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Travel Diaries: How An Epidemiologist Explores The World

Welcome to Refinery29’s Travel Diaries, a place where we find out the how, the why, and the where people are exploring now that the world is opening up again. In their answers to 29 questions, diarists will reveal their unique — and often a little offbeat — travel habits, stories, and hacks, from their bucket list destinations to their must-have road trip munchies to the wildest thing that ever happened to them while on holiday. Buckle up, because we're inviting you along for the ride.
Today, epidemiologist Jessica Malaty Rivera tells us her trick for staying warm on aeroplanes, her hack for packing for a long holiday with kids, and the one touristy spot that's actually worth it.
Name: Jessica Malaty Rivera
Age: 38
Occupation: Infectious Disease Epidemiologist
Home: Los Angeles, California
Handle: @jessicamalatyrivera
Plane, train, or automobile? In Europe, trains for sure. Otherwise, planes.
Beach or mountains? Beach with mountains nearby. I love both.
What’s your biggest vacation splurge? A safari in South Africa. It was worth every penny. We can’t wait to do it again!
What’s your minibar weakness? I always peek to see if there is a local wine or beer that I’ve never had before. If so, I go for it!
What is the first big trip you ever took? First ever? I think Niagara Falls as an infant. We travelled a lot growing up. I think I’ve been to over 50 countries now.
Tell us about your best travel experience. My best friend got married in Tuscany in 2014, so it was a whole week with friends at an Italian villa with amazing wine. A highlight of that trip was also a walking food tour of Rome. In fact, Rome became my favourite city on Earth after that trip.
Tell us about your worst travel experience. I was sick with Dengue Fever in Bolivia, while dealing with altitude sickness. I was travelling alone for work and absolutely miserable.
What is your favourite place to visit? Egypt. It’s home. It’s been five years since we’ve been back. We had a trip planned in 2020 that we had to cancel, and we’re eager to introduce my family to our kids.
What is your go-to travelling outfit? I’m always cold on aeroplanes so I dress in layers. Usually, I’m in joggers and a cosy sweatshirt.
Do you arrive at the airport 3 hours early? Or 30 minutes before boarding? This is a constant battle between me and my husband. I‘m three hours early, and my husband is 30 minutes before boarding. We have to compromise and go one hour early.
What are your favourite travelling snacks? Trail mix, and cut-up fruit for the kids.
What’s your favourite part about staying in a hotel? A king-sized bed and turndown service.
Where do you want to go next? Argentina. I want to visit Mendoza, Buenos Aires, and Patagonia. I’m hoping to join @wildterrains on a trip there in the near future!
Where would you travel if it were the end of the world? Dominica in the West Indies. It’s where we honeymooned, and if the world is ending, at least we’re in a really special place.
What’s your most frequent trip? Most recently it’s been Napa and Sonoma. It’s so close, and it feels like a real escape.
What’s your packing style? I plan full outfits in advance and use packing cubes. I also always try to save some room for new purchases.
What was your last trip? A holiday with my husband’s family to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
What’s your next trip? We are going to New York City for a friend’s wedding in September. It will be the first time back as a family since we moved from there in 2018.
What’s your best travel hack? If you have young kids, sending things like nappies and wipes to your destination in advance saves you a lot of space as you pack. Also, renting bulky baby gear through third-party sites when available has been super helpful!
What’s better: solo trips or travelling in groups? Group trips!
What’s a touristy spot that’s actually worth it? Iceland. It became really popular to travel there, but every part of our trip was memorable and unlike anything else we’ve seen!
Window, middle, or aisle? Window. I like being able to look outside and have something to rest on.
Hotels: splurge or save? Splurge. As I’ve gotten older, where I stay is more than just where I sleep.
What’s your go-to aeroplane drink? Sparkling water. I try to stay super hydrated.
Domestic or international travel? International. It grows your mind, your heart, and your palate. Pre-pandemic, we were committed to going to Egypt (where my family is) and Puerto Rico (where my husband’s family is) every other year. We also have a goal to visit a new country each year as a family, if possible.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten while travelling? Room 4 Dessert in Bali. Everything we ate and drank that night was incredible. We think about that experience often.
Podcast, audiobook, or playlist? Podcast. It’s usually entertainment and education at the same time.
What’s your favourite aeroplane movie? Impossible to pick. But I do love that I can usually find a movie or documentary I meant to watch in cinemas available under new releases.
What’s at the top of your bucket list? Mexico City. I dream about the food and art there.

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