Have you ever scheduled a trip such that you would transit a city or town at the time a desirable museum was open? Our team has! We're geeks about more than just rental cars and most weeks find at least one of us exploring a new museum. Yet saving money (for ourselves and others) is ingrained in AutoSlash's culture. How do we satisfy our "need for education" on the road for cheap, while ensuring we still get our fill of automotive (and transportation) history along those excursions? Read on for more details!
The biggest key to cheap/free museums in our travels may seem counter-intuitive at first -- we pay to be members of a museum that's part of a consortium. Some of our team members have joined the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) over the years while others have supported local wildlife initiatives. What we have in common is that we've supported an initiative of personal importance and have joined museums/organizations that are members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). Two of us support a local museum that's a member of both the ASTC and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).
What does that mean? Our annual cost of membership isn't much more than the cost of a single visit to a museum we want to support anyway. My annual membership fee helps take care of two adorable river otters! In exchange for membership at one museum, we get reciprocal free admission to 300 other ASTC-member museums and discounted/free access to scores of AZA-member zoos for an entire year! For us, these are great investments as we tend to recoup the membership fee every month in terms of complimentary admissions among our travels.
Free (and Reduced-Cost) Admission Days
While we're acutely aware most Smithsonian museums are free to the public (except the $15 parking fee at the Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center before 4 p.m.), the Cooper Hewitt in New York is normally $18 per adult. However, Saturday evenings are "Pay What You Wish" reduced-cost admissions.
Our team has even hit up Groupon from time-to-time for museum admissions, with more than one of us scoring two admissions to the National Atomic Testing Museum for less than the normal cost of a single admission during our recent Vegas excursion.
Even better than cheap is free -- a lot of our favorite museums have days with completely free admissions. Those free days often involve braving crowds (downfall) but with large traveling parties, saving money while learning can be a great tradeoff.
One method of garnering free admission is through Bank of America and that company's Museums on Us program. For instance, The Henry Ford (Dearborn, Michigan) and the Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, Illinois) are two national treasures that participate in the Museums on Us program the first full weekend of each month.
Military Families have access to even more admission fee waivers through a partnership between the NEA and Blue Star Families between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. Have an active-duty military ID? Remember to check the Blue Star Museums listing before hitting the road!
Entirely Free Museums
Drive through a small town and you might find one or more free museums. And those labors of love can be fantastic experiences. Living in the Nashville suburbs, I'm obviously aware of museums with admission fees such as the National Corvette Museum and the Lane Motor Museum (home of the worst car ever built), each within an hour of my home. However, I didn't learn about the Marathon Motors museum until relatively recently, and I'm glad to have experienced the museum alone after the staff opened up the room for me; spending time there is one of my favorite museum experiences of all time.
What About Automotive Museums?
What's a car enthusiast to do when a "free" museum is nowhere to be found? One resource is the National Association of Automotive Museums (NAAM). There are trade groups for almost everything, and museums dedicated to cars are no exception. Planning a trip and want to see a solid bit of automotive history? Their listing of museums includes many popular as well as some lesser-known museums. One important item to note -- not all automotive museums are part of the NAAM. For instance, our Fort Lauderdale Airport Guide and Portland, Oregon Airport Guide featured museums with extensive car collections but are not members; we still really want to get back to Portland for one of the "learn to drive a Model T Ford" days!
Ready to travel? Given the U.S. government's listing of at least 35,000 museums in the United States alone, there will be a museum near your route. We hope you're able to drop into one or more in your cheap rental car! And while we can only provide guidance on keeping museum expenditures low, we are the experts on finding the lowest possible rates on your rental cars! Click below to request a quote and we'll send the best possible offers within minutes.