50 Shades of Tourists
For a few months out of the year, our beloved little sandbar goes from holding a sparsely populated community to booming with numbers comparable to that of a major city. Tourists – many of us wouldn’t be here without you, and some of you, like us, come and never leave. If you’re arriving on the weekend, Saturday in particular, the red carpet that’s been rolled out for you is a very, very, very long line of cars in stop and go traffic. When you finally cross that bridge, you’re either making a very hard left to sit in more hours of traffic heading to the northern Outer Banks, or you’re about to be rudely introduced to the concept of a turning lane on our bypass heading south (pro tip: the middle is not a driving lane, it’s a turning lane). Once you make it to your home away from home, it’s game on – every day is like Christmas. The Hap-Hap-Happiest Christmas, as Clark Griswold would say.
Some of you are first timers, and there are many repeat guests, with some of you coming here since your own childhoods from decades past, eager to share it with younger generations. You come solo, in pairs, or in groups of four or forty, and all in different shapes, sizes, and styles. While some of you have used personal references and done extensive research, others are blindly choosing our beloved barrier island as their destination of choice and hope for the best. May the odds be ever in your favor, Outer Banks-style.
The Planners: Down to the minute and exact GPS location
You’re not leaving anything to chance, because you’re going to milk every single second of this beach vacation, by God. You’ve spent hours upon hours researching accommodations, restaurants, opportunities for fun, and the pack with which you travel will follow your itinerary. Julie from The Love Boat could learn a thing or two from you.
You know precisely what you want to do and when you’re going to do it; charter fishing, kayaking, surfing lessons, wild horse tour – booked ‘em last January. With grocery lists in hand, you’re armed with pre-packed coolers, playlists, magazines, and Sudoku puzzles, because you’ve read somewhere to expect a bit of traffic on check in days, and who wants to get bored stuck in an hour or sixteen of traffic?
You know who to call when your rental home doesn’t have a wine opener; after all, it says it right there in the catalog, for Pete’s sake, and after a 22 hour trip in a car crammed with relatives, that wine isn’t just going to sit there unopened and mocking you.
You had the foresight to get each person in your party matching t-shirts so that you can commemorate the trip and identify one another in a crowd, but you’re no travel dictator. You’ve allotted everyone 45 minutes of “free time” each day, because after all, life’s a beach! Let them tease you about over-planning because you, my friend, maximized your vacation minutes.
The Social Media Detectives
You might have made your mind up about a lot of things before you arrived, since your thorough analysis of sought-after recommendations from the right sources have described in great detail what your perfect vacation here should entail. Sure, you’ve researched online, but you need more than just one source to confirm you’re making the best possible decisions.
With modern technology, why take chances with the judgment calls of people and companies you’ve never heard of? Now, all you have to do is update your status to “I’m going to the Outer Banks, any must dos?” and BOOM. Donna from work says you have to go to that place near the end of the road, and the only way to see the sunset is from the top of the lighthouse. Your best friend from high school insists that one particular rental home is the only place to be, and to make sure and speak with Linda at the front desk for even more helpful tips upon arrival.
You’ve found that soliciting recommendations through social media can be useful (and exhausting at the same time) but still totally worth it. Nobody’s going to tell you on Yelp or TripAdvisor that hanging plastic bags filled with pennies will chase away some of the flies in August, but your cousin Ann – who you’ve never met – chimed in on your thread, and now you’ve got one up on those other Pig Pens futilely swatting away. You’ve read enough “pro tips” to write your own book before ever getting here, and could probably teach us a thing or two.
Winging it – really winging it.
Other than securing a place to stay, you’re throwing caution to the wind. You don’t worry yourself over what to pack, or need to know details about where you’re going, ripping up your metaphorical list and casting its pieces into said wind. You don’t really know what you want yet, but you’ll know it when you find it – we hope. Because you’re on vacation, you’re relaxing, you’re chill. You’re just going with the flow, right?
Perhaps you didn’t know or don’t care that the ocean is still cold in May, but you’re going in, come hell or high water – or nor’easter! And who says you have to have swimming or kayaking experience to go charging the open seas anyway? Whether seeking an adventurous experience or total relaxation, you’re confident you’ll end up in the right place at the right time.
Strolling around a crowded shopping complex, you show up for dinner at one of the most crowded restaurants in town (which would be all of them at 7:00 in July or August.) Reservations? Nah! Your party of 14 doesn’t mind a little (or a lot) of waiting because, hey – you’re on vacation! You might happily move on to Plans B, C, and D and E, or you might be making lots of “notes to self” for the rest of the week for your next trip down. And possibly narrowing your parameters in the “winging it” department just a tad.
Before vacation’s kickoff, you have been packed for at least two weeks and you’ve done 16 re-checks of said packed items, save for the long list of items that couldn’t be packed until the last hours before departure. SPF 3000 sunscreen? Check. Beach hats, cover-ups, flotation devices, gym shoes? Check. Outfit that looks like a cross between a hazmat suit and beekeeping protective gear? Possibly, check. You are prepared to have the best vacation ever, and will NOT be the one who gets the worst sunburn.
You have questions. So many questions. Which one’s the ocean and which one’s the sound? Do people actually live here? Is the Alaskan King Crab local?
Barrier islands can be confusing without a map, so it’s understandable when you need help distinguishing the sound from the ocean (somewhat). It’s not fair for us to assume you knew four-wheel drive vehicles work best for beach driving. There might be an entire Facebook page that went big-time locally thanks to pictures of station wagons getting towed out…just saying, friends. We can’t stop you, but generally speaking you’ll get uncomfortable (and make everyone else uncomfortable) wearing black ankle socks on the beach.
You laugh in the face of potential broken bones, choosing Duck Road as the perfect spot to try out roller blades or bikes for the very first time – a little wobbly, maybe – yet determined to kick this vacation’s butt. Next up are windsurfing, mini golf, go-karts, and kiting at sunset on Jockey’s Ridge. But make no mistake, you have kept plenty of room in the schedule for some serious beach time and wasting away in Margaritaville.
Our Friends and Family
We love you all, and even like most of you. And we know you love us, and especially this beautiful sandbar we call home – even if your first reaction to us living here was “who in the world lives all the way out there?” It can be tricky to get off the island sometimes, but it’s not traffic that hinders us from travelling in the summer months (especially the weekends). The responsibilities of work and day-to-day living refuse to leave us alone during your visit. Once in awhile we forget this, and we have fun doing it, but oh, how we pay without the luxury of sleeping late the morning after said fun.
Things get rather intense, particularly during the summer months when, of course, you’re most likely to have time for a visit. We’ve developed a routine and survival strategy in the summertime, which involves both blowing off steam as well as finding some quiet time wherever we can get it. You’d think with enough practice we’d have the whole “gracious hosting” thing down by now, but even if we manage to stock the bar and fridge and provide clean sheets I’m not sure our attitudes follow suit when we’re on day 36 of long and consecutive shifts. Either way, reunions are glorious for a bit, but when our time expires we most definitely turn into a pumpkin. And, we might be the tiniest bit jealous. We want to play too! Can you please come back in February when we can hang out? No? Why not?
The “Not a Tourist” Tourist
You immediately announce yourselves with “I used to live here,” “I live in a tourist area too,” “I’m from the Islands,” or just the staunch refusal to indulge in Tommy Bahama-esque anything and stay far, far away from chain stores and restaurants. You desire to separate yourselves from the negative stereotypes of tourists, in the hopes of having an authentic experience similar to being off work at your favorite hangout, but with entirely different surroundings. (We get it – we are you when we travel.)
You’d prefer to dine and hang out at the establishments where locals hang out, because it’s what you know. You want to know where to go, and you are going to find out. You’ll ask your server, your bartender, your cab driver, and even the person in front of you in line at the grocery store wearing a local t-shirt and buying toilet paper, milk, pet food, ibuprofen, energy drinks, and beer.
If you ask the right questions and know how to have a good time in general you’ll definitely fit right in. When after a few vacation-style adult beverages, you tend to get pretty chatty and strike up conversations, sharing Vacation Town war stories, you know you’ve successfully infiltrated the local scene.
We should know – most of us have done it all.
But in the end, no matter how you managed to get to our little slice of paradise, we welcome you and hope you have an amazing vacation! ♦