I grew up roughly an hour from a world famous city. I moved around — and lived in — the state forever (it felt like) but ecstatically moved to the East Coast in 2010. Today we’re in Atlanta.

One July evening while running my German shepherd dog, River, at our local dog park one of the park regulars — who also named her dog River — excitedly told me about her upcoming vacation to the city I grew up near. I hadn’t been back since 2010, but I’d heard from friends that the state was “circling the toilet bowl” as they put it.

I started to share with Other River Mom what I’d heard about the state’s downhill slide, but she wanted to talk weather more than crime. So we talked umbrellas and good walking shoes instead of the city’s burgeoning crime scene.

Fast forward to an evening in August when Other River Mom showed up at the dog park having returned from her trip. She plopped down at our usual picnic table and cautiously asked, “Um, you grew up in blah-blah-city, right?”

I said, “A suburb of blah-blah, but yep.” But then added, “Look, I’ve heard some funky stories about the city so don’t worry about my feelings.”

At that, Other River Mom took a massive breath and unleashed (ha) with, “I hated it! I’m sorry if you have good memories, but I absolutely hated it. I’m never going back.”

“What bugged you?” I asked (totally knowing what bugged her).

“Omg! The panhandlers are everywhere and they’re super aggressive,” she said. “In downtown Atlanta we have the homeless, but they generally leave people alone. But in blah-blah-city they aggressively came at us asking for food and money and when I said, ‘no, I don’t have anything to give they kept coming at me! Some even used the streets as bathrooms. It was awful!”

Your Smart Traveler Takeaway

Okay, so here’s the takeaway from Other River Mom’s bad travel experience: do not travel anywhere without first doing a deep dive into the spot you plan to visit.

Take alligators, as a perfect example. Say you’re somewhat familiar with the Southeast and you have a vague idea that alligators live in every puddle in Florida. But what about the other Southern states? Do you know whether Georgia has alligators? South Carolina? What about North Carolina?

See unless you live in one of the states how would you know? You wouldn’t.

Word has it that Georgia has about 250,000 alligators alone in the state – and that gators also call the following states home:

  • East Texas
  • Parts of Oklahoma
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • The southern – and coastal — parts of Georgia
  • Coastal South Carolina and coastal North Carolina

Quite the range, right? As a smart traveler, I want to know information like such-and-such river is home to a breeding population of gators, or that Disney World in Orlando has alligators inside the amusement park’s ponds. And I want to know that my favorite Georgia Island – called Jekyll – has about 67 to 124 alligators living on nine (teeny-tiny) square miles of land.

See my point? Jekyll is amazing and not to be missed, but I’m betting – like me — you also want to know that gators love the island as much as we do.

Just Saying

So before buying a new bathing suit for your upcoming trip, research the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of the region you’ll soon visit. Pour a glass and lose yourself in the region’s blogs, articles and websites. You know someone who is just back from the region? Pick their brains and listen hard to everything they have to say.

Look at it this Way

America is an immense country. And planet earth isn’t so dinky either. Californians who grew up playing in Disneyland (Southern California) won’t have a clue that Florida’s Disney World has alligators living in the park’s ponds (because alligators don’t exist in CA.)

And – for crying out loud — don’t count on the region itself to put up signs warning you about alligators, aggressive panhandlers or terrible crime. (Not good optics if you have Danger: Alligators!! inside the amusement park.)

Remember, you don’t drive without buckling your seat belt. You don’t chill at the pool without slathering sunscreen on you and the kids. You don’t smoke and you get a mammogram every year. Researching the area you’ll soon visit is no different than wearing a seat belt. It’s called risk reduction.

Because the idea isn’t to travel scared, the idea is to travel smart and incredibly well informed.

♥, Wendy


Adventure more. Panic less. Travel writer wants to shout it from the rooftops every not discussed method for safer, saner family travel. Read me before you take off!


  1. PeachyDoodle Reply

    Great points! I am an over-planner so I always have to have the details on places before I go. But I guess that takes the adventure out of it for some folks. Not much fun to be accosted by aggressive panhandlers on vacation, though. Yikes!

    We spent our honeymoon on Jekyll and would love to go back sometime. We did not see any gators, but my new hubby was attacked by an angry swarm of mosquitoes — literally a cloud, like in a cartoon! 😀

  2. This is solid advice – nitty gritty details about things a normal travelogue WON’T tell you are the most valuable of them all. And safety factors are critical and vary so much by region. I’ve run into this a lot, myself, having come from a very popular tourist area. When people ask me about it they never seem to want to know the real deets. It’s not all moose and glaciers 😉

  3. Great advice, and such a wonderful picture of you and River, too! 🙂

  4. Great advice!

    I bet both Rivers the dogs agree. They would not want to accidentally take a dip and find an alligator or toxic algae either.

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