You may not need your mask in Europe, but you should still bring it

Henry Cooke was Stuff’s chief political reporter, but he has now taken the time to travel.

OPINION: Wearing a mask in the UK right now seems almost antisocial.

There is no mention of Covid upon entering the country or apparently anywhere else. People walk in and out of indoor spaces without rummaging through their pockets for the mask they keep in every pants or jacket. And if you’re on a crowded tube and you put on, you might look weird.

But travelers en route to the rest of Europe should stop before discarding the mask they used for the air journey.

READ MORE:
* Why I’ll never travel with a suitcase again – unless I need a suit
* European tourist hotspots ease Covid-19 restrictions
* How face masks affect our personal style

While in much of Europe there are no mask rules or mask rules that are barely enforced, a few high quality comfortable masks should always be an essential travel accessory.

I’ve traveled through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany and Poland over the past month and seen all kinds of mask rules. Turkey and Greece have no mask requirements on public transport. Italy and Germany both do this – but in much of Italy no one seemed to really care about the rule, while in Berlin compliance was close to 100%. On almost all flights within the continent, there is no request or requirement that you wear a mask.

You should take a mask because wearing a mask on crowded public transport is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.

123RF

You should take a mask because wearing a mask on crowded public transport is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.

This can lead to a bit of confusion as you quickly switch cities and obscure cultures even within countries. In southern Italy, hardly anyone wore a mask, but when I forgot to put mine on while boarding a metro train in Rome, a short, elderly woman started saying “maschera” to me repeatedly. – prompting me to realize that almost everyone on that specific train was wearing a mask.

I felt like the worst type of tourist, but they are usually Americans. In Athens, while we were waiting to board a cable car that required a mask, an American couple tried to enforce some sort of right they had to go mask-free by arguing with the attendant. At the Vatican, it was Americans who seemed unable to read the clear social and real signs requiring mask-wearing in crowded elevators.

So you should take a mask – but not only because you don’t want to be a rude tourist. You should take a mask because wearing a mask on crowded public transport is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 and ruining your vacation. Of course, New Zealand will no longer deny you a positive test – but Covid-19 could leave you bedridden and potentially in need of foreign healthcare.

And catching Covid-19 wouldn’t be so difficult here. Cases are on the rise in Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece. Other than masks, there are really no other restrictions – no pre-departure testing, no on-arrival testing, no vaccinations.

I chose to almost always wear a mask on public transport, even in Istanbul where there was hardly anyone. I had Covid-19 not too long ago, so my chances of catching it are low – but not zero, and there are plenty of other nasty bugs to worry about.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your vacation hidden away of course. No one wears masks in shops or restaurants here – and very few museums require them. I’ve generally gone with the flow on this, especially since air conditioning usually blows through all of these spaces, ensuring good ventilation.

Covid is not going to completely leave your trip… Air NZ is not selling trips until 2019. But with a good N95 mask and the habit of taking it with you when you go out, Covid will not won’t dominate your trip either.