My family and I live, travel, and homeschool in an RV. Because we are on the road a lot, and because we don’t have unlimited funds, we are always looking for inexpensive – or free – ways to entertain and educate ourselves in the new places we visit. In our searches for cheap entertainment, we have come across a wide variety of options.
However, of all the inexpensive entertainment hacks we have found, by far the best —and most educational— have been reciprocal museum memberships.
What Are Reciprocal Museum Memberships?
Reciprocal museum memberships are partnerships between institutions that allow you and your family access to a collection of museums. This is perfect for those homeschoolers who travel often — and those who might travel more if the costs could be lowered — as it means the membership will give your family admission to your “home” museum as well as free or discounted admission at a wide variety of other institutions across the country.
Many different museum associations offer reciprocal benefits. Figuring out which one is best for your family can become quite confusing. Some of the most popular include:
- Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) — This is our favorite association by far. It includes a wide variety of museums in every state we have visited. Additionally, every museum on their long list is free to ASTC members.
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) — AZA is the membership for animal lovers, as it offers card holders 50–100% off admission to a large number of zoos and aquariums. The discount level is based on your home zoo’s membership level, so be sure to check that out before buying.
- Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) — Perfect for parents of younger kids, ACM encompasses a large number of children’s museums. Unfortunately, ACM only gives members a 50% discount as opposed to the full 100% off.
- North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) — NARM is a better option for those with older kids and teens. It has an extensive list of participating museums (mostly art museums), but almost none are particularly little kid-friendly. NARM does offer free admission at all member museums, though, so that is definitely a bonus.
- Time Travelers — History buffs will be excited to learn about Time Travelers, the history museum reciprocal program. Museums on this list offer a variety of benefits, including free or discounted admission and gift shop discounts.
- American Horticultural Society (AHS) — Like Time Travelers, the establishments associated with this reciprocal program offer a variety of different benefits that range from free admission to gift shop discounts. This is a good program to look into if you have a budding botanist on your hands.
How Do I Obtain a Reciprocal Membership?
To get your membership, simply join the member location that is closest to your home. For instance, if you’d like to be a member of ASTC, all you need to do is find and join the museum that is a part of the program and is also closest to your home base. Your membership at that home museum will automatically give you all the benefits included in the reciprocal program.
That said, you might want to check any current memberships you are already using. You never know what kind of benefits you might have hanging out in your wallet going unused.
How Do I Take Advantage of the Reciprocal Benefits?
Go on a trip, of course! More specifically, you’ll want to make sure to head somewhere that is at least 90 miles from your home museum, as many of the associations listed above have rules about how far you have to be from your home base in order for the reciprocal benefits to kick in.
Other important things to know:
- Some museums put limits on the number of people allowed in on one card, or how many tickets they will discount. Be sure to read the rules unique to the museum you will be visiting before you head out.
- The list found online may not be up-to-date. After reading the rules stated online, be sure to call the museum in question to confirm that the information is still accurate.
- Bring a valid ID and your museum membership card. This seems obvious, but if you forget these essential items, you won’t be getting any benefits.
Reciprocal museum memberships can be a fantastic option for inexpensive educational fun while you travel.
Have you and your family taken advantage of these memberships? If so, what have been some of your best finds?