Vacation planning, and the act of actually vacationing, entails asking lots of questions. It starts with “Where are we going,” “When are we going,” and usually, “How much can we spend?” And with success, it often ends with “Can we do this again soon?”
Questions are important because they hone in on what is important to you and your traveling partners, whether it’s one person or a large extended group of family or friends. With all of the resources at hand today, many questions can be answered before you ever leave home. By utilizing the internet, social media, and yes, even old school guide books and printed materials, you can be very well informed about your destination. Make a list of everything you want to know before you travel and see how many of those queries can be answered prior to your departure. You’ll feel better knowing you are ready to begin your vacation with a storehouse of knowledge, and some idea of how you want to best spend your time.
Remember that it is OK to ask your hosts, (be that hoteliers like me, bed and breakfast or Airbnb owners, or the folks who are handling your vacation house rental), before you arrive if there are important questions you have been unable to answer. We are all busy during the season, but none of us will ever be too busy to answer guest questions. The bottom line here is that our season is easier if you are happy, and if we have an island full of happy people, it’s a beautiful thing!
Once you arrive, however, you will no doubt have more questions, especially if this is your first visit. Even for repeat customers, things do change here every year, and you might find that your favorite restaurant has changed names or perhaps disappeared, or there’s a new parking turn-off you’ve not seen before. I’d like to offer a few tips about how to ask questions while you are here, to help ensure you get answers that are helpful, and that you are not left with more questions than before.
- Ask the right person the right question. I am probably considered a local since I have lived here since 2015 and this is my seventh season at the motel. However, my family started coming here in 1964, and I grew up with two-week vacations in Buxton nearly every summer. In college, I had summer jobs with the National Park Service. My parents retired here in the late 80s, built a house, and had plenty of visits from my brother, his family, yours truly and my family. (Today, my husband and I live in that family home, caretaking it for all of us.) You might think you can ask a local anything and get a decent answer, But we are not all-knowing just because we live here. For example, if you ask me about shelling or beach glass collecting, I can probably give you some good advice, as these are activities I do regularly with some modicum of success. But if you ask me about which type of bait to use for what fish, I’d be wise to point you in the direction of my husband or our staff member, Arthur, who is a fishing fanatic. The point is be sure to ascertain if the person you are asking really knows something about the subject matter. Even seasonal employees at the National Park Service will often admit they’ve only been here a few weeks or months if asked a question that is locally focused and outside of their area of expertise.
- Which brings us to who are you asking? Here on the island, we have natives who were born here, locals who live hear all year, (some like my husband for 50 years and others who just moved here recently), seasonal employees, and part-time residents who are here for just a few months, and visitors just like yourself who come for a vacation for a week or two, or who are here for the very first time. Knowing a person’s perspective can really be helpful when you are asking for information. An example would be asking a seasonal resident about life on the island in the fall and winter. If he or she is only here in the summer, that is really an impossible question to answer. That doesn’t mean people don’t try. I’ve seen it on social media countless times when off-season visitors ask about places to eat. Well-meaning folks provide a laundry list of their favorite summer haunts, but the reality is that maybe only a quarter of those eateries are open during the off-season. You’ll be disappointed if you have your heart set on Restaurant X only to find its doors shuttered with the sign “Closed for the Season” when you arrive. So try to find out more about the person you are asking so you can decide how much merit to give to their response.
- What kind of question you are asking can determine how many answers you need to get. If yours is a fact-based yes or no question – think “Do I need a reservation for the Hatteras to Ocracoke car ferry” then you really only need one answer, (and that would be, in this case, no, you do not need a reservation for the car ferry.) But ask a different version of that question as in “What time should my family plan to catch the ferry for a day in Ocracoke?” and that’s a whole different story. Everyone has his or her own idea of what constitutes the perfect day trip. How “early” is “early” to be at the ferry dock? What to see, where to eat, what’s the best day to visit, etc. By asking several people, several of whom seem to be like-minded, you can ferret out what will probably work best for you. I have to add the same holds true for the question “Where can I get the best seafood?” which is probably the number one question I am asked at the motel. I will likely respond with more questions to try to understand what kind of restaurant experience you want before I will offer a recommendation. Everyone here has good seafood, that’s a given. But whether you want a romantic night for two with a view, or a table for multiple families with little ones, those are two very different scenarios.
- Do you really need or want to ask the question? I would bet over the course of the summer those of us who live and work here are asked hundreds if not thousands of questions in aggregate. Most are entirely thoughtful and necessary for vacation enjoyment. But sometimes folks get a knock for asking real winners like “Are there sharks in the ocean?” Or the one I often get, “Why is it raining today?” The world works the same here as it does in your hometown, and if it rains sometimes where you live, you should assume sometimes it rains here too. Maybe the better questions would be, “I know there are sharks here but are there some guidelines we should know about ocean swimming so that we don’t need to really worry so much about them?” Or “We are disappointed it’s not sunny today, but can you help us figure out some fun things to do with five unhappy kids and two at-the-end-of-their-rope adults?” Those questions can easily be answered.
- Ask the really really, really important questions before you leave home. If you have any medical issues, or think you may have while you are here, you need to understand the limitations of our pharmacies and medical care on the island. They serve us extremely well, but they are not open on weekends. Also, if your phone requires some special charger or you need some other special equipment, better to know ahead of time whether or not you can get it on the island or if it will mean an hour trip up the beach. You’ll be forever grateful to take this particular bullet point to heart.
- And finally, is this really where you want to spend your vacation? Hatteras Island is an acquired taste. You will either love it as millions do, and come back year after year, or it will simply not be for you, and that is OK. As I mentioned earlier, the more happy people we have on the island, the smoother things run for everyone. Unhappy people make us all feel badly. If you come with expectations we, as a property or a community or an island, can’t meet – (I had one guest once remind me about how it was when she was in the Hamptons…and why wasn’t it like that here?) – It’s a no-win situation. Know what we are as a vacation destination, and see if that matches up with what you and your family and/or friends want. Then you’ll have a win-win and we’ll all look forward to seeing you next season, no question about it!
Janet Morrow Dawson is the owner and operator of the Cape Hatteras Motel in Buxton, where her husband Dave is celebrating his 50th season there in 2021. She has lived full-time on Hatteras Island since 2015, and is celebrating her seventh season at the motel, however, she has been an Outer Banks fan since her family started coming to Hatteras Island for vacations in 1964.