One of the best ways to give your children fun and educational adventures while roadschooling – without breaking the bank – is to purchase museum and zoo memberships that offer reciprocal privileges. We’ve researched the memberships that give you the most benefits for the price so you can choose wisely.
What are reciprocal memberships?
Many museums, zoos, aquariums, and historical sites that charge an entry fee are part of national memberships. If you join one of these organizations, you will receive reciprocal privileges, meaning that you can get free or reduced admissions to other member organizations, plus usually a discount at the gift shop. Yay, savings!
Some organizations are members of multiple reciprocal memberships, which will net you the most savings. Other organizations that offer memberships aren’t part of any reciprocal agreement, so you have to read up on the benefits before you join.
What is the best reciprocal program for my family?
Some organizations belong to multiple membership programs, and some only belong to one, so check and see if your local organization offers reciprocity with multiple programs.
Here’s the thing, though – a lot of organizations tell you about reciprocal benefits, but they don’t explicitly say which memberships they have. You may have to do a bit of sleuthing by checking the (not always up-to-date) membership lists from the following membership websites.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)
When you join your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium that participates in the reciprocity program, you’ll get free entrance to your local zoo or aquarium for 1 year, and free or reduced (usually 50%) admission to other members of AZA’s reciprocity program.
Example AZA reciprocity zoos and aquariums:
- North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro NC
- North Carolina Aquariums, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, & Fort Fisher NC
- Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta GA
- Dallas Zoo, Dallas TX
Be aware that:
- Not all zoos and aquariums are members of the AZA reciprocity program, even if they are AZA-accredited. Examples include Ripley’s Aquarium at Myrtle Beach SC, the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas NV, and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, CA.
- Some zoos are free to the public, no membership required, including the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago IL. If you have a membership to AZA, you’ll usually snag a discount on merchandise or food.
The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
When you join your local ASTC science center, you’ll get free entrance to your local science center for 1 year, and free or reduced (usually 50%) admission to around 300 other members of ASTC’s reciprocity program, called the ASTC Travel Passport Program.
Example ASTC Travel Passport science centers and museums:
- The Museum of Life and Science, Durham NC
- Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale FL
- Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding CA
- Boston Children’s Museum, Boston MA
Be aware that:
- ASTC has two big 90-mile exclusions: reciprocity doesn’t apply to centers within 90 miles of your member center, and reciprocity doesn’t apply to centers within 90 miles of your driver’s license address. What does this mean? If you join an Ohio member for a great rate but your driver’s license says Austin, TX, you won’t get the discount at any centers within 90 miles of that Ohio location, and you also won’t get the discount at any centers within 90 miles of Austin. Wah! Some centers check ID and some don’t – the reciprocity list above indicates which centers check IDs, but it’s best to call and verify.
- Not all members of ASTC participate in the reciprocity program.
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)
If you have young children, you may want to purchase a membership to a local children’s museum that participates in the ACM reciprocity network. ACM’s reciprocity has really simple rules — 50% discount at reciprocal children’s museums for up to 6 people.
Example ACM Travel Passport science centers and museums:
- Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh NC
- Thinkery, Austin TX
- Children’s Museum of Virginia, Portsmouth VA
- Madison Children’s Museum, Madison WI
Be aware that:
- The member cardholder must be present for the visit.
- Not all ASTC members participate in the reciprocity network. Examples of children’s museums that don’t participate are Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irving CA and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham NC.
If you love visiting historic sites and museums, Time Travelers is the membership for you. Time Travelers is a reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies. Currently, Time Travelers has over 300 member organizations.
Example Time Travelers historical sites and museums:
- Missouri History Museum, St Louis MO
- Model T Museum, Richmond IN
- Armstrong Air & Space Museum, Wapakoneta OH
- African American Museum of Iowa, Cedar Rapids IA
Be aware that:
- Many Time Travelers museums are already free to the public.
- Benefits vary and may include free parking, discounts in the gift shop, discounted admission, and free admission.
- Some well-known historical sites do not participate in Time Travelers, such as Gettysburg National Military Park (free to the public), the Paul Revere House in Boston, and colonial Williamsburg (parts are free).
A few final thoughts
- Don’t forget to pack your membership card!
- Remember that most reciprocity programs requires the cardholder to be present, and may check photo ID.
- Always call ahead to verify reciprocity and see how many people are included in admission discounts.
- There are many wonderful museums nationwide that are free to the public!
- This article is about museums, zoos, and related organizations, but don’t forget the amazing, fun learning opportunities at state and national parks.
- I believe in supporting local organizations, so encourage you to find the best deal in your local area. However, if you’re already traveling full-time or don’t have any local museums or zoos, you may want to scout around for the best deal. The two I’ve seen mentioned most often as “best deals” are the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville NC (family membership has reciprocal benefits for AZA and ASTC), and Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton OH (family membership has reciprocal benefits for AZA and ASTC; adventurer level membership (and higher) also has reciprocal benefits to ACM).