Wearing a face mask when you travel has been the norm in Asia for a long time. In their densely populated cities, it’s a gesture of goodwill. Most societies see face masks as a way to protect others from whatever germs you may be carrying. It’s also a small way to reduce the risk of catching a virus yourself.

In the west, face masks are new. In fact, the conversation around them is only a few months old.

Related reading: What to Expect When Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Can a face mask protect me from coronavirus?

People love to debate wearing a cloth face mask to prevent catching COVID-19. Nurses, doctors, or anyone coming into close contact with known COVID carriers are advised to wear N95 masks. For the average person, these masks aren’t only hard to find, they can be tough to wear for a long time.

In pandemic hotspots, it’s advisable to wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth when coming into proximity with other people. When in the country or suburbs, this might not be very often. In the city, that might mean on your daily walk around the block.

Tip: Use this dynamic map to find out if you’re in a hotspot or traveling to one soon.

As many cities ease restrictions and open up shops, museums, and libraries, you may see masks become the norm. Or, they could be mandatory when visiting certain establishments.

wear a cloth face mask travel
Face mask by Vol Privé

Should I wear face masks on the plane?

The short answer to should you wear a face mask on the plane is yes. In fact, it may be mandatory. Wear a mask in any situation where you are in a confined space sharing re-circulated air. This includes indoor spaces with fans and AC.

The Points Guy blog outlined what to expect when traveling right now and how to travel with a mask. Click here for more tips on how to build up your immune system and prevent getting sick while flying.

If you’re still on the fence about flying at all, check out this article.

Which face masks are the most effective?

The consensus among medical journals seems to be that any mask is better than nothing for the following reasons:

  • A mask is a physical reminder not to touch your face, which is a major source of contamination.
  • A mask, cloth or surgical, can prevent droplets from traveling to and from your mouth. COVID is transmitted through droplets.
  • A mask is a visual signal that you care about transmission and want people to respect physical distancing.
comparison chart of face masks

How do I wear a face mask safely?

The CDC and World Health Organization have some great guidelines on how to safely wear a mask. These guidelines also maximize the efficiency of your mask.

  • Mask should cover mouth and nose. Ideally, you’re wearing a well-fitted mask that has a wire at the nose for a tight fit.
  • Your mask should be clean and put on with clean hands.
  • Try not to touch or reposition your mask while out in public.
  • If you are wearing a paper mask, discard it if it gets wet.
  • If you are wearing a cloth mask, wash after each use. Ideally, you would own 3-7 masks.
  • If you remove a mask, place it in a sealed plastic bag and into a closed hamper or into the wash as soon as you can.

Where can I get a good face mask for travel?

If you don’t have access to a washing machine, disposable masks will be the way to go. These have become more available since we’re several months into the pandemic now.

You can also make your own cloth mask at home. Or, make a no-sew one from a bandana and elastics. As a rule of thumb, the mask should be several layers of tightly-woven fabric. Cotton works well, or a combination of a water-resistant outer shell and a woven fabric inside. Having a metal wire along the nose bridge and adjustable loops can make your mask easier to tighten for a secured fit.

Some masks will have a slot for a disposable charcoal filter which you can purchase as inserts. This is not necessary, but a bonus to purify the air of other non-virus particles.

If you’re just looking for a few basic cotton models, many independent designers and makers are selling masks. Why not support small businesses with the purchase of your mask. When I decided to buy one, I immediately went to VolPrivé, a luxury travel-wear brand.

Stay safe!