We finally joined the hard-sided luggage revolution with the addition of new hard-sided expandable rolling luggage from ROAM. Here’s our review after traveling with our new bag on 12 flights to three countries including a fantastic retro hotel and one of the most iconic travel destinations in the world. Use the link at the end of this post if you want to save $50 on your own ROAM.
ROAM was created by some former Tumi luggage executives. The line’s most obvious point of difference is the ability for travelers to color customize their luggage. In a world where most hard-sided luggage (heck, most luggage period) looks the same, ROAM is the “first and only brand that allows you to customize your luggage.”
Custom color fun
You’re not required to customize your luggage. The company provides about a dozen pre-made color combos for those who can’t be bothered choosing colors of their own. However, we found the option of customization irresistible.
Practically every element of the bag–from front and back panels to handles to trim to wheels–can be customized by choosing colors from a drop-down list of options.
Colors are named for travel destinations (Glasgow grey, Cornwall slate, Bermuda pink), and as you make your choices on the ROAM website, the image of your luggage updates with each new selection so you can see what the finished bag will look like.
Color options change periodically and it should be noted that not all color swatches on the site are an exact match for the color in real life. Rio fire, for example, looks quite red on the site but looked much more like an overripe persimmon on the actual bag.
Weirdly, we both went off to independently design a piece of luggage and we created essentially the same bag using Rio fire and Venetian green with touches of Como blue. The end result looked quite Mondrian, we thought.
Our favorite element in the customization process was also the smallest. Every ROAM bag has a small square on the back that covers a metal i.d. plate. This square can be embossed with a monogram of up to three letters. Of course, we got ours embossed with TAJ (Trans-Americas Journey).
More is more
One of the things that kept us from trying hard-sided luggage was the scarcity of expandable options (though the field is growing). In September of 2021 ROAM launched expandable versions of its Jaunt, Journey, Jaunt XL, and Expedition styles of rolling hard-sided luggage.
We considered the smaller Jaunt but ultimately went for the larger Jaunt XL in the new expandable version for greater flexibility/capacity. Sometimes need a pared-down streamlined bag and other times we need to get as much as possible inside. The Jaunt XL holds 60 liters when expanded, so it seemed to fit the bill.
Note that the Jaunt is the way to go if you prefer to carry on your luggage because the Jaunt XL is slightly larger than most (current) airline carry-on dimensions. This was not a concern for us since we fly infrequently because our Journey is a road trip.
We ordered our bag (all of them are “handmade in the US”) and it arrived six days later in a box decorated with the playful (and prescient) slogan “It’s a new world, and together we’re going to ROAM it.”
Check out the arrival of our ROAM luggage in our unboxing video below.
The first thing we noticed was how light the box was. That’s because our luggage weighs just 7.7 pounds when empty (see more pros like that below).
The most obvious thing to love about ROAM luggage is the color customization element which is creative and fun.
ROAM’s color customization is also practical because it means that your ROAM will not look like every other bag on the luggage carousel or in the luggage hold of the bus or tour van.
We’ve never really gotten into cube packing or compression packing, but ROAM luggage (like most hard-sided luggage) comes with compression panels and we’re finding them to be really, really handy for tamping down lots of items to maximize capacity and keep things from shifting around.
For example, when we make our periodic visits back to the US we take the opportunity to stock up on things we simply can’t get in South America. When we flew from New York to Mendoza, Argentina recently, we got an amazing amount of stuff (from clothes to bags of Lundberg rice), into our ROAM luggage thanks to the expansion option (which the company says adds up to 28% more capacity) and the compression panels.
We were also thankful for the compressions panels and the extra expandable space when we needed to pack a very diverse wardrobe for an 11-day trip which required clothes appropriate for Casa Gangotena a luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel in the city of Quito, cloud forest exploration at Mashpi Lodge, and four days in the Galapagos Islands–our fourth visit to this epic archipelago (here’s our comprehensive 20-part Galapagos Travel Guide).
The first time we packed our ROAM we felt apprehensive about the durability of the wide panel that is exposed when the bag is expanded, but the ballistic material seems very durable.
In general, the four-wheeled bag moves like a dream on hard surfaces gliding effortlessly at your side with barely a push and moving nicely around corners. It’s even easy to move it over rough, bumpy, or corrugated surfaces. The handle also easily telescopes up and down. But be warned: this bag moves so smoothly that if you take your hand off the handle it continues moving and if you’re on a sloping surface the bag will want to roll downhill.
The built-in TSA-approved lock is easy to set, easy to use, and easy to release.
The zipper also moves very smoothly even when the luggage is expanded and jam-packed.
Nothing is perfect, not even our new ROAM luggage.
We noted, above, how easily the bag moves at your side on hard surfaces, even those that are not perfectly even or smooth. Not so on carpet. Our bag, like most 4-wheeled bags, drags pretty badly on carpet. Our ROAM dragged so badly on the signature red carpet in the TWA Hotel that we had to resort to pulling the bag behind us like a 2-wheeled roller.
Something about the composition of the shells means that they get scuffed and dirty easily. Our bag emerged from its maiden flight from New York City to California via Seattle and Portland looking like it had been dragged behind a truck the whole way. Elbow grease and some Windex removed most of the gunk, but some scrapes and blemishes remained.
When the bag is expanded, the zipper is installed in such a way that the zipper pull tab hangs down from the bottom of the bag and drags and rattles as you roll the bag.
Over the past 15 years on our Journey we’ve been using soft-sided luggage with one main access point on the front/top, so a clamshell bag is a big change for us. The clamshell design means the bag has to be fully splayed open if you want to access all of the contents. This means that hard-sided luggage requires more space if you want it to sit open in a hotel room. We are often in very inexpensive and very basic rooms with precious little space for the two of us, let alone us, and a huge open-face hard-sided bag so we’re anticipating some challenges in this regard.
When packing the luggage, it’s easy to get the lash straps for the compressions panels packed in with your stuff. These pulls, that lash down the compressions panels, are otherwise easy to close, tighten, and release. They just get tangled up with your stuff a bit as you pack.
We’re used to soft-sided luggage with zippered organizational areas in the body of the bag and in the interior and exterior of the lid. It’s going to take some time to get used to the fact that our ROAM luggage has no interior pockets or compartments for holding and organizing small items like a travel alarm clock, etc. There is one extremely small zip pocket in the hinge area of the bag, but it’s made for flat items and if it were stuffed full it would impact the packing capacity of that half of the luggage and would impact the functioning of the compression panel.
ROAM does sell a sort of extremely mini version of its luggage that’s meant to be packed inside to hold small items. The ROAM Travel Kit (pictured above) is a hard-sided box with a clamshell design that opens in two equal halves just like the luggage does. It’s not the right dimension to use as a toiletries case, so Karen tried using it to hold the stuff she normally puts into one of the zippered sections of our soft-sided luggage (mending kits, a nail file, our alarm clock, our flashlight with spare batteries, etc.). However, the clamshell design makes it really hard to fill so we’re still trying to work out how best to use this accessory…
As we cinched down the compression panels after packing our Jaunt XL Expandable for the very first time, one of the glue points that hold the inner lining to the body of the bag pulled off. This didn’t really affect the performance of the bag (it just made the lining a bit loose), but we returned it anyway (see ROAM’s lifetime warranty details below). Then we designed a replacement bag (fun!) in Como blue and Venetian green with accents of Marrakech tan and Kyoto black. That replacement bag came with two of these liner glue points already broken right out of the box (we pushed them back into place and they’ve stayed attached so far). This is clearly a manufacturing issue and the company has assured us that it’s addressing it.
Get your own ROAM
Like many pieces of luggage, a ROAM bag will set you back quite a bit (from $495 to $659). However, each piece comes with a lifetime warranty and you can use the bag for up to 100 days and still return it.
ROAM is also branching out into other types of color-customized items like backpacks. Color-customized cosmetic cases and totes are coming soon as well.
ROAM provided us with one Jaunt XL expandable luggage for us to use and review. All opinions are always our own.