Travel

Here's What It's Like at a Nudist Resort

A gay travel writer explores life in Palm Springs buck naked.

Oliver Byunggyu Woo/EyeEm/Getty Images
Oliver Byunggyu Woo/EyeEm/Getty Images
Oliver Byunggyu Woo/EyeEm/Getty Images

RuPaul ends each episode asking, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

The sentiment is lovely in theory, but a tad starry-eyed for a community that notoriously holds ourselves to unrealistic body standards. Many of us gay men tend to idol-worship six packs, turkey leg-shaped quads, and other physical characteristics that are, frankly, not a representation of what’s actually attainable for most (especially without steroids). And many of us even go so far as to claim not-out (and maybe not-even-gay) celebrities like Shawn Mendes as one of our own because being “just too pretty and perfect” can only mean one thing: He has to be gay-no ifs, ands, or buts. (Okay, well, maybe butts. But only if they’re perky.)

The act of truly loving yourself is loving every inch of you, and not just the raw and real personality that you’ve gone out of your way to cultivate over the years. Like many gay men, I’ve struggled to accept this notion for quite some time, dismissing body insecurity as irrelevant, so long as I make up for it by being humorous, excelling in my career, or prioritizing friendships.

It may sound cliché, but as a recently turned 35 year-old, I determined something had to change and it had to change now. So I decided to bare it all.

Fernando Trabanco FotografĂ­a/Moment/Getty Images
Fernando Trabanco FotografĂ­a/Moment/Getty Images
Fernando Trabanco FotografĂ­a/Moment/Getty Images

Going au naturel

My timidity over my naked self undoubtedly stems from this common belief that the amalgamation of my flesh and bones just isn’t enough. On some days, I go full yas-queen, flaunting in the mirror and admiring the shape of my derriere and nether regions. But still, other times I can randomly wake up feeling like my body parts were pieced together with masking tape and trash found from the Staten Island dump.

What’s bizarre and slightly ironic is that I don’t judge other people’s bodies the way I do my own. I’ve dated and loved many men with far-from-perfect figures. Society has essentially programmed us to think that people who don’t fit the Avengers superhero mould are “less than,” but my reality is that I find strength in seeing body-confident celebrities like Lizzo break the norm and show that they’re more than enough. And yet, I still have trouble applying this philosophy to my own life. So in a desperate attempt to overcome this nudity phobia and perhaps inspire myself with Lizzo-like gay men who can walk out with their cock out and give zero fucks, I spent a week in sunny Palm Springs to galavant around two of their most famous clothing-optional resorts: Descanso and INNdulge.

Photo courtesy of Joey Skladany
Photo courtesy of Joey Skladany
Photo courtesy of Joey Skladany

Too much shame in my game

Upon arriving to Descanso, I was greeted by gays going au naturel and relishing the desert sun underneath the property’s intertwining palm trees.

Fear and discomfort immediately consumed me and I attempted to camouflage myself in a far corner with a laptop and a mission to do work. But of course, as the only one wearing swim trunks, I stood out like a sore thumb. A naked me would be like Adam in the Garden of Eden, but after the whole shame thing hits. Except I wouldn’t be looking for a fig leaf to achieve modesty. Instead, I’d be wrapping a damn tree around my junk and creeping back into the dense foliage to live with the butterflies (and away from Eve, obvi).

When it came to dropping trou, day one was a complete wash. And not one in the outdoor shower where happily naked and carefree men thrived as I noshed on a granola bar from the couch in my air-conditioned room.

Descanso Resort Palm Springs
Descanso Resort Palm Springs
Descanso Resort Palm Springs

Nude is the mood

Day two started the same way day one ended: uncomfortable. While I had a busy eight hours of exploring Palm Springs (more on my favourite places and activities below!), my brief (pun intended) moments at the pool were adorned with a Speedo and an awkward half-smile.

But later that night: a breakthrough. And it wasn’t just the result of liquid courage. It came in the form of a painfully cute boy who I ogled earlier in the day. This guy simply owned every curve and crevice of his body and with an air of confidence (but not arrogance!) that I envied oh-so-much.

“Why are you wearing that?” he boldly asked about my swimsuit as we sat together in the hot tub.

“I guess I don’t have to,” I replied, sliding it off somewhat flirtatiously and plopping it on the ground nearby. I almost felt like a fraud, pretending as if I was on his level of self-assurance and had been this way my entire life. The reality, of course, was that I wasn’t. But I will tell you that in that moment, no matter how insignificant it may seem, I felt completely liberated. It was just a body. It was just a penis. He had one, I had one. There was no shame.

Whether or not we hooked up is for a different story, but I was in shock at how quickly one bold, simple move could completely remove a mental block I’ve possessed for as long as I can remember. Sometimes you just have to lean into the discomfort of a situation to yield a big payoff. And not only did I lean in, I went balls to the hot tub wall and just accepted it.

INNdulge Palm Springs
INNdulge Palm Springs
INNdulge Palm Springs

Am I a nudist now?

After leaving Descanso a couple of days later, I checked into INNdulge, another clothing-optional resort with a similar vibe, but a completely different setting. Unlike Descanso, INNdulge isn’t canopied by trees. Instead, its oversized pool is the heart of the complex and swells with outgoing and gregarious gay men from all walks of life.

That night, the suit came off again, as did any traces of day one’s inhibitions. In fact, every insecurity dissipated. It was like I was the rabbit coming out of a magician’s black top hat, shocking even myself with the sudden transition.

Being joined by other naked men put us all on an even playing field. We sat around, we knocked back drinks, and we shared stories about our life experiences. And then it all seemed to click: This is what Pride month is really all about… a celebration of our community and the people in it, all shapes and sizes, who have, despite the odds, found comfort in being unabashedly and brazenly themselves in their purest form. Of course we are all attracted to different body types, especially of the chiselled variety that takes hard work to achieve, and there is a level of voyeurism to nude resorts that can deter even the most body confident people. But ultimately I reached a peace of mind where I didn’t care about the way I looked or how others perceived me. And to reach this state-quite literally the opposite of how I’ve lived my life up to that point-resulted in unadulterated bliss.

Descanso and INNdulge don’t just exist for the excitement and thrill of being naked, but for the preservation and tradition of this idea that nobody really has to give two shits about the way you look when at your most vulnerable. They’re safe havens for men who likely grew up feeling judged, ostracized, and less than, only to now flourish in the freedom of basking in the bodies that God, the universe, Buddha, BeyoncĂ©, a pack of cells, or whatever deity you believe in gave them.

So if I can offer one piece of advice for anyone wired like me: Take the risk, trust the process, and enjoy the reward. You’ll certainly be glad you did.

Noah Sauve/Shutterstock
Noah Sauve/Shutterstock
Noah Sauve/Shutterstock

Where to go when the clothes come back on

As a travel writer, I’d be remiss to not offer recommendations in Palm Springs when the clothes come back on, as either a gay man or someone looking to be loud and proud no matter who you are. Because it turns out, Palm Springs is the perfect place for someone looking to say “eff it, I am who I am.” The carefree nature of the area’s resorts trickles into every business with chefs and entrepreneurs focusing solely on their craft and passion and less on the noise or the relentless attempt to impress other people. This bare-it-all attitude really does shine, which is why it’s unsurprising that Palm Springs has become such a popular retirement destination.

So fave spots? Food and drink-wise, Palm Springs offers some of the most memorable I’ve had this year and rivalled-dare I say it-nearby Los Angeles in overall taste and quality. Brunch-goers will revel in Farm‘s robust offering of omelets with homemade bread and jams or Cheeky‘s impressive line-up of Southwestern-inspired dishes like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and summer squash soups with spicy tomatillos.

You’ll also want to take advantage of the desert city’s flora and fauna by booking a hike through Red Jeep Tour, which isn’t just a beautiful respite from the hustle and bustle from downtown, but an educational one. With enthusiastic and well-travelled John as our guide, we learned everything about the area, from its native and thriving Indian culture to the subspecies of spiky desert plants that I’m eyeing to pot and display in my apartment.

For a more manicured look at nature, venture to the world’s largest aerial tramway where the 20-degree drop in temperature at its peak will provide a much-needed reprieve from sweltering heat. The summit also offers stunning, panoramic views to remind you that Palm Springs is, indeed, almost intimidatingly mountainous. You can even spot the iconic Ace Hotel, where you could book a much-deserved treatment at Feel Good Spa once you get back down.

For other meals and drinks, you mustn’t pass up the overloaded sheet-pan nachos at Blackbook, the trio of Asian-influenced crudos at dog-friendly Boozehounds, and the Nashville hot chicken-inspired fried oyster mushrooms at Workshop Kitchen Bar (served with pickles and buttered toast to keep things extra authentic). The Vietnamese food at Rooster and the Pig is also a star, with lines forming before its 5 pm opening time for a chance to nosh on umami-packed sweet potato noodles and a chicken-stuffed curry ball swimming in spicy basil.

Or you can enjoy your meal with a side of entertainment. Asia SF Palm Springs brings the house down with a high-tech lip sync extravaganza featuring only transgender performers, while the Palm Springs Cultural Center offers Tuesday jazz nights with acts that could easily be on Broadway and french fries that give McDonald’s (the best of the best) a run for its money.

Cap your evening with a bright libation or three from trendy 1501 Uptown Gastropub or Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, which incorporate local citrus and herbs into their drinks.

And if you’re hunting for the perfect outfit for non-nakie times, a stop at Destination PSP is an absolute must with one-of-a-kind, retro-inspired designs in home goods, swimwear, and clothing that will, frankly, make you want you to reconsider wearing nothing for the week.

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Joey Skladany is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Take a Submarine to the Bottom of the Great Lakes

You too can sink down to the watery grave-er, depths.

Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images

When the waves of Lake Huron closed over my head as I sank down to the bottom of the Great Lake, I admit I was a little panicky. I definitely thought about drowning. After all, I’d nearly drowned three times in my life.

Though the first two times I was too young to now recall, the third time was in Wisconsin and the sensation has stuck with me. I remember how, as a middle schooler, I got pulled deeper and deeper into a wave pool until every wave sucked me underneath just long enough to choke on a gurgly mouthful of water. Despite kicking and fighting to swim back to safety, I could feel the water overtaking me, bubbling up over my head as I sank down. The pool was choking me, I was suffocating, and the fear of death was right in my face. As you can probably guess, I was eventually saved. Someone noticed and pulled me out of the pool, and that relief was enormous.

But here I was again, as an adult, watching sediment from the bottom of the lake swirl up around me. But this time I wasn’t drowning. This time I was perfectly safe. This time I was in a submarine.

My small group and I were passengers on one of Viking Cruises’ newest itineraries, the Great Lakes Explorer. The expedition allows guests on the Viking Octantis ship to see one of the great lakes from the other side of the surface. Though guests can participate in science-research activities like microplastics research, bird-watching, and weather balloon launches, it’s also just really cool to dive in a submarine. Whether you’re overcoming your own childhood experiences or you’re just an adventurer at heart, here’s what to know about going on a submarine expedition in the Great Lakes.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises

Boarding a submarine

These are-of course-yellow submarines. Can you guess their names? If you picked John, Paul, George, and Ringo… you’re absolutely right.

The Beatles can go down to about 1,000 feet and stay underwater for eight hours. Each side of the submarine has three very comfortable seats for passengers, surrounded by glass domes that allow optimal viewing at the dive site. It’s a small space (you can’t stand up straight), but you can hardly tell once you’re in the water. The seat platforms swivel so you can look out over the lake floor instead of staring at the pilot and other passengers.

The submarines are equipped with lights, cameras, and some handy claws to pick up anything valuable the pilot sees on the lakebed. They’re typically used as research vessels to take information back to the Octantis’ science program, which works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA eventually plans to tack instruments to the bottoms of the submarines to get more detailed information about the water, the lakes, and the lakebed.

If you’re like me (that is, both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning), you’ll be happy to know that the subs are awash with safety features. Onboard, you’ll find directions on what to do if the pilot goes unconscious, supplemental oxygen hoods, a big green button to push if the sub needs to surface immediately, and a program that tells the submarine to surface if it doesn’t detect any activity from the pilot. Up above you, the sub is followed by a safety boat with a team that ensures the surrounding waters stay clear and everyone is safe beneath the surface. (So even when the safety boat radioed our pilot, Peppe from Sweden, and said, “You’re a little close to the rocks, but that’s as good a dive site as any,” I decided to trust the marine scientist.)

Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

Sinking down to the depths

Here’s how the dive works. You take Viking-owned Zodiacs (military-grade rigid inflatable boats) to a predetermined dive site that the scientists onboard the ship picked out that morning. For now, the sites will always be in Canadian waters-because Viking is Norwegian, the Jones Act disallows them from deploying subs in the United States. To transfer from the Zodiac to the submarine, you have to hold onto a metal bar, climb out of the Zodiac, and sit down on the edge of the submarine hatch. You swing your legs into the hatch, then climb down a three-rung ladder into the middle of the sub to find your assigned seat.

Once everyone is in the sub, the pilot climbs in, closes the hatch, and then radios to the safety boat to make sure you’re clear to sink. With the all-clear, air is released from outside tanks on the submarine, and thrusters push the entire thing underwater.

For our dive, we went down about fifty feet to the floor of the lake. It had been raining all morning, which stirred up the sediment around us, making everything a mossy green colour that spotlights sparkled through to highlight the lakebed. I saw a few tiny fish and a ton of invasive zebra mussel shells. Depending on the weather and your dive site, you’re likely to see more. But even just exploring the floor of the Great Lakes, something almost no one in history has done before, is an amazing thing.

Sign me up!

If you want to take a submarine dive into the Great Lakes yourself, you have to be a passenger on the Viking Octantis or sister ship, Viking Polaris. As of this writing, no other companies offer passenger submarine trips down into the lakes-especially not in a military-grade exploration submarine that is worth $6 million each. The Great Lakes expedition itineraries start at about $6,500 and can be booked on the Viking website.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Hike, kayak, or get yourself a cinnamon roll afterwards

What you can see nearby depends on your dive site. On Octantis, the subs went down in Lake Huron and Lake Superior-my dive was in Lake Huron, surrounded by the stunning Georgian Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Canada. Here, you can kayak in the bay, hike through the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a Zodiac nature cruise.

Or if you can, try to take your submarine dive at Silver Islet in Ontario’s slice of Lake Superior. The small community is historic and completely off the grid, and the general store has some of the best cinnamon rolls you can find around the Great Lakes.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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