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Simón Rios on wool socks, mango strips, and not planning every moment

We caught up with the Jamaica Plain native and WBUR reporter to talk about all things travel

Simón Rios in Montevideo, Uruguay.Handout

Jamaica Plain native and WBUR reporter Simón Rios is proud of the city where he was raised, which is why he is excited about his latest assignment: helping create a limited-series newsletter called “The Newcomer’s Field Guide to Boston.” “What I think is unique and new about this is that you have local reporters who are from this area giving you an insider perspective — and not only our own perspectives, but talking to long-time and even lifelong residents, and newcomers as well, about what they like to do, the challenges they face. . . . So I think if you’re moving to Boston from anywhere else in the country or even the world, we kind of serve you up a nice introduction to what it’s like living in the city: How to get around, how to meet people, and how to find things that are interesting to do,” said the award-winning, trilingual reporter (English, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese). “But I can’t emphasize enough how every effort was made for this to be just as significant for people who already live here.” The son of a Uruguayan father and an American mother, Rios, 41, said he enjoys delving into the city’s rich cultural diversity and sharing people’s stories. Readers can subscribe to the newsletter by going to We caught up with Rios, who lives in Milton with his 6-year-old daughter, Gabi, and their 3-year-old rescue dog, Magpie, to talk about all things travel.

If you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go?


Definitely Japan. During the pandemic, I fell in love with woodworking, and when I began learning about the Japanese carpentry tradition, dreams of traveling there quickly followed. The plan would be to visit ancient wooden temples, meet some old blacksmiths and carpenters, and probably buy a few chisels and hand planes. They have a competition every year to see who can take the thinnest plane shavings, and they get to a tiny fraction of the thickness of newsprint. I hear the food isn’t bad either.

Where was the first place you traveled to after COVID restrictions were lifted?


I went to Mexico City and Oaxaca last December. It was clear they were taking COVID somewhat more seriously than we were at the time, with temperature checks at the airports and more masking than we had. I didn’t get COVID, but I did land a nasty stomach bug. . . . I went to the emergency room in Oaxaca for a prescription and they didn’t even charge me.

Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own?

I search for the best fares online.

Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation?

As much as I’d like to leave my gadgets at home and get some tech-free Zen time, it’s hard to imagine not having Google Maps and a phone while wandering new places. That said, my most significant travels involved hitchhiking for 17 months in Latin America, and I didn’t have a phone for any of it. I’ve never read so many books!

Do you use all of your vacation time or leave some on the table?

I get four weeks and usually take full advantage.

What has been your worst vacation experience?

Probably the time my companion and I were retained by Cuban state officials, interrogated deep into the night, then had our passports confiscated until they booted us out of the country — but not without emptying our wallets for fees. My advice: Don’t try pitching a tent on the side of the road in Cuba; especially not in a military zone — we couldn’t see the sign at night.


Do you vacation to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all?

I travel to learn about other cultures and to talk with real people about what their lives are like. Having no itinerary other than some broad geographical goals is often a way to ensure adventure will come your way.

What book do you plan on bringing with you to read on your next vacation?

I’ll find the best writing about the place I’m going. In India I read VS Naipaul, in Mexico I read Octavio Paz, in Argentina, José Hernández.

If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain would’ve made a good traveling buddy, but I’d rather take my daughter Gabi along.

What is the best gift to give a traveler?

A pair or two of the best Merino wool socks.

What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip?

Those spicy mango strips from Trader Joes.

What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on a vacation?

I found an amazing leather jacket on the street in Buenos Aires, something Wolverine might wear. Now I wonder where it went.


What is your favorite app/website for travel?

I’ll say because it’s a Massachusetts company. Also has its global tech headquarters here in Massachusetts. Shop local and all.

What has travel taught you?

Travel has showed me that other cultures and places do certain things better than we do. But it’s also taught me to appreciate the place where I’m from, and to value the freedom that we often take for granted.

What is your best travel tip?

Don’t plan too much or try to visit too many places. In a country, get to know a few places well — and then return.

Juliet Pennington can be reached at