5 reasons an Outer Banks road trip gave me the confidence to travel again

Aug 10, 2020

While several of my colleagues have had an opportunity to fly over the last few weeks, I have yet to board a plane during the pandemic. I haven’t given up on travel, though! Instead of flying, I’ve been focused on exploring the country by car, most recently with a loaned 2020 Audi Q5 SUV as part of a TPG partnership with Silvercar.

After a seamless Silvercar pickup in New York City and a fun overnight stay at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, my Q5 and I continued on to one of my favorite parts of the country, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I journeyed all the way down to our rented house in Frisco, near the southern tip of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a narrow, 70-mile stretch of shoreline running from Bodie Island all the way to Ocracoke.

My family has been visiting Cape Hatteras since I was a toddler, and while there has been some development over the years, the area remains free of large shopping centers, endless chain restaurants and high-rise hotels —here, I explain why it’s an ideal pick for anyone looking for a safe escape during the pandemic, and, hopefully, for generations to come.

There isn’t a commercial airport

Some of the best road trip destinations are those that aren’t easily accessible by commercial flight — even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, flying to Cape Hatteras wouldn’t be the most sensible pick. During the pandemic, that inaccessibility helps limit the number of guests — prospective visitors must be up for a bit of a trek.

Billy Mitchell Airport (HSE) is an option if you have access to a private jet, but you’ll want to have a car to get around the Outer Banks, limiting the appeal of private air travel even for travelers who can afford it.

Fortunately, AvGeeks can still get their aviation fix even if they drive down to the Outer Banks, with a stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, near Kitty Hawk.

There’s plenty of space to yourself

Driving all the way to Hatteras is a commitment. On the way, you’ll pass through miles and miles of far more populated beach towns, but it’s worth the extra couple of hours in the car. With fewer housing options and a longer drive, the island doesn’t feel crowded, even when it’s backed up.

You’d need to head to the beach in the middle of the week to find similar open stretches at places like Wildwood, NJ and Virginia Beach, VA, and other more-accessible destinations along the East Coast.

On Hatteras, there’s never a need to come within six feet of someone on the beach, and if you’re looking for even more solitude, you can catch a ferry to Ocracoke Island, about an hour away.

Many businesses are good about masks

Tourists and locals alike weren’t wearing masks when able to maintain proper distance on the beach, or even on outer ferry decks, but many businesses were enforcing mandates indoors, where wearing a mask matters most.

Our favorite fish market, Risky Business Seafood, was only letting one group inside at a time, and visitors didn’t seem to mind lining up for access. Indoor dining was available at some restaurants during my visit, but we were easily able to avoid that and any other high-risk situations, by being more selective about where we ate.

There isn’t any nightlife

You’re on your own for entertainment after the sun goes down, and, with indoor bars and large gatherings being especially risky at the moment, that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Also, thanks to early bedtimes, I was able to maximize my sunshine on this trip — I made sure to begin my day just before 6:00 a.m. in order to catch the incredible sunrise during daily long, peaceful morning walks.

You’ll be staying in a private home

As much as I love a good five-star hotel, I’m doing my best to avoid coming into contact with strangers at the moment. To make that even more manageable, I’ve been booking private homes whenever practical.

That’s actually the norm in Cape Hatteras: While there are motels and inns here and there, the vast majority of visitors stay in rental homes, all within walking distance of the beach. Depending on where you stay, you can book a four-bedroom house for around $1,000 for an entire week, directly through local agencies, such as Midgett and Hatteras Realty.

Bottom line

Cape Hatteras is almost fully open for business. It’s legal to do things like play mini-golf near other groups or partake in indoor dining, and you may encounter customers neglecting to wear a mask, especially in larger stores. Still, by following CDC guidelines, visiting smaller markets, ordering takeout and maintaining distance on the beach, it’s easy to minimize your risk.

While eating out was always a highlight during my childhood Hatteras visits, we didn’t miss it on this trip. I even whipped us up a sushi dinner with some of the incredibly fresh tuna we picked up at Risky Business.

Still, there is a cost of traveling to some parts of the U.S. right now. As of this writing, some states, including my home state of New York, are requiring anyone entering from a handful of high-risk areas to quarantine for 14 days. Aside from walking over to get a coronavirus test after returning home, I spent all of the time until my next trip stuck in my studio apartment.

As inconvenient as the quarantine requirement can be — especially given my incredibly low risk of exposure — I understand the importance of implementing a standardized process right now, and I’m happy to follow it in exchange for the opportunity to travel from time to time. This adventure also helped give me the confidence to embark on more East Coast road trips, including one up to Maine, again with an Audi Q5 in partnership with Silvercar.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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