Educational activities offer wonderful opportunities for family travel entertainment. From hands on activities such as music and art experiences at children’s museums to exotic animal encounters at zoos and aquariums, you can find something to make the entire family happy. But how can you do all this on a budget? It is possible with careful planning and by following a few smart budget travel tips. Here’s a mom-approved guide to visiting zoos, aquariums, and children’s museums for less while traveling.

Visit the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens in Naples Florida for less with these budget travel tips.

Visiting the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens in Naples Florida. Photo Credit- Hannah Rinaldi

Family travel isn’t cheap. Entertaining kids while traveling can be even more expensive. Many of the activities geared towardschildren cost a lot of money, especially the educational activities like zoos, aquariums, and children’s museums. With these budget travel tips you can visit all sorts of great places for a fraction of the regular admission price. There is no reason to buy full price tickets for your whole family when you can take advantage of reciprocity, membership prices, and daily deal coupons.

Take advantage of reciprocity

Playing at the Naples zoo. Not only do they have tons of animals, they have two play areas for kids.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums offers 50-100% reciprocity depending on your home zoo or aquarium. This means if you have a membership at one zoo or aquarium that is accredited with the association, you can get in for 50% off or even free at more than 150 other zoos and aquariums in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The same thing goes for over 350 children’s museums accredited with the Association of Children’s Museums. You get 50% off general admission for up to six people at museums participating in the network.

Activities such as these without a membership can be pricey! One family visit to an aquarium or zoo can cost up to $30. Children’s museums often charge at least $10 for everyone over the age of 1. During our first family vacation we learned the beauty of reciprocity. We were on a strict budget since I was pregnant with our second child. I remember only wanting to spend money on food instead of toddler activities since my son was only 18 months. At the time I didn’t realize how much he would enjoy an activity just for him. After one day of being confined to the stroller, my toddler was bursting at the seams. I don’t know who was more frustrated, me or him. He was ready to run, and I was ready for a break. It only made things worse to think we were going to have to pay full price for a toddler to visit the children’s museum.

My top budget travel tip is to check the lists and make sure your zoo, aquarium or museum participates. I was bummed to see that our zoo isn’t part of the AZA, and therefore does not give me any discounts when visiting other zoos or aquariums.  That won’t keep me from asking anyway!

Lucky for us, our local children’s museum, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, participates in the Association of Children’s Museums network. This saved us on our trip to Charleston, South Carolina. We were able to hang out at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry and finally let our little man run off some energy. It also gave my husband and me a much needed break from trying to entertain him ourselves!

Consider buying a membership instead of day passes

Consider buying a membership rather than a day pass for attractions like the children's museum in Charleston, South Carolina.

Doing some art projects at a children’s museum in Charleston. Photo by Hannah Rinaldi

What if you don’t have a zoo, aquarium, or children’s museum near you that is part of the network? Consider buying a membership to one on your next vacation if you are going to be visiting anyway. You may be surprised to find that it’s about the same price as the entrance fee for an entire family. For example, the Atlanta Zoo charges $26 per person, and a family membership for 6 costs $129. A family of 5 would cost $130 anyway!

It makes more sense to buy the membership and use the reciprocity perks for other vacations throughout the year. Even if you don’t use the membership ever again, you’ll still save money!

Check out Groupon and other daily deal sites

Budget travel tip: Check to see if you can use your local children's museum membership to get in at other children's museums like this one in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tons of fun playing at a children’s museum while on vacation in Charleston. Photo Credit- Hannah Rinaldi

Want to save even more money? Try checking out daily deal sites like Groupon for a zoo, aquarium or children’s museum membership. I see these deals offered all the time. Our zoo offers a year membership on Groupon for only a few dollars more than the price of admission for one day! Before we travel, I always check out the daily deal sites for my destination city.

Reciprocity is by far one of my favorite tips for traveling with kids! It makes me feel less guilty when we do activities that are geared more towards adults than kids. When my husband and I travel we love to check out new restaurants and generally do boring adult things. The kids are usually pretty great tagging along for a while, but they have their breaking point! They can only handle so many hours of sit down meals before they are ready to do something fun. I don’t worry about boring them with a long meal when I know we will be doing something fun and educational for them later. It sweetens the deal when I’m able to do it on a budget!

The secret to visiting zoos, aquariums, and children's museums for less while traveling.

The secret to visiting zoos, aquariums, and children’s museums for less while traveling. Photo Credit- Hannah Rinaldi