Best Museum Memberships For Traveling Families
Did you know that museum memberships at one museum could get you into hundreds of others for free?! Museums, zoos, aquariums, science and technology centers and more participate in reciprocity programs that let you do just that!
So what is reciprocity? Basically it’s an exchange of benefits between two locations, such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations, but span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in some international locations!
Let us tell you more about these programs, where you can buy them, what benefits they provide, and how we used it to get in to the Idaho Falls zoo for a day of family fun!! Watch the video below and then read on for all the details.
Benefits of Buying Museum Memberships
- Paying for visits to museums, zoos, science centers, etc. individually gets expensive fast, so this is a great way to save money!
- Reciprocity programs give you access to so many more places to visit, especially as you travel!
- It’s a great way to supplement learning programs of homeschoolers and roadschoolers!
- You will have so much fun!
Museum Reciprocity Organizations
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is an organization of zoos and aquariums and dedicated to the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. In reciprocity programs including the AZA, you can get 100% free or 50% discounted admission to participating parks. The List of Participating Zoos & Aquariums will tell you which locations are participating and what their reciprocity is. Always make sure to check the current version.
Association of Science and Technology Centers
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science and technology centers and museums. It fosters understanding and engagement in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for all people. In reciprocity programs including the ASTC you can get free entry into ASTC locations that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program. The ASTC Travel Passport Participant List will tell you which locations are participating and what their admittance policy is. Always make sure to check the current version.
Association of Children’s Museums
The Association of Children’s Museums is an organization of children’s museums. These museums are specifically geared towards kids and their learning through play and exploration. ACM reciprocal benefits will provide 50% off of general admission. The ACM Reciprocal Network Museum List Brochure will tell you which locations are participating. Always make sure to check the current version.
North American Reciprocal Museum Association
The North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) is an organization of mostly art museums and galleries, but includes some other locations such as: historical museums and societies, botanical gardens, children’s museums, zoos, and much more. In reciprocity programs including the NARM you can get free entry into participating locations. You can search the NARM Member Institution page to find participating locations, or download the latest NARM Member List from the link at the bottom of that page.
Time Travelers is an organization of historical museums, sites, and societies. Participating locations offer free or discounted admission. You can download the list of Participating Institutions or visit the Time Travelers Institutions website page for more details.
American Horticultural Society
The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is a national gardening organization providing gardening and horticultural information. You can visit many beautiful gardens for free or discounted in the AHS Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP). Use the Find a Garden map or download the PDF from the website for participating locations.
Southeastern Reciprocal Membership
The Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program (SERM) established by the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC), is an association focused on the Southeastern United States. If you’re spending a lot of time in this part of the country, this reciprocal membership will let you visit participating institutions in the Southeastern region of the U.S.
Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program
The Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP) is a lot like NARM, mentioned above, but with fewer participants. Check out the list of participating institutions.
Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums
The Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM) program includes some art and history museums, gardens, and various other types of museums. Reciprocal membership with ROAM provides free admission to participating ROAM locations as well as other benefits determined by each location individually. Check out the list of participating institutions.
There are various museum memberships that will get you reciprocity at locations in one or more of the above organizations. The best thing to do is to see what types of institutions you are most interested in from the types mentioned above. Since we have younger kids, we are most interested in the zoos, aquariums, science centers, and children’s museums. This could change as they get older. Then they may have more interest in art or history museums. When they’re older they will certainly get more out of those kinds of museums when they can read and concentrate on the exhibits.
Once you know what type of reciprocal membership you’d like, look for museum memberships that offer those specific programs and provide the best price. There are lots of options; however, the three that we have found consistently mentioned as offering some of the best deals include those outlined below.
Western North Carolina Nature Center
The Western North Carolina Nature Center (WNC) is where we have our membership. It is located in Asheville, NC and focuses on the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. We chose the family membership which covers both adults and both kids in our family. The reciprocal membership benefits include participating AZA and ASTC institutions. This specific membership gives us free or discounted access to 450+ locations! Depending on which membership or memberships you choose you may have more or less.
Kern County Museum
The Kern County Museum is another museum that many traveling families recommend. Here you pay more and you have to specifically select the Travel membership, but you get more reciprocal benefits including: ACM, ASTC, NARM, and Time Travelers. It is located in Bakersfield, California and showcases the history of this part of California.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery centers around the areas of natural history, science, and nature. It is located in Dayton, OH. Choose between individual, dual, or family memberships and standard or premium. Reciprocal benefits include the AZA and ASTC, and family level memberships also include the ACM.
Things To Know About Museum Memberships
There are a few things of note as you’re picking out your museum memberships for reciprocity benefits. In addition to the benefits offered and the price, there are a few more things to consider. For AZA benefits, you want your membership to be from a place that offers 100%/50% reciprocity. You will then receive 100% discounted admission to other zoos & aquariums listed at 100%/50% in the reciprocity program list and 50% off of those listed as 50%. If your home museum is listed only as 50%, you will only receive a 50% discount regardless. Also, it’s typically for free or discounted general admission, so if there are special exhibits or activities you want to participate in you may have to pay extra if they have an additional cost.
Also consider the location of the place you are buying a membership from. This is not only for the ability to visit that location, but because it affects which other locations you can get into for free or a discount. They may check your ID and your membership and may refuse admission if you are trying to use it somewhere that is either within 90 miles (as the crow flies) from your home address or your membership institution. For example, if we tried to use our membership, which as you remember is from Asheville, NC, in a location less that 90 miles from Asheville, or less than 90 miles from our registered address in FL, we might be told we can’t use the reciprocal benefits.
Number of People Covered
Check the type of membership you should get based on the number of adults and children you’d like to have covered. The options can include single, dual, or family memberships up to a certain number of children/grandchildren for example, or family plus for additional guests, among other potential options. We have also read that even if your membership at your home museum includes a certain number of children, it may be that the location you are trying to go to has a limit. In this case you might have to pay for extra children.
Keep Up To Date
Before you go, double check the most current participant lists for the membership and museum you are hoping to get reciprocal admission to. These are updated and published periodically and there can be changes. Consider calling to double check as well as not all locations participate in these reciprocal admission programs.
Things To Bring
Bring your driver’s license or other form of ID to confirm you are the membership holder and if they ask to confirm your address. Bring your membership card as well. As we showed you in our YouTube video, you can use an app in which to load your virtual membership card. We use the eMembership Card app and can quickly look up our membership card to show, see our benefits, how many people are covered, and how long the membership is still good for. Added features of the app are that you can find nearby institutions you may want to visit and read some information about them.
Just a few visits at most will make up the cost of the museum memberships outlined above. You’ll have access to all sorts of fun for yourself and your family. So if you’re looking for fun things to do, ways to save some money, great learning opportunities for your kids, consider these memberships. And whether you choose one of the memberships listed above or are looking into another, make sure to see what reciprocal benefits are included and make sure you use them!
Idaho Falls Zoo
The Idaho Falls Zoo is a cute little zoo in Idaho Falls, ID. Luckily for us it is a participant in the AZA reciprocity program and we were able to get our admission completely discounted and only paid the $0.50 conservation fee each for a total cost of $2.00 for a fun afternoon at the zoo. We really liked that the grounds were flat and easy to walk, and that much of the park was shaded. This was particularly nice on a hot summer day. The kids really enjoyed the petting zoo area and might have stayed in that one area all day! Watching the river otter was very fun as it jumped and dove and spun underwater. If you’re in the area, make sure to check out this fun zoo!
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You can check out some of our other favorite memberships on our Resources Page.
If you’d like to read about our family travels, full-time RVing, and other adventures, then check out some of our other posts :
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