Howdy Hackers! I’m Maria, and I currently work as a Hackathon Community Manager at Major League Hacking (MLH) working with hackathon organizers around the globe to help them make their events successful.
I started attending hackathons during my freshman year of college. Since then, I have attended 35 hackathons in different capacities – originally as a hacker then as an organizer and Coach, and now as a Hackathon Community Manager!
I’ve been to 10 in-person hackathons this year, and I’ve loved every minute of each event. In order to get you ready for your next in-person hackathon, I’ve put together some travel and packing tips to help set you up for success.
My Hackathon Must-Haves
The four items I bring to every hackathon are a jacket, a reusable water bottle, noise-canceling headphones, and deodorant!
It is very likely that the temperature outside will not match the temperature inside your hackathon venue! Temperatures are going to vary widely and hacking isn’t as fun when you’re freezing cold, so make sure to wear layers and pack a jacket.
In addition to being a great place for new stickers, a reusable water bottle will make sure you stay hydrated over the weekend while not wasting plastic. Not all hackathons give out plastic water bottles or cups, so make sure you come prepared. When you’re staying up all night, staying hydrated is important!
Noise-canceling headphones are great for staying focused in a crowded room. They are also incredibly helpful for getting sleep after a long night of hacking! If you don’t have noise-canceling headphones, I recommend buying cheap earplugs.
Last, but not least – deodorant! Most events do not have a way for you to shower, so it’s important to bring items to keep yourself clean. Plus, your teammates will like you better if you smell nice.
The Do-Not Packing List & Safety Tips
I do not recommend bringing any valuables, sandals, or a full backpack to a hackathon. It might be tempting to disregard this list, but trust me you’re better off leaving these items at home.
Although it may be tempting to have your own equipment at the hackathon, there is no guarantee that your equipment is going to be safe. Hackathons are busy and crowded, we don’t want to see any drinks spilled on your nice monitor or gaming system.
You should make sure to pack your laptop but make sure you always have it with you. If you need to leave your laptop for any reason, I recommend having someone watch your stuff. For meals, I recommend that your team members go in waves that way someone is always watching everyone’s belongings. NEVER leave your laptop alone.
A great way to keep track of your stuff is to keep everything you’re not using in your backpack at all times. If you are sleeping, use your backpack as a pillow so no one can try to take your stuff without waking you up.
As I said before hackathons are long, and often times showers are not available. It may be tempting to wear sandals especially if it’s hot that weekend but we recommend leaving them at home. Nobody wants to smell your feet.
Lastly, and this one I think is the most important – do not bring a full backpack of items. One of the benefits of attending a hackathon is all the free swag you get by attending or even winning a challenge. You’ll want to leave space in any bag you bring, so you can bring your goodies home. Maybe taking those sandals out of your bag will leave some room for swag?
How to Elevate Your Hackathon Experience
In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to have a resume, surge protector, and medications on hand at an event. These items are not necessary, but they might be nice to bring.
At a hackathon, sponsors at their booths will often distribute a link and ask you to upload your resume. This enables them to stay connected with you, so they can reach out with relevant career opportunities. If you’re looking for a job or internship, make sure you have your resume ready to go!
While the event should have enough power outlets, a surge protector allows me to turn 1 wall outlet into 5. Do not daisy chain though, the last thing you want is to start a fire.
Lastly, I recommend bringing Advil. During a hackathon, it’s likely that you are going to be around a lot of people in a loud space. If you get a headache, it can be nice to have some medication on hand.
A travel toothbrush (turns inside out so it stays clean) and a portable charger are my most important travel items. You do not want to be left alone with a dead phone in a new city!
If you are driving, make sure you ask organizers before the event how parking works. Check if they have any parking passes available or discounts, so you can save money. We recommend planning to leave your car empty after you park it to ensure that your belongings stay safe.
If you are flying, I recommend downloading the mobile app for your airline. The app will give you important updates regarding your flight like if there is a delay and it will make the boarding process less stressful.
Once you’re done packing up your bags, we recommend taking one last step and getting your laptop ready for hacking!
Start by downloading anything you think you’ll need for your project in advance. I recommend downloading GitHub Desktop or an IDE before the event. Downloads may take longer during the hackathon since the wifi is maxed out, so you’ll be saving yourself a few extra minutes.
As you attend more events, the packing process will get easier and faster! You’ll start to form your own packing list with items that are unique to your own needs.