February 5, 2020

As travel trends continue to inundate the market, there comes a whole gamut of offerings for eager consumers seeking novelty, from sustainable tourism to dark tourism, some more outrageous and controversial than the next. 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,” says the world’s preeminent travel psychologist, Dr. Michael Brein, as he explains the appeal of naked vacations. Coined by the American Association of Nude Recreation, “nakation”—aka clothing-optional tourism—is one of the booming segments of the travel industry.

In 2003, Forbes Magazine estimated it to be a whopping $400-million-a-year industry. Today, it has achieved billion-dollar status. While the desire to relinquish ‘the outer layer’ during vacations is a quite recent phenomenon, with millennials at the helm, ‘dropping trou’ in public has always existed in some form. In 776 B.C, athletes in Olympia were usually naked and covered with olive oil to keep off the dust during competitions and trainings. Throughout medieval Europe, public bathhouses were also very popular and it wasn’t uncommon to see a long row of naked couples eat a meal in bathtubs with other couples.

So what is the driving force behind this nude recreation? Is it an innate human desire to return to a prelapsarian state like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Or a lust to liberate ourselves from the social confines of society? Well, as it turns out, nakation is not just the newest wrinkle; there are actual benefits. It allows us to reset by stripping ourselves down to a base level and re-learning who we truly are on the inside and outside—beneath the superficial layers.

In 1991, Bare Necessities Tour & Travel caused many jaws to drop (among other things) as they set sail with 36 passengers on the world’s first bare-optional boat. More than twenty years later, the business is still thriving, and is a testament to the popularity of bare vacationing. “It’s about the freedom from binding clothes and the freedom to meet people without any barriers. Meeting people in a nude setting is a great social leveller, and everyone instantly has something in common—the desire to enjoy nature and new experiences in their natural state,” says Kat Whitmire, a travel agent with Bare Necessities Tour & Travel.

While some fledglings may be titillated by the idea of romping around buck naked with all our jiggly bits on display, Whitmire asserts that such perceptions are wrong. “It’s not a sexual experience, it’s a sensual experience. It’s the caress of an ocean breeze on bare skin, cool water cascading over your body, and no wet bathing suits to mess with.”

A satisfied customer of Bare Cruises loves the freedom of being unbound. “It is so much easier to pack for. Everything is so casual, when you do wear clothes it doesn’t matter what it is. You don’t even have to think about that.” These days, with “digital detoxes” gaining momentum, the act of disrobing can be another way to remove distractions and minimise the chaos in our lives.

There is evidence that suggests how being naked is good for the soul. In 1906, Dr. Heinrich Pudor wrote a treatise discussing the benefits of nudity and advocated participating in sports while being free of cumbersome clothing. According to him, a combination of physical fitness and sunlight with the nudist philosophy contributed to mental and psychological fitness.

Nick and Lins, a Belgian couple in their mid-30s, who started Naked Wanderings in 2016, are big advocates of the bare movement. All it took was a spontaneous trip to a public sauna, and the feeling of pure liberation was a watershed moment. From then on, they have travelled the world “as naked as possible”, sharing their passion for naturism. Along the way, Nick and Lins discovered that there was none of the awkwardness or sexual debauchery that one might envision. “Nobody paid any attention to us,” says the couple. As an activity, nudity became quickly normalised and enjoyed.

“There’s something about nakedness and nudity that draws us back to our roots of sorts. It doesn’t get more basic than that,” concludes Brein. However, for more conservative societies like the Middle East, where even restaurants have gender-segregated seating, and Asia where public baths are strictly gender exclusive, such fleshy frolicking may be met with opprobrium and even disdain from older folks. Still, the trend has seen an uptake among millennials, who are remaking, remodelling and elevating the travel industry on their own terms. Regardless of what generation you’re from, the next time you’d like to do the full monty, don’t forget the wise words of Baz Luhrmann: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99, wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.”