Discovering Museum Reciprocity

Though living out of suitcases with no house to call our own on any continent, we are back in the United States.  Less than two weeks in-country and I bought a membership to a local children’s museum.  We are currently traveling up the East Coast and this membership is our ticket to free entertainment.  With reciprocity, our membership at one museum gets free entrance to hundreds of museums across the United States and, indeed, around the world.  Yesterday we spent four hours at the Providence Children’s Museum in Rhode Island, immersed in science, local history and a diversity of cultures.  This museum membership is truly a boon for those who find themselves far from home (or without a home) in need of quality entertainment for children.  Keep this in mind when you travel during the upcoming holiday season!


When we moved to a new town with unbearably hot summer weather, I knew my pregnant self with a two and three-year-old could not count on the beach for free entertainment every day.  One child would chase a seagull along the surf and the other would walk into the surf toward the vast expanse of the ocean, drawn by a floating bubble just beyond the next wave.  And all I wanted to do was sit in the shade of the umbrella, fanning my belly and sweat-drenched legs.  Some days, our adventuring just needed to be moved indoors with quick access to clean toilets and air conditioning.

Public libraries were always an excellent option.  You could find us playing and reading stories at our local library about once a week.  But, I have also come to appreciate the payback that comes with owning a family museum membership.  Shadow boxes with butterflies, dinosaur fossils, space capsules, interactive water exhibits – toddlers love museums, even if just to run up and down the climate controlled corridors.  We have a family membership at the Virginia Air and Space Museum, thirty minutes from our home.  I’d like to say we’ve been more than once.  We haven’t.  But looking back over the past year, the membership has paid for itself several times over because I discovered reciprocity.

Baltimore waterfront across from the Science Center.
Baltimore waterfront across from the Science Center.

Last fall we found ourselves wandering the waterfront in Baltimore, looking for a bathroom.  Casting a large shadow across the pavement stood the Maryland Science Center.  Aha!  I bet they have clean bathrooms.  I dug through my purse, shuffling through extra diapers, a bag of crayons, two-year’s worth of outdated Moleskin day planners, junk mail I grabbed on the way out the door, a crusty pacifier, a broken cracker, fifteen various sundry writing utensils and finally espied the holy grail of a clean bathroom pass – a reciprocal museum membership.  Within ten minutes we were able to pass through the lobby, tickets in hand, and use the exclusive restrooms.  We spent a few extra minutes exploring the exhibit at the entrance before leaving the building and continuing our outdoor excursion.  With prices like that, you can afford to stay only as long as necessary to complete important personal business.

Our family membership in Virginia allows free entry into over 250 museums worldwide.  While visiting family in Atlanta, our membership granted us free access to the Fernbank Natural History Museum.  Our membership is worth more than ten times its weight in new diapers.  It has also presented us with options for kids activities while on vacation, options we would otherwise have discounted because of price.  Going to Chicago?  Use your membership to visit the incredible Museum of Science and Industry – for free.  Visiting New York City?  Explore the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum along the docks.  Find yourself traveling with kids on a rainy day in Manila?  Duck into the Philippine Science Centrum.    These museums are all part of the museum Passport Program sponsored by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (

As we travel with our growing family, looking for inexpensive adventures around the world, you won’t find me without possession of a family museum membership pass.  Finding the pass in my purse is a completely separate matter.

6 responses to “Discovering Museum Reciprocity”

  1. Yay, VIrginia Air & Space Center! We had such a great time with you there–glad you are able to make the most of your membership!

  2. Good tip! I’m also thinking of changing memberships for this year to see some new things. I have to convince the kids that it’s okay that we’re not going to the same places we used to always go to.

  3. Our other trick is to change memberships each year and “pig out” on one local museum or zoo for a year and then move to new one. Usually two visits pays for the membership. And you are forever on their mailing lists, so you know about special events and exhibits even when you’re not a member.

  4. Yes! The one caveat is that there is no reciprocity for museums within 90 miles of each other. For example, the Virginia Air and Space museum and the Virginia Children’s Museum in Portsmouth, VA are both members of the association. But the museums are less than 15 miles apart, so you can’t have a membership with one and get into the other free.

  5. Valuable information. I hadn’t known about this pass perk. And engagingly written, too!

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