Travel trends come and go - from eco travel to medical tourism, spiritual travel to tornado tourism. One of the latest trends appears to be all about stripping things down to the basics. And I mean that literally.
The "nakation" - aka clothing-optional tourism - is becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. Shirking that outer layer at nude beaches and resorts and even on clothing-optional cruises has become the vacation choice du jour for hundreds of thousands of free-spirited Americans.
Travel industry experts suggest that nude recreation is fast becoming a billion dollar-a-year industry. It's certainly bringing in big bucks in Florida, where the state's tourism department reports that nude recreation made a $7.4 billion economic impact in the Sunshine State last year.
Mature adults, 45 and older, make up the majority of nakationers, according to Mary Jane Kolassa, media relations representative for the American Association for Nude Recreation, or AANR, the oldest and largest advocacy group for nude recreation in North America.
"The demographics are shifting, however," says Kolassa. "We're seeing more millennials, Gen Xers, African Americans and Hispanics opening up to the joy and freedom offered by the nude travel experience."
Behavioral scientists theorize that the appeal of nudism may relate in part to the need in our increasingly complex world for "tech detoxing" and going "off the grid" as remedies for the frenetic modern lifestyle. Ditching the duds, they reason, can be seen as one more way to simplify the chaos. Egalitarianism comes into play as well: without the trappings of clothing, it's hard to stereotype someone as "blue collar" or "white collar" when there are no collars.
For those uninitiated to the rites of undressing in public, here's some soothing encouragement from Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach and educator at California's Alexander Institute. "Don't let yourself feel pressured on an adult lifestyle holiday. You might feel uncomfortable at first," Engle says, "but once you see so many people - of all ages, shapes and sizes - just living their lives in the nude, it becomes normalized very quickly."
It should be pointed out that the kinds of nakations advocated and promoted by AANR at the organization's nearly 200 member clubs across the country take their cue from naturism - the wholesome, lighthearted joy of nudity without the sexual debauchery that one might envision.
"Simply put," says Kolassa, "our mission is to advocate nudity and nude recreation in appropriate settings while educating and informing society of their value and enjoyment."
That's not to say there aren't plenty of options for those wanting to kick it up a notch. Resorts catering to the sexually adventurous such as Hedonism II in Jamaica; Desire Resort & Spa in Cancun; Rooftop Resort in Hollywood, Fla.; and Live Oak Resort in Washington, Texas, are popular bucket-list spots for swingers.
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Nakations needn't be confined to resorts. Nude cruises are becoming a really big thing. There are a number of travel agencies, such as Texas-based Castaways Travel, that charter entire vessels for clothing-optional cruises. Castaways co-owner Donna Daniels estimates that her company will book about 7,500 passengers this year on three chartered voyages operated by Celebrity and Royal Caribbean Cruises.
"The cruise lines set the itineraries, of course," says Daniels, "but we organize special activities for our clients, including costume nights, body painting and adult comedians."
Campers and RVers have lots of opportunities to go natural as well, according to AANR's Kolassa, who notes that most of the association's clubs maintain campgrounds that welcome nude campers. Just be extra careful when lighting that campfire.
For more information:
American Association of Nude Recreation, www.aanr.com, 800-879-6833.
Castaways Travel, www.castawaystravel.com, 281-362-8785.
Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, www.cruisebare.com, 800-743-0405.
Exotic Travel Services, www.exotictravelservices.com, 877-904-6909.