These are hard times for clothing-optional travelers.
Last summer, thanks to two highly publicized incidents, naked became synonymous with crazy. In one, a passenger stripped during a US Airways flight and resisted an attendant's efforts to cover him; in the other, a Southwest Airlines flight was forced to turn around after a male passenger went au naturel.
The American nudist community has endured other recent controversies as well, including the withdrawal of a Florida clothing-optional resort called Paradise Lakes from the American Association of Nude Recreation (www.aanr.com) after running a controversial ad campaign that violated AANR's "family-friendly principles."
All of this has taken a toll: The number of people who say they're interested in what's being called a "nakation" slipped from 11 percent in 2008 to 10 percent this year, according to the Orlando-based market research firm Y Partnership. Erich Schuttauf, AANR's executive director, acknowledged his concerns in a recent interview.
"It is fair to say that members are traveling less and visiting clubs closer to home," he told me, adding, "There is a lot for which we are thankful."
With all of this happening, why would you still want to consider baring everything on your next vacation?
First a warning: A clothing-optional vacation isn't for everyone. For example, when I posted Schuttauf's interview on my blog, I illustrated it with what I thought was an appropriate photo of four unclothed women running into the Baltic. The picture only showed their uncovered derrieres, but the outcry from some of my readers was loud. They demanded I remove the "not-safe-for-work" image, and because I love my readers, I did. (Even if they're prudes.)
And by way of full disclosure, no, I haven't taken a nakation. But I'm open to it.
Here are a few reasons you might consider vacationing in the buff.
It's Not What You Think
There are so many misconceptions about vacationing sans clothing, it would take an entire article to address them. But let me clear up just a few. Nudists are not perverts, and their resorts -- at least the ones represented by AANR -- are not seedy. They're not all retired, though many of them are. And they aren't exhibitionists looking for a date. In fact, you don't have to remove all of your clothes at a clothing-optional resort (that's why they call it clothing optional.)
It'll Open Your Mind
Take it from someone whose neighbors were nudists: Going clothes-free can be an enlightening experience. I only mention this because many of us are looking for a different perspective when we're on vacation, and removing our clothes can certainly offer that.
It's a Good Time
"Nude recreation is fun," says AANR's Schuttauf. "Anyone who has ever gone skinny-dipping or as a kid romped through the backyard sprinkler in his or her birthday suit knows." Fact is, most of the mainstream media coverage of nude recreation skips over this important point. Instead, we're fed a lot of titillating nonsense -- lists like the "Top 5 naked events" and "Top 5 nude beaches" that leave many of us firmly convinced that all nudists are hedonists. Truth is, a clothing-optional vacation can be wholesome fun, according to the nudists I've spoken with.
It's a Deal
The entire travel industry is on sale, and nude resorts are no exception. For example, the Terra Cotta Inn in Palm Springs, Calif., was offering a two-day nude sunbathing special for as little as $149 a night per couple, as I wrote this. That's $20 a night off the normal price.
Cypress Cove Resort and Spa in Kissimmee, Fla., was offering a generous stay-two-weeks, get-one-week-free package, for those who can't get enough. And DeAnza Springs in Jacumba, Calif., offered one free night when you book a week (rates change quickly, so check with the hotel before booking). Clothing-optional clubs and resorts are under the same pressure as the rest of the hotel industry, and maybe even more, considering that interest in nude recreation appears to be on the wane. Put differently, you might pay less for your nakation than your vacation.
It's Easy to Pack
You can blame Air New Zealand for this idea, since it came up with the clever ad campaigns featuring flight attendants in body paint. But packing for a clothing-optional vacation is so easy and you won't ever have to worry about additional luggage fees. That's a compelling argument when your carrier wants to charge $15 per bag -- and more on some flights. You might wonder why they don't just start a clothing-optional airline. Ah, but someone has thought of it, although from what I can tell, it hasn't launched yet.
Ready to strip down on your next vacation? While it's true that you could save a couple of bucks on baggage fees and hotel rates, and that it definitely will broaden your horizons, allow me to add just one piece of advice: Try it before you book a whole week. Visit a clothing-optional club -- many offer affordable day passes -- and see how it feels.
If you like it, have a nakation.
If you don't, you can join the rest of us prudes -- yeah, I guess I'm probably one of them -- and keep your clothes on.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2009 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.