Our Escape to The Outer Banks
I wasn’t planing on doing a post on the Outer Banks because most of my travel posts consist of recommendations of where to go and we didn’t go anywhere! They also usually feature photos of things other than us, but… I don’t think I’ve ever received as much response from a trip I took in my five years of blogging and covering travel. And, I understand. One, we’re all desperate to go somewhere, anywhere thanks to Covid and quarantining. Two, it was pretty magical and I think (hope) my Stories conveyed that.
My family was supposed to go to Disney (for my mom’s 70th) in the fall. It’s a very special place for my parents, especially, and we hadn’t been in a bit. It would’ve been Ollie’s first time and Lilly’s third (first, second). For obvious reasons, that trip (like many) was cancelled. Even if Disney World is open in October, it won’t be the same. Who wants to wear masks at the happiest place on earth?
We were all pretty bummed about it and bemoaning a stagnant summer. My sister and I started tossing around the idea of renting one big house (we usually do several condos or suites so everyone gets their space) this summer that had a pool and was by a beach that we could all drive to. All sorts of locations were in the mix- lake houses, mountain homes… But, we all love a good beach and knew that’s where we really wanted to go. But, where? So many places were already booked out for the entire summer. We’d always talked about wanting to visit the Outer Banks. I’ve been to Bald Head Island twice with friends, but none of us had ever been to OBX.
I was making dinner for the kids one night while also trying to answer client emails and my phone started blowing up. It was my family text chain. My sister found a gorgeous home in Corolla, NC and needed to know asap if we were in before we lost it. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t burn dinner, my kids were screaming and I was on deadline. My family frustratingly waited for me, every few minutes texting to hurry up. I finally had a chance to look up the place. Immediate yes.
First Tracks is a 5 bedroom, 6 bath, oceanfront home on North Swan Beach in Corolla, NC. It’s a relatively new 2-floor home with two living rooms, sweeping decks and stunning views. There’s a private pool below and sits behind the dunes of a large piece of the Atlantic.
It’s a coveted home and was only available because someone backed out. Had we waited another few hours, it would’ve been gone. I’m so glad it wasn’t.
For us, it was a 8 hour drive without stops. So basically 9 door-to-door. We weren’t sure how that was gonna go since the longest they’ve been in the car is 5 hours and that’s only been a time or two. But, Mama came prepared with lots of activities. That combined with the old school entertainment system and some new DVD’s did the trick. And they did great. Save for Oliver’s screaming for the last 20 minutes, all was well. It honestly didn’t feel like 9 hours. It felt like 20. Kidding. It really only felt like 6. We arrived around 4pm, against traffic, on a Sunday and left on a Sunday at 8am before the rush. My parents and sister left an hour or two after us and we’re at a standstill. We beat them all home and we had the longest drive by far.
We were also worried about rest stops and having to go to the bathroom. None of the fast food restaurant’s bathrooms were open so we went to one Bob Evans to use their facilities and a gas station another time. As if going to a rest stop restroom wasn’t sketchy enough pre-Covid. I would say about 50% of the people were wearing masks, which was upsetting and felt like we were in the twilight coming from the Northeast where most are cautious and respectful. We got in and out fast and didn’t buy anything. We packed a Yeti cooler full of drinks, snacks and full blown meals. Overall, it felt safe… enough.
We were so happy we made the trek. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken with my family. I’m sure part of it was all of our desires to be somewhere else besides home. To escape the world and our realities more than ever before. And I think some of it was because, strangely enough, being in one house caused less fighting than previous years in separate spaces. Now having experienced both, I realize that a lot of our arguments revolved around plans and timing. What time should we meet for breakfast? When are we going to the pool? Doesn’t anyone want to come to the beach? You were late and now we’re already back in our room. Your family wants to go to X for dinner and mine wants to go to Y. Removing all of that made it so much more peaceful. And part of that was Covid too. There were no plans to make or timelines to adhere to because we didn’t go anywhere! The kids got plenty of quality time that wasn’t forced or planned. There was a flow and an ease that we’ve never had before. My sister took Lilly to the pool while I went for donuts with Ollie. I bathed my niece while my sister did some laundry. Zach shopped and cooked for everyone. One of my parents would play with a set of kids while the other played with the remainder.
The other, major reason it was one of the best was the setting. As many of you saw on Stories, we were fairly isolated (by design), the house was beautiful, there wasn’t much obstructing our views AND wild horses roamed by our home every day. It was something we’ve never experienced before and likely never will again (unless we go back there- we’re tempted). It was such a cool experience for the kids and adults. It made it all so magical. We didn’t know it while booking, but our home was on the wild horse beach. Before we went, people told us we had to take a drive to check them out (and there’s tour buses that actually take you there), but we didn’t need to go anywhere besides our deck, pool or beach! I just wish I’d taken better photos. I was too busy staring (and shooting video) and just screenshot some of the footage for pictures.
I’m usually a fan of going out to eat several nights on vacation. It gets us all out of the house, gives us (Zach) a break from cooking and I love a good cocktail menu. That was not an option this trip. There are restaurants open, but we’re not necessarily there yet. We’re dipping our toe in the water with outdoor dining, but that’s in our small town where numbers are down and we know where to go and who to trust. No one wanted to try a new place in a foreign state where cases are on the rise. Removing dinner reservations from the table was actually really refreshing. There was no haggling over where to go, no need to get cleaned up, sit in traffic or be somewhere on time, everyone could eat whatever, whenever they wanted. It also inspired us to be more creative at home. Theme nights, menu planning, different desserts every night (why I’m currently drinking a green juice)… The kids got really into it with us.
We spent our days sipping coffee at 6am (thanks Oliver!) on our balcony watching the sun rise. That was followed by a lazy early morning filled with à la carte breakfasts, cartoons and crafts. By 9am we were at the pool or beach. After several hours of play, we’d head upstairs for lunch, Oliver’s nap and quiet time for the rest of us. I’d read on a screened-in porch as the sea breeze blew in. I was so relaxed, I often fell asleep to nature’s sound machine. After rest time, we’d snack up, do another craft and head back to the pool and the beach. 5pm sharp was happy hour as the kids stayed and played in the pool and at the beach till dinner time. Our afternoon swims always ended in the hot tub.
Then it was dinner, homemade dessert and dance parties on the deck followed by movie night (The Good Dinosaur, James Bond and a Thomas family classic, Summer Rental). We’d wake up and do it all again the next day. Lilly loved standing on Zach’s shoulders, doing canon balls, pool races with her Mama and terrorizing with her boy cousins. Oliver was obsessed with the foot wash, pool drain and throwing the corn hole bean bags into the pool. I was just happy to witness it all. I will forever remember the joy in my children’s faces made possible by our week in the Outer Banks.
Here are a few snaps from our time there…
We arrived and went straight to the pool and beach.
Pretty spectacular way to start our vacation!
Our home had so much space and plenty of seating areas, including two in the garage (right off the pool and beach).
We were situated between a dune and the beach, which provided some privacy.
One of my favorite parts of the home was the wrap around balconies. There was plenty of seating and even a hot tub on the side of the second floor.
The pool (area) isn’t the prettiest, but pick your battles! I’d rather have a gorgeous home, view and horses than a perfect pool.
We rented a dune buggy to mix things up. Honestly, my dad and nephews were more into it. I was one and done as were my kids. (But here you can see a photo taken from the front of the house. That’s one of the little tiny roads to get to the houses off of the sand.)
Sad to leave. 😉
There were some drawbacks, in my opinion, to the trip and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share them. There are many gorgeous homes on North Swan Beach. Most are booked for the summer, but I would definitely click “notify me” on ones you love as there is bound to be many cancelations this year as we experienced. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into though.
The house is on the 4×4 section of the beach meaning it’s only accessible by driving on the sand. Therefore you have to have an all wheel drive vehicle and you must stop at their station before to release pressure from your tires. Where we were located, it took a good 10-15 minutes to get onto the road from our house and then another 10-15 to get into the main part of town where the grocery store and most of the restaurants, etc. are. We, of course, weren’t going to any restaurants. But we did go send Zach, our sacrificial lamb (hey, he’s not blood!) out the grocery store twice. And we made a pit stop at Duck Donuts because when in Duck… But, if you want to be in the center of all the action and walking or a short drive’s distance to plenty of things, this is not the place for you.
If you’re looking for an unobstructed view, this is also not for you. While this house has stunning views and off peak, you have it all to yourself, during the day it’s a different story. Cars are allowed (obviously because it’s the only way to access it) and they don’t just pass by, they set up camp. We’re talking tents, flags, chairs, coolers… A full on tailgate. We didn’t grow up going to beaches like that so it was very foreign to us and we didn’t like it. Not only did it feel a bit unsafe with kids running around but it wasn’t pretty to look at.
But, you get a much newer, nicer home being out there. If our home would’ve been in the heart of things, it would’ve been at least double the price. While I’d love to try another area, to mix things up, I would absolutely go back to First Tracks. Despite the setbacks, it was that special.
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