Chapter One from Nothing in My Duffel Bag: A meandering naturist’s travelogue
Author's Note: This is the truncated version of the first from a series of essays I'm publishing about naturist travel and various other topics related to social nudity. Should you wish to read the entire essay, untethered opinions and all, please CLICK THROUGH to Medium. There's a nominal subscription fee, but it gives you access to loads of material by writers like me. You may even wish to check out my recommended reading lists on naturism and travel while you're there.
I think it was Helsinki, but really… it could have been anywhere. Nearly every major city in the world has a train station, and the game plays out pretty much the same everywhere.
The rules of the train station game are remarkably simple:
- Plant yourself at a corner table near all the commotion, but out of the flight path. Your part is to see, not to be seen.
- Shut up! This is significantly easier when you’re someplace where you have no working knowledge of the language, as you couldn’t ask a favor of the person at the next table if your life depended on it. For me, Finnish is most definitely one of those languages.
- Watch. I love the French verb regardez, or to look. I’m certainly no expert in epistemology, but I can’t help but believe there is a common origin to the English concept of holding someone in high regard, that’s more than just looking or watching. When you look up the word regard, the definition will likely include “to consider or think about someone or something in a specific way.” I love that.
None of those people rushing for the train could give a flip about any of that either. Another reason to keep my mouth shut! None of their stories are about me. I’m significantly less than an extra in their unfolding screenplay.
That’s the beauty of travel. Especially solo travel. A phenomenon that allows you to simply sink back into the fabric with your coffee and crunchy bread-like thing and literally – become invisible. No worries about outing myself with my inability to speak Finnish, there’s no one to talk to. And Europeans aren’t crazy about small talk to begin with.
Herein lies the first lesson for the meandering naturist. Or for that matter, anyone who wishes to be a traveler instead of a tourist. Tourists appeal to – nay, require – the service and hospitality industry with the expectations of other humans meeting their needs. Travelers simply seek to exist, unnoticed, inobtrusive, acknowledging that they are not here to enrich others, but instead, to be enriched.
Two serious takeaways from playing the train station game.
The first lesson is that despite my sense of self-importance in my personal and professional life, all these humans in the Helsinki train station (Substitute as you wish: Munich, London, Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai, Chicago, New York) seem to be surviving at least, thriving at best in the absence of my wisdom and experience. They are living their respective lives just fine, thank you very much. It’s of little or no consequence to anyone in the entire country of Finland as to whether I had been born or not.
As to the second lesson, I suppose this would be a good time to loop back to the prevailing idea that this is the introduction to a series of essays about social nudity and naturist travel. In this era where everyone is hyper-sensitive about issues of marginalization and objectification, (rightfully so!), we’ve all but forgotten what every artist over the past five-hundred years knew inherently…
Humans are beautiful.
Which brings us to the second lesson in this introduction to a series of essays about nudity and naturist travel, which not so ironically, is the same as the first.
Humans are beautiful.
The act of admiring the human form has been demonized, largely through various religious ideologies, for centuries. Strangely enough, even as many have distanced themselves from faith-derived values, the stigma and the assumed motives have persisted, growing even deeper in recent years. For those who have found a sense of liberty and vitality in social nudity, the very essence of naturism is one of unequivocal acceptance.
If all goes according to plan, this is the first of a series of essays that are intended to read like a book, alternating between our experiences with naturist travel while pausing the travelogue chronicles now and again to tussle with the unavoidable questions so many people have about social nudity in general. Curiosity about nudity and religion, or psychology, and culture, amidst the complexities of sexuality, or even one’s ability to be comfortable looking in the mirror.
Naturists love to espouse the mantra, “When you’re all naked, you eliminate all barriers social stratification. You can’t tell who’s a doctor and who’s a custodian.” (Another incredibly awkward and inappropriate statement if you ask me, but it’s repeated all the time, even in literature advocating for social nudity.)
Ironically, at least for us, it’s not actually the nakedness that has made naturist travel so intoxicating, but the interactions with like-minded people who actually seek out a place to get naked. They’ve searched the web, talked to their friends, read a few travel essays and said, “Let’s not stay at the Ibis Hotel in Bordeaux and sign-up for the three-day winery excursion. Let’s take the coastal road instead, out to that naturist resort and spend a couple weeks living in a modest chalet amidst the pine trees where we don’t have to bother with putting clothes on when we walk outside for that first morning stretch.”
That deliberate act of driving beyond the city limits, real and metaphorical, into some Utopian place where clothing is a needless accessory seems indicative, at least to me, of someone who desires to move beyond the entrapments of societal pressure if only to say, “I am me, and that’s all I can possibly be. Should you choose to gaze upon my physical being, naked or otherwise, I hope you are seeking – regarding – the inherent beauty of my existence.”
In a naturist setting, the train station game is one of regarding all your surroundings in a way that contextualizes humanity in its most altruistic form. Ideally, one becomes invisible just as I did in that Helsinki train station, fully aware of all that’s transpiring around me, but never fixated on any singular person or thing. In the English vernacular we call that living in the moment, but I like to think that for the naturist, that moment is just a bit more visceral.
That’s how it went for us, and decades later, we’re still all in about letting it all hang out.
The FULL VERSION of this story can be found on MEDIUM. It goes a good bit farther into our philosophies about travel, and the foundations of our naturist ethos. I Hope you'll click through and give it a read.