From Hawaii to Mexico, Greece to Croatia, and even to the coastal shores of New Jersey, nude beaches abound. These hot spots are great if you want a carefree and clothing-optional getaway. But before you hit the beach, know that strict etiquette reigns supreme. In fact, most nudist destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know (and what you shouldn’t do) at a nude beach.
Don’t Assume a Beach Is Clothing Optional
Reading somewhere that a beach is clothing-optional does not mean that the beach is actually clothing-optional. Do your due diligence and ensure that the area you’re in is truly safe for your naked patronage. To get you started, the American Association for Nude Recreation has a short list of nude beaches in the U.S. (there aren’t many), while SmarterTravel has rounded up some of the top nudist destinations around the world.
And if you’re ever unsure as to whether a beach is truly nude? Keep your clothes on. In many places, public nudity is a serious crime that could lead to a fine (or worse).
Don’t Forget to Research Naturist Resorts
Naturist resorts cater to a completely clothing-free vacation seeker, so if you want to go all in (or off), research these options rather than a one-time visit to a nude beach. From family-friendly campgrounds in the Poconos to luxe all-inclusives in the Caribbean, there’s likely a nudist-resort option that suits your style and budget.
Rules at each resort differ, and many are adults-only. As with any hotel stay, read the resort’s policies closely before you book.
Once at the beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. But play it cool: Most nude-beach experts say it’s easy, and that at a certain point you simply stop noticing all the skin.
If you can’t handle the realities of polite, naked society? That’s okay, but stick to the clothing-required beaches for the sake of everyone’s comfort.
Don’t Expect Too Much
Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a Playboy Mansion memoir. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and are far more likely to veer into Dad bod territory than Channing Tatum in the buff. So don’t expect models and be disappointed when you see, well, normal humans in all their hirsute glory.
Don’t Take Pictures
A good rule of thumb: Never, ever, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission. This goes for all tourist destinations—from nude beaches to theme parks to UNESCO World Heritage sites—but it’s especially true when the subject of your photo is naked. Always ask explicitly if you may take a photo and make sure photography is even allowed at the beach. (Many naturist resorts prohibit it.)
Furthermore, even if you’re okay with someone snapping a pic of you, you have little control over where that photo ends up—from travel review sites to social media to less pleasant parts of the Internet.
Don’t Go Naked in Certain Public Areas
Due to local regulations, many areas at nudist resorts or beaches may, in fact, require clothing: parking lots, cafes, shops, and so on. Consult any posted signs regarding clothing-required venues and follow them to the T. Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
While this doesn’t fall squarely in the etiquette column, it’s still a critical piece of information: Yes, those sensitive areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a slather of sunscreen. Look for a sunscreen that’s gentle on sensitive skin. Test it a few weeks before you hit the beach to ensure that you don’t end up with an unsightly rash somewhere you definitely don’t want one.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Florida’s Best Hidden Beaches
- 10 Amazing Overwater Bungalows You Can Sleep In
- Beach Etiquette: What Not to Do on the Shore
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.