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Sightseeing Across The United States On A Shoestring Budget

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Travel is a favorite pastime of many people. From museums to zoos and from theme parks to national parks, there are so many new things to see and do. This can be a bit overwhelming when considering the possibility of trying to see it all.

While you likely won’t be able to see it all, you most certainly have enough time to see a good portion of these fascinating attractions before you kick the bucket. However, for many people, money seems to be the issue.

If this is your situation, you will be happy to know that vacation attraction-hopping can be made more affordable by putting a reciprocal membership or two to good use. Below we have compiled a list of the various reciprocal membership options out there, what each one includes, and how to acquire them. See one that’s not on the list and should be? Let us know down below.

Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)

Members of ASTC receive free admission to hundreds of museums all over the country as well as a few outside of the country. The museums are all science-focused, and most are great for kids and adults alike.

To become a member of ASTC, you must join the museum you wish to be your “home” museum. For most people this is the museum that’s closest to home. Others may choose another museum based on the fact that it offers membership to more than one reciprocal program.

American Horticultural Society (AHS)

AHS provides its members with unlimited free access to a large number of botanical gardens and specific museums throughout the United States. Botanical gardens are a great way to grow your appreciation for plants.

In order to obtain membership to AHS, simply join one of the many member gardens.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

As the name suggests, AZA is a great way to receive free or discounted admission to a number of zoos and aquariums in the US. Everyone loves a good zoo trip, so AZA is a perfect addition to your reciprocal membership collection.

Membership is given to anyone who joins a member zoo or aquarium. The discount you receive depends on which zoo you choose as your “home” zoo, so be sure to check out the list and do a bit of research before investing.

Time Travelers

History buffs all across America will be thrilled to learn about the Time Travelers reciprocal program. This program allows member cardholders free admission to interesting history museums and sights across the country.

Time Travelers memberships can be obtained by joining a member museum. Time Travelers member museums do overlap with some of the other reciprocity programs, so be sure to do your research and buy the pass that is best for your family.

Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)

If you have any kids, a membership to ACM is just the ticket to have fun across the country. This reciprocal membership offers pass holders free admission to a bunch of great children’s museums.

If you’d like to be a member of ACM, joining a member museum will do the trick. ACM member museums are often also members of ASTC, so be sure to do some research before buying, so you know you are getting the best bargain for your situation.

North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)

The final reciprocal museum membership program is NARM. It’s is a great way to see fantastic art museums, history museums, gardens, and more. Of the six museum membership programs listed, NARM provides users access to the most attractions. Keep in mind that many of these are geared toward adults.

Becoming a member of NARM is similar to becoming a member of any of the above programs: simply join one of the hundreds of associated museums. Since NARM includes so many museums, this program overlaps with many of the others listed, so you should be able to get a membership that includes NARM and at least one other program.

Merlin Pass

LEGO fans will love the Merlin Pass. Merlin operates such attractions as LEGOLAND Theme Parks, LEGOLAND Discovery Centers, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museums, SeaLife Aquariums, and others. The Merlin Pass give you a full year of unlimited admission to all of these attractions plus discounts on food and merchandise and free parking.

To become a Merlin pass holder, simply visit their website, order a pass online, and pick it up from the nearest Merlin attraction. The cost per year is $279 per person, a great deal if you will be visiting on a regular basis.

Six Flags Gold Pass

A great pass for thrill seekers, the Six Flags Gold Pass includes admission to all Six Flags Theme Parks across the country. This also includes discounts, free parking, and a number of other perks. Parks can be found in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, so you are sure to be near a Six Flags at least on occasion.

Six Flags is open April through October in most locations. It is important to keep this in mind when comparing passes. To obtain a Six Flags Gold Pass, visit their website and order online. These passes are available for under $100, which is actually not a bad deal if you consider all that’s included.

Cedar Point Platinum Pass

If admission to all sixteen Cedar Fair parks sounds good to you, you’ll love the Cedar Point Platinum Pass. This pass includes admission to all of the Cedar Fair parks including Cedar Point, King’s Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, and more. It also includes perks such as free parking and discounted tickets for friends. With parks scattered all over the US, this pass will never leave you without something to do on vacation.

Specific Cedar Fair parks will close during the winter months. Keep this in mind when weighing your options. To obtain these benefits, you will need to purchase a Platinum Pass from any Cedar Fair park. These passes can be purchased in person or online, and the cost per person is $210.

Busch Gardens Florida Platinum Annual Pass

The Busch Gardens Platinum Pass is a great way to see some great theme parks all over the country at a reasonable price. This pass includes admission to all Sea World parks, all Busch Gardens parks, all Aquatica water parks, Sesame Place, Water Country USA, and Adventure Island. It also includes free parking and various other perks.

The Busch Gardens parks are almost all located on the east side of the country. However, there are some locations in California and Texas. A few of the parks included on this pass will close during the winter.

The Busch Gardens Florida Platinum Pass can be purchased on the Sea World Parks website at $336 per person.

The “America the Beautiful” Pass

America the Beautiful is the ideal pass for nature lovers, and it’s the best pass to have if you truly wish to see the majesty of this gorgeous country.

The America the Beautiful pass gives the cardholder and everyone in their vehicle admission to over 2,000 federal recreation areas nationwide. This includes national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national grasslands.

This pass can be obtained online or by visiting your nearest national recreation area. The pass is $80. However, discounted passes are available to seniors and disabled individuals. Additionally, fourth-grade students and military members may receive a pass free-of-charge.


By becoming a member of two or three of these programs, you and your family can see more of this country for less money. To take full advantage of these offers, consider joining two or three memberships each year and rotating through them in order to see it all. See a pass that’s not on the list and should be? Let us know down in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!

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