Have you ever taken a walk along the beach in the French Riviera and stumbled upon a bevy of topless sunbathers? Where exactly are you supposed to look, anyway? Or arrived at a remote, exotic Thai island only to find resort's private beach filled with towels "reserving" half the lounge chairs?
As spring break approaches, thousands of vacationers -- young and old -- will be hitting the sand and surf --and just not in the U.S. But a day at the beach can be filled with pitfalls when people don't play by some basic rules.
Whether it's how to know what not to wear at the beach, or how to snag a chair by the pool, beach etiquette is sometimes overlooked when you put on your sunglasses.
Modern etiquette expert and the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, Anna Post, gave Fox News Traveler some tips for how to best enjoy your time under the sun and how to help others around you have a good day as well.
(Un)dressing for the beach
While the beach isn’t the office, there are often written or unwritten dress codes for what to take off or what to keep on when laying out on a towel.
“Full on nude beaches usually have strict policies, which you should know because you need to be respectful of this community you’re entering into,” Post said.
The etiquette guru highly encourages checking with a local guide or hotel concierge about the policies of various beaches before stepping onto the sand. She says tops-off is optional at some locations, but in other places it could even land you in jail. For example it is frowned upon but not illegal to go topless on Mexican beaches. But nudity is a crime on many Florida beaches, and public indecency laws means taking your clothes off is a bit of a gamble.
“I’ve certainly been places in Europe where some people were topless and others weren’t,” Post said. And it isn't limited to women, says Post.
“There are some areas of the country where Speedos are the thing, but there are other beaches where it’s too much information,” Post said. “When in doubt, I would pack those trunks.”
She encourages travelers to be mindful of the varying rules and customs at beaches around the world as well as make sure the destination they’re visiting will provide the option they’re looking for.
“If you’re going to participate in this environment, you need opt into it in a way that’s respectful,” Post said. “Obviously, if going to a nude beach makes you uncomfortable, don’t go.”
Enjoying shared space
Lounge chairs and cabanas are sometimes coveted beach items. If you're somewhere they don't make you cough up the change to rent one for the day, you may be tempted to throw your own towel on a chair.
Post says it is okay to save some chairs for family or friends coming later, but only if they’ll be there within twenty minutes to a half-hour.
“Typically, I would say use it or lose it,” Post said. “Either use the space you have or let someone else have a chance at it.”
Be aware, some resorts have rules about reserving chairs or huts as well. Post also says depending on how crowded the beach or pool is will determine how much space is okay to block off with towels, coolers or chairs for your group as well as how close you can set up camp to others.
“You want to leave a walkway between people so they don’t have to teeter their way through,” Post said.
Because of the close proximity to others at the beach, Post also suggests leaving cigarettes at home. The wind can shift quickly and expose those people near you to the unpleasant smoke.
Just like smoke can spread throughout the area, music from boom boxes can be too much as well. Post says don’t pack it unless you can’t resist keeping the volume down. People - who are hanging out a few groups away - shouldn’t be able to hear it loudly.
“You’re not hosting a beach party for everyone there,” Post said. And even if you did throw a party on the beach, make sure to clean your area and throw away trash when heading home for the day.
“Leave it the way you found it,” Post said.
Courtesies with kids
While many people - including kids - are at the beach to play and have a fun time, there is still etiquette to be followed even by little fingers in the sand.
“If you’re in a tightly laid out area, you might want to keep the screaming and running along the shore line - instead of two feet from someone trying to read the latest best seller,” Post said.
She also suggests being aware of others when picking a spot to lay out your towels and chairs for the day.
“If you see what looks like a quiet couple - and you’ve got a choice of spots, you may pick to go down the beach with the kids,” Post said. She says it is also important to teach your children not to flick or wave their towel around in a way that will make sand fly at other people nearby.
“I remember getting this talk about the beach myself,” Post said.
Post says a little consideration goes a long way. A few simple rules for example are: beach chairs go to grown-ups first; when going with a group, beach toys are generally shared; if you dig a hole in the sand, fill it in so someone later on won’t twist an ankle. And finally don’t splash people you don’t know with water.