Travel in 2011: the year that was

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2011 has been, it is safe to say, a year of big news. The world economy has wobbled, dictators have toppled and natural disasters have wreaked havoc around the globe. It’s been a year of big travel too, with millions of people heading onto the road for unforgettable adventures. Here are some of the things that made 2011 quite a twelve months in travel:

London - Lonely Planet’s pick of the world’s top cities for 2012 - warmed up nicely in 2011. We somehow missed out on an invitation to the Royal Wedding - not even scoring a ticket to the reception - but we did our bit to guide visitors to the British capital with a Royal London video. Robert Reid fans could also have enjoyed his company travelling with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, talking travel etiquette on NBC’s Today Show and attending Mountie School.

One country whose frosty welcome thawed in 2011 was Burma. Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi explained how her party was opening the door to independent, responsibly-minded tourists when interviewed by Lonely Planet in January. Burma's troubles haven't gone away, but this year has seen more positive developments in this beautiful country than for many years.

'Watch the Middle East go in 2011' wrote one particularly clued-up 'industry expert' this time last year.  I was referring to the region’s abundant potential as a place to travel to and around, and I wrote those words partly out of excitement about my own visit to Syria in March. That visit took place just before the momentum of the Arab Spring spread to that country. The heartbreaking loss of life continues there to this day.

Related article: Should you go to Myanmar (Burma)?

One unwanted knock-on effect of political change in the Middle East has been the decline in tourist traffic with Egypt and Tunisia particularly hit. The first half of next year is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore these countries at a bargain price with much smaller crowds than usual.

The gloom-o-meter was glowing for other reasons, too. Thailand’s floods, dramatic snowstorms and grounded flights caused travellers to think hard about their plans.

Elsewhere, Japan and New Zealand were rocked by natural disasters. Both have bounced back admirably, with the former dangling the carrot of 10,000 free flights to woo back visitors. Not that either country has lost an ounce of appeal: over 130,000 people travelled to NZ for the Rugby World Cup. The rebirth of Christchurch is a story waiting to unfold in 2012 and beyond.

Though social accommodation has been with us for a few years, 2011 was the year many people tried staying in someone’s home with the help of Couchsurfing, Airbnb and other sites. At the more eccentric end of the trend is the magnificently-monickered Camp In My Garden. I do have a garden if anyone wants to make me an offer.

2011 has also been a year that bags have been bursting with electronic kit. Where once travellers toted a grotty notepad crammed with scribbles and receipts, now digital cameras, smartphones, laptops and tablets are de rigueur. And what to do on those iPads and iPhones? Alec Baldwin got into hot water for refusing to switch off addictive word game app Words With Friends. Other eye-catching apps for this year? Oh Ranger! Park Finder, Tour Wrist, Flipboard for iPhone and, if you’ll excuse some parental pride may we suggest our own baby, Wenzani.

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks came with a new icon for Big Apple-bound visitors: the striking memorial to the victims of the attacks. The Transport Security Administration, better known as the TSA, has also been with us for a decade. This year visitors have tried their hand at using full body scanners and ‘chat downs’.

Some unusual places made it onto traveller’s radars. Iceland’s ‘penis man’ retired, with his infamous museum upping sticks from Husavik to Reykjavik. Here's our interview shortly before his retirement.

Lonely Planet’s been on a journey of its own, with our online team moving from Melbourne to our new home in London. On behalf of colleagues old and new I’d like to raise a glass to you all in thanks for your company and contributions. We’ve got some exciting plans for 2012 and beyond and look forward to making the journey with you.

Tom Hall is Lonely Planet's Director of Editorial (Digital). He can be found @tomhalltravel.