Oct 10, 2019 - Sara Kassabian    

What’s in your backpack?

GitLab team members share what they pack so they can work from anywhere.

Join us in San Francisco on January 14!

At GitLab, our team doesn’t wake up at the same time and commute the same routes to sit in the same office. In fact, some of our team members don’t have an office at all! As a globally distributed company with an all-remote workforce, we have an exceptionally diverse set of team members spread over multiple continents. In this series, we explore how GitLab team members use the autonomy our company affords them to create workspaces that suit their lifestyle and cater to their hierarchy of needs, whether that involves creating a cozy home office space or diving into the unknown by working while traveling. See how we make it work by reading part 1 and part 2 of our remote work series.

When you’re working far from home sometimes you wind up at a sleek coworking space and other times you land in the – literal – middle of nowhere. GitLab team members that work from the road will tell you that while leaning into adventure is a rush, it’s best to come prepared.

Middle of Nowhere Kerri Miller is fond of exploring small quirky towns by motorcycle, but every once in a while she ends up someplace she'd never expected.

“I’m always re-evaluating what I bring, and every trip involves experimenting with some new piece of gear or different approach to the routine," says Kerri Miller, Create backend engineer at GitLab. Kerri lives in Seattle, Washington but spends almost half the year adventuring across North America on her motorcycle.

“I have a bit more leeway than most travelers, since I’m not limited to just a backpack or a single piece of luggage, but I do have to carry quite a bit of other gear to support the motorcycle – tools, spare tubes for the tires, rain gear, camping gear, etc. – so space and weight are still a premium," says Kerri. "I take a lot of inspiration from the ultralight backpackers and the ‘1 bag’ traveler."

A few of our favorite backpacks

Let’s face it: The backpack or bag itself is critical to the digital nomad experience. The type of bag you require will vary in texture, size, and durability depending upon where and under what conditions you’re traveling, how much you’re packing, and whether you’re prioritizing sturdiness or style – but truly, why compromise on either?

Just like Kerri, professional services engineer Mike Lindsay enjoys hitting the open road by motorcycle.

“I road warrior it up to customer engagements probably once a month," says Mike. “The bag is a Swiss Army backpack, I love it. It opens up like a clam shell, so you can expose the laptop without actually taking it out. The back AND the bottom are padded, so my laptop doesn't take any hard knocks, even when dropping it on the ground. The big non-laptop pockets usually get whatever reading material or swag I'm taking with me."

Justin Boyson, frontend engineer for Create:Source Code, uses a roll-top waterproof Kriega bag, which, incidentally, is a favorite of many motorcyclists: “It's awesome because it looks cool and is completely rainproof," Justin says.

Taylor Medlin, solutions architect, Americas, uses the Topo Designs Rover Pack, which is locally crafted in her home state of Colorado and has bright colors for a fun, retro vibe.

Jackie Gragnola, marketing programs manager at GitLab, is based in San Francisco, California but seems to always be on the move from one city to the next. She can fit most everything she needs inside her go-to purse, which she bought while abroad in Lima, Peru.

What's in your purse Sometimes you stumble upon the perfect purse at your neighborhood boutique or a big box store. Othertimes, you find it in Peru.

If Jackie needs to bring along more than her usual set-up, she’ll use her backpack of choice: The Nomatic day backpack.

“It can be locked and attached to a table and is great if working out of a coffee shop," Jackie says. "It has lots of compartments and is perfect for safety and security while traveling."

GitLab: Unpacked

In order to effectively work from anywhere, the remote worker really only needs four things: a backpack or bag of sorts, a laptop, WiFi, and power. While the rest of the things in your backpack might be non-essentials in terms of work, being uncomfortable or less effective for the sole reason of traveling light is not always the best way to go. GitLab team members unpacked their bags to show us the equipment they use to set up a satellite workspace from just about anywhere.

Mike gave us a tour inside his beloved Swiss Army backpack.

Swiss Army Backpack Mike Lindsay's backpack is durable and can withstand the elements on the back of his motorcycle.

  • Top pocket: Network cable, dual port USB charger with squid cable (in case I make friends!), extra thumb drives, wired earphones (maybe earbuds are dead, or inflight screen can use them).
  • Left side pocket: battery backup, bandaids, glasses cleaner and cloth, toothpaste.
  • Right side pocket: Spare Mac power brick with extension cable adapter.
  • Lower middle pocket: Bag of geek stickers, snap on key ring, pens, Mac USB-C adapter.

The bright colors of Taylor's Topo Designs backpack are matched by its brightly colored contents.

"I use the black notebook for GitLab-specific notes and an orange notebook for daily planning," she says. "GitLab stickers, peppermint chapstick, lipstick, USB-C adaptor, Thread wallet, Apple Pencil, iPad Pro, Apple Magic trackpad, MacBook Pro, Nalgene bottle."

Topo Designs Backpack Inside Taylor's colorful backpack we find something that isn't mentioned by any other GitLab team members: pen and paper!

Kerri has a few necessities to make engineering from the road a little less hectic than it might otherwise be with just a laptop and charger.

“I always travel with a small power strip that has 3 AC plugs and 3 USB ports, and a short 8" cable. This is essential for charging all my devices and accessories without hogging all the plugs!" says Kerri. She also brings a compact mechanical keyboard. “Most laptop keyboards I find not only fatiguing, but their delicate keys don’t always hold up to the demands of a nomad traveler," she explains.

Kerri and her motorcycle Kerri working on GitLab from the back of her motorcycle.

“I get stopped in coffee shops and coworking spaces all the time about my setup," says Jackie. “It’s not great for productivity, but if I was making a commission from these convos this would be a solid side gig."

Jackie's workplace setup Jackie's dual screen setup in Valencia, Spain.

To set-up her typical workplace, Jackie uses:

Erich Wegscheider, talent operations specialist at GitLab, is currently in Bali on a coworking adventure with WiFi Tribe. Like Jackie, Erich uses the Apple magic mouse 2, and also the Apple magic keyboard, along with universal power adapters and a power bank in case the power goes out.

Erich also brought a laptop stand with him on his journey. He says the Tiny Tower Laptop Stand is “key to helping maintain a healthy posture while working without a proper monitor." Sadly, not everything fits comfortably in a backpack.

Bali workspace Erich managed to configure an ergonomic workspace in Bali.

People ops specialist at GitLab Caroline Wainaina is working as she explores Europe, and if there is one thing that she always, without fail, has in her backpack, it’s power adapters.

"Call it paranoia but I always pack US, UK, and EU extra adapters/converters," says Caroline. There is a background story here. Caroline, who lives in Kenya, traveled to South Africa for the first time last year to meet up with some GitLab colleagues.

"I got to my room in South Africa five minutes before a meeting only for the outlets to look totally alien to me," she says. "I didn't know they were the only country in the world that used such plugs and needless to say, I missed the meeting."

She also has an extra phone with her so she can easily create a WiFi hotspot.

GitLab’s roadtrip essentials

It’s not quite the same as working out of a backpack, but GitLab product manager Nicole Schwartz has been on a months-long roadtrip across the United States, living out of a suitcase and the trunk of her car as she visits friends, GitLab team members, and speaks at conferences along the way.

Like Caroline, Nicole also has an extra phone for WiFi tethering and also recommends a nice set of noise-cancelling headphones (a must-have even if you’re working at home!), a portable mouse and mousepad, extension cord and powerstrip, and, if you have room, a USB monitor which is great for when you can work from a hotel room.

“Download podcasts and YouTube videos to listen to on the drive since the radio will cut in and out and you might as well be productive," Nicole says.

Since GitLab is a global, asynchronous team, most team meetings are recorded and uploaded to our GitLab Unfiltered channel on YouTube, and a few teams even use the audio from meetings to create podcasts to make it easy to stay up-to-date on what’s happening.

Nicole has a few recommendations for anyone considering working and traveling for an extended period of time, including packing laundry detergent (she uses TidePods) and having dollars and quarters on-hand to pay bridge and road tolls (and also feed washers and dryers).

Outreach, from your backpack

There are so many perks that come with working at GitLab: The fact that we are family-first not just in principle, but in practice; the personal and professional autonomy our company affords us; unlimited PTO and being encouraged to actually use it; and of course, the fact that we are all remote. But at the end of the day, the best brand ambassadors are all of us.

Inside his rolltop, rain-proof Kriega backpack, Justin brings a laptop and charger, as well as “backup wired earbuds, because airpods don't last forever. Oh, and a bag of GitLab stickers!"

Stickers No backpack is fully packed without GitLab swag.

Justin is certainly not the only GitLab team member who carries stickers in his backpack. You may have noticed in our photos that, like laptop stands and bluetooth headphones, GitLab stickers and other treats often come along with our team members, whether they're just stopping in their neighborhood coffee shop or traveling thousands of miles from home.

“It isn’t a work essential per se, but I also try to have a stash of stickers, and some kind of snack treats from Seattle – small packs of salmon, bonbons from a local manufacturer, or small sample packs of coffee from a local roaster," says Kerri. “I’ll try to gift these to the folks who help me out on the road, who give me directions, provide a place to stay, or to cafe managers who turn a blind eye to me staying in one place for several hours."

Join us! We're heading to San Francisco on January 14 for our user conference, GitLab Commit. Register now

Cover image by Darren Murph