The Outer Banks region of North Carolina is pretty unique and if you’re tempted to visit, I’ve put together some logistical tips for planning the trip… that can be useful for any trip, while you wait for our very detailed guide on how to plan all your trips yourself.
There are many of the pro tips already in our free ebook with 100+ travel tips, but this here will give you a concrete example for a North American destination (although it’s certainly a bit special because of its geographic situation and tiny population).
Here are the details of the most important logistical elements to visit the Outer Banks (often abbreviated the OBX).
Outer Banks itinerary
If you missed it, you can read our itinerary with 7 stops for your trip to the Outer Banks.
Introduction to the Outer Banks
To read the introduction to this unique region, including the location and definition of the region, read the beginning of the itinerary with 7 stops for your journey to the Outer Banks.
Getting to the Outer Banks
Here are some tips on how to get to this beautiful area.
It’s a long way from Canada if you want to get there by land: for example, from Toronto, it’s a 12.5-hour drive to get to the beginning of the Outer Banks. You really have to like long roadtrips. Although it’s only an hour and a half more than Virginia Beach, a roadtrip destination that is quite popular with many Canadians out East.
Like most places in North America, transportation options that don’t involve a car are pretty limited, or even non-existent in the case of the OBX. Trains don’t go there, given the geographic feature. Even buses don’t seem to go there either.
Because the Outer Banks are so sparsely populated and there are no major cities, there are no commercial airports even though the area is popular with travelers. This is perhaps what helps to preserve the beauty of these islands, by limiting easy access!
This means that the closest airport depends on where in the Outer Banks you want to go, in case you don’t want to drive the entire 320 kilometers along the coast.
It’s peculiar since the area doesn’t have an airport, but in fact, it’s the same reasoning for any trip where you want to cover a certain distance: the choice of an airport can affect the price enormously.
Sometimes landing a little further away can be more affordable. Being flexible on arrival airports (and departure airports) is one of the best ways to save on flights.
The Kiwi tool is the best for preliminary research (but not for booking); we’ll cover that in detail, but our teaser of the basics to book flights during the AirAsia sale with $13 flights last week is a must-read.
In the meantime, I’ll give you some more basic tips for the Outer Banks.
If you don’t know the airports in a particular area, you can use Flight Connections. For example, you can see the airports in North Carolina on the map and the color coding tells you the airport’s size as well.
Major airports in North Carolina
The normal reflex is to look at the busiest airports because that means they’re likely to have cheaper flights and, more importantly, cheaper rental cars too, necessarily.
But the major airports in North Carolina are several hours away from the Outer Banks.
*Not to be confused with Charlottetown Airport (YYG) in Canada, Charlottesville (CHO) in Virginia, Charlotte County (PGD) in Florida, or Charlotte Amalie (STT) in the US Virgin Islands
If the flights are not too expensive in cash, it may be better not to waste your most valuable points and just pay in cash. You can also use your stash of simple points that can be applied to almost any trip, like part of your 165,000 TD Rewards points from the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card‘s welcome bonus, the highest bonus ever seen in Canada for simple points.
If flights are expensive with cash, you can get Toronto-Charlotte or Montréal-Charlotte reward flights (direct flights on American Airlines) for just 18,000 points and $78 roundtrip through the British Airways Avios program (American Express points, RBC Avion Rewards points, and HSBC Rewards points are transferrable to the Avios program)!
To give you just one example, the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card will currently give you a total of 60,000 RBC Avion points (that’s 60,000 Avios points) with its highest ever welcome bonus offer, which is over 3 roundtrip flights to Charlotte (or 1 roundtrip flight to Europe in peak summer if you had planned ahead — it’s very important to always get your points early).
Avios points are much less flexible than Aeroplan points, though! On the flip side, if you’re in the habit of paying way too much for flights like sadly too many people do, you can also save a lot of money easily with the RBC Avion rewards flight chart (another separate redemption option I’ll detail soon).
Minor Airports in North Carolina
North Carolina has smaller airports that are closer, but they are sometimes more expensive and almost always have more expensive rental cars (I’ll show you that in the next section).
The closest ones are:
- Coastal Carolina (EWN)
- Jacksonville (OAJ)*
- Greenville (PGV)**
- Wilmington (ILM)***
- Fayetteville (FAY)****
*Not to be confused with Jacksonville’s airport (JAX), which is on 1 of Florida’s 12 coasts (more in this series coming soon if you like coastal areas)
**Not to be confused with Greenville’s airport (GSP), which is in South Carolina and not North Carolina
***Not to be confused with Wilmington’s airport (ILG), which is in the state that just stopped being the only USA state without air service
****Not to be confused with Fayetteville’s airport (XNA), which is one of the closest to the Ozarks region, another one that gives its name to a Netflix series
(Okay, I’ll stop, but this is really basic and it’s important if you don’t want to be like those who end up in Montana or in Nova Scotia when they want to go to Sydney, Australia… use the 3-letter airport codes, that’s literally what they’re for!)
Usually, to get to the smaller, more expensive airports, points like Aeroplan are excellent: they allow you to pay the same fixed price, no matter what the price is in cash, on the 45+ partner airlines.
In the USA, the partner is United Airlines, but the airports are so small that United only serves Fayetteville, the farthest away. Here is a much better alternative.
Airports in Virginia
Yeah, you may have seen my clue on the map above, but you probably shouldn’t even use a North Carolina airport even if you are going to North Carolina!
The airports in the Virginia Beach area are the closest! That’s why it’s important to look at the closest airports in terms of distance, not just the imaginary lines of a specific state.
These are the airports in the Virginia Beach area:
(Okay, another sidenote if you like to learn: in the USA, cities that start with N like these 2 — and the Coastal Carolina airport above that is in New Bern — don’t have airport codes that start with N, just like codes don’t start with K or W either… it’s explained in the last of the 8 ways 3-letter airport codes are chosen!)
If you have Aeroplan points, you’ll pay 20,000 roundtrip points to fly to Norfolk, for example, but with how Aeroplan charges the USA taxes, it also costs $198. So even more than for other destinations, good redemptions to the USA are most often when the flights are expensive in cash.
The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card has the highest welcome bonus in Canada right now, which will give you 66,250 Aeroplan points in total. The American Express Aeroplan Card and the American Express Cobalt Card are alternatives for earning Aeroplan points.
Airport in South Carolina
And finally, one last airport option could be one in the other neighboring state, but to the south:
It is further away… but maybe you want to combine both Carolinas!
And best of all, as a 100% leisure travel destination (not business travel), fares to Myrtle Beach can often be cheaper. Because airfare has nothing to do with distance traveled, nothing to do with the number of flights, nothing to do with the cost of operating the flight.
Very basic to understand also to be able to tame the price mechanisms better.
By the way, speaking of alternative airports, if you’re willing to fly out of Boston (BOS), Detroit (DTW), or Rochester (ROC), you can often find flights to Myrtle Beach for US$100 roundtrip thanks to ultra low-cost carriers (ULCC).
(Yesterday, I flew on Flair, Canada’s largest ULCC, to test them out for you on my way to Calgary to be a on a panel at a travel rewards event — don’t miss my review of $100 roundtrip flights next week!)
The Myrtle Beach route used to be available from Montréal’s USA airport, in Plattsburgh (PBG). Myrtle Beach was actually my very first ULCC flight ever, in 2011, for just US$55 roundtrip per person (US$110 for 2)!
Some people spend $55 for a restaurant meal; I’d rather spend a day in a new city. Keeping your money for travel is a very simple way to travel more, especially given how much travel you can get with minimal savings when you know how.
Getting around the Outer Banks
So, you probably understood if you read the introduction to the Outer Banks, but at 320 kilometers long, if you want to explore the region, you have almost no choice but to have a rental car if you don’t go with your own car. Unless you settle down in a specific place and don’t move around too much.
We’re talking about the United States, so basically, mass transit is absolutely terrible compared to just about anywhere else in the world (you can obviously get anywhere pretty efficiently without a car in so many countries). Plus, the Outer Banks is sparsely populated, so it’s even worse than anywhere else in the country.
Don’t miss our ultimate guide on how to save money on car rentals soon; it’s really an area where many don’t know the basics of how to not pay a lot, unfortunately. It makes me so sad to see so many people spending so much money on this; there are plenty of simple tips to save money.
On another note, to illustrate what I was saying about airports, a rental car in a busy airport like Charlotte (CLT) costs C$359 for 7 days at random dates (obviously, it varies, it’s just an example).
On the same dates, check out the small airport closest to the Outer Banks, Coastal Carolina (EWN). It costs C$600 for 7 days.
It’s not that hard to save on all aspects of travel; you just have to compare everything. But you have to take the time to do it; no one will do it for you. You’re always your own best advocate anyway.
And when we also say that everything in the travel world depends on many factors, it’s another good example.
If I go to the Outer Banks solo, saving $200 on the flight and $200 on the car, that’s $400 total.
If you go with a family of 3, well, saving $200 per flight, it’s $600, so $800 total.
What I mean is that the number of people is an essential variable in your comparisons and research. Basically, I don’t rent a car that often because I’m often traveling solo. With several people, the cost per person becomes much more interesting. A car for $50 per day alone is $50 per person. But $50 for 3 people is only $17 per person.
And when traveling with several people, for plane tickets, it’s even more important to learn how to find cheaper ones because the price difference is multiplied by the number of travelers. And the costs that are sometimes incurred (to save on the tickets) are divided by the number of travelers. So double win.
In short, everything depends on many factors: take the time to learn the tips and compare the options and make the best decision according to your own personal situation and preferences!
Lodging in the Outer Banks
I’ve included lodging options individually in each stop on the Outer Banks itinerary to give context on what’s around.
In short, the lodging options in the area are quite limited compared to many other popular places.
So many people like to camp in the Outer Banks because of that. Some people often think I’m too much of a budget-traveler (I like to be able to travel 10 times a year, but that’s just me). But one thing I personally don’t do is camping. Instead of a tent, I’ll take a bed in a shared hostel dorm 11 times out of 10. But there are no hostels in the Outer Banks.
So I want to do 2 reminders about that. First, even me, who spends about 5 times less for my trips than the average traveler (the average traveler is objectively pretty terrible at traveling affordably sadly; really it saddens me)… even I could still save more. There’s always ways to save more if you want to travel for less.
(Especially if you think spending $3000 per person for a 2-week trip is normal as so many people sadly do!)
And again, everyone is different. There’s no universal rule. Make your travel decisions on your own like a responsible adult, according to your own situation; just take the time to read up on the best tips and then analyze the options based on your own preferences.
As for traditional accommodations, as with any destination, you can use TripAdvisor to see hotel ratings and the best price (it’s an aggregator that compares lots of booking sites) or use Booking.com and its many filters, including the map search.
We’ll also have an ultimate guide on how to save on lodging very soon.
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The Outer Banks region of North Carolina is a beautiful place that connoisseurs don’t want to popularize too much, so as not to lose the uniqueness of this very unspoiled and quiet corner. With this itinerary and these logistical tips, you too can go and discover the beauty of the OBX.
What would you like to know about the Outer Banks? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Outer Banks (photo credit: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)