Here it is, just in time for vacation: the expandable backpack that combines the roominess of a suitcase with the portability of a backpack. "More hidey-holes than a roll-top desk," says K.C. Summers, writing in the Washington Post. "The clown car of backpacks." The Rick Steves Veloce Travel Pack has 11 compartments: two big zippered ones, a padded laptop space, a clip-down flap with hidden pockets that open up to more pockets. It zips open for an extra 3 inches of space all around. Straps and back are padded. It costs $79.95 and is available in black, slate, merlot, evergreen and blue spruce from www.ricksteves.com (click on ''Travel Store,'' then "Travel Bags'').
Speaking of Europe . . .
These are the top 10 castle hotels in Europe, according to traveler popularity and the editors of TripAdvisor.com:
• Glin Castle, Glin, Ireland. On the banks of the River Shannon, it's the onetime home of one of the legendary families of Ireland, the FitzGeralds.
• Castle Stuart, Inverness, Scotland. Built by James Stuart in 1625, it has spiral staircases, secret doors, etc.
• Thornbury Castle, Thornbury, England. Anne Boleyn slept here, now you can too.
• Domaine de la Tortiniere, Tours, France. The living room is where the city was surrendered to the Germans in 1870.
• Borthwick Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland. Once the home of Mary Queen of Scots.
• Chateau de Bagnols, Lyon, France. Towers, moat, drawbridge and gorgeous gardens.
• Castelletto di Montebenichi, Bucine, Italy. An authentic castle in the heart of Tuscany, among olive groves and vineyards.
• Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland. Once the estate of the Guinness family, the castle stands on Lough Corrib amid 350 acres of forest.
• Parador de Jaen, Jaen, Spain. The Arabic-style fortress, dating from the 13th century, once occupied by Ferdinand III.
• Hotel Castle Liebenstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The highest castle in the middle Rhine, opposite Castle Sterrenberg, its "enemy brother," from which it is separated by a stone wall.
Orbitz tracks falling prices
If you book a flight at Orbitz.com and the price later drops, Orbitz will send you a check for the difference. Once you make your reservation, the site begins tracking until your departure date. If another traveler books that flight on Orbitz at a lower price, Orbitz will reimburse you the price difference, between $5 and $250.
France trips at your fingertips
Rail Europe has just introduced the Anywhere, Anytime France ticket, its first prepaid electronic ticketing system. Create your online account and itinerary for a flat fee of $199, which includes your first ticket. The $199 fee can include stops in several towns; check the Web site for details. As of Wednesday the service will expand to more than 4,000 destinations in France. Print tickets at electronic kiosks. Details are at raileurope.com.
Tibet reopens to foreign travel
Tibet has reopened to foreign travel, and several tours are scheduled for the rest of the year through Overseas Adventure Travel. One 22-day trip, starting at $3,445, combines travel through China and Tibet with a Yangtze River cruise. Travelers will have tea with a Tibetan family, visit children at the De Ji Orphanage, and visit a mountain village. Details: oattravel.com.
Vacations to enrich your life
Learn to tango, make a quilt, blend Scotch whisky or brew beer.
These experiences and 96 more can be part of your next vacation, as described in the recently published book The 100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout (National Geographic,$19.95).
A tango vacation in Buenos Aires can last from three days to a month; details at www.argentinatango.com. Canada PEI (www.eslhomestay.ca) organizes eight-day quilting vacations on Prince Edward Island. At the Glengoyne Distillery 15 miles north of Glasgow, Scotland, you can take a two-hour course or get a whole day of tutorials in Scotch whisky. Details at www.glengoyne.com.
Other trips described in The 100 Best . . . book range from teaching English in Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East, organized by Project Hope, to a five-week business course in China, offered by World Link Education. Classes are taught in English but basic Mandarin instruction is part of the curriculum, and sightseeing options are available too.
Compiled from Times staff, wires