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Sign indicating where you can buy tickets
Sign indicating where you can buy tickets

Save money with memberships

Taking a road trip, whether by car or RV, can be an expensive undertaking. Between fuel, campsites or hotels, eating out, souvenirs, and admission to destinations, the cost quickly adds up.  However, a membership to your local zoo, aquarium, science museum, or art museum, can get you into the same type of destinations all across the country — for free!

There are four types of memberships that are very popular with travelers.  All provide reciprocal admission to like stops that are also members of the same association.  There are slight variations on how each program works, but basically, if you belong to an association member location, then you get free or reduced admission to other similar locations all across the country — and often discounts in their gift shops as well.

If you have a family membership, then you will receive admission for your family, too, up to six or eight people, depending on location.  The different membership associations are:

Dana - Louisiana 10American Zoo Association (AZA) — With your membership to an AZA member zoo or aquarium, you will get into hundreds of other zoos and aquariums, all across the country, for either free or half price. You can find a list of member zoos, as well as their benefit level by clicking here.  Be sure to read how the program works on the right hand side of the page to help you determine the best AZA membership to purchase.

Please be aware that reciprocity benefits do not have to be extended to other locations within 90 miles of your membership park, or everyone would just buy the cheapest membership in the area even if they never visited that location, so keep that in consideration when determining the best AZA membership for you. For example, if your ‘home’ zoo is the Milwaukee County Zoo, then you will not receive reciprocity at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Henry Vilas Zoo, or the Racine Zoo, as they are within 90 miles of the Milwaukee Zoo.

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) — Our family loves science museums! There are always tons of interactive displays and intriguing exhibits, and often exciting live science experiments. Science museums often interest people of all ages, so they are a great destination for families with children of varying ages, as well as those traveling without kids.

The best thing about the ASTC membership is that reciprocity benefits are always free admission to other member museums across the country. The number of people that admission will cover can vary between locations, and some locations will check your driver’s license to make sure that you are not a local resident with an out-of-area membership.  Check the 2014-15 member list to learn more about rules and restrictions. You can find it ; you can find it at www.astc.org/passport.

North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) — Don’t be fooled by the name, NARM actually has member museums worldwide — more than 700 of them! NARM is comprised mainly of art museums, but there is some overlap with other designations, especially science museums. Reciprocity is often only granted to person named on membership card, and not extended to spouse/family, so you may want to call ahead to confirm details of reciprocity.

A list of participating museums can be found by clicking here.

Dana - Roadschooling 7Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) — The ACM membership gives you a flat discount of 50 percent off admission to approximately 200 other ACM membership museums. None are free, except your home museum. If your young family enjoys exploring children’s museums, this can be a good way to add inexpensive stops to your trip.  You can find more info on the ACM program by clicking here.

There are a few rules that you do need to keep in mind when it comes to using your reciprocity memberships:

  • Passes are usually good for up to six people, including up to two adults and four children, or one adult and five children, with the exception of NARM locations.
  • Be aware of which location you purchase/use. With an AZA membership, some locations only give a 50 percent discount on tickets at other locations. It is always a great idea to support your local businesses, including zoos, aquariums, and museums, but free is best too!  For us, there is not a single AZA member location in our home state of Montana, so we try to chose a location that will be on our hope-to-visit list for the next year.   Choosing the best AZA membership, when one is not near you, can be tricky.  Try to support a location that you are actually going to visit.
  • It is always wise to call a location before your visit to confirm that they are still a member park and to confirm the number of family members that your reciprocity will cover.

Using existing membership is a great way to save money during your travels, so be sure to check out the different membership types, and the tricks to finding the best AZA membership for you. Then be sure to check out what other locations you could add to your travel itinerary on your next trip, for free or half price, thanks to your new memberships!

About Dana Ticknor

Dana Ticknor and her husband, along with their tribe of 8 gypsy kids (they also have 4 more grown and flown) have been calling the road home for seven years. Traveling with a highly modified toy hauler, their passions are discovering local history and culture, as well as volunteering with disaster relief efforts across the country. You can follow their journey at OurTravelingTribe.com, where they write about fulltime RVing and the family friendly destinations they discover during their travels.

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