When Samantha* and her boyfriend, Noah*, both 28, visited Croatia in June, they did something they’ve never done before and stripped down on a nude beach. “I loved it,” Samantha gushes. “It was incredibly liberating, exhilarating, felt like a real high.” Neither of them wanted to come down. “After about two hours we left to explore the rest of the island, which meant putting clothing back on, and honestly, it was no fun,” Noah says. “I was barely able to enjoy it wearing my bathing suit. Within five minutes I really wanted to go back to the nude area. So we did, and stayed there until the last boat was leaving for the night.”

Both say that they plan to add “nude beach” to their list of vacation considerations, along with museums and good food.You might say that naked is having its day in the sun. There are now not one, not two, but three reality shows in which participants put it all out there on national television. In addition to the pioneering “Naked and Afraid” survival contest, the third season of which premiered on the Discovery channel on June 29, there’s now the real-estate series “Buying Naked,” halfway through its first season on TLC, and VH1’s “Dating Naked,” starting July 17.

Guide to nudism

With nudism going mainstream, it’s as good a time as any to dip a toe—or a boob—in clothing-optional waters. “When it comes to doing something new, it’s the fastest growing industry in the travel business,” says Deb Bowen, marketing and public relations director for Caliente Club and Resorts, a clothing-optional resort and residential community featured prominently on “Buying Naked.” The clothing-optional leisure market is estimated at over $440 million a year, up 10 percent from a decade ago, and there are more than 260 nude vacation spots in the U.S. and Canada alone, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation.

The AANR website is brimming with information about clothes-free options across North America, while travel agencies like Bare Necessities and Castaways specialize in nudist travel packages worldwide. On Trip Advisor you can find hundreds of pages of forum discussions about international nude destinations.There are nude beaches, nude luxury resorts, nude bed and breakfasts, nude campgrounds and RV parks, nude hotels that focus on families or ones that serve the 21-and-over crowd. Nude cruises to Europe—where topless beaches are commonplace—sell out years in advance. “Whatever your personal preference, there is a nude option for you,” Bowen proclaims.

Why Take a Nakation?

Many people who have bared it all on vacation come home to extoll the benefits. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s different and wild and uninhibited. And it can help us shed some of the body issues so many of us carry around inside.Elia*, 33, first stripped down at a Swedish hot spring while traveling for work. Since then, she has visited a public bath in Shanghai and become a regular at the spas in L.A.’s Koreatown.

“My body issues are specific,” she says. “My weight and my nipples; I hate them and think they’re too big.” But being naked with dozens of strangers of all shapes and (nipple) sizes—none of whom paid her any attention one way or another—helped her get past the fixation on these details. “Why was I so hung up on certain things when clearly with this many variations in bodies there must be someone out there with my variations, too? It seemed totally useless to compare myself and evaluate and think I was going to find a pattern.”

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy of TLC, Discovery, VH1
Nude TV shows

Bowen, who stumbled into the nudist world 15 years ago and never looked back, concurs. “You realize that you’re no different than anyone else. It’s sad the way that the media have portrayed women as this perfect figure for so long that women really believe that if they don’t look like that they shouldn’t be out in public. [When you see other people in the nude] you realize that’s not the real world, that’s the movie world, and real people don’t look like that.

Overweight, not in shape—once you go, you realize that nobody cares. It doesn’t matter. It’s really hard for people who haven’t experienced it to understand.”She stresses that going nude for the first time is most likely to have a positive outcome for someone who has at least some level of body confidence to start with, and that who you’re with can make all the difference. When she was 21, Lyndsey* went on a six-week tour of Europe. “It was to be my summer of freedom. I was excited to shed all my American inhibitions and that included (the idea of) by bikini top. I even declared on more than one occasion, ‘I’m going topless!’” But when she arrived at a topless beach in southern France, the cadre of gawking 20-something guys she was traveling with made her too uneasy to follow through.

“My friends made such a big deal out of seeing boobs that even considering taking my top off made me feel naked in a way that was shameful rather than liberating. Witnessing their voyeurism was incredibly off-putting. I wanted to cover up my already covered-up body.”Still, it might not be for everyone, warns YouBeauty Self-Image Expert Heather Quinlan.

“I like the idea of giving yourself the opportunity to feel body confidence and experience a huge variety of different body types in a (theoretically) judgment-free zone. But I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility for some people. For example, if someone has a distorted body image to start with, they are probably going to see themselves as horribly unattractive, fat, etc., and see everyone else with rose-colored glasses. Stripping off their clothing (and defenses) at the wrong time could be pretty devastating.”Given another chance, Lyndsey, now 36, says she would totally pop the top.

“I think that now that I’m older, and married, I’m finally comfortable enough for it to be no big deal. Boobs are just boobs. My biggest hesitation now would be the sun exposure.”*Names have been changed or last names withheld. As Noah explains, “In the same vein of being nude on vacation only, I wouldn’t want my name to be printed. This is real me. Naked me is vacation me.” Other sources shared this sentiment.