Wow, the year flew faster than a jetliner at 40,000 feet. For travelers, 2008 has been a year where it was best to keep your seat belt buckled for most of the ride. Still, like any year it's had highs and lows. Here's my take on the top travel stories of the year. And Happy New Year to everyone.

1. Fees, please. Air passengers got a rude awakening about midway through the year when airlines, feeling the financial pinch, decided to charge travelers for stuff we used to think was free. Like checking our luggage. Or getting a pillow or blanket. Or a can of Coke. Suddenly, there was this "a la carte" pricing where the only thing included in your ticket price was the seat.

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2. Gas prices. Seems silly to mention now that I've filled up for $1.31 in South Carolina over the holiday, but a few months ago gas prices were approaching the stratosphere. $5 a gallon didn't seem too far-fetched. Gas prices were a killjoy for summer vacations, leading many Americans to just stay home. Cruise ships and airlines tacked on or jacked up their fuel surcharges. But that was then. This is now: most cruise lines and airlines have reduced or eliminated many fuel fees. Of course, they reserve the right to bring them back - and probably will.

3. The "staycation." I hope we give this term a vacation in 2009. If you stay at home to clean the garage or organize the basement, you're simply taking time off. Sorry.

4. MegaBus.com begins service in Baltimore. For as little as a buck, travelers can hop aboard and take a smooth ride to New York City. Cheaper than the Chinatown bus lines and, from what I hear, more reliable. Only drawback: the pickup spot is in White Marsh.

5. New visitor centers. From Gettysburg to Washington to Virginia, visitor centers popped up everywhere. In Gettysburg, the newly restored cyclorama re-opened, adding a three-dimensional touch to the new visitor center.

6. China and the Summer Olympics. Despite a devastating earthquake just weeks before, Beijing pulled off a pretty flawless Olympics. The big exception was the tragic attack on two American tourists just before the Games began. China expected to get a bump in tourism after the Games, but that hasn't happened.

7. Currency travel. The worldwide economic crisis led to some savings bonanzas for travelers. I'm thinking about Iceland, where a financial collapse sent hotel rates and airfares plummeting. The bad economic news was also good news for travelers to Europe and Canada, where local currency fell against the dollar.

8. Baltimore's  $300 million convention center hotel opens. The Hilton Baltimore is supposed to lure more tourism dollars to the city and has already snagged a pretty big get with the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2011. But the view of the skyline from Oriole Park will never be the same.

9. Hawaii. Beautiful flora, fauna and a sea so blue it hurts the eyes. All that and a presidential retreat, too? No doubt, the 50th state gained the limelight this year with multiple visits from Barack Obama. Camp David has a little competition from Camp Kailua.

10. Inauguration travel frenzy. Did you rent your house yet? Book a hotel? Get a ticket? Buy your commemorative Metrorail swipe card? No? Me neither. If I want this much hassle, I'll go someplace that requires a passport. 

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