A $1,500 Budget Outer Banks Vacation
They Said It Was Impossible
Over the years, many people have wondered... "just how much does it cost to take a family vacation on the Outer Banks?" While the answer to that question is based on a variety of factors, a good estimate is anywhere from $500 for a short weekend jaunt for a couple to $10,000+ for a luxurious multi-family week-long stay. Many families seeking to just get away for a break from the routine certainly desire a budget friendly vacation destination. The Outer Banks can most definitely be that place, only if you use a bit of frugality and back it up with a dash of research. Fortunately for you, I've done a good bit of legwork already, and laid out a full week's plan for lodging, dining, and activities... for you, another adult, and three children. My plan has you spending $1,500 (pause for dramatic emphasis and gasps from the crowd)... yes, $1,500. Fuel costs and consumption has been factored in for during your vacation. Getting here depends on where you're at and is all on you!
When to Stay
It is widely publicized and generally understood that the "off-season" weeks on the Outer Banks offer less expensive rental prices. This is 100% true. What's not true is that all off-season weeks were created equal. A vacation to the Outer Banks in January will (most likely) be the cheapest time of the year to stay, but I assure you it is not the most desirable. While there are a certain breed of visitors who crave the empty roads, seclusion, and feeling that they have the whole beach to themselves, I'm going to go ahead and assume those of you reading have the same desires as most of us... that is to enjoy warm weather and taking a dip in the ocean. Given that assumption, there are plenty of weeks that should be on your budget conscious vacation radar. May - June and September - October are my prime candidates. The late spring vacations will give you hotter sun and cooler water, with the early fall weeks offering just the opposite. Pick and choose your favorites and what works best for your time off scenarios, but for our $1,500 trip, I've gone ahead and reserved the second week in September for us (happens to be the week I was married here, wonderfully warm and hard to describe how beautiful September is on the Outer Banks). More details can be found in the vacation rental section at the bottom of the page.
Dining In ($250)
Eating the majority of meals at your rental home and preparing food yourself is hands down the easiest way to save money on vacation. You may not like it sometimes, you may feel like you're at home-home, but this should be seen as a great opportunity to save some money on the trip in its entirety as well as a nice opportunity for family bonding. Don't you fret! I've got you covered with a week's worth of breakfasts, all days' lunches but two spent out, and all evenings' dinners but one spent out. See, that's not so bad! P.S. make sure to bring some readily available essentials from home with you. Things like coffee, laundry soap, matches, flashlights, sunscreen, cooking oil, and paper products tend to be in high supply at home and are easy to pack. There's no point in buying a brand new detergent for a week if you're budget conscious and have a half container at home.. bring it with you!
Expert Budgeter Tip: Don't be afraid to use coupons! Typically there are $X off $XX coupons for Food Lion in the Visitor's Guide or coupon books, and Harris Teeter locations even double manufacturer coupons up to $.99 face value.
Dining Out ($250)
Dining out is great. No cooking, no dishes, and you get to enjoy a taste of the Outer Banks through the many talented chefs at restaurants here. Remember, we're on a budget! We have allotted for two lunches out and one dinner out. It's not a complicated recipe, but let's follow this as a guide:
Expert Budgeter Tip: If you're having a hard time picking out places to eat, I highly recommend taking a look at our Village Realty VIP offers page. Not only are these restaurants great enough to be associated with our business, they also have each posted a generous offer to our guests. This way you get to take your family out to a restaurant with our seal of approval, plus a nice discount on top of that! Choices range from grab-and-go grub to waterfront fine dining.
FREE Activities ($0)
The exact origins of "Ghost Crabbing" are unknown... but there's something oddly intriguing and entertaining about hunting down and/or running from nocturnal crustaceans on the beach. You may see them poke their heads out for a few minutes during the day on the beach, but Ghost crabs are most active at night, and "hunting" for them is an excellent free activity. Head out just after the sun sets down, and bring your nets, flashlights and buckets. Most people just go out and spot for them on the beach and down by the waterline, other do go ahead and gently handle them. Please make sure to use your best judgment and not wind up getting pinched! If you do try and handle the crabs be careful/respectful with them. Also keep your eyes peeled for the juvenile Ghost crabs as they are much smaller and they blend in with the sand.
Expert Budgeter Tip: Don't forget to bring your flashlights and other gear so you don't need to buy anything once you arrive. Bug spray is also key if the wind is blowing out of the west.
Jockey's Ridge State Park
What feels like it should be a wonder of the world, Jockey's Ridge State Park covers 400 acres and has the tallest active sand dunes in the eastern United States. There is no admission charge and plenty to do! Bring the whole family out for a walk and climb the dunes. You'll be able to see for miles out over the ocean as well as over the sound and into Manteo. Jockey's Ridge is also an excellent place to fly a kite, race down the hills, and get the dogs out and about if you have them. Remember, if the sand is too hot for your bare feet it's too hot for dogs to walk on. Keep your eyes peeled on our events calendar as Jockey's Ridge and Jockey's Ridge Crossing (shopping center across the road) offer free events year round, the most popular ones include giant flying kites.
Expert Budgeter Tip: If you're lucky and the wind has been blowing in the right direction, you may be able to get a bonus photo-op and possibly spot what's hidden under the dunes! Also, if you don't have a kite, the Wings gift shops are typically 50% off the entire store after Labor Day until January so you can snag a new kite for pennies on the dollar.
Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve
A true gem! Nags Head Woods is over 1,400 acres of maritime forest that you probably never knew existed. There are walking trails, driving/biking trails, ponds just about everywhere, and a community of homes tucked all within. Dotted along the way are several old grave sites dating back to the turn of the century. Wether you're in a car, on foot, or going for a pedal, Nags Head Woods is a remarkable place to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the Outer Banks. The easiest access is at the very end of Ocean Acres Drive in Kill Devil Hills. Go slow, be safe, and have a great (free) time!
Family Portrait Session
Nothing captures the memories of an Outer Banks vacation quite like photos of your family. Whether you have a group of 5 or 50, all Village Realty guests are eligible for a free 30 minute family portrait sitting with Sarah D'Ambra of Beach Portraits OBX. There is no limit to the number of people and after your session you'll be given a special code to receive 10% off your print order. Check out the full details for this free offer, as well as view our other VIP offers that include other discounts and free activities. This is a great free service for your family while you're at the beach, then you can order whatever you'd like after getting home with your special discount offer.
Besides Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, Village Realty also represents hundreds of homes in the northern Outer Banks and Corolla area, so if you're staying there make sure to check out this list of free activities in Corolla, NC.
Paid Activities ($200)
While you could definitely take a super budget friendly vacation to the Outer Banks with zero paid activities, that wouldn't be nearly as fun as one with a few sprinkled in! The Outer Banks has dozens of major tourist attractions, including historical sites, educational exhibits, and family fun areas. While the majority of outdoor attractions are free (viewing lighthouses, walking the beach, etc.) you do have to pay nominal admissions for some. Let's start our paid activities list of with a first; a first in flight!
Wright Brothers' National Memorial
The Wright Brothers put Kitty Hawk on the map and gave birth to aviation as we know it... that should be all the reason you need to visit their memorial park in Kill Devil Hills, NC. You can climb the tall hill that they launched their aircrafts from, walk the flight path, and view the markers where they touched down. How cool is that!? There are also indoor exhibits featuring a full size replica of the Wright Glider and other preserved artifacts. Many festivals and presentations take place here year round as well. Admission to the park grounds and exhibits will cost us $7 per adult 16 and over and the younger kids are free. $14... we're off to a good start! Visit the Wright Brothers' National Memorial website for more details.
Expert Budgeter Tip: There are several free admission days for the Wright Brother's National Memorial, none fall during our "planned" vacation but they include: MLK Jr. Day, President's Day weekend, National Park Week opening weekend (April); National Park Service anniversary (August 25); National Public Lands Day (September 26); and Veteran's Day.
Cliché? Yes. Do I care? No. Putt-Putt/Mini golfing at the beach is popular because it's an excellent, inexpensive way to get the family out for a night of entertainment. You'll have plenty of choices on the Outer Banks, so if one course doesn't fit your fancy you're not more than a few minutes away from another! Not a good golfer? Neither are the 50 other people behind you, but they're all out just to have a good time in the night air and enjoy their families and talk about the fun they had that day together. I've used Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf for our example course. It's located near the Tanger Outlets in Nags Head, and is one of the newest and most exciting mini golf courses on the Outer Banks. Adults are $8.50 each and children ages 4-10 are $7.50. This brings our total activity price, tax included, to $39.50. What a deal! If golf isn't your cup of tea (or half tea, half lemonade) feel free to substitute with another activity like go-karts or bumper boats. More details about Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf and the neighboring go-kart track can be found at OBXFamilyFun.com.
Expert Budgeter Tip: Get the most bang for your buck! You can play unlimited games and plan out several visits to Mutiny Bay during the day with your ticket purchase (before 4pm). Why not get a round in during the morning, hit the beach, and play another before dinner time?
Visit a Pier
No visit to the Outer Banks would be complete without visiting one of the many fishing piers located here. Variously constructed, each OBX pier is unique and special in its own way. The most popular piers in the Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills are are the Avalon Pier and Jennette's Pier. For sake of our trip planning we'll go for a stroll on Jennette's Pier in Nags Head. The pier is the newest on the Outer Banks as well as the longest. It is a replacement to the old Jennette's pier that was destroyed during Hurricane Irene, and now stretches 1,000 feet over the ocean and is solidly constructed out of concrete. If you have the desire to fish on your visit, this is certainly one of the best places to do so, however we're going to just plan this as a sight-seeing activity. Walk-on rates for the pier are $2 for each adult, and $1 for each child. For $7 this activity can't be beat. Bring your cameras for photos of the beach from far out and take your time perusing the pier and see what the anglers are bringing up!
Expert Budgeter Tip: Jennette's Pier is truly an unique experience. It's owned by the NC Aquarium so there are exhibits and informative plaques throughout. Don't miss these "extras" as part of your visit!
Go Surf Fishing
Let me preface this activity with the fact that if you didn't need a fishing license it could certainly go in our free section... but a Coastal Recreational Fishing License is required to fish during your visit to the Outer Banks. The good news is there are practical and affordable options to do so. A license is required for anglers ages 16 and older, and vary in price for in-state and out of state residents. For our trip, we'll assume you are an out of state resident and will only require one license as the kids are free. If both adults wish to fish go ahead and get two licenses. This will add $10 to our trip costs, plus a few dollars for some bait and tackle.All said and done we will spend just over $20 assuming you bring your own fishing rods. Even if you're not into fishing you should give it a try. The late summer/early fall months are the best for surf fishing on the Outer Banks and the kids will really love seeing what you can pull out of the water. You can buy your license at any bait and tackle store on the beach, or visit the NC Division of Marine Fisheries website to see the various types and buy online.
Expert Budgeter Tip: If you want to catch fish and not guess around on bait/tackle, your best bet may be a few bottom rigs and a bag of bloodworms. Just about anything swimming in the water will pick up the smell and take the bait fast. The kids will love it! Don't want to pay for bait? You could have the young ones dig in the wash for sand fleas. They work well near shore and under piers/structures. Your license also allows you to go crabbing - which is awesome! Some string and chicken drumsticks are all you need for another fun activity.
NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
If you tear and slash this proposed trip apart, please do not take this off the list. Through a sequence of 25+ years of vacations to the Outer Banks, I can tell you the most engaging and captivating part of them for me were the continual doses of wildlife/natural/environmental education. There is no other place on earth like the Outer Banks, and that's not because of gift shops, rental homes, or room to park your beach chair. People forget how fortunate we are to enjoy such a small strip of land and sand, surrounded by a plethora of varied ecosystems, that's constantly under threat of disappearing forever. The weather and landscape is so volatile, yet thousands of species of animals survive and thrive here. Don't miss this opportunity to learn about the amazing, often missed world around us, both above and underwater.
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island features a wide variety exhibits including river otters, freshwater tanks, a very popular skate touching tank, and a massive 285,000 gallon saltwater tanks featuring large fish and sharks that you can walk underneath. Don't forget to hunt for sharks teeth in the pit outside afterwards! What's this afternoon of fun going to cost us? Adults are right around $13 each and $11 each for the kiddos. This is our most expensive activity ringing in at approximately $63. Still, not bad for a family of 5! Visit the NC Aquarium website for more information and updated exhibit lists.
Expert Budgeter Tip: Like the Wright Brother's National Memorial, The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island also offers free admission on MLK Jr. Day and Veteran's Day. Make sure to also take advantage of the free programs included with your admission.
Well, that just about wraps it up for our paid activities. After adding in some "getting around" gas money at $50 that brings our grand total just under $200.
Your Vacation Rental Home ($850)
The roof over your head and cushy bed to sleep in are a very important part of your budget-friendly vacation (and your human instinct if you've followed Maslow) so this is probably the biggest decision you'll make regarding your trip. While Village Realty specializes in quality, this doesn't always mean costly. There are a number of affordable vacation rental homes and condos that work out to fit in our very fixed budget of a $1,500 complete vacation. Before giving our example home I'll let you know that there were numerous condo rentals and whole house rentals that fit our needs. Be sure to check out those rentals, located in the Victoria Place condos, Hughes Retreat condos, The Villas on Roanoke Sound, and Linkside homes in the Village at Nags Head. You can also go to our rental home search page and sort by price. The first two pages or so should yield homes with a similar price range.
I ran an availability search for the second week of September (as mentioned earlier, September is amazing) and saw that L39: Gone Fishin was available for the week. The home features 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, and the bed sizes were a perfect fit for our "family trip" as it had a King, Queen, and Pyramid Bunk. All the Linkside homes (and Village at Nags Head homes) also feature access to the Village Beach Club which gives our group additional access to a giant oceanfront lifeguarded swimming pool, children's wading pool, tennis court, bath house/changing area, and snack bar. The home's decor is clean and beachy, plus the location can't be beat... do you see that water!? Also we're only a short drive to the nearest beach access.
So what's this home rental going to add to our total cost? Well, although there are even cheaper weeks available, this second week of September stay has a base rate of $750, after we add the county's occupancy tax we get a grand total of $845.64. Please note, this figure does not include any optional fees like travel insurance. I highly, highly, highly recommend purchasing travel insurance, especially during the Atlantic Hurricane season. As-is, travel insurance protects your vacation investment against a multitude of unforeseen surprise predicaments, but protection against hurricanes is no joke when it comes to the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean. To add the insurance for this particular trip is just under $60, so while it's not part of our budget and catchy price point, it may be worth shaking out the couch cushions and selling any unused wedding gifts to wrangle up that extra cash.
Expert Budgeter Tip: Don't forget that all Village Realty homes come with linens, towels, WiFi, and beds made and ready when you arrive. This saves not only money, but time and effort on your end. When you get to your home it's time for vacation, not housekeeping.
Well, that just about wraps up my plan for your budget vacation to the Outer Banks. Here's a quick summary of our expenditures, and remember, you can give and take from any category you'd like to make this work for you:
- Free Activities $0
- Paid Activities $150
- Meals In $250
- Meals Out $250
- Lodging $850
- Grand Total $1,500
Hopefully this blog has inspired you to be thrifty in your vacation planning and/or take the leap of faith and plan out a visit to the Outer Banks. Your trip is only going to be as expensive as you want it to be. Keep your priorities and remember why you're taking time away together... to be away together! Get out and enjoy our beautiful beaches and scenery, say "hello" to any of us locals... we really don't mind it. Feel free to contact any of our helpful staff right here, or just swing by our office. Thank you so much for reading. We'll see you at the beach!