There's value in free museums far beyond their price.
I'm a huge fan of visiting free museums and attractions - gee, that's no surprise! Sure, it's great that you don't have to pay, but there's more to it than that. Often associated with non-profit, charitable, educational, preservation, or historic associations, these places would be amazing even if there was an admission charge - you can really appreciate the passion, knowledge, and dedication of the staff and volunteers. And to me that's more than just a great deal -it adds tremendous value to your trip.
Some of my favourite travel experiences have been absolutely free. In Honolulu, for example, I attended a free lunch time presentation at the state art gallery. The topic? History of the Hawaiian Cowboy - whips were involved! The Pearl Harbor memorial is also free and well worth a few hours of your time.
In Maui, I visited the university's Botanical Garden and had fun chatting with the staff as I helped toss coconuts in the composter. On the Big Island, we saw a free astronomy presentation at the Mauna Kea observatory. And this is just one trip! These visits were packed with memories, one of a kind encounters, and gave us a real appreciate for what we were experiencing.
There are many ways to give back to the organizations who have enriched your travel experience so much. Sure, you can donate money. This is a vital part of keeping free attractions up and running and accessible to everyone. You should always donate, even if you just stop in for a few minutes. But you can do a lot more, much of which costs you nothing.
1.) Take the time to fill out comment cards. Your thoughtful feedback can make a big difference.
2.) Buy the things you need at their gift shop - bottled water, sunscreen, reusable shopping bags, camera batteries, travel mugs. You would have to buy them eventually - why not support a museum via their gift shop instead of an overpriced convenience store?
3.) Buy your treats at their gift shop. You don't need to buy mugs or tacky knickknacks you don't want. As I mentioned, many free and volunteer driven attractions have a higher educational, preservation, or charitable purpose. They will often carry fascinating books, reproductions, prints, crafts, and more. Buy coins from the Canadian Currency Museum as souvenirs! Look around and you might find a beautiful, one of a kind item that you'll always remember your trip with. And if you have to buy generic souvenirs for family and friends, this is the place to stock up on your teddy bears and T-shirts.
4.) Consider buying a membership to the organization. Why would you buy a membership for something you've experienced for free? Often these memberships come with special benefits - like member's only evenings and presentations. Members are often given a discount at the gift store. If you're stocking up on supplies and souvenirs you might saving quite a bit! Memberships might also give you a discount at their in house cafe (see #5) or other local businesses, attractions, and restaurants. Some family memberships can be for any two adults, not just a married family. If this is the case for you, consider leaving the membership behind with someone as a thank you- like a friend who showed you around town. Or donate the membership to the local library.
5.) Show support through their cafe. Obviously don't buy food that you don't like or that is overpriced. But many museums, and especially art galleries, have well review cafes that offer a well priced selection of foods that suit many diets. Ottawa's National Gallery cafe boasts gorgeous views - some of the best in the city - and a selection of hot entrees, soups, salads, sandwiches and fancy desserts - plus wine! It's counterpart in London has a cafe that's in the basement. But it's quiet, unassuming, and offers reasonably priced lunch basics. A welcome relief in an expensive city.
6.) Take part in their paid programs and special fundraising events - like silent auctions and wine tastings. They will still likely be reasonably priced and it's a chance to combine entertainment with a greater purpose.
7.) Tell others about your appreciation. Write a blog post, send out some tweets, write something on their Facebook page. But more to the point - be sure to do the same for their major sponsors. Send a tweet to the mayor's office. Write about your amazing experience on the local congressman's website.
8.) Put a positive, informative review on Trip Advisor, Yelp, or similar. Sometimes free attractions are less well known than their pricey counterparts and good reviews can help a good cause. Make your reviews rich in detail - let other travelers know what they can expect, give them logistical details (parking, facilities), share pictures.
As always, I welcome and encourage your feedback. How do you support a good cause when you travel?
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