Traveling (Alone) to the Outer Banks With a Two Year Old: Part One

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It feels a little funny writing about our late August beach trip to the Outer Banks now that it is finally cool enough to wear some of my comfy sweaters, but since it is actually a pretty good time to start planning beach trips for next summer, I’m going to share some about our adventure to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Growing up, I always looked forward to time with my cousins, and now that three of us have children about the same age, we decided to have a joint family vacation. Both of their families live on the East Coast within driving distance to the Outer Banks, so it was a logical spot for our first joint vacation.


I had kinda overbooked my own trips this summer, so I was happy to let one of my cousins take the lead in finding a beach house for this trip. Since we were going in late August, we were able to get some decent rates on week long beach rentals. Had we gone a week or two later, rates would have been even lower. From mid-August to early or mid-September, we found that rates basically drop by half. So if you aren’t tied down to a school schedule, that is something to keep in mind. My cousin researched lots of houses on Vacation Rental By Owner (, and then emailed a list to everyone involved so that we each could have some input. The process was actually very smooth considering how many people were involved!

If you plan a trip with extended family (or friends), a few tips I have to share are: make sure to talk budget very early on in the process and then stick to it, be clear about some “must haves” your family has for the trip/lodging, but try to keep the number of “must haves” to a minimum. It’s important to be pretty flexible when you are traveling with others. If you can’t be somewhat flexible, then joint trips are probably not a great idea for your family. If you have kids, then determine how many bedrooms your family needs, and take into consideration if kids from the various families might want to bunk-up in the same room together. If you have multiple kids and require multiple rooms, then make sure you are factoring that into your share of the budget for the house rental. All of our kids were still just a little too young to pile into a kid’s room, but hopefully they could do that on a trip in the near future.

I’ll post more about how sharing a house with three families (plus my aunt/the grandma of some of the kids) worked in reality in part two of this trip report, but those are my main tips regarding planning a trip with other family members. Thankfully our planning process went very smoothly, and we decided on a nice, but affordable, house that was just a few minutes drive from the ocean.

Traveling from Houston to North Carolina:

Sadly my husband has already maxed out his vacation days for the year (including trips planned through the end of December), so he was not able to join in on this trip. That meant that I got to travel from Houston to the Outer Banks alone with the toddler. I was leaning toward flying into Norfolk, but in the end the prices were about $500 per ticket and while I considered using miles, in the end I was able to get a much better deal into Raleigh via a United match of a Southwest fare sale.  It meant a little more driving and a very early flight time, but tickets were significantly less expensive than any other option.  We had to wake Little C up at 4:30AM to make the flight, so I wasn’t quite sure how she would hold up on the journey. Thankfully, she was happy (but sleepy) as we headed to the airport that morning. Yes, she will graduate college with that blanket.


She pulled her own bag through the airport, which was good because my hands were full and she had no choice. She seemed to understand that I needed help, so she did a good job managing her own bag most of the time that morning.

As is typical when we travel, she knew that a new My Little Pony would be hers once we get on the plane, so that kept her occupied until we were at 10,000 feet. I kind of hoped she would sleep during the flight since she has been up since 4:30 in the morning, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead she watched FIVE episodes of My Little Ponies on the flight. She stayed happy though so I can’t really complain.


In Raleigh we had to get one of those luggage carts since there was just no way I could manage all of the stuff and the two-year-old otherwise. I filled that luggage cart to the brim and somehow safely made it to the car rental bus with my kiddo and all our stuff. That part of traveling alone with a young kid isn’t easy, but we made it work.


Unfortunately once we exited the car rental bus to get our car, my kiddo was so tired she was acting crazy silly. As I was getting the luggage off the bus she ran out across the parking lot at the car rental station, and then as I was opening the trunk to load the luggage, she jumped on the cart and flipped it – thus resulting in her landing face first in the parking lot. That was terrifying watching her flip over in what seemed like slow motion. I should have put her in the front seat of the rental before unloading the cart, but I goofed and she face-planted.

I then fought with the car seat for a good 15-20 minutes trying to get in installed… the heat. For some reason the LATCH system in our rental was not at all easy to use, and I may have strongly considered just heading back to the airport and flying home while fighting with that darn thing. My kid was hurt, I was exhausted, and it was ranking at about a negative 100 on the fun-o-meter. After I finally got the seat installed, I took a picture of exactly how much fun I was having. I was panting like a dog in the summer and my nerves were fried.


Luckily, as soon as C was strapped into her seat and we started rolling, she passed out and slept for a good 90 minutes. That was enough time for me to regain some sanity and enjoy the beautiful drive from Raleigh to the Outer Banks. Once my kiddo woke up, we stopped and ate at the only place we could find – Taco Bell. Eek. She then watched another few episodes of cartoons, peed on the side of the road in desperation as we were in the middle of nowhere, and about 5 hours after we landed, we finally made it to our beach rental house. We were ready to be there and start our family beach trip!

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  1. I have always found that the early morning flights work the best when traveling with small kids. My daughter would sometimes insist on wearing her pajamas to the airport – and as you know, a happy child makes a happy mommy.

  2. @DL, we offered that wardrobe, but she opted to change. The AM flight really did work out pretty well…until I started to run out of steam!
    @IPBrian, ha ha. No kidding. I’m sure it was probably silly to post it, but I have no shame. It summed up the situation pretty well!
    @Lively, I hear that a bunch but haven’t yet seen the show. Guess I need to check it out!

  3. Norfolk, VA (ORF) is another option for folks flying over to the Outer Banks. Should be closer than Raleigh to most locations in the Outer Banks.

    • @Grover’s, I should have pointed that out, so thanks. I flew into Raleigh as it was about half the price of Norfolk, but you are right that it is a closer option for most locations in the OBX.

  4. Where did you find the large clear carseat bag? Also, and I mean no disrespect or snarkiness by this, are you sure Little C’s buckle is high enough on her chest when she’s in the carseat? We just had a carseat check by a police officer and found out we were doing ours too low — it’s supposed to be up by their armpits. It looks a little low in your pic, but pics can be deceiving.

  5. If you ever return to the Outer Banks, I’d suggest flying into Norfolk. Once you get off the airport property, it’s about 90 minutes to the northern part of the Outer Banks at the Wright Brothers Bridge and another thirty minutes to South Nags Head and Hatteras Island. UA has nonstops from IAH to ORF (I took one in July on a trip to California).

    Raleigh sounds sensible, since it’s in the same state as the OBX, but Norfolk’s much closer plus the airport is smaller and easier to navigate. And check prices into neighboring PHF–another 30 minutes farther out but an even smaller airport that sometimes has good fares.

    I know there are more parts of your report to come, but I hope you had a chance to take the quick trip over to Manteo–cute little town that Andy Griffith, a resident, used as the model for his TV town of Mayberry. Real life emulates TV there as the town’s sheriff does nighttime tours of the town several times per week.

    If you aren’t tied to spending time on the beach, the weather in the Outer Banks generally stays pleasant well into October. I have a trip planned for next week, and it looks as if the temperatures will stay in the low 70s. The water can be cold, but most of the houses, like the one you stayed in, have a deck of some sort for sunbathing.

    I love the Outer Banks! I’m very lucky to have such easy access to it, and I always look forward to my fall trip there.

  6. @Jo, the car seat bag is from the airport. This is a carseat that we typically just use for trips, so we do check it sometimes (which is not ideal in the slightest, but we do it from time to time). I’m not sure if her straps were in the right position that day, or if the photo was an optical illusion, but you are right about the placement buckle high on the chest (near the arm pits). We did the car seat safety clinic too – it is amazing how many folks use them incorrectly…and I am sure we still do on some days…possibly at 4:30 in the morning.

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