Visiting the Outer Banks can be one of the most fun trips you’ll ever take. This unique chain of barrier islands features a little something for the whole family. Pristine shorelines for the beach bum, great weather for the sun seeker, and some of the best local dining for the family foodie. From beach faux pas to town pronunciations, we’ve got the 10 most common mistakes visitors make when coming to the OBX.

1 | Forgetting Sunscreen

This is probably one of the most common OBX vacation mistakes. Don’t. Forget. Your. Sunscreen. Seriously. Being sunburnt on vacation is the worst and when you have to miss out on your well deserved beach time, it’s even more of a bummer. Sunburn can turn into sun poisoning in severe cases, earning you a trip to the hospital. If you forgot your sunscreen, no worries. There are plenty of surf shops and drug stores that carry different varieties. Sun Bum brand is a crowd favorite; it’s reef friendly and smells like a vacation.

Forgetting sunscreen can be one of the worst mistakes you make on your OBX vacation

2 | Visiting the Same Places Over and Over again

We know that Outer Banks vacations are a traditions for many families, but visiting the same places over and over again gets old. Especially when there are so many new restaurants and shops to check out. If visiting the Outer Banks is a yearly tradition for you and your fam, try picking a couple of repeat places and take turns supporting newer businesses or spots you have never visited before!

Get out and explore new restaurants and shops during your vacation on the Outer Banks!

3 | Walking on Hot Sand

This goes hand in hand with sunburn and is another common (and painful) OBX vacation mistake. Even the most beach seasoned locals need to wear flip flops down to the perfect beach spot in the sand. The sand in the summer can get hot. Like hot to the point where the bottom of your feet will blister up and that’s no fun at all. Be sure to keep your flip flops or sandals on when you’re trying to seek out the perfect spot to set up for your beach day.

Don't make the mistake of walking on hot sand on the OBX.

4 | Forgetting Linens

If you’re staying at an Outer Banks vacation rental that doesn’t provide linens, don’t forget to pack your own! When we say linens, we mean bed sheets and towels. There’s nothing worse than traveling all day and then getting to your nice, clean beach house…and finding no sheets on the bed because you forgot to pack them. Most times you can buy sheets from your rental company but due to the volume of visitors we get on the OBX, you might not be able to snag any. You’ll have to hit HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, or Walmart and who wants to spend vacation money on sheets and towels?

Forgetting linens for your rental home is among some of the common OBX vacation mistakes.

Another pro tip for towels, always bring your own beach towels or purchase one at a local surf shop. If linens are provided with your rental home, the towels are perfect for after showers or baths but not great for beach or poolside use.

5 | Not Staying Hydrated

This tip goes hand in hand with sunburn. Make sure you’re staying hydrated during your visit, especially if you’re going to be spending your days on the beach and erm, imbibing during your stay. Dehydration in itself is dangerous but when you add alcohol and heat to it, it can literally be deadly. In adults, be sure to look out for headaches, muscle cramping, and dark urine. In kids, look for dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, and irritability. Remember, if you’re already thirsty (for water or gatorade) you’re already a little dehydrated.

Staying hydrated during your OBX vacation is crucial.

6 | Not Following Traffic Laws

Oh Outer Banks traffic. It’s the nature of the islands and what happens when you get people from all different states visiting. Traffic mistakes reap heavy consequences on the OBX, from fines to car accidents. While you’re on vacation, just be sure to be mindful of others on the road. This includes:

  • Following the speed limit and paying attention to the changes. There are various speed limit changes from Manteo to Kitty Hawk and be sure to pay attention and follow them accordingly. If you’re going to go slower than the speed limit, make sure you stay in the right hand lane; the left lane is reserved for faster paces.
  • Not coming to a complete stop in the left lane to utilize the turn lane on the main highway (158). You will get rear ended or honked at. Instead, merge to the center lane and wait there for a safe opening to turn to your destination.
  • On the beach road (highway 12), if you see a pedestrian within the crosswalk attempting to cross, you must stop and let them go. Not stopping is against the law and can result in a hefty ticket if stopped by law enforcement
One of the most common mistakes on the OBX is not following local traffic laws.

Like we said, vacation is super fun, especially on the Outer Banks, but when driving, be mindful of the speed limit and others around you. It’ll help keep everyone safe and frustration free.

7 | Using Fireworks

Fireworks that launch or propel into the air are illegal in North Carolina in general and in Dare County. Due to the marshy nature of the surrounding wetlands on the Outer Banks, fireworks cause a wildfire risk. All types of fireworks are illegal in Duck, Southern Shores, Manteo, Nags Head, and Hatteras Island. The use of sparklers and safe and sane fireworks are allowed in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and the Dare Mainland. For more clarification, you can visit the Dare County website here. All fireworks are also illegal in Currituck County (where Corolla is located).

8 | Driving On The Beach Without 4WD

You know how in Florida you can drive on the beach with a Honda Accord? That’s not how it is on the Outer Banks. Mistakes like trying to drive on OBX beaches with a normal sedan or 2WD vehicle will cost you a pretty penny. Not only do you have to have the proper permits on the Outer Banks, your car also has to be 4WD or else you’re going to get stuck and that’s not a fun sight to see. You can get more information on what requirements the Outer Banks has on 4WD here.

9 | Leaving Items On The Beach Overnight

Leaving items on the beach overnight is more than an OBX mistake. When you leave your beach chairs, tents, and toys on the beach overnight, one of many things can happen. Your equipment will end up in the ocean because of winds and tide changes. With the shifting winds, the gear will blow all over the place and damage oceanfront homes and dunes that you’ll be responsible for. Sea life like sea turtles and birds can get caught in the equipment, causing them injury or even death. So just be courteous and pack up your beach gear at the end of your day. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, there are many different cabana services on the Outer Banks that are happy to setup and breakdown tents, chairs, and more every day of your stay.

10 | Not Paying Attention to Ocean Conditions

When in doubt, don’t go out. 3,400 people drown each year in the U.S. and around 5 people have drowned each year on the OBX in the past 5 years; with a record 9 in 2017. Drowning is more than an OBX vacation mistake, it claims lives. When red flags are flying at the beach, this is the ultimate sign that you should take a break from the beach and chill out at the house or explore the surrounding area.

Check the forecast before you go to the beach and always keep an eye on little ones near all bodies of water, including the pool. Always swim at lifeguarded beaches and know what beach access you’re at in case of an emergency. Learn all you can about rip currents as well. You can read our rip current blog here or watch this quick video below:

The OBX has a program where you can get text alerts for beach conditions. Simply text OBXBEACHCONDITIONS to 30890 to get beach related weather alerts from Outer Banks lifeguards to plan your beach day during your stay. For more information, visit Love the Beach Respect the Ocean.