The best travel face masks for every budget

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It looks like face masks will continue to be part of our everyday lives for the foreseeable future. With COVID-19 still running rampant around the world, the CDC is still recommending masks to slow the spread of the virus — and that very much means wearing one while traveling. While it’s highly recommended to wear a mask whenever you leave home, it’s even more important to wear masks while traveling, because you’re in close contact with a large number of people and may be in an unfamiliar area. Many airlines and hotels are also requiring masks to be worn by customers and employees alike.

If you’re planning to travel anytime soon and need some advice on what face masks are best — and what to avoid — we have a few suggestions. Following CDC guidelines and the help of a doctor, we’ve outlined the best travel face masks to suit your budget so you can feel a little bit more confident on your next trip.

face mask at the airport
Corona covid airport. Eduard Goricev / EyeEm /getty images

What are the best travel face masks?

There are a plethora of face masks on the market now, with countless brands and retailers selling fashion masks alongside more utilitarian styles. When considering which masks to wear while traveling, Dr. Michael Devine, a dual-board certified internist and geriatrician and co-founder of Devine Concierge Medicine, recommends the following.

1) Surgical face mask

You can buy surgical face masks in bulk for a relatively low price, and they work well in blocking particles from coming through the mask. They’re made with multiple layers that provide more protection, and because they’re disposable, you can easily throw it away after you wear it once. The only drawback to a surgical face mask is that they aren’t always very formfitting.

2) Fabric face mask

These are incredibly easy to find at many retailers in whatever pattern you want. When shopping for a fabric face mask, try to find one that properly fits your face and sits comfortably around your nose, mouth, and ears. These masks have been deemed effective by the CDC and are more effective with multiple layers, provided you can breathe properly. A drawback to a fabric face mask while traveling, though, is making sure you’re able to still wash it properly. Fabric face masks should be washed after every use, the CDC says. If you’re traveling you can wash it in a sink with hot water and soap and air dry it.

3) N95 respirators

Though N95 Respirators are the most effective masks for stopping the spread of COVID-19, the CDC suggests that only healthcare providers wear these. Because these masks are in short supply, they should be reserved for medical professionals who need them. That being said, if you’re a medical professional who has access to N95 masks, they’re a great option for traveling. Select KN95 masks can also be worn and are easier to find, but you’ll want to make sure you’re not getting a counterfeit mask that can be ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus.

4) Neck gaiter

Similar to a bandana or scarf, a neck gaiter can also provide a loose-fitting cover for your face while traveling. These face coverings have recently been studied heavily to judge their efficacy, but when used properly and with multiple layers, they can provide ample protection. Nevertheless, they must be worn snugly over the mouth and nose, and they’re most effective when worn with multiple layers.

5) Face shield

Though not a mask, Dr. Devine recommends a face shield in addition to whatever mask you choose. “Personally, I would wear a comfortable, well-fitted fabric mask in addition to a face shield,” he said. “The shield would provide protection to me from the respiratory secretions of others, while the mask would protect everyone around me from my own.”

Masks to avoid

A select few masks are not ideal to wear and should be avoided if possible.

1) Masks with valves

These masks are actually incredibly ineffective when it comes to not spreading germs. The CDC advises against wearing these masks because it only protects the wearer. The valves work one way to filter the air breathed in but they don’t filter the air going back out, which means particles are passed through the vents and into the air. Only wear these masks if you’re wearing an additional face mask under or over it to keep your germs to yourself.

2) Loose-fitting masks

If your mask fits too loosely, it won’t do you any good and it won’t help anyone around you. The same goes for an uncomfortable mask that you’re tempted to mess with or take off. “I would recommend ensuring your selection is comfortable to wear, as taking the mask on and off during your flight may increase your risk of exposure,” Dr. Devine shared.

Bottom Line

Wearing just about any mask is better than no mask while traveling. Finding a mask that fits your face snugly and comfortably is the most important thing to keep in mind, and doubling up the layers will keep you and those around you even more protected.  

Hedy Phillips is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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