Nakation Nation: Nudist Resorts And Beaches Solve Airline Baggage Fee Woes

nude sunbatherAnd from the, “OMFG” department comes this information, via press release: The American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) “encourages wholesome family nude recreation [“Nakations”] in appropriate settings such as designated nude beaches and AANR-member resorts, or around the home. Experts have attested that children raised in a social nudist environment grow up with a stronger sense of self-esteem, free of many of the body image issues that trouble the average textile youth.”

I’m most disturbed by the terms, “textile youth” and “Nakation.” I’m not going to touch those with a ten-foot…never mind. Why I’m so skeeved out by the naked family vacay thing is a bit more convoluted. I like to think that I’m pretty open-minded, and it’s true we’ve become a nation of body dysmorphic, eating-disordered freaks…when we’re not morbidly obese, that is.

I have no problem going topless on European beaches, and have often bemoaned the puritanical leanings of Americans when it comes to censorship with regard to nudity on television and in magazines. I just feel that it’s potential fodder for a therapist’s couch when children and their parents frolic about sans textiles after the toddler stage has passed; I also believe that public nudity past toddler-hood is something that should only be done by consenting adults.

I’ve been to a nude beach twice. Maybe it’s because I didn’t holiday in the buff with my family (my eyes, my eyes!) as a child, but I can tell you two things my nude sunbathing didn’t accomplish: providing me with a stronger sense of self-esteem, and freeing me of the body image issues that have troubled me ever since I was an average, deprived textiled youth.nude beachIt could have something to do with the fact that the first time I went, it was with an exhibitionist Australian boyfriend who was a professional athlete. It was (as we discovered) a gay beach, meaning most of the men were totally ripped. I’d also been on a month-long food writing assignment, so I wasn’t feeling very good about my body. And I was covered – literally – with mosquito bites I’d gotten several days prior on a camping trip. This included my ass, because…let’s just say that women have a tougher time peeing in the great outdoors than men.

So, I wasn’t exactly feeling empowered about this experience, but I forced myself to do it. Just so I could say my boyfriend and I went to a gay nude beach in Australia. The second time, I was by myself in Santa Cruz and it was all good until some freak threw his towel down three inches away from my toes. I haven’t taken my clothes off in a public place in broad daylight since.

Clearly, I’m the one with the issues, because according to the AANR, the “2011 Portrait of the American Traveler tells us that at least 53 million people are interested in visiting nudist resorts or nude beaches. This confirms the increasing public understanding that family nudity is wholesome, natural and comfortable after the first daunting but liberating plunge.”

I guess the issue really comes down to, “Is this behavior hurting anyone?” and that’s open to debate. Personally, I’m not too cool with kids being, uh, exposed to naked strangers. I agree that teaching children to have a healthy sense of esteem about their bodies is important (as important, say, as feeding them a well-balanced, nutritious diet and encouraging them to be physically active and play outdoors), but I think there are plenty of ways to learn that without going on Nakations. Or, for the cash-strapped family, “Staycation Nakations.”

One thing I will say about clothing-optional travel: it saves money on baggage fees and laundry. The downside is explaining how you got melanoma.

[Photo credits, sunbather, Flickr user uppityrib; sign, Flickr user Sister 72]

Skin Cancer 101

Travel Dilemma: Old Favorite Or Someplace New?

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I’ve just spent four days in London, where I saw friends and did some work before heading up to Oxford for two weeks. My family and I do this every Easter and summer. It’s good for my kid’s English (we live most of the year in Spain) and my wife and I both have plenty of work to do up here.

While I love these regular trips, there’s always a nagging pressure in the back of my head to travel to someplace new. We could just as easily spend Easter in Tunisia. In fact, it would be cheaper! Then there’s that hike I’m planning in Scotland for September. While I love hiking in Scotland, why not do that hike in Montenegro like I’ve been talking about?

Or I could skip the hike and take a slow boat up the Gambia River, or visit the pyramids of the Sudan. The world is big and my time is finite. Should I really be going back to the same place over and over again?

Gadling’s own Annie Scott came up with ten reasons you must revisit. Her reason #10 is the most important one: “to check in on friends.” We’ve been coming to Oxford and London regularly enough that they aren’t so much trips as they are homecomings. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that for the sake of simply seeing new sights. Even going somewhere a second time, like I did when I revisited Harar last year, allows you to look up old acquaintances and turn them into friends.

Revisiting a familiar place has so many rewards… and yet the rest of the world beckons.

It’s a constant struggle. Some places like Oxford, I won’t let go, since they’re a part of my wife and son’s lives too. Harar I also don’t want to let go, but that’s my own thing and an expensive thing at that. The rest is a delicate balancing act, one that I feel I’m never getting entirely right.

So do you prefer to travel to a new place or an old favorite? Take our poll and share more of your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy Archibald Ballantine. No, that’s not me with the map.

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Five ways to improve business travel with your family

business travel with your familyIt usually seems easy to mix a business trip and a family vacation. You’re already on the road, and your company has picked up the tab for your flight. So, a good chunk of expense has been taken out of the equation from the start! Especially if you go to a great destination, extending a business trip into a vacation can be a smart move. You may even get to absorb some of your hotel costs into your travel budget at work.

The problem, however, is that you have to make it all work. Just plopping your family into the middle of a business trip doesn’t turn it into a vacation. Trying to squeeze too many pieces in at once can actually turn into a nightmare. Before turning your business trip into a work-and-family-hell-on-wheels, let’s take a look at five ways to avoid disaster:1. Just know your spouse won’t have support: if your family is traveling to meet you at your business (or another) location, you won’t be there to help. You might be able to chip in on the flight home, as long as you can get everyone booked on the same plane. Be ready to greet frustration along with your family.

2. Avoid overlaps with your business trip: having your family meet you after your business obligations are finished is much smarter than trying to cram family and business into the same time. Quite simply, it never works. Your days are occupied, as you’d expect. However, your nights can get pretty crowded with business, as well, from drinks with colleagues to client dinners. You’ll wind up getting back to our room late … and you may have more work to do. Even if your family is tolerant of all this, they’ll still notice, and it will put a bit of a damper on the experience for everyone.

3. Don’t force the destination: I spent the better part of a year traveling to Omaha from my home in Boston. Let’s be realistic: the odds your family would be happy with this as a family destination are pretty low. Unless you’re going on a business trip to a major vacation destination, you should be ready to offer up some flexibility. See if you can get a multi-city fare for less than your regular roundtrip, and you’ll save the company some money while making sure your own expenses are covered (thus preserving the benefit of adding a family vacation onto the front or back end of your business trip).

4. Take a day in between: being out of the office causes obligations to pile up. Whether you’re on a business trip or vacation, stuff is happening back at your company, and some of it is likely to have your name on it. Now, think about the accumulation of stuff when you put both a business trip and a vacation together! Give yourself a day in between to catch up on things before you disappear again. This will also help ensure that your time with your family will actually be with your family – not cleaning up from the week of work you spent outside the office.

5. Know your audience: you may want to change hotels when your family arrives. Even if the cost isn’t an issue for you, simply changing spaces will help you with your mindset as you transition from work to play. In fact, it’s better if you can even change neighborhoods, for example, if you’re staying in a city. Make sure it’s as different as possible. You’ll sacrifice any special treatment that the hotel would offer you because of your relatively long stay, but it’s probably worth it to shell out the extra cash to make sure your family vacation isn’t tainted by remnants of your business trip.

[photo by rabble via Flickr]

West Virginia’s scenic Gauley River: class V rafting, fall colors

“Holy crap, what a sausage fest.” This was my first thought, as I glanced around the crowded parking lot. It was a cool, drizzly September morning at Adventures on the Gorge, but that wasn’t stopping 40 men–many of certain age and wafting last night’s whiskey fumes–from preparing to raft the Class V+ Upper Gauley River.

I was in Lansing, (southeastern) West Virginia, fulfilling a 20-year goal to run the notorious Gauley. Every weekend, from mid-September to mid-October, water from the Summersville Dam is released into the Upper portion, raising the river to epic proportions (a raging 2800 cfs is average Gauley flow this time of year). In layman’s terms, the rapids remain at a solid Class III to V+, making for one of the wildest whitewater experiences in the United States.

Since it first opened to commercial trips in 1974, this 26-mile stretch of river, which contains over 100 rapids, has drawn whitewater enthusiasts from all over the world. The dam was built in 1965 for flood control, and the release extends the “Gauley season” well past other American rivers. An added bonus are the fall colors that peak in October, making for a visually stunning trip.

The Upper Gauley in particular is known for its steep, drop/pool rapids. A gauntlet of five consecutive Class V+’s–Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet’s Falls–form the most famous stretch. The Lower is more sedate, although it still has plenty of Class III, and a couple of Class IV/V’s.

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I’m not the only one with Gauley fever. Over 60,000 adventurers annually converge for the dam release, which is why the infamous Gauley Fest is held in September. The New River is also located in this region. Now believed to be the oldest in the world, after the Nile, the New ranges from Class I to V, depending upon season, but has long stretches ideal for sunset paddles and float trips.

The New and Gauley are located within the New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area, respectively. But there are other charms in the region as well: the stunning New River Gorge Bridge (formerly the largest arch bridge in the world, and a BASE jumping mecca), climbing, mountain biking, and fishing. The scenery runs toward rolling farmland dotted with dilapidated barns, historic hamlets, and thick swathes of forest. The New River Gorge Convention & Visitors Bureau site is a good resource for area attractions and amenities.

Many outfitters exist in this region, nearby Fayetteville being the whitewater epicenter of West Virginia. The town’s National Historic District, while small, is very charming, and has pretty much anything you might need. Grab a coffee and afternoon snack at The Cathedral Café, located in an actual former church, or, to quell a hangover, pick up something cheap and carby at the awesomely-named Tudor’s Biscuit World.

Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), which bills itself as an “outdoor adventure destination company,” was named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth,” in a 2009 National Geographic survey. They’ve capitalized on the region’s multi-sport opportunities by creating a 1,000-acre “campus” bordering the New River Gorge National Park. The property also has accommodations ranging from camping and rustic platform tents, to new, deluxe cabins and vacation homes.

AOTG was founded in 2008, the result of a merger of two existing–and exceedingly well-regarded–local whitewater companies. Founding Director Dave Arnold has been guiding on the Gauley since the ’70’s. His Class VI-Mountain River merged with The Rivermen; collectively, they possess the most whitewater experience in the region. Safety being my number one criteria for choosing an outfitter, I knew I was in good hands.

AOTG has plenty of seasonal options (April-October) if you don’t go in for big hydraulics, can’t afford a multi-day raft trip, or don’t want to rough it. The company offers half-day, full-day, and overnight runs on the New and Gauley Rivers, ranging from Class I float trips to epic Class V (you must be at least 15 years of age to run the Upper Gauley). The overnights are actually “glamping” on the river (think hot tub, primitive showers and pit toilets, Baggo, fire pit, kegs of Anchor Steam and PBR, and prime rib and salmon for dinner).

As for the testosterone-fueled parking lot scenario, it turned out my trip was comprised primarily of several groups of men who do Gauley season annually. If you’re a solo female planning to run the river and aren’t into crushing beer cans on your head, you can always talk to a rep about booking a trip with a more balanced male-to-female ratio. Private women’s groups do book with AOTG, but the guides I spoke with told me the Gauley tends to be rather penis-centric. Don’t let it dissuade you. The most important things are listening to your guide, paying attention to what’s going on around you, and digging in hard.

As much as I love major whitewater, however, I don’t enjoy courting death or yardsales (something of a sport on the Gauley, which is admittedly very entertaining to watch). Fortunately, Miles, the guide in our nine-person raft, had outgrown the urge to capsize for kicks, although he took us down more technical lines when they presented themselves. A native Coloradan with vast whitewater experience, he was top-notch: patient, skilled, and an all-around good guy. His fiancee, Julie, was the sole female guide. Tough woman, that Julie.

The Gauley isn’t the biggest whitewater I’ve run (that would be the Futaleufu, in Chile), but it’s pretty damn big. What makes it scary are the drops, undercut rocks the size of houses, and churning hydraulics–these are not rapids you want to swim. Thanks to Miles, we didn’t have to. We had a fantastic day on the Upper, and pulled into our campground at the “Canyon Doors” rapid, at the start of the Lower Gauley.

Whether or not glamping is your thing, AOTG has a great set-up. The location is gorgeous–steep canyon walls glowing dusky rose with the setting sun–and a hot shower, drink, and slab o’meat at the end of a cold, exhausting day on the water were very much welcomed. If you require down-and-dirty primitive camping; check with other outfitters, as everyone offers something different. Go to the NPS site for camping permit information if you’re paddling independently.

AOTG offers a total of 14 experiences that can be done independently, or as part of an all-inclusive package. Besides whitewater, there’s rock climbing, horseback riding, tree canopy tours and ziplines (the badass new Gravity zip debuted on Sept. 26), caving, biking, and a Gorge Bridgewalk. There are four restaurants/bars (have a sunset beer at Chetty’s Pub, which has an open-air deck and fantastic view of the Gorge), and three camp stores/outfitters. The property is definitely geared toward families and couples, and customized options like team-building and youth groups. But even if you’re traveling solo and on a tight budget, there are affordable options, with prices starting at $39 for activities/$8 BYOT camping (depending upon season). It does have the feel of a summer camp, so be forewarned.

I actually much prefer independent travel, but I like that AOTG makes adventure activities accessible for the solo adventurer who might otherwise be thwarted by logistical or financial constraints. I ended up doing a package, with two nights in one the sweet deluxe cabins (hot tub, hardwood floors, fully-equipped kitchen, outdoor grill, and fire pit), and the river trip. Also included was a full day doing the Treetops Canopy Tour, and the Gravity Zipline–not stuff I’d ordinarily do, but I’m glad I did. The Treetops Canopy Tour ($99/pp), which debuted in May, ’09, is a three-and-a-half hours, and includes ten ziplines and five sky bridges.

It’s not extreme, but the tour is a fun, educational way to spend the morning. In between zipping over Mill Creek and through ancient hemlock, hickory and magnolia forest, the guides talked about the history and botany of the region. The course is also designed with sustainability in mind, and is part of a project to help save the threatened Eastern Hemlock from wooly ageldid infestation. Thus far, AOTG guides and staff have tagged and treated 6,000 trees, some of which are over 300 years old. Although it rained steadily throughout my tour, it only served to heighten the desolate beauty of the forest. The tours run year-round, so you can also experience zipping in the snow.

Gravity ($69/pp) is a total blast. With lines running 1800-,1600-, and 1300-feet in length, at a height of 200 feet, you can really haul ass (up to 45 mph). The location atop one of the highest points in the valley makes for incredible views of fall foliage and farmland. Do it. What the hell. Do it all.

The New River Gorge is a five-hour drive from Washington, DC. The closest airport to the region is Charleston, WV

Virgin America wants your family vacation photos

Time to break out the blackmail photo album – Virgin America wants to see your most awkward family photos for a chance to upgrade to the ultimate family vacation.

In celebration of Virgin America’s San Francisco-Orlando flights, the always entertaining airline launched an online promotion with Awkward Family Photos that celebrates family vacations. All you have to do is upload your “most awkward” family vacation photos for a chance to receive four roundtrip tickets anywhere Virgin America flies for your next family vacation. In addition, those who submit a photo or vote on their favorites will score a 33.3 percent discount off their next family booking on the airline’s Orlando flights.

Travelers can enter their awkward family vacation photos and access the special discount on Orlando flights by visiting the airline’s Facebook page or http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/virginamerica starting today through October 5, 2010. Awkward Family Photos and Virgin America will then select the top 20 photos and allow the public to vote on their favorites from October 6-13, 2010. The awkward family vacation photo with the most votes as of October 13, 2010, will receive four roundtrip tickets anywhere Virgin America flies for their next family vacation. In addition, one lucky California entrant will score the ultimate Orlando family getaway – flights, hotel stay and the chance to attend Virgin America’s celebration of its new Orlando service on October 13, 2010.

Let’s go, travelers. Dig deep into those photo albums and look for the best embarrassing photo you can find. Big winners always include a mouth full of braces, teased-and-sprayed bangs from the 1980s and, of course, family photos that include animals.