly diverse landscape over a few short miles.  The loblolly pines were our favorite thing to say on the hike, and we loved seeing and hearing lots and lots of birds and animals.  

We had visited Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in March, and it had swampland too.  The kids noticed similarities and differences to that one, and it was really fun to hear their observations.  Lucy said it looked like a fairy forest, and I quite agree. 

The kids all earned their Junior Ranger badges! They take this pretty seriously, and the activities were really great for discovering plants and wildlife on our hike.

It was a great way to spend the Sunday afternoon.  We followed it with pizza at a classic dine in Pizza Hut and then drove straight to the ocean- more about that here.  

Exploring Historic Charleston with Kids

Whenever we go on vacation, as you may know from my previous post, I try to find things that are free or low-cost.  It’s also important to me that we all experience the uniqueness of the destination.  While putt putt golf is fun and entertaining, it’s pretty much the same everywhere.  So our list usually includes historic and cultural sites so that we can appreciate where we are in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Charleston has a lot of history and a lot of culture, so we were excited to explore!  The first morning we were in the city, we took time to walk around the historic area of the city.  We also made a few stops, including visiting the historic Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.  This building has been there since 1771, and it is currently a historic site revolving around the history of colonial Charleston and the American Revolution.  Many American revolutionaries were imprisoned in this dungeon.  

You can enter for a small fee.  Kids under 6 are free, and kids under 12 get in for $5.    They offer a combo ticket of this and the slave market museum, but we took a hard pass on the combo due to the ages of our young children.  It is open everyday.  

You are free to explore the main and upper floors of the building, and there is a guided tour of the lower level (the dungeon!) offered.  The people who work here were dressed in period dress and were very excited to have children visiting, so they were very enthusiastic and welcoming to our family.  The kids got to sign a copy of the declaration of independence, and at the time we were there, there was a man doing a musket demonstration.  George Washington visited here and held a big party in the ballroom, so that was an exciting point of interest for our older boys.  There was a lot to see and learn about regarding the American revolution.  We haven’t gotten to visit many revolutionary historic sites, so this was especially interesting and fun for us.

There were also a number of models of historic ships that really piqued all of the kids’ interest.  We went down to the dungeon for the guided tour.  This was a very informative and entertaining tour.  There are also exposed old foundational city walls to see down here, and there were many stories of brave and loyal American revolutionaries that were very intriguing to our older kids.  Jimmy lost interest and became somewhat disruptive, so we took a break.  He was tired, as you can see, but he did well the rest of the time at the place.  We were there for a couple hours.

We walked around the city and got to see the famous rainbow row.  We visited the pineapple fountain as well of course.  Charleston is a beautiful city, and it was a treat to just take it all in.  The kids noticed differences between home and here, and they asked lots of good questions about why it was the way it was.

The city has a big historic market called the City Market which is also open daily.  We had lunch across the street from it on our city day.  It was very lively and busy!  There were many people weaving and selling seagrass baskets, which we came to see pretty much everywhere we visited.  

Our first morning getting acquainted with Charleston and its history and charm was delightful!  We were so happy and grateful to be there and excited for what was next!

Favorite Charleston Beaches with Kids

We didn’t really choose South Carolina; South Carolina chose us. 

When we were looking for a spot for our summer vacation, we had one specific week to do it.  I have been planning a trip to South Dakota for three years and have never gotten to take it.  So I was ready for South Dakota!  However, Kareem really wanted to go somewhere with a beach.  I started pricing them out to compare some beach locations with South Dakota, and there were three pretty affordable beach locations- Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.  These were about the same price as South Dakota.  We eliminated Virginia, thinking we will do that when they’re older.  We hemmed and hawed and then…. Then an opportunity to go to a music festival in North Carolina came up, and the opportunity to stay with one of my oldest friends, well the decision was made for us.  South Carolina beaches, here we come!  

We drove from Congaree National Park near Columbia straight to the ocean.  Our kids couldn’t wait to see the ocean, despite the fact that it was rainy and evening time.  We drove straight to Sullivan Island, not far from where we were staying.  I chose this beach due to the proximity to where we were staying.  We ended up visiting once more during our stay, on our final day in town.  This is an upscale beach community, and you definitely feel that vibe visiting.  Incidentally, this island is growing due to the way that the current carries the sand and the harbor prevents sand from being carried further south.  There are many, many beach entries along the island.  There is a coast guard tower here on the island as well.  The beach was very quiet during both of our visits.  The water was super calm, and we had some dolphins swim near us.  

Something very important to note about the beaches at Sullivan’s Island- there are no public amenities.  No public parking lots, showers, or restrooms.  So be prepared for that.  This is probably not one that I would visit again with children.  

We had the absolute pleasure of taking a boat out to Morris Island, an uninhabited barrier island very near a very old lighthouse.  While Sullivan’s Island is expanding, Morris Island, which is south of the harbor, is eroding.  It was a very cool beach to visit, though it is wild and we did not do any swimming here.  We did, however, collect about forty pounds of shells!  Collecting shells was a primary goal on this trip. And the shells here on Morris Island were plentiful!  And a very diverse finding of shells, though there were lots of oyster shells here.  No swimming, but a beach definitely worth visiting!  Of course, no public amenities.  In fact, it is only accessible by boat.  On the way, though, you will see some amazing wild sights, including TONS of dolphins!  

Folly Island Beach is very close to Morris Island.  This was a great one.  It may not have been the favorite beach, but it was a favorite evening. We got to see a double rainbow here, and the sky was super dramatic as we were there in the late afternoon into the evening.  We saw the most spectacular sunset and were treated to some wildlife sightings here too, including dolphins and a manta ray!

While we did not encounter a ton of public amenities, there is lots of street parking and public restrooms and showers available. The county park has ample parking and other amenities available there as well, including umbrella rentals.  There are lifeguards at the county park beach area, though we were not down that far. There was a ton of beach space.  There is a pier, but it was under construction. 

Isle of Palms was our second beach stop.  This one is up the road from Sullivan’s Island.  It is another wealthy community, but more down to earth than Sullivan’s Island.  There are also PLENTIFUL public amenities here.  There is a pier and rental areas, playgrounds, a lot of very easily accessible public parking, many public showers and restroom.  We went to the public city beach, where there were many lifeguards on duty.  This was a very crowded beach, but probably one of our favorites.  We enjoyed the water and the vibe here.  

Ultimately, my recommendation for beaches with kids in South Carolina is ANY beach because you can’t go wrong!  But as far as convenience and public amenities, Isle of Palms wins.  The uniqueness award goes to Morris Island.  The beauty award goes to Folly Beach!  There were two other beaches we didn’t get to visit, but that are on our list- Kiawah Island and Botany Bay.  Til next time, Charleston!

Hope you found this enjoyable and/or helpful!

Book of the Month

I absolutely love to read, but I haven’t always made time to read for pleasure. When I was going through my divorce and learning to share my kids, I looked for some enriching activities that I had always wanted to pursue but didn’t have time for. I ended up subscribing to Book of the Month. I’ve always had a pile of books on my end table or by my bed, and my shelves are always full. Book of the Month is the original book subscription box, and I really love it. 

You get access to early releases, the books are vetted by actual readers, and they are very reasonably priced.  You receive a hardcover book each month.  

But the thing I love about it is that you don’t have to!  You can skip a month and not be charged for it.  I started this at the same time that I was early into my doctoral program and a relationship.  I ended up not having the time I hoped for leisure reading.  I love the convenience of being able to skip AND not be charged.  If you completely forget to make a choice or to choose to skip, they do not just send you something.  They charge you, and you have a credit on your account.  I appreciate this so I’m not collecting a bunch of books I’m never going to read.

The cost is $12.50-$16.67, depending on your membership plan.  Shipping is always free, and there are often opportunities to add books on for a discounted rate.  For me, at the time, I was trying to save money, but I justified this as something that promotes wellness and my goals, especially as I was getting used to sharing custody of my kids with their dads.  It also is literally the cost of skipping two fast food meals a month- I can do that!  😀  

This is a picture of my daughter receiving some books for her birthday with her look of joy- similar to me each month getting my box. 🙂

Another thing I really love about it is that it is a convenient way for me to read things I might not typically.  The books all have reviews, they give you info that’s good to know before you read- for example, I am sensitive to reading about certain abuse situations, so I appreciate that info ahead of time!  They give you a synopsis, genre, and about the author, so you can make an informed decision.  I have enjoyed every book I have received, so they are doing a great job at giving me the info I need to decide!  I have been part of a book club, but with the inconsistency in my schedule the past couple years between doctoral work, work, kids, etc, this is a different way that encourages me to read and read new things. It’s really important to me to model a love of reading for my kids. I really love our reading time together, be it me reading to them, them reading to me, or us just reading together in one another’s company. All the photos in this post are of my kids reading, because believe it or not, nobody’s really out there taking pics of me reading my BOTM books. 🙂

For my birthday, my husband gave me an amazing little cabana so I can hide out and read outside- my favorite place to read, believe it or not. 😉  I’ll be excited to get my next box and test it out!  

**This review is in no way associated with Book of the Month in any official capacity. I just like it and wanted to share.**