How We Save Money When Traveling With Our Small Travel Trailer

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Why We Originally Decided to Buy a Small Travel Trailer

Throughout our working lives, Fay and I had the opportunity to do a fair amount of travel. We had visited several great destinations, but were always limited on time. When we retired a few years ago, we knew we wanted to travel more. After considering our options, there were four main reasons we decided to purchase a small travel travel:
See the Country
Most of our previous travel was by plane. While we enjoyed the destinations, we missed seeing everything along the way. Now that we could afford more time, seeing the country and not just the destinations was important to us. We were ready to test the old saying that it's more about the journey than the destination. It was time to see the countryside and all the small towns we missed by flying over them in the past.
Enjoy Being Outdoors
There's just something special about staying at a great campground. Cooking and eating outdoors, sitting around a campfire, and hearing the evening sounds during the night are something we miss when staying in hotels.
Meet New People
From our experience camping with a pop-up camper years ago, we knew how great the camping community is. Staying in a hotel you rarely talk with other people, let alone get to know them. Staying at campgrounds and RV parks is different. Everyone is so friendly and always trying to help one another. Traveling this way becomes more about people than just places.
Save Money

This is certainly what makes it all possible for us. Yes, we did have the cost of the trailer and related equipment. But, once we made the investment, the cost each time we travel is substantially less. This is what allows us to take more and longer trips.

Of course we could have met our first goal by taking our car and avoiding the cost of the trailer. But the cost of each additional hotel night just makes it more difficult for us to add extra time to the trips. Plus, as it turns out, we really like sleeping in our own bed each night, and not having to move our things in and out of hotel rooms.

Winfield Campground in Georgia - $13 a night with America the Beautiful senior's pass (only $26 without)

Saving Money on Places to Stay

First, please realize that we only stay at places that have least water and electricity. As Fay likes to say..."We are not into roughing it!". I know that many people have solar installed on their RVs, and travel with their fresh water tanks full, but not us! So here's the two great ways we've found to save significant money on places to stay:
Passport America

This is our favorite way to save on overnight stays. There are several membership "clubs", but this is the only one we use. It has by far the best deals we've found, and there's usually always locations along our route. The pass is $44/year, and gives you 50% off on over 1500 campgrounds. We have been able to cover the cost of the annual fee with just two or three nights stay each year.

In our experience, the places have fallen into three categories:
  • Campgrounds and RV Parks that have times that are not busy
    Discounts are not always available, but we've stayed at some nice places when the timing has been right. Sometimes they've been very upscale resorts during the off-season. Other tiems, it's been local campgrounds that are only busy on weekends during the summer.
  • New Facilities
    A few of the places we stayed at were very new and not yet well known. They've been nice, but some of their facilities were pretty basic.
  • Dumps (to put it mildly)!
    We've only stayed at one, but have come across quite a few others. What we found were places that have mostly full-time residents in run-down trailers and RVs. They typically have a few sites available for transient visitors.

You have to be really careful to check out these places in advance, but if you do, you'll find a lot of great places at great prices. Most of them limit you to only a few days stay at the discounted rate, often only during the week. For us, they've been a great way to save money on travel days getting from one main destination to another.

For more information, check out the Passport America website page.

U.S. America the Beautiful Seniors Pass

There are several passes available for U.S. Parks. If you are 62 or older, the America the Beautiful Seniors Pass is a great deal if you are traveling the country. There's an annual pass for $20, and a lifetime pass with a one-time fee of only $80. These passes provide discounted rates at many campgrounds owned by the federal govenrment. Fay and I have stayed at several Corps of Engineers campgrounds that have been really great. The nighly cost varies, but at the places we've stayed it's never exceeded $15. (You can read our reviews and see photos from our Campground Reviews page. Look for the places in the list that have (COE) after their name.)

Free Places - Walmart, Cracker Barrel

As I mentioned above, we have no persional experience with these places. A lot of other people use them and seem to feel okay about them. Just be sure and look over the surrounding area to be sure you feel safe. Also, check with the location manager to make sure it's allowed at the specific location.

Group cookout during a small travel trailer rally in north Florida

"Eating Out with Friends" the campground way! Getting ready for dinner at a small travel trailer rally in north Florida

Saving Money on Food

At the campground

Besides hotels, this is the other big savings when we travel. Occasionally we do go to restaurants, but the majority of our meals are at the campground. If the weather is nice, we really enjoy cooking and eating outside. For a stove, we still have old Coleman camp stove we purchased when we tent camped 25 years ago. When cooking meat, we mostly use a propane grill. A lot of people prefer charcoal, but the convenience of propane is just worth it to us. We started with a very cheap one, but really hated it. About 4 years ago we splurged and spent the money for a portable Weber and have never regretted it. It gets much hotter, and the heat is very consistent. (If you are interested in learning more about the Weber grill we use, check out the information and other people's reviews on Amazon.)

On the road

When we are on the road, we do two things to keep our food costs down. Most of the time we find a place to park (a public park, a church or even shopping center parking lot), go into our trailer, and fix a quick sandwich. When we know we'll be in a hurry, we'll often make sandwiches in the morning and eat them in the truck while we're driving. If we don't plan ahead, we usually hit a fast food place and order off their "dollar menu". It's crazy how we can buy two basic hamburgers for $2, but a "Big M" is over $4.

Of course the drinks can also be a bit expensive, but a cup of water is free. If we decide to grab an extra cup of coffee, most of the big convenient stores have decent coffee now days, at a pretty cheap price. Of course there's also the senior's coffee at the fast food restaurants that we qualify for at this point in our lives!

Happy Fay

So how do you save money when you travel?

After making a lot of trips with our small travel trailer over the last 5 years, these are the ways we've found to save some money. How do you save money on your trips?

Please checkout some of my other articles, and the rest of the website.

Denny Johnson

Denny Johnson

After having spent most of our adult life in Orlando, my wife Fay and I moved to Knoxville, TN in 2020. We are loving the change of seasons and being near the mountains. Plus, this part of the country is loaded with great places to camp. 
We camped years ago with a pop-up camper, but got serious about it when we purchased our Casita in 2014. There was a lot to learn as we started traveling with it, and a lot of conflicting opinions on line. That's when I decided that creating a website would be a good retirement project. I started to share things we've learned along the way that have worked well for us in hopes that the information would be of help to others.
However, since moving to Tennessee, I've gotten involved with new hobbies (you can check some out on my personal website at and we haven't camped very much. So, at the end of 2023, I made the tough decision to stop updating this website.
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14 thoughts on “How We Save Money When Traveling With Our Small Travel Trailer

  1. I practice pretty much the same as you. I’ve been camping since 1956. I’m 72. I had to give up my cabin A camper which i loved. Now i car/tent camp. I am planning a trip next year to SD to visit my son. So i read everything you write. I am on a fixed income and must budget. First trip to California from Georgia in 1957 cost my parents $600. We tent camped at many great places on that trip.

    1. You know Rose, I think you’re the first person I’ve met that worked their way UP to tent camping!

  2. Good article. We too always stay at campgrounds, use Passport America and never stay at Walmart or Cracker Barrell. Like you said there is nothing wrong with it but we just don’t do it. We like to have electricity and water when we camp. We enjoy your articles because you camp like we do except we have a 34′ 5th wheel with 2 slides but are considering trading for a class C. Safe travels and keep writing.

    1. Walmart and Cracker Barrell seem to work out really well for a lot of people. I guess we’re just wimps!

  3. Great Tips Denny. We’ve owned our 2010 Casita for year and half and we love it more each time we use it. Trip # 4 this fall to Florida for several weeks! We’ll be using our casita the same way you do. Extended trips and not roughing it too much.

    1. Drop me a note if you make it to Orlando this fall Gregory and want to meet up for a cup of coffee to talk Casita’s and camping. We live at the north end of Winter Park, about 20 minutes north of downtown Orlando.

  4. One thing to consider is if you are a AAA member there are various discounts available worth checking into before you begin your trip. There are discounts on travel, food, lodging as well as goods and services not to mention road service in the event of a breakdown or if you happen to lock your keys in your vehicle.

  5. I enjoyed reading your tips thank you for sharing. We just got our CASITA in February took her out only commercial RV parking to exercise our routine of what to do as we’re new to camping trailer. We always tent camping. I like your idea park where it safe have water and electric. We will look at Passport America thank you.

  6. We got Passport America when it was 25 bucks. Heck of a deal (except we live in eastern NYS). We’ll be buying an Escape 21NE soon. We gave up our Parkliner after 5 years of use because we didn’t use it enough. Before that, we had two Sunline trailers. I’m retired now and my wife will be sometime soon. Takes a while to even get an Escape, so we’ll be on that soon. Have a 2013 F150 crewcab that came with a tow package and has a tow capacity of over 9,000#s.

  7. We do about what you do! Spent 9 days to Tampa and back seeing spring training games this past Feb/March and only ate out twice. I froze meals and they all fit in our freezer. It was nice to save money that way. We couldn’t get a spot in a state park and had to stay in an “RV resort”. It was very nice but we were shoulder to shoulder with other huge campers. Not to mention it cost considerably more. We will book earlier next time! Love your hints and tips and tricks. Thanks!

  8. We seem to have much better luck at federal and state campgrounds rather than RV “resorts”. (We haven’t looked at COE sites but I’ll add that to my list of places to check.) Federal and state campgrounds are less expensive than the “resorts” and the campsites seem to be quite a bit bigger. But, of course, federal and state campgrounds aren’t necessarily in convenient locations.

  9. Please check out Boondockers Welcome. They are very inexpensive and safe! We are hosts in South Alabama and really enjoy hosting campers as they pass through our area. And we get 3 months free membership every time we host! We have 30 and 50 amp available as well as water hookup. just no sewer hook ups. And on our 5 acres we can accomodate quite a few solor or generator operated campers.

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