Top Ten Travel Stories of 2008

At best, it was a year in which travelers excitedly cooked up trips to the Olympics in Beijing and the inauguration in Washington, D.C. At worst, it was a year when tourists were confronted with devastating terror attacks in Mumbai's most lavish hotspots and hotels.

It was also a year in which a struggling economy made a significant dent on peoples' travel and transportation habits. Whether boarding a plane, driving down the highway or waiting on a subway platform, travelers saw clear signs of recession.

ABC News took a look back at the year's top ten travel stories and got a sense of what lies ahead in 2009.

"With fuel prices what they are today, things are looking fairly hopeful," John Meenan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Air Transport Association told ABC News in late November. "But the economy of course, raises some serious questions about what we will experience next year."

#1: Travelers Pay Steep Fees to Fly

In 2008, the true price of an airline ticket became far higher than the price travelers thought they were paying online. By the time people boarded their flights with a major carrier, they had suddenly forked over an extra $15 to check a bag, $25 to check a second, and in some cases, $5 to $100-plus for prime seats with an ample amount of legroom. Travelers flying US Airways even paid extra for a soda and those flying Jet Blue paid a price for a pillow.

Charging customers for services they'd come to expect for free was the airline's way of doing all they could to stay in business as fuel prices rose. Even when those prices came down, however, fees remained high.

"We want to be in a position to invest in new jobs and creating the kinds of economic stimulus that the economy needs," Meenan said. "The only way we can do that is by making money."

#2: The Search For Missing Adventurer Steve Fossett

A lingering question remained on the minds of adventurers worldwide throughout the majority of 2008: Where in the world was Steve Fossett? He had swum the English Channel, competed in the Iditarod and flown around the world solo in a balloon, but suddenly the adventurer disappeared. Fossett was last seen alive Sept. 3, 2007, when he took off from a Nevada airport in a small plane. Extensive searches for his plane turned up empty and Fossett was declared dead in February 2008.

Then in early October, a hiker named Preston Morrow unexpectedly solved the mystery. Morrow was exploring California's Sierra Nevada mountains near Mammoth Lakes when he spotted something strange in a pile of dirt and pine needles. "Out of the corner of my eye I caught some cards, some white cards, and some money," Morrow said. "So I got closer and it was hundred-dollar bills."

The discovery of Fossett's pilot's license led investigators to the remains of his plane and shortly thereafter, to the remains of the man himself.

#3: Destination China

On Aug. 8, 2008, 91,000 spectators attended the 2008 Olympic Games' opening ceremonies in Beijing. Travelers from all over the world descended on the city this summer for the events, watching as athletes set more more than 40 world records and more than 120 Olympic records, according to United States Olympic Committee.

To prepare for crowds, Beijing spend the early half of the year wrapping up preparations for its guests, investing in a construction boom to build more hotels, restaurants and stores. Today, in addition to the city's long-standing attractions like the Forbidden City, venues built for the sporting events, like the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, are still attracting tourists.

#4: Seesawing Gas Prices

Whether venturing out by car or plane, travelers this year faced seesawing fuel prices that altered their routes.

Case in point: The difference between a road trip on the Fourth of July and a road trip on Thanksgiving. During the summer holiday, the average price of gas nationwide surpassed $4 and even police made alternate plans to drive less while patroling for drunken drivers. By Thanksgiving, drivers paid low prices that averaged less than $2 per gallon for the first time in three years.

#5: Trekking the Campaign Trail

The road to the White House was a most certainly a trip, as presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain zigzagged the country right up until Election Day. The campaigns blitzed the battleground states and held a staggering number of events in those states after wrapping up their respective party nominations. According to ABC News' count, Ohio ranked first on the list -- hosting 145 events between the two tickets through Nov. 4 -- followed closely by Florida and Pennsylvania. Reporters, too, stashed away their belongings and lived out of suitcases, and even the president-elect said he looked forward to unpacking. In the end, Obama's victory appeared to spark another travel trend as well, reinvigorating tourism in his hometown of Chicago.

#6: Airline Inspections and Cancellations

In March and April 2008, travelers were stranded across the country when air carriers cancelled thousands of flights to inspect their planes. During one week in early April alone, American Airlines cancelled more than 3,000 flights.

The inconvenience at airports was the most visible element of a deeper problem. After fining Southwest Airlines $10.2 million earlier in the year for failing to adhere to safety and inspection requirements, the FAA called for inspections among all carriers. But lawmakers subsequently blasted the FAA for creating the sort of relationship in the first place that allowed some lapses to go unpunished.

An investigation into the FAA's safety procedures followed. The examination ended in September with a report that gave the FAA overall good marks. "There are important issues that need to be taken care of, but basically the system is sound," Malcolm K. Sparrow, a member of the independent commission appointed by the FAA, told ABC News.

#7: Attacks on Tourist Destinations in Mumbai

In late November, gunshots in a train station in India's bustling city of Mumbai set off a string of terror attacks across the city. More violence and explosions followed at two luxury hotels, a cafe popular with foreigners, a hospital and a Jewish community center.

In the days that followed the three-day assault, investigators continued to put together the pieces. At the same time, concerns about security at elite travelers' destinations came to light as people considered whether popular international hotels were susceptible to attack. Plaqued by additional threats, airports in India remained on high alert in early December.

#8: A Surge in Public Transit

In the U.S., the economy prompted many people to take a practical approach and chose public transit. Numbers released from the American Public Transit Association today showed that the third quarter of 2008 saw the largest quarterly increase in public transportation ridership in 25 years. Commuters remained on buses, trains and metros at record levels even as gas prices started to fall. According to the report, people took 2.8 billion trips on public transit during the months of July, August and September, a 6.5 percent increase over the same quarter of 2007.

Whether a financial decision or an environmental one, people from New York to Portland and Paris also increasingly turned to bicycles to get around town. Even convention goers had the option to bike instead of drive.

#9: Staying Home and Cutting Back

One travel trend that emerged this year? Not traveling at all. For many Americans, the tight economy meant staying closer to home -- many because they opted not to spend money on flights, hotels and gas, others because they had no choice. In smaller towns, airports offered fewer flights out than ever when carriers stopped serving the airports to save money. Fall flight schedules revealed that U.S. airlines slashed flights to such an extent that by year's end, domestic passengers would have an estimated 2,500 fewer commercial flights to choose from each day.

Business travelers, too, felt the crunch. To save a dime, workplaces looked to virtual conferences. CEOs steered clear of private planes. Room in the front of the plane, typically filled with business travelers, was suddenly (relatively speaking) a steal.

"Next year the big issue is going to be business travel, it takes two or three, maybe even four leisure travels, to make up a business travel ticket," FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney told ABC News in late November. "If business start pulling back, its going to be a lot harder for the airlines to make the revenue they want on each flight."

#10: Planning Inauguration Vacations

One trip travelers do seem willing to take is a January vacation to Washington, D.C. City officials in the nation's capital are planning for as many as 4 million people in town in winter 2009 to witness the inauguration of President-elect Obama. Washington's hotel rooms filled quickly for the Jan. 20 festivities. Local D.C. residents prepared for visiting friends to crash on their couches. Others jumped at the opportunity to rent out their apartments and houses for exorbitant prices. Even chilly campgrounds saw a surge in business.

Lawmakers had 240,000 tickets to distribute but were being inundated with requests that far exceeded that number. Airlines, too, were adding flights into Washington to accomodate an influx of tourists.

"It's been a long time since we've seen this hype for inauguration," Seaney said.