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When Traveling, Mask On or Mask Off?

We’re at a pivotal moment and thisclose to normalcy. But is it too early to unmask when traveling?

To mask or not to mask? That has been the million-dollar question, and with different guidelines across different state lines, it’s getting harder and harder to keep the rules straight. Add international travel to the mix and it’s enough to make your head spin.

First of all, regulations differ depending on where you’re traveling. All the rules—and relaxing thereof—you’re used to at home may not apply elsewhere, so it’s critical to check with local authorities before you arrive so you know what to expect. State and international government websites will have the latest, for domestic and foreign countries.

Regardless, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Coming from major hubs and strongly networked country, it’s easy to forget not every place in the world—or even in the country, for that matter!—has the same access to the COVID-19 vaccines as others, so it does no one any harm and all of us a lot of good to just wear a mask whenever you’re unsure. It’s peace of mind for the wearer and the people they interact with. It’s safe to say that everyone has different levels of comfort and confidence in their vaccinated states and trust in those around them, and a little extra protection has never hurt anyone. For example, when’s the last time any of us caught a cold? Personally, for that alone, I’m all for masking up whenever I fly whether it’s needed or not!

No matter where you’re traveling, you also need to remember that although state regulations have changed for things like dining and the like, they haven’t for public transportation. This includes airplanes, trains, subways, busses, taxis, ride-shares, boats, ferries, trolleys, and cable cars. However, it now excludes fully vaccinated travelers onboard cruise ships while out in the open air in an uncrowded area. Enclosed spaces are a different story.

The point is, masks are still required on any public transportation conveyance and at their hubs due to the close proximity and amount of time you’re required to be near strangers. In addition to sharing their air, think about all the things everyone is touching. Wearing a mask is a literally solid reminder not to touch your face after coming into contact with common surfaces.

Another critical fact is that the CDC guidelines are not international regulations. They’re just for the United States, which means that they vary by country and island. For example, in most of Europe, at Germany’s insistence, not only must you cover your face, it must be with medical-grade masks. When in Mexico, masks are still required. Full stop. It’s mandatory, with no ifs, ands, or buts in most states, and failure to comply can result in fines, penalties, or other consequences.

Mask-wearing is also required in Dominican Republic. Sure, this island nation is offering free temporary health coverage while in-destination … but I’m sure we’d all prefer not to have to use that perk. Therefore, their rules clearly state that face masks are still needed in any public places, such as resorts, restaurants, and stores, and indoor and outdoor areas alike. Non-compliance will be sanctioned, so be warned.

Which brings us to this: when you arrive at your destination, whether in-town or out-of-country, know that private businesses—and that includes hotels, resorts, and transfer and tour companies as well as shops and restaurants—have every right to mandate their right to refuse service. “No shoes, no shirt, no service” is a sign we’ve all seen, particularly in beachy locations. This is just adding one more minor item, a miniscule scrap of fabric that requires a lot less effort and packing space than shoes or shirts.

Family with masks on bringing luggage into their hotel room

Finally, in order to keep travel open, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s better to be considerate and respectful. It’s smarter to not invite conflict or confrontation. And that means wearing a mask.

When away from home, the rules of home don’t apply—you’re under another city’s, state’s, or country’s roof, and need to be mature and considerate of them. So if there’s any doubt at all, suffer this inconvenience just a wee bit longer, and we’ll all be out of these “strange times” sooner. Consider your uncertainty and additional safety measure doing your part to eliminate the risk of backsliding. Let’s keep the momentum of wellness going for positive vibes—not positive tests!—only.

Contributing to prevention by wearing a mask and honoring the rules of your destination, whether it’s a shop or a city, is part of being a socially responsible traveler. Read more about what that means here.

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