Tripping or stripping? Roughing it or buffing it? Cam Hassard takes a sans-clothing trip through the burgeoning world of the ‘nakation’.
Travel has always sought to reinvent itself. From wellness touring to flashpacking, tornado tourism to ‘ego’ adventures, the latest trend seems to be all about stripping things down to basics. Literally.
The ‘Nakation’—aka clothing-optional tourism—has become a very real, and increasingly popular, mode of adventure travel. From nude resorts to birthday suit hikes to clothing-free charter cruises, baring all has become the vacation choice du jour. Far from a cheeky skinny-dip thrill on the beaches of, say, Biarritz or the like, more and more of us seem to be building our entire itineraries around getting our kit off.
Though folks have been ‘dropping trou’ in public in some organized shape or form since the 16th century, the emergence of the urge to shirk ‘the outer layer’ with one’s vacation time is a relatively recent phenomenon. “What we’re seeing is a demographic of fresh faces,” says Mary Jane Kolassa, representative of the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR), the leading authority on nude recreation in North America and the Caribbean.
According to Kolassa, ‘nakation’ (a term coined by the AANR itself back in 2008) is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. And it’s millennials, she says—“open to experiencing the joy of skinny dipping, nude hiking, canoeing and more”—who are the ones behind it.
The figures (on the growth, at least) certainly corroborate the claim. In 2003, Forbes Magazine estimated nude recreation to be a $400-million a year industry, and that number has since inflated to what is conservatively estimated at over $533 million. All in all, no cottage industry.
But why the rise in all this fleshy frolicking? Ultimately, why not? In a complex world, where ‘tech detoxing’ and ‘going off the grid’ have become highly sought-after remedies to the business of modern life, ditching the polyester onionskin is one more way of simplifying the chaos.
“Without the trappings of clothes, one is never stereotyped as ‘blue collar’ or ‘white collar’—everyone is ‘no collar’”.
Kat Whitmire, Bare Necessities
“There is something very freeing about shedding your clothes and being accepted without judgement in a group that’s enjoying the same freedom,” says Kat Whitmire of Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, a Texas-based agency specializing in charters throughout the Caribbean, the Far East, French Polynesia, Australia, Europe—and even the Inside Passage of Alaska. Midwinter cruises are their big ones; the agency continually fills up ships of 2,000-3,000 passengers, with a 70 per cent return ratio.
“More and more adventure travelers have been getting on board throughout the past two years,” says Whitmire, “enjoying everything a top-of-the-line cruise ship has to offer, while wearing nothing but a smile.”
Which makes sense, really. It’s hard to be grumpy when you’re not wearing any kit. Harder still to discriminate or judge the people around you, an egalitarianism that seems intrinsic to the nude appeal. “You’re accepted for who you are inside,” adds Kolassa, “not how you look on the outside. Without the trappings of clothes, one is never stereotyped as ‘blue collar’ or ‘white collar’—everyone is ‘no collar’”.
It ought to be pointed out that ‘nakations’ shouldn’t be conflated with anything ‘sexual’. While there are more ‘hedonistic’ pleasures to be found, nakations take their cue from naturism: The wholesome, playful joy of nudity without any leery overtones (a world away from that Stewie Griffin-style ‘sexy party’ you’re currently envisioning in in your head).
That’s certainly the way to go about it for co-founders of Naked Wanderings. Nick and Lins, a Belgian couple in their mid-30s, have spent their recent years traveling the world “as naked as possible”, blogging about their ‘nakations’ and becoming surrogate pro-nude ambassadors along the way. “We started to write about naturism on our blog with the intention to inform people,” says Nick, “because there are still so many misconceptions about the topic—that it’s for hippies, that it’s for old people, that it’s sexual.”
In a sense, to ‘nakay’ is to truly, and properly, reset—to strip it down to a base level and, in some deeper way, re-learn who we are.
If you ask Nick and Lins, the virtues of the ‘nakation’ even border on the therapeutic. “A lady we met in a naturist resort in Thailand told us this story about how her friend was advised by a psychiatrist to give nudism a try,” says Nick. The woman overcame her fragilities and issues, largely due to the shared vulnerability and sense of conquered fear she experienced as a result of nuding up with others. “When we met a psychologist at a nudist resort in Mexico, we told her this story. Her reply was pretty simple: ‘Oh, I prescribe that all the time’.”
So what’s at the heart of the ‘nakay’ desire? Next-level impulse to simplify in a fast-paced world? Lust for freedom that comes from overcoming vulnerability? A deep therapeutic zest? Or is it simply the opportunity to acquire an excellent full-body tan?
As ever, the world’s preeminent travel psychologist, Michael Brein, dishes up his two cents: “There’s something about nakedness and nudity that draws us back to our roots of sorts. It doesn’t get more basic than that. Perhaps in our quest to seek out the true and the purist connection and what’s truly genuine, we equate nudity with a point from which to start and go forward.”
In a sense, to ‘nakay’ is to truly, and properly, reset—to strip it down to a base level and, in some deeper way, re-learn who we are—inner and outer—as we roam buck naked through foreign turf.
Good for the soul, good for the skin, good for the baggage allowance and good for the psyche, the enduring virtues of holidaying in the buff render it far from a flash-in-the pan fad. Which begs the question: Where to from here? Nude long-haul flights? Speedy X-ray-free customs lines at the airport? The possibilities are delightfully clothing-free.
In the meantime, for those of us yet to feel the glory of salt, sand and seaspray gracing our bare loins and nether regions—be it beachside, a golf course, in a Parisian restaurant, or on a 3,000-berth pleasure cruise—there’s never been a better time to disrobe, and unleash the flesh in good company.
Pack light. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Cam Hassard is managing editor at Caddie Magazine and features writer for Junkee, AWOL, Carryology, Fairfax Media, and more. He’s eaten ant salad in Laos, hauled trucks from NYC to Vegas, and destroyed himself on the Camino de Santiago. Originally from Melbourne, he currently calls Berlin home.