When I was twenty-one I went to school in Switzerland for a summer, a.k.a. took one “travel writing” course three days a week and spent the rest of my time eurailing around the continent.

One weekend, two friends and I flew to Greece for a three-day stint at a beachside resort. When we arrived at Crete’s Chania airport we found our pre-arranged driver, who was to transport us to the hotel. We clambered into the back seat of his car.

Meandering along a country road with the air conditioner at full-blast, he smiled and chatted with us in broken English, asking about our school and the U.S. while passing around photos of his son.

Finally, he casually inquired, “So you are naturalists?”

We nodded fervently, each of us eager to share our views on organic foods, all-natural products, and our respective childhoods of farming co-ops and granola. This was until it became quite clear to him that we had absolutely no idea that his definition (and also the opinion shared by the resort where we would shortly be arriving) of a “naturalist” was very different from our own.

We were just entering the main gates when he ventured to cut us off.

“Girls,” he said, “naturalist means no clothes. Do you know this?”

As a matter of fact, we did not know it. Flushed and breathless we thanked him for the ride, and shuffled up to the check-in (careful to look only at the ground) where we were curtly informed the room was non-refundable. Thus began our weekend at Vritomartis, a nude Cretan beach retreat.

I don’t mean, like, two beaches and a pool. I mean naked volleyball, Bocce ball, ping pong, garden chess, boat trips, decks, cabanas, yoga, meals, and archery.

Allow me to repeat that. Naked. Archery.

That trip was nearly a decade ago, and in the interim of then and now nude vacations rose in popularity to become a 400 million dollar industry. In 2013, Groupon even began offering naked vacation deals.

Lest you get any ideas about Europeans being all sexually progressive while the U.S. wallows in prudery, according to the American Association of Nude Resorts (yes, that is a thing), there’s over 270 clothing optional establishments in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. You’ll find the locations of each on their website, along with some basic guidelines for appropriate behavior.

Speaking of being appropriate, allow me to also dispel the preconception that nudist resorts are full of hot naked folks. I can tell you from my own experience that’s exactly what you will not find at one. Nudists are inherently accepting people–which means if you spend time among them you will see bodies of every shape, size, weight, height, and age.

To that end, the mission of Young Naturists America (yes, also a thing, and the fastest growing nudist organization in the world) is “To impact the world in a positive manner,” which is a nice summation of the atmosphere that generally pervades their establishments.

One nudist on Quora writes [they as a group] “tend to be easygoing, accepting, inquisitive and genuine people. The hurdle of overcoming the social nudity taboo helps select for these attributes, which are further reinforced by the socialization that occurs within groups of nudists. As a result, many people enjoy nudism because they enjoy being around people who express these attributes.”

However, don’t mistake their graciousness for weakness. For them nudity is not about exhibitionism, nor is it about sex, and they work hard to cultivate a safe, free environment for anyone who wants to enjoy it responsibly. Nudist resorts often conduct cursory background checks and, hippies at heart though they may be, will totally throw your ass out if you are reported being lewd or inappropriate.

The most intimidating part of my nude weekend occurred the first half an hour after arriving. I was acutely aware of my own insecurities, both physically and mentally, and for much of the day I kept my towel in place. When I finally let it drop, there were a few moments of paralyzing self-consciousness…and then it was gone. An hour later I roamed the gorgeous beach at sunset totally in the nude and felt the utmost sense of freedom and belonging.

So if you ever find yourself accidentally vacationing at a nudist resort, or even better, doing so on purpose, my advice is this: Lose your clothes the first second you step foot inside the gates, and don’t put them back on until you return to the outside world.

And definitely go shoot a bow and arrow.

Photo courtesy of Arcadius.