Five Secrets to Road Tripping with the Kids

The Puppetry Arts Institute in Independence is a hands-on, and paint-on, activity center.

One rainy Friday night, me, my 3-year old son Jack, my friend Sara and her 2-year old son Connor decided to test the fates and took to the road for a short vacation to Independence. It was a moms-and-boys weekend. Sara and I were high-fiving each other before we even made it to the highway.

With self-satisfied grins, we shuttled our way across the state to mommy-Mecca, a hotel room with free breakfast and a weekend packed with fun and no cleaning. Let the good times begin.

Before we go any farther, let me tell you—the trip was a success. We all had a great time. The kids only drove me crazy twice and I personally only needed one timeout the entire trip. I actually think Sara and I would (dare I say it) take a road trip with the kids again! To celebrate this win, I’d like to share five secrets from this trip that made it totally worthwhile:

1. Puppets make fantastic car toys.

Before the DVD player’s battery dies, take the kids to The Puppetry Arts Institute to make puppets and perform behind a professional puppet theater stage. Our kids had a blast picking out, painting, designing and playing with the puppets they made. Our tour guide and the Executive Director of the Institute, Diane Houk, was so good with the children, we wished she could have come with us on the rest of the trip!

The Puppetry Arts Institute offers monthly puppet shows, so check before you go to see if you can make one of the performances. Puppeteers come from all over the world to perform at the Institute and changing exhibits feature exotic and beautiful marionettes. Best part about our experience? The kids hopped back into the car with little fuss—they were so excited to play with the puppets they made!

Wearing the proper headgear is essential on the frontier.

2. Coonskin caps are bonding materials.

We thought the kids might be a little young for the National Frontier Trails Museum but we were wrong. The museum is full of dioramas and some interactive exhibits that even the little guys can enjoy. For the older set, the museum offers a rich treasure trove of artifacts and information about the American expansion of the 1800s.

Our favorite exhibits included a wagon you could load with “real” surplus goods and blocks you could use to build a log cabin. Granted, fighting ensued amongst the boys after cabins were toppled, but all was forgiven after we purchased identical coonskin caps in the gift shop. Our “pioneers” wore them proudly on their heads as they chased each other out the door and back into the car. Since the trip, Jack will hold up his coonskin cap every so often and ask me when Connor can come and play.

Any day that includes a stop at Clinton's Soda Fountain is a good day.

3. Ice cream is an instant smile maker.

Did you know that Harry S. Truman liked chocolate ice cream with butterscotch sauce? We didn’t either until we sat down at the counter of Clinton’s Soda Fountain and ordered a round. Known as the place where Truman worked his first job, Clinton’s Soda Fountain offers all kinds of ice cream treats, milkshakes and phosphates.

Clinton’s Soda Fountain is also located across the street from Ophelia’s an adult-pleasing restaurant that offers a kids menu. After a good lunch of seared tuna (for the adults) and grilled cheese (for the kids), an ice cream concoction in a frosted glass makes an ideal dessert.

4. Free animal exhibits rule.

With the kids packed into the car once again, mommy desperation ensued when Connor needed a nap and Jack was ready for action. In my mind, there was only one place to go: Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. As Sara strolled a sleeping Connor through racks of women’s outdoor gear, I guided Jack through the amazing array of giant aquariums, pools and animal displays.

We took the glass elevator twice and marveled at the giant bass and man-made waterfall. When it was time to eat again, we strolled into the Islamorada Fish Company restaurant. Complete with its own giant aquarium and displays of sharks and stingrays, the restaurant was almost as much fun as the rest of Bass Pro. When Jack fell asleep in his chair while Connor continued to snooze in his stroller, we mama’s silently high-fived ourselves yet again for a trip well done.

5. Detours are awesome.

Stopping and enjoying a side trip makes the ride home a lot less grueling. So, on our way home, we opted to stop in Columbia for lunch at Main Squeeze and for fun at The Mud Room pottery studio. Lunch at Main Squeeze was a big hit especially when the coloring books and toys the staff provided invaded our table. With a zillion juices and smoothies to choose from, the boys were happy to suck down house-blended concoctions while the adults ate vegetarian delights.

After a walk to stretch our legs and enjoy some sunshine, we headed to The Mud Room to paint plates with the boys’ handprints on them. The boys tackled the task with gusto and now have a great souvenir to commemorate our trip. (By the way, the paint washes off clothes—which was great because all four of us were covered!)

We moms have to stick together. Share some of your “road trip secrets” in the comments below; I’m sure Sara and I will need them for our next trip!