Sunday, July 28, 2013

Old Travel - New Story

GUEST POST by Susan Nystoriak - Her blog, S. M. NYSTORIAK'S WRITER'S BLOCK is excellent!
I would like to introduce you to a new Novel Travelist I've recently had the pleasure to meet. Susan Nystoriak is working on her second book, but was recently inspired by old travel. Take it away Susan!

How my 20th Century Trip inspired a
21st Century Novel, about a
19th Century Secret...

My name is Susan Nystoriak, and I am a Novel Travelist, in retrograde.

Allow me to explain. This fantastic website is all about connecting travel and locations to novels. Most times, an idea for a novel comes, and the author completes the research to give the book authenticity. An author may have to travel to different locations during the research phase. In my case, however, the travel came first. My latest novel, WORDS IN THE WINDOWSILL got its start way back in 1994, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

In the summer of ‘94, I was a recent college graduate, and was frantically looking for a job in my career field, Music Education. I had taken a few interviews, and was anxiously awaiting the outcomes. Months prior, a friend and I had planned a trip to Europe for that summer, and I was glad, because waiting patiently for a job offer was a real challenge! The trip was a much needed escape.

Two of the many places we visited were Bonn, Germany, and Vienna, Austria. The entire trip was glorious, but it was these two destinations that became the seeds for my latest novel.   Here are a couple highlights from the trip: 

Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany

In Bonn, Germany, a visit to Beethoven Haus was a major thrill for me. I saw the pink fa├žade of that building and fantasized about what it must have been like in the time of Beethoven. As a musician, I knew a lot about Beethoven’s contribution to history, so it was very exciting to see one of his homes.  Also, the overall feel of the place made an impression on me. The twentieth century Germany that I was visiting seemed like a throwback to an earlier, simpler time. The cobblestone streets, the gingerbread style buildings, and the general old world charm created a feeling of being swept back in time (See below, Rothensburg. This is a borrowed picture-Bing images. Mine came out a bit too grainy).

Rothensburg, Germany - Old World Charm

Vienna was equally delightful, as we visited Schoenbrunn Palace, and stayed at the former Schoenbrunn guest house. (Below, more borrowed pictures: Britannica. I am not a great photographer, it seems!) 

Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria
Again, if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was back in the 1800’s. The stylized buildings and streets were the same as they had been all those years ago, and I felt a deep connection to it. I speak about inspiration and my connection to old Europe in another blog post, here: Inspiration - It's a Magical Thing

In both of these two places, I experienced people steeped in tradition. From the buildings and streets, to the recipes they cooked, I felt I was a part of a centuries-old culture that was still holding strong. And that was nice, in stark contrast to the ways of home.

I kept a journal of my month long trip and filed everything away for safe keeping. Pictures, newspapers, recipes, coins, transportation passes…I wanted to be able to revisit the experience later on in my life.  

Returning from that trip, I had a new outlook on things. For one thing, the world seemed much smaller than it did before. For another, I had been offered a job while in Germany, which was a relief to me!  But twenty years later, I remained moved by what I experienced on that trip, and I just had to write about it.

My old maps and notes - Now two decades old, but just as inspirational

Flash Forward:  Twenty Years Later:  I dug out all of my treasures that were tucked away for safe keeping (Picture above - my actual stuff!), and remembered. I remembered the feeling of being fresh out of college, traveling abroad. I recalled the busy airports and bus terminals, cab drivers that had to be spoken to, learning how to pack for such a trip, everything came back to me. And when I revisited the old journal, I smiled. I had made notes, drawn sketches, talked about foods we tried for the first time, and recipes. I had written about others who I had met on that trip from all over this small world.

As a result, this past October, I began plotting and planning out a novel. 

Those seeds that were planted during my time in Europe had lay relatively dormant until recently, but were beginning to germinate. And a few months later, WORDS IN THE WINDOWSILL became the product. Here is a little blurb about it: 

Grad student and self-proclaimed “Ladies Man” Hans Meyer has the world at his piano-playing fingertips. All he has left to do is write his thesis. But when his research takes him two centuries back in time, Hans stumbles upon a secret that will change history, and turn this 21st century cad into a gentleman.

During the story, 25 year old Hans discovers an unknown symphony, and goes back in time to Vienna, where he takes part in living history. In some ways, when I spent my time in Bonn and Vienna, I felt the same way. 
I know that is why I was driven to base my character's travels as I did. For those memories to have stayed with me all this time really speaks volumes to me; I couldn't have predicted the impact that trip had on me back then, but here we are.

So, you see, I am a Novel Travelist, but in retrograde. My travel came first, long before I ever realized I would write about it. And I am so glad I found this website. It is a wealth of information for any novelist needing to find information or contacts to help them along the way. Thank you, Sara, for allowing me to do this guest post.

What past trips still speak to you? Is there a novel in that old trip?

Guest Blogger:
Susan Nystoriak was born and raised in the Adirondack's of Northern New York State.  A classically trained musician, she has been fortunate to always have the arts as a prominent part of her life.  She has been a music educator for the past twenty years, and has begun to fortify her other creative outlet; writing.  Still a country girl, Susan still resides in the Adirondack's with her husband, two children and a dog.  Whenever possible, she enjoys planning trips for her family. You can read more from Susan at her WRITER'S BLOCK blog: 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jane Austen Made Me Do It - Book Review

If you are anything like me and love the historical world of Jane Austen, but don't know what other books to read to continue the daydream, then this blog post is for you.

At the end of a good book, I always flip through the last blank pages hoping there’s more. In desperation for the story to continue, I seek out an appendix, references, epilogue, author’s notes, anything. The Harry Potter series, Lord or the Rings, Imaginarium Geographica, are all classic examples of worlds I never want to leave. These are all fantasy worlds. What I find fascinating about my desire to extend Jane Austen’s world, is that it’s real. Yes, Austen’s world is 200 years old, but it really existed in regency era England, and perhaps this is part of the draw that has created an entire genre of literature known as regency romance.

Jane Austen only wrote 6 books. But there are at least 300 books continuing the stories of her characters, her world and of the author’s life itself. After rereading Austen’s 6 books multiple times, I wanted more. But with so many choices, where to begin?

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a brilliant anthology collection edited by the creator of, Laurel Ann Nattress. Every story is completely different, covering a broad range of Austen related styles and all by established authors of regency romance. This is a wonderful way to sample the current regency authors roaming the bookstore shelves. I broke down the stories and other Austenite books I’ve read into four categories: 
-Stories of how Austen was inspired (biographical fiction), 
-Sequels & prequels (Austen characters continue in Austen’s world - these are my favorite),
-Contemporary stories with Austen characters out of time or following an Austen story structure (Bridget Jones’s Diary or Clueless), 
-Austen stories in an alternate universe (Cue the Zombies). 

I didn't review all the stories, but here's a decent smattering. 

Hopefully this review of anthology stories will help narrow down your decision of how to continue your Jane Austen interest, addiction, or in my case, obsession.

Jane Austen as Biographical Fiction:

Jane Austen’s Nightmare by Syrie James  
Other titles include: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
This is one of the best stories in the collection - all the characters of Austen confront the author. Marianne Dashwood is angry with Austen for making her so selfish and self-involved. Fanny and Elinor are too perfect. Emma is oblivious to everything, including her own feelings. And then there are the actual annoying characters that form a lynch mob. Will Jane find any characters pleased with their incarnations? This is an author who really understands Austen readers and dares to ask all the questions that constantly dance in my dreams.

Jane and the Gentleman Rogue by Stephanie Barron
Other titles include: 11 bestselling Jane Austen mysteries including Jane and the Canterbury Tale.
This is an enjoyable intrigue with spies and duels during the Napoleonic wars with Jane Austen as a spy accomplice. This is swashbuckling good fun and how I hope Jane lived her life.

Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverly
Other titles include: Over 30 novels - Publisher’s Weekly declared her “arguably today’s most skillful writer of intelligent historical romance.”
A sweet romance set in Austen’s town of Chawton. It’s in the vein of a Mr. Darcy-esque gentleman meets Mrs. Dashwood-esque woman, but the characters are given a little help from Miss Austen playing cupid with her Mistletoe stories. The writing is excellent, the characters endearing, and the story ends happily. This is definitely an author to explore.

Another book of note - Author not listed in the anthology:

A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard 
(Yes, it’s a man! The only male author I know writing in this genre.)
All her heroines find love in the end–but is there love waiting for Jane? Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess. Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did Jane ever find love? This book is fun both for the Austen obsessed or the new reader as it weaves fact with fiction. It re-imagines Austen’s life using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history, but gives her the happy ending she most decidedly deserves.

Sequels and Prequels:

Waiting, A story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, By Jane Odiwe
Other titles include: Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr. Darcy’s Secret.
In Persuasion, remember that Captain Wentworth once asked Anne’s father for her hand in marriage and was rudely denied. This story picks up at the end of Persuasion, where Wentworth must again ask for Anne’s hand in marriage. It also reveals a flashback of how Anne and Wentworth first fell in love 9 years prior. I’ve often wondered about the beginning and ending of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship, so this story was immensely satisfying. Judging from Jane Odiwe’s other titles, this author definitely delves into some juicy territory. Thank goodness someone is brave enough to bring back Willoughby!

Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land by Monica Fairview
Other titles include: An Improper Suitor, The Other Mr. Darcy, The Darcy Cousins
In true Jane Austen spirit - we witness the trivial disagreements of the wealthy. What happens when Mr. Knightly actually does move into Hartfield with Emma and her paranoid, hypochondriac, overly polite, easily offended father? Will Emma’s father ever comprehend the fact that his daughter is now more than just friends with Mr. Knightly? Will Mrs. Bates find her purpose in life? This author wonderfully captures all the subtleties and subtext of Austen’s "Polite" society.

Heard of You by Margaret C. Sullivan
Other titles include: There Must be Murder and The Jane Austen Handbook, which is a humorous and engaging non-fiction romp regarding the proper life skills from Regency England.
In Persuasion, I always wondered how Admiral Croft met a woman willing to travel the high seas with him. This story explains the courtship between Wentworth’s sister and Wentworth’s “Captain” Croft. In this story I learned that a “Roasted miller” is what sailor’s called a cooked rat. This author fills her stories with such succulent details. 

Mr. Bennet Meets His Match by Amanda Grange
Other titles include: 7 Austen retellings and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.
I always wondered how the reserved, contemplative Mr. Bennet met and married the unreserved, frivolous Mrs. Bennet. This story proposes a likely scenario. This author writes in an excellent Austen style, has clearly read The Jane Austen Handbook, and is well versed in the weather and ways of the regency era. However, I must admit that I didn’t find the characters as real and relatable as Austen’s. But perhaps I love the aged Mr. Bennet so much that the young Mr. Bennet simply seemed odd.

Austen Characters Out of Time:

When Only a Darcy Will Do by Beth Pattillo
Other titles include: Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and The Dashwood Sisters Tell All, which is part of “The Formidables,” a secret society that guards a treasure trove of “lost” Austen related writings. (That sounds fun!)
A modern day full regency attired tour guide stands on a busy corner in London, hoping to pick up a few tourists to share in a tour of Austen sites. Instead, Mr. Darcy, or at least a modern day person dressed like him, joins her for a tour. The ending of this story was ultimately unsatisfying. But the writing is good and she knows her Austen history, so “The Formidables” series is probably worth a look.

The Mysterious Closet: A Tale by Myretta Robens (The original Austen website, established 1997)
Other titles include: Just Say Yes and blogs for Heroes and Heartbreakers.
A modern day story of a young woman wanting to escape it all by giving herself a weekend away in a gothic abbey, akin to Northanger Abbey. She requests the Radcliffe Suite (I would totally do that!), unaware that the suite is housed in the yet-to-be-modernized section of the rambling abbey. Remarkably, there is a closet that leads to an unknown room with an unknown man that may be real, or the ghost of Henry Tilney. Regardless, he’s hot! Austen has a talent for observing and displaying, with grand humor, the annoying behaviors of society, and so does this author.

Me and Mr. Darcy, Again… by Alexandra Potter
Other titles include: 9 bestselling novels including Me and Mr. Darcy and You’re Not the One.
Mr. Darcy appears to a woman in need of a little romantic advice. But last time he appeared, he gave her far more than just advice, and romance bloomed of a more physical nature. This is a tale of making a choice between a fantasy and reality, but when neither is well defined. This is the story in the collection that I repeatedly ponder. I keep discovering layers to it. Hopefully her novels are just as layered with the complications of human decision.

What Would Austen Do? By Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Other titles include: Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s early book Lady Susan. (Lady Susan is written as letters, and it's juicy - akin to Dangerous Liaisons. If you've never picked it up, you should!)
This is one of the most charming, surprising stories in the collection. A young boy simply wants to fit in to his new high school, but quickly discovers that in order to win the girl, he needs to stand out. Embracing his recent discovery of Regency English Dancing, he chooses to enter high school as the endlessly well mannered, impeccably dressed, boy gentleman, which obviously disturbs every teacher on campus. Every teenager should read this story! Imagine how wonderful the world would be if teenagers strolled around acting like gentleman instead of cell phone abusing, authority hating, vampire lovers?

Alternate worlds - including Zombie’s & Vampires

Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah by Janet Mullany
Other titles include: Jane and the Damned (Jane as a vampire), Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion (Vampire invasion of Chawton), Little to Hex Her (Modern retelling of Emma) in the anthology Bespelling Jane Austen.
A 1960’s English teacher helps three teenage girls better appreciate Sense and Sensibility by relating the male characters to the four Beatle’s boys. I give the author merit for trying the idea, but ultimately it failed. Considering she’s also the author famous for doing terrible things to Austen, I’m gathering she doesn’t understand the non-cynical, emotionally reserved heart of Austen's characters and doesn’t even want to try to appreciate Austen for the many reasons that make the authoress still so engaging 200 years later. But hey, if you have a love for both Vampires and Jane Austen, and for some odd reason think they should be combined, then this is your author. 

Other noted titles are Pride & Prejudice and Zombies and Sense & Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Personally, I was disappointed with both these titles as they simply plagiarized the book, changed a few lines here and there and added random monster scenes. Janet Mullany, to her credit, is probably more creative and definitely a better writer.

Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler
Other titles include: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, which the author concedes could be semiautobiographical had they not involved time travel and body switching.
The anthology collection closes with a brilliant, totally surprising story ala Alice in Wonderland meets Law and Order: Special Austen Unit. The honorable judge Lady Catherine de Bourgh presides over a corrupt court whereby the defendants are a collection of authors who have retold, added zombies, or filmed Austen stories. In a Jasper Fforde-esque world, the plaintiffs are the characters themselves who are straining to maintain their true identity as Austen wrote them. Poor Mr. Darcy is perpetually wet which has caused great discomfort to his love life and health, which also leads to the swooning ladies of the regency court causing numerous offensive disruptions. How will the defense attorney ever save his clients?

Another book of note - Author not listed in the anthology:

Lost in Austen - Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster.
This is great fun, as you get to play Elizabeth Bennet and force her to make all the wrong decisions which result in her meeting all the Austen men at one point or another. Your social manners are tested as Emma foists you upon Mr. Elton while she rudely escapes with the handsome Mr. Frank Churchill. Mr. Darcy and his cousin Capt. Fitzwilliam fight duels over you, and Willoughby is extremely reckless with his carriage driving. Beware Northanger Abbey’s secret passages, as you never know in which book you might land. This is an adventure where Austen characters do everything their emotionally reserved hearts prevent them from doing. And you as the reader will agree that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is simply biding her time until she can murder Elizabeth Bennet.

There are new novels being written as historical fiction that take place in Austen’s time and tend to follow her basic structure and storytelling methods. Meryton Press is a good source for these stories.

More info - the two major Jane Austen websites are: - Created by anthology editor Laurel Ann Nattress - Where Jane Austen was born on the internet (1997).

What books am I adding to my nightstand? Willoughby’s Return, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, The Dashwood Sister’s Tell All from “The Formidables” series, and Lady Vernon and her Daughter. Laurie Viera Rigler is the most creative and inventive author in the collection and reminds me of my love for Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, so she’s another author I look forward to reading.

And maybe one day I'll be invited to participate in such an amazing collection of stories.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Belvedere House - Location In My Jane Austen Ireland Book

Belvedere House, Lough Ennell, just south of Mullingar in central Ireland

I've been happily buzzing along in the writing of my new Jane Austen styled novel which I've set in Ireland in 1802, and I came across an interesting problem. Like all Jane Austen stories, my country family must travel to town for the social season. So I need to move my family from Athlone to Dublin.

This meant I needed to research the roads of Ireland in 1800, which carriage a family of high status might use, and where they might stop in the middle of their 90 mile journey. Fortunately, Ireland has amazing online archives and I was able to download such items as Taylor and Skinner's Maps of the Roads of Ireland - Surveyed in 1777.

I was able to map out exactly which roads they might take, the quality of the roads, the number of turnpikes, which was a charge for maintenance of a section of road where a man literally collected tolls and opened a gate to let you pass, and which distances were reasonable within a day, changing horses every 10-12 miles at the Irish equivalent of a coaching Inn.

I also read a tremendous amount about The Highway Act passed by Irish Parliament in 1614. I was amazed to learn that Ireland had a better system of roads than England during the Georgian era (1714-1830).

As quoted from a young English traveler in the 1780s:

"...for a country so very far behind us as Ireland to have got suddenly so much the start of us in the article of roads is a spectacle that cannot fail to strike the English traveller exceedingly."

So I plotted my characters route from Athlone to Dublin and found a central town for the family to stay the night. 
Map is from the Irish archive of roads in 1714. It's a fun map to play with if you desire.
Then I decided that my high class family would prefer to stay at someone's estate versus a coaching inn within the town of Mullingar. This led me to look at my DK Ireland guide and see if there were any interesting estates in the area. There are several! 

One of the houses has a fabulous history of a wicked Earl locking away his wife for thirty years and architectural mayhem due to jealousy over a brother's estate. So I chose Belvedere House, only a 1/2 hour carriage ride south of Mullingar as the family estate to host my characters for the night.

Ariel view of Belvedere House, Lough Ennell and gardens/woods

Thankfully, Belvedere House is now a public attraction and has a great website. So I looked at a bunch of pictures and read several different historical accounts of the house. 

I really like these curved wall rooms.
I decided to set a scene at the front entrance of the house, in a bedroom, and a drawing room which has these curved walls on the end. I found these historical interior shots for inspiration, although the furniture is too modern for 1802, the cornice and ceiling work is very similar to what I saw in other Georgian homes in Ireland.

Belvedere House Interior of curved wall drawing room.
Belvedere House Interior of another room.

Then I investigated the gardens and found a wonderful story about a ruined abbey folly in the gardens that was built by the wicked Earl to obstruct his view of his older brother's more magnificent estate. I thought this would be a great place for my young heroine to meet her first suitor. Jane Austen has a flair for dramatic entrances, so I thought I'd continue her tradition.

Ruined Abbey Folly at Belvedere House - called "The Jealous Wall."
What better place for two young lovers to first meet, than at "The Jealous Wall." Am I hinting at a wee bit of foreshadowing? Maybe...

Using locations to inspire stories - Woohoo! 

This Novel Travelist is signing off until next time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Obsession With Carry-on Bags

Earlier this summer, Sara and I took a wonderful trip to Ireland. We met great people, saw beautiful landscapes, and were inspired by just about everything. But I'm not going to tell you about any of that.

I am going to tell you about my obsession with finding a better bag.

Sara tells me that I have been this way for a few weeks now, that I should really get out more, and that others might benefit from knowing about my obsession (perhaps to recognize the warning signs in loved ones). "You should do something with all of that research."

Traveling With One Bag

Sara and I are are used to traveling light. We each take a single carry-on bag. I haven't checked luggage on a vacation since the last millennium. We do this because it makes travel easier and cheaper—much easier and much cheaper. (If you want to read more about the benefits of traveling light, check out: Rick Steves, One Bag, and One Bag One World.)

Our travel philosophy-style is pretty close to the one Rick Steves describes here:

My Current Bags

Most of the time I use a simple gym bag from REI. It is affordable, easy to pack, easy to stuff into overheads, and virtually indestructible.

My 40 liter gym bag from REI

However, I am beginning to notice a few problems:

  1. 40 liters is a big bag. On our last trip, this bag weighed 36 lb.—most of that weight from things I did not need. My hand hurts from carrying it.
  2. The only ways to carry this bag are by hand or by shoulder strap—good for short distances with light weight, not so good for long distances with heavy weight. 
  3. Packing a laptop or tablet is awkward (even with a protective sleeve).
  4. It is difficult to get to things in the bottom of the bag without unpacking everything.

Occasionally, I use this small backpack from Golite.

My 24 liter Golite Rush 20 backpack

This bag is very comfortable, well designed, and affordable. But it isn't ideal for traveling either:
  1. The straps are very hard on my clothes. Almost all of my shirts and jackets have rub marks. (This problem is common to all backpacks.)
  2. Sara hates this bag. I have no room for souvenirs or extras, which means Sara ends up carrying them. (Now that I remember this, maybe I should use this bag more often...)
  3. Packing my laptop is awkward.
  4. It only has one outside pocket. Even my passport stretches this pocket and is clearly visible (not good for pickpockets).
  5. It is not easy to pack. Only certain arrangements of gear work in this teardrop shaped bag. This does not guarantee the most needed items will be near the top. The shape and size of the bag, not my travel needs, determine where things end up. 

What I'm Looking For

The problem is, neither of these bags was designed for the kind of trips Sara and I usually take. Ideally, I would like a travel bag that:
  • isn't too expensive,
  • is lightweight and durable,
  • is easy to pack and keep organized,
  • has pockets for frequently needed items,
  • has a pocket or place suitable for my laptop,
  • isn't so big that I am tempted to bring things I don't need,
  • isn't so small that I can't carry some souvenirs,
  • can be carried in a variety of ways (including as a backpack),
  • and can be checked if necessary.

The Best Options I've Found So Far

Convertible Suitcase-Backpacks

Soft-sided suitcases with backpack straps that tuck away into a pocket when you are not using them. These have more flexibility on international flights—because they have no internal structure, they can be forced into a smaller 20" overhead bin (the standard for many international airlines).

1) Rick Steves' Convertible Carry-on ($100 • 41L • 21" x 14" x 9")

Other than its size (it is larger than my 40L gym bag), this bag has everything I am looking for. It is the best combination of function and price. My laptop will fit nicely in the large outer pocket. There are several useful pockets, on the outside and inside the bag. The compression straps are a nice plus—they will help if I have a small load. This bag also has a waist belt. While I'm sure this belt isn't as supportive as one on a hiking backpack, it will help distribute the weight on a long walk. I'm a little worried about the mesh on the back panel and backpack straps—this material is not kind to clothes. Still, it's worth remembering that any backpack will have this problem, regardless of material. It is hard not to like this bag.

Rick Steves' Convertible Carry-on

2) Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender Bag ($150 • 41L • 20" x 13" x 8")

This is a very close second choice. It is very similar choice to the Rick Steves bag. The main differences on the con side are (1) it is more expensive, and (2) it does not have a waist belt. On the plus side, (1) it is only 20" long (better for international flights), and (2) it does not have a mesh back. This bag might be kinder on clothes.

Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender Bag

3) Timbuk2 Wingman Duffel Bag ($150 • 35L • 22" x 14" x 7")

This is a very interesting bag. It is a little longer than the two above, which could be an issue on a few international flights if the bag is over stuffed. Most likely this soft bag will fit into place on most planes. There are external pockets for a laptop, important documents, and an expandable wet/dry pocket (for dirty clothes, shoes, etc.). This bag has less structure than the Rick Steves bag or the Eagle Creek bag—items could move around more when the bag is not fully packed.

Timbuk2 Wingman Duffel Bag

Really, really, really good bags on the more expensive side:

Both of these are great bags that might meet my needs better than the bags above. I particularly like the way these Tom Bihn bags divide the main compartment into two or three sections. This will make it easier to stay organized and to distribute the load. I also like their smaller capacity (which roughly translates into less weight and waste). However, these bags are significantly more expensive.

1) Tom Bihn Western Flyer ($210 • 26L • 18" x 12" x 7")

Tom Bihn Western Flyer

2) Tom Bihn Tristar ($280 • 33L • 19" x 13" x 8")

Tom Bihn Tristar

I found 3 good options if you are interested in a larger bag:

1) Patagonia MLC Bag ($159 • 45L • 20" x 14" x 7"). This is a popular bag with many good reviews and a relatively long history "in the field." 

2) L. L. Bean Quickload Travel Pack ($129 • 49L • 22" x 14" x 9")

3) ebags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Junior ($81 • 42L • 20" x 14" x 9")

Rolling Convertible Suitcase-Backpacks

Wheeled suitcases (with an internal structure) with backpack straps that tuck away into a pocket when you are not using them. Because they have an internal structure, these should be no longer than 20" for international flights. I only found one bag in this category.

Rick Steves' Rolling Backpack ($160 • 32L • 20" x 14" x 7")
Sara has already decided that this will be her next bag, and I am seriously considering it. I have to admit that the idea of rolling this bag through an airport is very appealing. Airport lines are getting longer and longer. Lately, this is where Sara and I have spent the most time carrying our bags. I have doubts as to whether the backpack straps are comfortable, but otherwise this seems like a good choice. The smaller capacity should keep the overall weight down, my laptop will fit in the large outer pocket, and the added structure will make it easy to pack and keep organized.

Rick Steves' Rolling Backpack