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SmarterTravel's Best Stories of 2011

What better time than the final days of 2011 for a clip show of some of our most popular, best, and favorite stories of the year? Here are 10 worth a second look:

We All Like Free

The story may have been published in early December, but it's not too late to take advantage of many of the deals featured in this year's 10 (Almost) Free Travel Deals. The roundup includes a third airline ticket free to Crested Butte, Colorado; free days at national parks; and up to two weeks of free airport parking with a single night's hotel stay.

Travel Industry Winners

Back in June, we surveyed the travel landscape and crowned those companies that offered the best service, deals, and value to travelers. Our SmarterTravel Editors' Choice Awards 2011 includes our picks for the best coach-class experience, the best free airline perk, the best travel rewards card, and the best value airline.

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Best of Fall

Readers got a serious case of leaf-peeping fever with the publication of our autumn photo gallery 10 Small Towns with Fantastic Fall Color. From taking a scenic railway through the foliage surrounding Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, to celebrating the apple fests and vivid reds of Woodstock, Vermont, these towns deliver stunning color and harvest spirit.

Scams Beware

Beware of pickpockets, shell games, and crooked taxi drivers on your next trip to Europe. Rick Steves offers a primer on the most common current travel grifts in Tourist Beware: Europe's Latest Travel Scams. The story is more than a heads up; it's also packed with advice on how you and your vacation dollars can stay safe.

Creepiest by a Mile

Just in time for Halloween came our World's Creepiest Places photo gallery. And when we said world's creepiest, we meant it, delving into destinations known for their bone chapels, anatomical oddities, haunted hotels, and suicide forests.

Security and Dignity

Worried about your next trip through airport security? Then check out our April story You vs. the TSA: How to Survive an Invasive Pat-Down. Whether you opt for a scan or a manual search, you'll find tips here about getting through with maximum dignity and minimum fuss.

Are We There Yet?

Wondering how much nonsense passengers are willing to put up with in the name of a low airfare? This year, Ryanair has been diligently pushing the boundaries to find out. If reader interest for our story Airline Flushes Away Passenger Comfort is any indication, most passengers draw the line somewhere around slashing the number of airplane bathrooms from three down to one.

Stress-Free Airports? They Exist

America's Most Stress-Free Airports featured 10 airports around the country offering a more relaxed travel experience. We're talking easier security lines, cocktails in the sunshine, in-airport art galleries, and the like.

Worst Fee Yet

SmarterTravel readers like to stay informed about new airline fees, so they jumped on Ugh! New Airline Fee is Worst Yet. The dishonorable mention went to Ryanair, which decided to tack on a fee of about $10 (for each leg of the trip!) for booking with a credit card. At this rate, the airline will be charging for seatbelts by mid-2012.

Airline Fees, Simplified

Speaking of fees, this was another blockbuster year for our Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide chart. And while we wish we traveled in a world where the airline industry weren't so thick with ancillary fees that travelers would need a chart to keep track of them, we're happy to be able to provide a one-stop reference.

What were your favorite SmarterTravel stories of 2011? What would you like to see us cover in 2012?

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