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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Take that dream trip and do it right
Travel advice is everywhere, but not all of it is reliable. Here is some from a true pro who's been, well, almost everywhere.
By Robert N. Jenkins, LifeTimes Editor
Published July 31, 2007
There it is! I said to myself as I spotted the summit of the great pyramid over the jungle treetops. It had been a long trip - almost a pilgrimage. I'd lost a day and experienced a 12-hour time change, but I'd finally arrived at Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist temple, outside Yogyakarta, central Java, Indonesia.
- Robert L. Burroughs, Bradenton
We took a trip to Portknockie, Scotland, and stayed with a couple for 28 days. They put more than 3,000 miles on their car, showing us everything - from quaint fishing villages to the big cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow, and the Highlands. They took us to the beautiful Isle of Skye and to Loch Ness.
- E. Dale Gunter, St. Petersburg
Around my desk are pictures of my family. Also: the Matterhorn, Gettysburg, Anne Frank's room, a garden near Dublin, Yosemite Valley, the Sphinx and Great Pyramid, Harlech Castle in Wales, and a tiny mask of Casanova next to a postcard of Venice.
Behind me hang collages my older son, Mike, created from oddments such as an Oslo bus pass, paper currency from Thailand, my boarding pass for the Concorde.
They all represent memories from 19 years as Times travel editor. Those experiences involved a laptop computer and notebooks, so I know I haven't yet taken my dream trip.
Judging by the response to our request for your dream trips, most readers think they haven't taken that journey either.
What are you waiting for? Not intimidated by the maze of timetables, foreign languages and health precautions, are you?
I'm here to help. Following are suggestions for making your dream vacation come true, with resources I've come to trust.
Where to start
A dream trip has to be unmatched in your experience, or else it's merely repeating something "special."
You need to take one giant leap for worker bee-kind in order to create a memory you'll happily revisit for 25 years.
So your first question most likely is where to go. You have most of the planet to consider - and if you have several million to spend, the Russians will even fly you to the International Space Station.
Beyond the "where," you need to decide how much of yourself you want to invest, in terms of money or energy.
Would you rather go white-water rafting in Costa Rica or relax at the world-class Golden Door spa in Escondido, Calif.? You can get uber pampered there for about $8,000 a week, which certainly would be memorable, yes?
And you also need to decide the "when." It's a smart idea to go at a time other than the "high" season for tourists. There may be no crowds to compete with, and the mountains, museums, monuments - and residents - will still be there for you.
To provide you with ideas about destinations, elsewhere in today's LifeTimes we are printing a selection of the visionary trips your neighbors told us about
Convenience, for a price
There are two sources of focused information to consider: travel agents and the Web.
Travel agents spend their workdays cross-checking schedules, interpreting regulations and comparing fare options - the tedious and confusing chores that intimidate us amateurs.
Good agents also offer knowledge of destinations and carriers, often from their own experience.
Facing increased competition from online booking sites and reduced commissions from travel companies, agents now typically charge nominal fees. The more complex your trip - the more stops, connections, places to stay - the more valuable an agent's help.
If an agent's input isn't enough to help you overcome reluctance to travel on your own, package-tour operators are ready to arrange your transportation, rooms, meals, admissions and guides.
Such conveniences come with a trade-off:
Each participant has to give up some freedom in order to meet prearranged schedules and to dine on preselected menus. For instance, there may be souvenir-shopping stops on your itinerary but no free time for browsing a museum or strolling the plaza.
Data, but truth?
The Internet comes with one huge caveat: Because anyone can post anything on the Web, a consumer must know how to sift specks of gold from the endless river of self-serving grit passing as "information."
The Web is all about trading your time to collect knowledge. A good way to validate what you see on the Internet is to cross-reference it against other sites and print media.
For example, some sites have comments or recommendations from established book publishers, while other sites boast they have fresher comments from actual travelers.
Still other sites, such as that operated by the acclaimed Lonely Planet guides, offer both these views and also have chat rooms.
Suspicions aside, once you find a Web site you do trust, stick with it; send its operator e-mails about issues that concern you.
So, now you have some suggestions about the what, where, when and even how to get help with your plans. Almost time to reach for the suitcase . . .
Here are some of my favorite sources of expertise when I was Times travel editor.
Robert N. Jenkins
Be a careful consumer. Ask friends and relatives for recommendations, check the ads in the Times and check with your local Better Business Bureau and with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at toll-free 1-800-435-7352. Every seller of travel, including travel agents, must register; at this number you can find out whether complaints have been filed against a business.
- Elderhostel, a not-for-profit organization that has taken more than 4-million travelers 55 or older to every part of the world. www.elderhostel.org; toll-free 1-877-426-8056
- Grand Circle Corp. and Overseas Adventure Travel, the largest of the commercial operators specializing in trips for older travelers. As does Elderhostel, Grand Circle makes charitable contributions to its destinations. www.gct.com; (617) 350-7500
- Untours is a Pennsylvania company that offers one- or two-week apartment rentals in 13 European nations; each rental comes with a car or a rail pass. Untours has been honored for lending most of its profits to citizens of the destinations, and its founder was featured on the Today show this month. www.untours.com; toll-free 1-888-868-6871.
- A strong reference for the reliability of a company is whether it is a member of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, which requires applicants to produce 16 references; members must post a bond, to insure customers compensation against a member's financial problems. www.ustoa.com; (212) 599-6599.
More travel planning sources from the pro
You know about the big ticket- and room-booking companies; be sure to compare their prices. Remember that cheap-fare airlines Southwest and JetBlue refuse their schedules to those online companies, so search them separately.
A couple of highly regarded former newspaper travel editors have moved to the Web:
- Don George, formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle and later world editor of the Lonely Planet series, writes for a site organized by a group of adventure tour operators. There's no hard sell: http://donsplace.adventurecollection.com/.
- David Molyneaux, who was travel editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for more than 20 years, now operates www.TravelMavens.net, filled with his own sharp writing, as well as reviews and articles from other journalists.
- Want to know the worst seats in coach, or the disappointing ones in business? The Web site www.seatguru.com diagrams cabin setups for most every airline, noting problems for any seat.
- For detailed road maps and recommendations for Europe from Michelin: www.viamichelin.co.uk/viamichelin/gbr/dyn/controller/Driving_directions#
To cross-reference warnings from the major English-speaking nations:
United States: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html
I found the following publishers reliable and would cross-reference their works before trips. Many of the publishers offer free, updated selections on their Web sites; check there close to departure. And follow Rick Steves' tip: Photocopy or tear out the relevant pages rather than pack a book's extra weight:
Access, Cadogan, Compass American Guides, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, Fodor's Citypack series, Hidden series by Ulysses Press, Insight Guides, Knopf Mapguides, Lonely Planet, Moon Handbooks, Rick Steves' series, Rough Guide and the South American Handbook.