We all know how those vacation dollars add up quickly. The flights, the food, the hotels. By the time you’ve made it to your destination, there might not be much left in the budget.
The cost of admission to many attractions can quickly add up, sometimes even approaching the price of another hotel night. Call me crazy, but I’d rather be able to stay longer or take more trips than end up blowing our whole budget on entertainment. In fact, we hardly ever pay full price for attractions if we can help it. Finding low-cost or free options when touring a new place is my number one way to stretch the budget and it’s definitely what lets us explore so many places.
One of my favorite ways to do that is to use the ASTC Passport Program. For less than $100 a year, we’ve visited over a dozen different museums at a savings of almost $450! If you’re a traveling family, you must take advantage of this program!
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Free Museum Admission for Families with ASTC Passport Program
What is the ASTC Passport Program?
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is a network of museums and science based institutions across the world that offer hands on science education. These members are part of the ASTC Passport Program which offers reciprocal membership benefits to anyone who participates. What that means is that you buy one membership for a museum or science center near you and can use your membership at qualifying institutions all across the globe.
If you travel or road trip much as a family or know that you’ll be visiting other parts of the country then this is a no-brainer great deal. We’ve saved hundreds on museum admissions as we’ve traveled and one of my first steps in planning a trip is to check the ASTC Passport list to see what is near our destination.
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How does the reciprocal ASTC Passport Program Work?
You purchase a membership at any participating location and then use your membership card + photo ID to get free or significantly reduced admission to any other ASTC-member museum. Typically, you get general admission covered for free and special exhibits have an up-charge, but you can call a specific location if you have questions.
There are two exceptions to the program (+ more Frequently Asked Questions)
1) You cannot use your membership card at any institution that is within 90 miles of your home institution. So if you join the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago you cannot use your ASTC Passport at other Chicago institutions.
2) You cannot use your membership card at any institution within 90 miles of your home address. This means you can’t grab your membership in Lansing, Michigan when you really live in St. Louis and try to use it to get into a bunch of local museums.
Is the ASTC Passport Program Worth It?
We visited 12 different museums for the price of one local membership last year. Each time was an almost free day of entertainment for our travel itineraries. My kids love interacting with all the different exhibits and we’ve learned so much about the places we’ve visited.
If you’re a traveling family or love incorporating learning into your travels than it’s such an easy way to experience great attractions without the paying the full cost of admission. For us, it took one trip to Columbus, OH to cover the cost of a membership to our home institution.
*Each institution stipulates how many adults and children are eligible for admission. Some may limit the number of kids, making this less valuable for larger families. It’s worth looking through the ASTC Passport Program list to see what benefits are available at museums you plan to visit.
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How to Get Free Admission to Family-Friendly Museums
Here’s a list of all the places we visited with our ASTC Passport Program reciprocal membership*
US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tennesee
Science Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois
The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, Illinois
Sternburg Museum in Hays, Kansas
Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colorado
COSI in Columbus, Ohio
Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana (our home institution)
St. Louis Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri
* Participating member lists are updated each year, so please check the ASTC Passport Program page for the most up-to-date listings.
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So, what’s your family’s favorite science museum? We always are looking for new ones to visit so leave a comment with your favorite one!
Shutterbug Sage says
Wow! This is a great idea! It reminds me of the zoo reciprocity programs that are in place with the two caveats listed at the top. I don’t see any Kansas City institutions listed, but I’m going to look into this!
I’m sure there are Kansas City museums included. I think we looking into stopping at one on the way to Denver but we passed through on a Sunday morning when it was closed. Zoos and children’s museums can have some reciprocity too (I’m so sad ours don’t) but it’s always worth checking!
Lauren Gonikishvili says
Wow! Crazy, but I was just reading about this in the magazine we get from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Such an awesome deal! As my son is obsessed with dinosaurs we hang out at the Denver museum quite often, and I highly recommend it.
We love the Denver museum. My grandma was a docent there for years and we love taking the boys when we visit. I think there are a few other CO museums that participate too!
We are members of the Natural Science Museum in Raleigh North Carolina. The Nashville science center looks interesting and will add to our list!
It’s a fun stop if you’re in Nashville…a little smaller than some of the other science centers we’ve visited but still lots to do 🙂
Kara D says
We do this as well! We joined the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum which includes the ASTC reciprocity. We’ve done lots of the Chicago museums as well as the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo (super fun for kiddos if you’re ever passing through).
Oh, I’ve had the Air Zoo on my list. We often vacation in South Haven so it would be an easy day trip. Thanks for the suggestion!
This is such a great idea! So, I have a museum nearby that participates in the ASTC passport program… and we are traveling to museums in Chicago in two weeks. Any idea how fast the ASTC member cards mail? Or are they emailed? I’d hate to spend the $75 for our local membership and then not get the card/ID in time for our trip.
Christina, it really depends on your institution. You can usually call and get some sort of temporary membership email sent to you that you can use if for some reason you don’t get your real card in time. It’s a total no-brainer to get for a Chicago trip since it saves you so much money but best to call your home institution to find out the fastest way to get proof of membership. Enjoy! (PS. I have a post on museums in Chicago if you haven’t seen it). https://www.letmegiveyousomeadvice.com/chicago-museums-for-kids/
we visited 35 museums in 17 stats for the last 7-8 years.
I made one photo book for the ASTC museums for the first 20 museums.
I had more fun the my kids:)
Oh, I love the idea of a photo book! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂