After years of blogging about exotic naturist travel destinations in far flung places from France to Thailand and Brazil to South Africa, COVID-19 put an abrupt end to all that folly! Borders closed, airports were deemed virus war zones, and airlines immediately started canceling flights to even the most mundane of locales, at which point this Meandering Naturist was reassigned to a life of unrelenting ZOOM meetings with the occasional “luxury vacation” to go outside and play with the dog in our own backyard! As it was for so many of those who live in a constant state of wanderlust, this was a major life change – simply to park the car and let all those traveler loyalty programs run out. As they say… First World Problems!.
The irony is, had you told me twenty-five years ago that traveling the world would even be possible for us, let alone become the mainstay of my obsessive-compulsive dreams, I would have called you crazy. I was a school teacher back then while my wife worked part-time as a therapist, the two of us struggling to put food on the table and keep shoes on our three children. You may have read the story on this blog about the guy who told us that if we really wanted to experience family naturism, we needed to take our kids to France. In the moment, that was hardly even laughable, as simply a summer trip to a Disney park required a multi-year savings campaign. Naturist France didn’t even qualify as a pipe dream! But in time, we learned the art of collecting airline miles with a credit card, strategies for renting a car in Europe on the cheap, and booking a self-catering cottage at a European naturist resort. As it turned out, a visit to naturist Europe was way less than the cost of a Disney vacation! Another webinar for another day.
There were a few serendipitous outcomes for us in the wake of the pandemic, not the least of which was the ability to negotiate an extended leave from my place of employment, providing the opportunity to get in the car and drive… and drive… and drive… and drive.
This week, I finally sat down and did the math. By my best estimation, we had visited 22 naked places in the United States as of March 13, 2020. (The day the US closed its borders to the rest of the world) As international travel came to a sudden and decisive halt, I redirected my obsessive travel energy toward discovering, or more aptly, rediscovering, American nudism. What had we missed all those years while we were out of the country? People would write to us to say “You should visit this resort with the infinity pool” or “that resort with the awesome hiking trails,” or “these clothing-optional hot springs with the really hip vibe.” But when the warm season for nude recreation is limited to a few months in the summer, and finding your way to the hot springs nestled in the Rocky Mountains proves way more difficult than flying to France, a lot of places end up on your “maybe someday” list. As of now, we’ve tripled that original naked places count to sixty-some naturist destinations in America. Not bad.
As the pandemic lingered on, I joined so many others, reinvesting my energy into various social media channels, renewed my memberships with AANR and TNSF, and even joined British Naturism in an effort to connect with an online community of a more international flavor. Virtual travel and online social nudity was better than none at all.
That got us through the spring, but by last summer (2020), the trade-winds of travel were gaining strength, and we mustered up enough courage to don our masks and take to the road, in search of naked places and naked people in the United States of America. In July of 2020, we made a trek to naked New England to check out a few well-known naked places in Vermont. Then in the fall we headed westward by car to check out naked places in Indiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, only to find California and Oregon literally on fire, thereby thwarting much of our west coast itinerary. By spring, I was actually willing to get on an airplane to California to see friends and family, and of course, check out a few more naked places. Then finally, I made a mad dash in a rented truck from the east coast to the west coast and back again to bring home a truckload of furniture from California, setting down each night in a nudist park whenever I could. Not only have I seen a lot of American naked places by now, but I can also tell you quite a lot about the current condition of the Eisenhower Interstate System. (Spoiler alert: It’s in pretty bad shape!)
So here are a few things we’ve learned over the past two years about getting Naked in America.
Church groups, bowling leagues, scouting troops, teachers’ lounges, and nudist parks all have a lot in common…
Every organization has a hierarchical structure, whether it is explicit in the by-laws of the institution, or simply implied in the way business is conducted on the day-to-day basis. Are decisions made by the owner of the park? A board of directors? Representatives of “the Cooperative”?
As a day visitor, you might not care about any of that, but that seemingly unimportant detail can make a big difference as to how (or if) you feel welcome once you get there, how (and whether) the place is marketed to the public, and whether (or not) there is a viable business plan that will sustain the place into the next generation. If the place is independently owned, it may be a wonderful place, but could disappear overnight if the owner decides to sell. (Many nudist parks sit on incredibly valuable property right outside of major metropolitan areas, just waiting for an eager developer!) Conversely, if the place is built on a foundation of shareholders, those same shareholders will likely want a say in who gets into the park, how much it will cost, while dictating the corresponding guidelines for attaining membership. This is the main reason there are so many clubs that require some sort of contract after the second or third visit, which is thought by many to be exclusive and off-putting in this age of “Please don’t give me a label or make me join something!” And just like church groups, bowling leagues, scouting troops, and teachers’ lounges, nudist clubs have hierarchical structures where some people simply have more status than others, which means some of those decisions will be influenced more by politics than pragmatism. Money over marketing. Long-timers over the longevity of the place. That’s all pretty complicated when dealing with a relatively small constituency of people who are willing to engage in social nudity in the first place.
At some point, America decided naturism was for grown-ups
When you look at the celebrated nudist publications from the 1950s and 60s, it was clear that editors and photographers were working diligently to deliver two big ideas: 1) naturism is about health and fitness, and 2) naturism is an activity best enjoyed with the whole family – together! Take a look at a nudist publication in recent times and you’re more likely to find that naturism is about: 1) body acceptance and 2) “we’re having a killer party at the pool on Saturday night.” Where there once appeared images of naturist families having fun exercising and doubling down at the volleyball court, most publications have shied away from printing photos of anyone under 18 in fear of litigation, or worse. We live in a culture where children and nudity simply don’t mix, especially if captured in a digital photo. No doubt, the age of hi-speed internet has been detrimental to this cause as it’s all but impossible to monitor photographic devices in 2021, but it’s a pity all the same. [SEE: The Perils of Naturist Photography]
Meanwhile, even many of the most traditional “nudist resorts” in middle America have themed parties on the weekends with a decidedly adult ambiance. While all in good fun for happy-go-lucky grown-ups – this is a significantly different vibe than what we’ve experienced at family-oriented naturist resorts in France or Croatia where you’ll likely see the entire family at most evening gatherings. There are a lot of cultural touch-points at play here, but I think it would be fair to say that Europeans are simply a bit more candid, not to mention more comfortable with nudity around their children. More often than not, naturism in Europe is a family endeavor.
Different strokes for different folks: Who you’re likely to meet at the hot springs, the nudist park, or the boutique naturist hotel
The most profound observation from our travels over the past two years is that, at least implicitly, there are different business models at play amongst the various places where people go to enjoy social nudity. [SEE: The Demographics of Nakedness] The people you’ll meet at places like Harbin or Valley View Hot Springs tend to be young (liberal) urban professionals who don’t consider themselves naturists, nudists, or anything else with a label, but are most ready and willing to get naked for a good long soak in the healing waters of the planet earth. By contrast, (and admittedly, a gross generalization) the people you meet at a nudist park have made something of a commitment to the “live naked” lifestyle, frequently aligned with the Libertarian idealism of “I want to be naked and you can’t tell me not to!” Personal politics shouldn’t matter when you’re hanging out with naked people, but before the last presidential election, it clearly mattered… A LOT!
Then you have the boutique resort kind of places like Abbott’s Glen in Vermont or Desert Sun Resort in Palm Springs, where people pay a bit more to experience the liberating feeling of sunbathing in the altogether. We’ve met lots of first-timers in these places who are curious about such experiences and are most willing to pay for an upscale clothing-optional accomodation. These are the same people you’re likely to meet at any other upscale resort or B&B, but they have simply chosen a clothing-optional destination.
There’s no such thing as “typical” in American nudist culture
So how does one figure all this out without visiting 60-some naked places on your own? Well, doing a bit of research before departure will go a long way.
- We have found that Google maps has become an excellent resource, not only for getting you from point A to point B, but for providing brief reviews that give you the essence of a place without dragging you too far into the weeds. [SEE: Our interactive Google Map of Places We’ve Been Naked] Even if you’re searching for a naturist-friendly beach, you can glean important insights from the Google review that might even include a rant about all the naked people on the beach. “Thank you. Very helpful!” 🙂
- TripAdvisor is even better! Most naturist places now have a page on TripAdvisor as well, which draws reviews from hundreds of thousands of people who may not label themselves as naturists but publish forthright reviews about naked places. Here again, I also seek out reviews where people complain about naked people on the beach, knowing that one person’s plight is the next person’s delight. (I’m also working to catch up on our naturist TripAdvisor page, which you can find here.)
- Search for blogs about naturism and clothing-optional travel, and see which ones come up time and again. (Hopefully, ours will be one of them!) The go-to resource for most naturists, especially those interested in traveling abroad, is Nick and Lins of Naked Wanderings. They are all over the web (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Patreon) and are literally full-time professional naked travelers, providing loads of advice and insight for newbie naturists as well as an ever-growing list of trip reports. We use their recommendations all the time to find new naked places.
- And while you’re at it, pay attention to the nuance and functionality of the website for the naked place you’re interested in visiting, as chances are, the website will be a reflection of the actual place. Is it welcoming? Informative? Well-organized? Can you check availability online? Was it designed several decades ago in Windows 95?
- And finally, nothing beats human-to-human contact. Pick up the phone and call a place you’d like to visit and you’ll likely get a strong vibe – sometimes good, sometimes, not so much – from the person who answers the phone. If nobody answers the phone, or you can’t get a response to an email inquiry, that is likely reflective of the customer service you’ll experience once you arrive.
My wife suggested that this could have been broken into several individual blog posts, but I’m hoping this is a segue back into producing regular posts, especially now that we’re traveling again, so a-meandering I have gone. In addition to forthcoming trip reports detailing our American travels, (MEANDERING MONDAYS with reviews from the USA, and WANDERING WEDNESDAYS with international naked destinations) watch also for our new series of TOP PICKS, where we’ll group places together like TOP PICKS for “Naked Hiking”, “Newbie Naturists” or “English Speaking Naked Travels in Europe”. If our readers can benefit from our years of trial and error – oh so many errors! – then it’s a win-win for all.
Get vaccinated, be safe, and let’s open the world up for travel again. Life is too short to stay home with clothes on.