Southern Living: The Ultimate Summer RV Road Trip On North Carolina's Outer Banks

May 27, 2021

It's the first night of our trip, and a sudden rainstorm washes across the beach. But we're snug inside an Airstream, eating boiled peanuts and drinking bottles of beer from the tiny fridge. By the next afternoon, we've had a mostly sunny day of exploring, and we're not going to cloister inside our camper again. We nap while the ferry takes us—and our trailer—to our next destination. Then we buy fresh sheepshead fillets at a local seafood shop to cook on the grill back at our campsite. A few people wave when walking past. By night three, we've become fully RV social. Our neighbors at the next site over invite us to stop by. They've got a fire going and wine to sip while the four of us rate the sunset. (It's a solid eight and a half, maybe a nine.)

This feels like just the right elixir. Day after day, we drive another stretch of open road, breathe in the salt air, and then slip into slingback chairs at sites with dune-side or waterfront views. No hotels or beach house bookings for this trip to the Outer Banks (aka the OBX). Instead, our lodging is always in tow. Though we're a longtime camping couple, this is the first time we've rented an RV.

The idea behind this trip is to find the best places possible to wake up each day by the ocean. We've mapped out a basic plan. Beginning the drive from the southern reaches of the Outer Banks, we'll follow the mostly two-lane State 12 (NC-12). This ribbon of pavement frequently skirts the Atlantic, sometimes bringing cars within yards of the surf. The route continues past lighthouses and beach villages for some 148 miles—requiring two ferry rides to complete—and culminates on the northernmost Currituck Banks, where the oceanfront is traversed by four-wheel drive trucks and wild horses. By then, Virginia will be in view.

Know the Logistics

If you like packing and unpacking or figuring out systems and organizing, you'll love camping. Seriously, that's part of the experience. And it's also liberating to look back from the driver's seat and see a curvy-cool Airstream gliding along behind you. The full-size bed inside with plush linens and picture window views is a game changer, and the overall RV experience is a far cry from our past road trip getaways, made in a series of trusty Volvo wagons we've had over the years and headed for wherever we've had a room reserved.

Bringing a travel trailer creates a new dynamic, beginning with the extended-cab truck we rent to do the pulling. The RV we've hitched to it is Airstream's fully equipped 16-foot Bambi model. At this compact length, we should be able to stop most anywhere we like. Besides the bedroom, a kitchenette, a table, a TV, and even a bathroom with a shower are all inside. It's a "wet bath" in the mode of a marine head, with the shower and toilet sharing the same compartment and a drain in the floor. Although I'm skeptical at first, all hesitation melts away in the first moments of a hot-water shower at the end of a camping day.

Plot Your Course

From end to end, North Carolina's Outer Banks is a string of offshore barrier islands mounded with some of the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast, delivering an edge-of-the-world seascape. The Atlantic shows its wonders and power here. High tides and storms sometimes blanket sections of the route with shifting, powder-soft sand. Locals are used to the changing scenery, and bulldozers are parked at the ready to get the roadways open again quickly. (Just weeks before our trip, a storm had rendered some parts of State 12 impassable. But all was clear by the time we set out.)


We observe, explore, and begin to find our own pace and style. Flamingos next trip? Maybe some version of that, but we'd definitely bring patio lights to string outdoors again and more blankets and pillows for the lounge chairs—for even better sunset watching and stargazing. The Outer Banks adventuring has fueled our RV interests. By midweek, our conversations are already turning to when, where, and how we can next get another dose of driving in the salty breezes and camping by the sea.

Check out the full article from Southern Living here

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