Sightseeing and campground fees can be expensive. Whether you’re planning some weekend road trips, going full-time, or somewhere in between, here are some basic tips to help you stretch your budget.
Step 1: Get an America the Beautiful Pass. An annual pass, available to anyone, is currently $80. Military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass. Fourth-grade students in public, private, and home schools are eligible for a free one-year Every Kid in a Park pass. Senior passes (for those 62 or older) are $20 for a one-year pass, or $80 for a lifetime pass. People of any age with permanent disabilities are eligible for a free pass, called the Access pass. Each of these passes grants admission to federal sites managed by the National Park Serice and other federal agencies. Holders of Access and Senior Passes may be eligible for a 50% discount on camping fees as well.
2. Join the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center. A family membership, for two adults and up to four children, is only $69. Families like ours, with more than four children, can add them for an additional fee. The WNC Nature Center is both a member of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and the ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers) so your membership gets you free or discounted admission to other zoos and aquariums through the reciprocal admissions program as well as free admission to science centers under the ASTC Travel Passport program. In the past 7 months since we got our membership, we have saved over $651 on admissions to attractions.
3. If there is an attraction you think you would go to over and over again, but the WNC Nature Center membership doesn’t get you in, go ahead and pay for a membership or season pass. Many memberships are cost-effective even if you only go two or three times. Long before we started full-time travel, each year we paid for an annual membership to a different zoo or museum in or near our hometown and thoroughly explored those places. Since we’ve been fulltiming, we’ve occasionally found the same strategy helpful. When we spent a couple of months in and near Tucson, we focused on the attractions that were free or free with our membership, but other travelers and a park ranger strongly recommended the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Everyone told us it wasn’t cheap, but was worth it. When I priced admission for our family of eight, I discovered that an annual family membership was less expensive than a single visit would be for us! The Desert Museum is part zoo, part botanical garden, and part art gallery, with far more than we could see in just one day. The membership was the best deal anyway, but it has enabled us to go back about six times, even though our time in Tucson was limited. There are lots of places that are too big to see everything in one day- the Field Museum in Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston are just the first two that come to mind- so when you’re going to be spending a few weeks or longer in one place, it may be worthwhile to pay for a membership and spend two or three days enjoying one large, high-quality attraction.
4. Find free and cheap camping with freecampsites.net. and Campendium. Everything I’ve mentioned before this applies even to non-camping travelers. Those planning a trip and staying in hotels or with friends and family can save money on sightseeing the same way we do as rv’ers. The rest of our tips, though, are specific to camping.
5. Find places to dump your RV holding tanks and refill your potable water via Sanidumps.
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