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!
Related Post: 3 Ways to Make Family Travel Affordable
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.
Related Post: Road Trips for Families Series
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.
Related Post: Midwest Children’s Museums Your Kids Will Love
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.
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!