The first-ever blog post from The Meandering Naturist went live eight years ago today!
Fortuitously enough, these past eight years have been good to us, encompassed by a time in our lives when the empty nest coincided with several professional engagements involving international travel. This has provided the opportunity to see more of the world than we could have ever imagined when we were young and struggling to simply put shoes on our children and food on the table.
Before the realities of COVID-19 set in, it hadn’t actually occurred to me just how important the meandering part of being a meandering naturist really was to us. This has led to something of a revelation after all of these years. Some people – take my wife and me, for instance – associate nude recreation with discovering new places, meeting new people, and adding new pins to our naked travel map with memories of a great meal here or a lazy day on the beach there. That all sort of makes sense when visiting a naturist village in France, a textile-free spa in Germany, or a boutique clothing-optional hotel in Asia. But what if you can’t get on an airplane?
Limited to exploring our own landmass this past year, we set out to get a pulse on naturist destinations in the United States. There are plenty of rants on reddit and Twitter about the prudish attitudes of Americans as related to social nudity, and how comparatively difficult and contentious it is to establish a nude beach on this side of the Atlantic, let alone running a nudist resort or naturist B&B. Such is especially daunting north of Florida or Palm Springs where the weather is less than helpful to the cause.
But what I had most underestimated before our Naked in America explorations is the sheer importance of community in nearly every nudist place we visited in the US. While a few nudist resorts provide established residential communities, (thinking the likes of Cypress Cove in Florida or Mira Vista in Arizona) nearly every other naked place we’ve visited Stateside serves as a weekend retreat for longtime members, many of whom have elaborate landscaping surrounding their RVs, indicating they have little intent of taking that 32’ Airstream trailer on a road trip any time soon.
One particularly compelling story we heard last summer was from a woman we met in the pool at Shangri La Ranch near Phoenix, Arizona. I don’t recall if she had actually been laid off from work due to the virus, or whether she had simply been given a directive to work indefinitely from home, but regardless, this provided the opportunity for her and her husband to liquidate their assets in suburbia and relocate, in their RV, to situate themselves more closely to her elderly father who was residing in an assisted living facility in the northern reaches of Phoenix.
As it turned out, finding a place to park that RV proved more challenging than anticipated, as all the resorts in the region were full to capacity – save one: Shangri-La Nudist Ranch, just a short drive from her father’s home.
“Move to a NUDIST place? Are you out of your mind?”
She stood unabashedly naked in the pool, reenacting her emphatic reluctance to even consider living in a nudist village. But by the time moving day rolled around, Shangri La was the only viable option. She spoke of those first days in the nudist park, reticent to leave their RV – clothed or otherwise – let alone willing to hang-out naked with the locals.
As it goes with nearly every newbie naturist story, eventually she and her husband took the plunge, dropped their clothes, and came to the table… naked! She beamed as she spoke of the friendships she had made in the ensuing recent months, and the various social groups that had become a part of her daily routine. As opposed to the isolation and loneliness she had experienced in locked-down America, the nudist park had become a bubble of sorts, where social nudity was the common denominator for social acceptance.
That was a light-bulb moment for me! I’ve spent so much time contemplating the positive attributes, alongside the daunting challenges of normalizing naturism in America, but had somehow glossed over the importance of the Village. In fact, the entire phenomenon reminds me quite a lot of the little church my family belonged to when I was growing up in the 70s. Nearly every aspect of our social lives was connected to that group of fifty or so church members and their families. Choir practice on Thursday nights. Covered dish dinners on Sunday. If we were invited over to hang out with friends on a Friday night, chances were better than not that they were members of the church. We, as a community celebrated together, mourned together, argued together, and prayed together. That was our village. When a new person showed up with the potential of becoming a member of the village, they would typically be showered with welcoming affection. “We’re great people. Please stay and visit over coffee and cookies after the service!” (That should all sound pretty familiar to you if you’ve ever visited an American nudist resort.)
There are literally hundreds of naturist places scattered across the European continent, and while some have residential communities as well, most cater to people looking for a day at the spa (like Therme-Erding in Germany), a weekend of tent camping near the sea (such as Valalta in Croatia), or perhaps even a two-week holiday in a rented chalet in the naturist village (our fave is La Jenny in France). If you want to go upscale, you can enjoy nakation at a boutique hotel like Skinny Dippers on Mallorca, Vritomartis in Greece, or Peace Blue Resort in Thailand. Few of these places require any sort of membership obligation, nor do people typically go there to hang out with their best friends for the weekend.
But in America, the Village is a major part of the experience – perhaps more important than the state of undress. “Come for the freedom to get naked; stay for the people who enjoy that as well!” Nearly every nudist resort we have visited in the United States – perhaps two dozen or so – seems to thrive around that sense of community, where everybody knows your name. (But only your first name, of course.) Conversation near the pool is almost certain to be a mix of reminiscing about last year’s Nude Olympic Games, while planning tomorrow night’s potluck dinner at George’s place.
That little church I grew up in finally closed its doors, as members moved away or simply got too old to keep the place running – a similar fate to many nudist places that are simply aging out. In that light, it’s been interesting to be a transient observer as we’ve travelled from one “nudist village” to the next. Some, like Sky Farm in New Jersey, have launched aggressive social media campaigns to revitalize and renew their membership base, with significant success. Others, like Oak Lake Trails in Oklahoma and White Tail Resort in Virginia seem to have cultivated a loyal clientele where the community is so vibrant that newbies are eager to bid on a plot with RV hook-ups and pay the annual dues. But this is a big country where the options are relatively sparse when you consider the expanse of 3000 miles coast to coast. We had a great day of naturist hiking in the woods at Solair Recreation League in Connecticut, but even if we were inclined to set down weekend recreational roots, five hours each direction is simply too far away.
This all creates something of a conundrum for nude recreation in America. With so much banter on various online forums about the aging nudist demographics, not everyone can afford to establish a weekend home away from home, let alone pony up the accompanying annual fees that often go with. Some places even require an annual allocation of work hours, just like that little church I grew up in. Advocacy groups like AANR like to promote nudism as part of the tourism industry, but that may actually be at odds with most American nudist destinations that would more aptly be identified as communities or villages – a challenge for the savviest of marketing teams.
In any event, I have a new appreciation for these villages where social nudity has brought people together to rely on one another in a communal sort of way that has largely gone out of fashion since the internet invaded our homes. Maybe social nudity will become a catalyst for new or revitalized communities once we’re all released from lock-down, since clothing has become optional pretty much any day for countless would-be nudists for nearly a year now.
We’ll keep meandering and let you know what we find out.