(CNN) — Filled with nerves, I intentionally left my bikini behind before embarking on my first nudist beach experience on the uninhabited Lokrum Island in Croatia.
This was the only way I could be sure that the fear of baring it all in front of strangers wouldn't cause me to back out at the last minute.
After scanning the rocky beach, located on the south-eastern part of the island, I positioned myself on a rock right next to the water so I could dive in to cool off -- or if I felt shy.
As the sun warmed my body, my uneasiness around being naked in public soon melted away with the heat.
Then a boat packed with tourists clutching long lens cameras crept close to the shore. Aghast, I jumped into the ocean, allowing the deep blue sea to shield me from their curious gazes.
Despite this rather unwelcome interruption, my love of nude beaches officially began on that day in 2016, and I was soon seeking them out everywhere I went.
Darcy Tuscano, an educational development consultant who lives within hiking distance of two nude beaches in southern Spain, is also a big fan of the practice.
"It's a wonderful feeling to strip down after a hot hike and run into the sea. It's very invigorating," says Tuscano.
There are hundreds of beaches across the globe where it's legal to sunbathe and/or swim naked.
"My kids are growing up without having any shame of their bodies and they're seeing all types and shapes of bodies proudly displayed with no embarrassment or puritanical 'covering up.'
"Being naked isn't a sexual thing on a beach."
Travel writer Geena Truman believes that nude beaches help to shed societal stigma around nudity.
"I like to get naked as often as possible in nature and love a good nude beach," she says. "It's about freedom and reveling in your body while immersed in nature."
This sentiment is echoed by many others who regularly frequent nudist beaches.
For me, being able to let go of my inhibitions, along with my swimwear, has been a truly liberating experience.
By embracing my natural state and catching some Vitamin D where the sun (usually) doesn't shine, I accept and celebrate my body in all its imperfections.
It's also helped me stop obsessing over my belly rolls, stretch marks, and acne scars. Nude beaches feel like sacred spaces free of judgment.
"I feel genuinely comfortable in my skin and somewhat self-conscious in a bikini," Truman says. "I love how free I feel when I let the sun see my whole self. "
Allison Yates, a study abroad co-ordinator, has also been able to overcome her body insecurities through nude sunbathing.
"Seeing everyone else living life in their bodies, I no longer let my insecurities control me," says Yates.
"I dared to be nude because I was in a new place and knew I'd never see these people again."
For those who've never been to a nudist beach, but feel ready to take the plunge, there are a few important things to take into account in order to ensure the experience is as comfortable as possible.
First, make sure it's legal to be naked in public at the beach, and respect the local laws.
It's also a good idea to seek out a beach that has access to services you may need, including toilets and refreshments. I prefer a nude beach that's situated far away from the non-nudist beaches.
Some have physical barriers to separate the beaches and many are wild, raw beaches away from populous coastal areas.
According to Tuscano, the best nude beaches are off-the-beaten-path "so you don't have other people passing by and gawking."
If you're worried about spectators, go for somewhere like nudist island Ada Bojana in Ulcinj, Montenegro, where clothing is not optional -- everyone is required to be nude.
All types of people enjoy nude beaches. I've seen families, groups of friends, individuals, and couples of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and sexualities enjoying a day in the sun sans swimwear.
Resorts with dedicated nude beaches, such as the Couples in Jamaica, Negril, are a great option for first-timers, as they're protected spaces.
No matter which nude beach you visit, be sure to bring something to sit on, SPF, and appropriate clothing to wear as you come and go.
Don't stare at other sunbathers. Be respectful of everyone around you, and don't publicly engage in sexual activity.
While there are nudist beach clubs and resorts for those looking to party in the buff, the atmosphere at public nude beaches is usually laid back. I often go alone and feel safe doing so, as people tend to mind their own business and leave you to it.
Luckily, Chihuahua, the nude beach in Uruguay where I live, has been open throughout the pandemic. I've spent many lovely days there alone, with LGBT friends, and my former girlfriend.
Sense of freedom
Ladies Beach in Ulcinj, Montenegro is exclusively for women.
International pitch coach Chris Roe's first time at a nude beach was a little awkward, but he says it soon became freeing and "a celebration of myself both inside and out."
As an LGBT traveler, Roe feels a strong sense of inclusion, freedom, and connectivity to nature when he visits nude beaches.
"Any judgments are thrown out the door," he says. "It's so powerful to claim ownership of the skin you're in. At nude beaches, I'm not apart from nature, I'm part of it."
If you're nervous about sunbathing nude, Truman recommends easing into it the experience by going topless first.
And it's important to remember that you can just throw on your cover-up and leave if you're not enjoying the experience. There's no shame in nude beaches not being your thing.
Some are exclusively for women. Ladies Beach, which is also in Ulcinj, remains my all time favorite. Visitors are not permitted to take any photos here, so bathers can relax knowing their privacy is protected.
The beach also has high fences around the perimeter to shield the shore, preventing would be peeping Toms from taking a peek inside.
Local women flock here to dip in the sulfuric water, as it's believed to increase fertility. Ladies Beach also has natural medicinal mud, which you can self-apply, or indulge in a beachside mud massage.
For those who've spent over a year cooped up inside due to the pandemic, the idea of sunbathing on a nudist beach may be extremely enticing.
Beaches are generally low risk to visit, provided they aren't overcrowded, and nudist beaches tend to be in secluded areas.
And nude sunbathers typically respect each other's privacy, spacing themselves out along the beach, so maintaining a social distance isn't hard.