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Travel tales, from toads to pat-downs

The Traveler of the Year wasn't even on vacation. His trip lasted just a few seconds, cost him his job -- and landed him in jail.

But what a ride! He regretted nothing, became a folk hero, notched a unique life experience and acquired a story that should keep him from ever having to pay his own bar tab.

We dedicate this year's roundup of wacky travel news to Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who couldn't take it anymore, told off his ungrateful passengers, grabbed a couple of beers and slid down the emergency chute.

What could have made him so mad? Let us count the ways:

*Quote of the year: John Tyner got famous by taping himself refusing scans and pat-downs at the San Diego airport. As the TSA agent explained how he was about to get up close and personal, Tyner retorted, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

The result: Nobody got arrested, Tyner decided not to fly after all, and in one of his many interviews, said his future travel plans were to "drive or take a bus."

*No pat-down problems here: An Icelandic volcano nobody could pronounce -- Eyjafjallajokull -- erupted April 15, sending massive ash plumes into the jet stream and crippling air traffic over Europe for several weeks. Ten stranded skiers reportedly split a taxi from the Arctic Circle in Norway to their home in Italy. The fare was roughly $20,000.

*Law and Order: Special Tourists Unit: Five cleaners at the South African hotel housing the British World Cup soccer team were arrested on charges of stealing money, jerseys and underwear from the players' rooms.

New laws passed by local councils in Italy include bans on kissing while driving in Eboli, building sandcastles on the beach in Eraclea and opening a kebab shop in the Tuscan town of Lucca.

An Air France flight attendant was arrested on charges of stealing cash, travelers' checks and jewelry from sleeping passengers in business class on dozens of international flights.

*Maybe Guinness will sponsor them: A new Irish motorway stretching from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic has no bathrooms along the way because the government ran out of money.

*A traffic-copter job you don't want: China's notoriously aggravating traffic reached new heights in August when thousands of cars and trucks were stuck in a 62-mile-long bottleneck for 11 days on National Expressway 110, the major route from Beijing to Zhangjiakou. Officials blamed construction and a spike in coal shipments for the jam, which featured roadside campouts, impromptu snack bars and price gouging of stranded drivers.

*See the hamster ... be the hamster: The Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers installed two pedal-powered generators and released this hospitable offer: "Anyone producing 10 watt hours of electricity or more for the hotel will be given a locally produced complimentary meal, encouraging guests to not only get fit but also reduce their carbon footprint and save electricity and money."

*A great deal, no G-strings attached: The North Carolina town of Kure Beach voted to ban swimmers from wearing thongs. The town council's action was prompted by an e-mail to the police chief inquiring whether the ordinance against nude bathing applied to thongs as well.

Mayor Dean Lambeth vowed, "We're going to keep this as close to Mayberry with a beach as you can."

*For the folks who've been everywhere: Chernobyl, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster and still a radiation hazard, hosts about 7,500 visitors a year who pay $160 for a tour of the doomed reactor and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat.

A French company called Ultime Realite charges $1,400 to kidnap you during your vacation, then bind and gag you and lock you in a dank cellar. With the "basic abduction package," the website promises, "You will go through ... a psychological shock that you won't forget in a hurry." Founder Georges Cexus says high-level executives are his best customers.

Australia's Northern Territory is inviting tourists to join in toad-killing safaris, hoping to attract visitors and make a dent in the huge population of unwanted nonnative cane toads.

*Welcome to Scrooge Airlines!: Spirit Airlines began charging for carry-on bags that fit in the overhead compartment: $30 in advance and $45 at the gate. Anything you can stuff under the seat is still free.

*How much to pee in the overhead compartment?: Not to be outdone, Ryanair said it was serious about charging passengers to use the onboard toilets, and said it was thinking of redesigning its planes to offer just one bathroom for up to 189 passengers.

*Maybe the peanuts were too salty: Air New Zealand apologized for a staff training manual that warned that passengers from Tonga might try to guzzle all the onboard booze. The manual said people from the Pacific island nation were "softly spoken, reserved people," but that many of them "would try to drink the bar dry."

More from the ethnic insult department: VisitBritain issued guidelines for dealing with foreign visitors on their way to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. They include:

Indians don't like being touched by strangers.

Poles resent being stereotyped as excessive drinkers.

Chinese may not be impressed by landmarks only a few hundred years old.

Belgians get offended when you snap your fingers.

Canadians get annoyed when you mistake them for Americans.

*Welcome to Globalwarmingland!: Bill Pintas was lounging by the pool at the new Vdara hotel in Las Vegas when he noticed the odor of something burning. It was his hair. "I was effectively being cooked," he said. Apparently the combination of desert sun, architectural curves and reflective glass can focus intense heat on sunbathers, as well as melt plastic bags and cups. "We call it the death ray," a staffer told Pintas.

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