WHO ARE WE?

  • i am holding a five-wick purple candle while looking straight at the camera, on a dark green background of palm trees


The Story Behind Sol E Ciel

First of all, I have been a digital nomad for more than 20 years, yes it's true!

I started working at home full time doing technical translations in 1987, on one of the first dinosaurs ever built. You know, the ones that had a tiny black screen, probably a 10". "Word" just looked like un bunch of tightly packed letters that were hard to read. And the tables... were inexistent. You had to use tabs to build a table. On complex tables it was easy to make mistakes. You would save your jobs on floppy disks and send these by mail service to your customers.

Your computer was hooked to a thermal printer doubling up as a fax machine spitting out rolls of paper. There was no internet at all. You would receive your jobs by mail, messenger or fax. Almost all orders were delivered by way of the postal service and express messengers on mopeds. Urgent jobs were a nightmare since sending by fax was not acceptable in many cases.

Then came modem transmissions. Before emails. You could connect to any customer in the world and send your jobs in real time. You just had to be both connected at the same time and data would go through your phone line. 

Then came the 17" screens, the 386 computers and laser printers, and "Word" started looking more like now. A real revolution that made our work much easier. Soon after came the internet and emails. Wow. Imagine that. 

That's how in 1999, after a few years of using emails to send my work, I told my customers that I was going to leave France and go to Colorado for a while. They all agreed, and it was not going to change anything for me workwise.

No one was doing this back then, and family and friends were really surprised. No one knew you could even do this. Off I went with my two teenage sons. I bought my first laptop in Colorado for work. I don't remember the brand. I ended up staying in Colorado 15 years working for the same good old customers in Europe. 

I remarried, had two more kids and some years later the travel itch came back and the four of us took off to Latin America, lived in Ecuador, Thailand then Mexico, where we still live now. I still worked at the same translation job with the same customers until October 2020, where I called it quits to dedicate myself to my other backpack brand, the MyShittyBackpack®, which is basically the same as the Tulum backpack but for tablets.

By the way, we invite you to check out all the awesome customer reviews on www.myshittybackpack.com as this will let you know more about how we do business.

The Tulum backpacks came out of nowhere, really. There was no intention at all of creating a new model when we went to Tulum, Mexico on vacation with our family in March 21. The intention was in fact to schedule a new production of a black backpack for MyShittyBackpack® because there was a demand.

Anyway, here we were at Holistika in Tulum, a couple of hours south of Cancun. It's a truly magical town where hotel development has been happening in what looks like maximum respect of nature: low profile bungalow type hotels, jungle trees in the middle of pathways, impeccable jungle canopy all around, quite the opposite of Cancun. Not to mention all the incredible cenotes and beaches and the overwhelming feeling of freedom and joy everywhere you go... It's a place of inspiration and creativity where things happen at an accelerated pace. Not that everything there is perfect, but... it's like entering another dimension. 

A woman wearing a white outfit is sitting on a bench while looking at the camera

So we were having our meals and accessing the internet where many digital nomads go: the beautiful outdoor cafe of the jungle hotel. No one was wearing a mask, the positive energy could be felt everywhere you went. As I was typing away on my computer, I noticed the crowd around me was 25-35 years old and they came from Europe, Russia, South America, North America, etc. looking for freedom, fun and sunshine in paradise, all while working remotely. You could tell they had found what they were looking for.

My older children had already made friends with a bunch of digital nomads in Tulum by the time we arrived. These nomads were experienced travelers who had been on the go for years in many places of the planet. I happened to tell them we had our own hemp backpack model that is sold on a website. They loved the MyShittyBackpack I was wearing and asked us if we would create a digital nomad backpack for their special lifestyle, in the same materials and organization, with the following conditions:
  • the backbag needs to packs flat in their checked luggage,
  • it has to be single compartment for simplicity,
  • it must not stick to their bare backs in the heat (cotton and hemp),
  • it must withstand tropical storms (rain shell hidden in bottom pocket),
  • It has to fit laptops up to 15 inches inside their protective case, and
  • it has to be washable.
And of course another requirement is that they can wear it while riding their bicycle to the beach. 
    The MyShittyBackpack was studied and adapted to the needs of this new generation of mobile workers. The brand name had to reflect their lifestyle too (Sol = sun, E = digital and Ciel = sky).

    One thing we would never have come up with on our own is the concept of a laptop backpack with no padding whatsoever! Now that we know, it actually makes perfect sense for the digital nomad lifestyle. And it turns out to be very comfortable to wear anyway.

    In an instant, I sketched a basic drawing of what the interior should look like, because I'm the one who loves designing backpacks, under the sharp eyes of a few nomadic friends sitting with me at the large wood table under the canopy, sipping their green juice or enjoying a passion fruit mousse:

    a sketch of the internal organization of the backpack, with a two-level mesh pocket and more pockets

    The interior design allows digital nomads to store their cables, adapters and other tech accessories in a two-level mesh pocket, preventing these items from falling together at the bottom of the bag in one bulky lump. The management of internal space is simple but efficient.

    The double level mesh pocket inside the main compartment stores all accessories in a very practical way


    Two young men are wearing the backpacks while standing in an exotic street

    Other than that, this backpack has most of the external features of the MyShittyBackpack®, including:

    • a concealed key organizer in a kangaroo pouch at the back of the backpack which allows to organize hostel, locker, scooter and bicycle lock keys in a very practical way (you'll never forget or lose them anymore),
    • a dedicated smartphone pocket for all sizes of phones (which can otherwise be used as a wallet pocket for example),
    • a nice top handle,
    • a zipper pocket in the front, under the flap,
    • strong magnets for closure.

    Inside the main compartment:

    • an invisible secret pocket where an AirTag, passport, currency and credit cards can be stored safely,
    • the double level mesh pocket,
    • an eyeglass pocket and two pen loops,
    • a simple zipper pocket,
    • a key leash,
    • a detachable tech pouch or crossbody bag
    • a collapsible water bottle holder.
    • Another specific feature that's indispensable for a natural fiber laptop backpack is a waterproof rain shell. It is concealed inside a zipper pocket at the bottom of the backpack. You extend it over your backpack like you would with a backpacker's backpack and voilà. It is really waterproof.
    After a few samples were made and tested by our digital nomad friends in May 2021, the final design was put into production. For now, it is mass-produced in China, which holds 70% of the world hemp production. 


    Peter and I in Tulum in March 2021.

    Sol E Ciel is a family business. All ages participate and their input is very valuable: website design, backpack details, quality and format of photos, etc. Our kids and friends are our models for the photos and videos.

    The goal in the future is to produce the same model in an ethical/sustainable way, but for now this model is a good start and the quality is going to be awesome. We know the manufacturer pretty well since we've been working with them since 2019. They do exactly what is asked in the very best way they can.

    This backpack is not only useful to digital nomads traveling the world, but also to those of you who simply commute on foot or on bicycle between their home and the cowork space or internet cafe. And I know I will also use it for everyday life, short hikes, bike rides, day trips and international travel. It's pretty versatile after all.

    We hope you will enjoy this daypack whether you're chilling in the Carribean, cruising the zona cafetera in Colombia or the rice fields in Asia!

    We ship worldwide. Wholesale is available.

    Keep on reading if you wish to know all the stuff that happened before this backpack was created and how we ended up living in Mexico.
     
    All of us riding bikes on the malecon of La Paz, Baja, Mexico on a beautiful evening
     The malecon of La Paz.

    We are a French/American family living in La Paz, Baja, Mexico - a beautiful locale with wonderful beaches and warm weather year round. Except in summer. Then it's really hot...

    This is me, happy with my two older sons.
    Christelle with her older sons who live in Europe.

    My first adventure came at the age of five when I was sent alone on a plane to visit family in the south of France. I absolutely loved everything about the entire experience, and love for travel has been a part of me ever since. At 13 and 14 years of age, in the 70s, I travelled to England twice on my own from France and loved the freedom it brought me. Back then, going to England was like going to the other side of the planet. 

    The Nomadic Lifestyle

    Around the beginning of 2011, my husband and I had created our American dream. We lived in our own home in beautiful Durango, CO with two young children. Except this dream did not relieve the tension in our lives. The kids came home from school stressed out every day and we were kept busy putting out emotional fires, both theirs and ours. My husband and I had traveled extensively during our lives and there was an urge to expose our children to other cultures and a different way of life.


    Come springtime, my older son from my first marriage began talking about a trip he and his girlfriend were planning for the end of the year. They were going to fly to Panama and slowly travel northwards to Mexico over a three month period. He encouraged us to join them somewhere along the way. The idea created a lot of excitement inside me, but I had been experiencing a reduction in work and our finances weren't that robust. The stress was increasing.

    Near the beginning of summer, a close friend of ours called and spoke about a recent trip he had taken to Central America. The conversation ended with him stating, "You have to check it out. The nature is beautiful. And your kids will love it!" I hung up the phone and repeated the conversation to my husband, Peter. Due to our financial situation, he wasn't open to the idea of going on yet another extended vacation. But the common denominator was that these two people, our mutual friend and my oldest son, were the ones that encouraged my husband and I to originally meet. Once I reminded Peter of this, he said that the only way we could afford the trip was to rent out our home and just leave. I said okay. The conversation lasted less than a minute. And that was how the idea of traveling abroad as a family came to fruition.  

    On the solstice of 2011, following a 6 week yard sale, putting whatever was left in storage and renting our home, Peter and I, with our two children aged eight and ten, boarded a plane to Cancun, Mexico with no return tickets, no plan or final destination. We knew we were going to take it one day at a time but we were unaware that our travels would take us to four countries on three continents. By the time we had returned to Durango almost two years later, we had visited Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and Thailand.

    We wandered through Mexico to Guatemala by bus over two months looking for a place that would be appropriate for us to live in, but did not find it. We then went further south to Ecuador by plane. El camino (the path) led us to Vilcabambaa small traditional village with a wonderful local culture. Located in the south of Ecuador, Vilcabamba is nestled in a tropical valley with stunning 360 degree views of the Andes.

    On our first day in the central plaza, our son said, "This feels like home." This is when we knew we had reached our destination and we stayed for almost a year and a half. This experience was magical and unforgettable for all of us.

    The front yard of our jungle home, just seven blocks from the main plaza, was a paradise of bamboo, mango, avocado and passion fruit trees with a beautiful creek behind the house. Until it rained. Then the gentle creek became a raging river rushing huge logs downstream.

    Our 9 year old daughter standing in the middle of her school friends in the classroom in Ecuador
    Our daughter in the center with two hands on her belly and her classmates at the local elementary school.

    Our 11 year old son sitting in the computer classroom with his classmates in the Vilcabamba elementary school
    Our son, second from the right, with classmates in the computer lab. Our children learnt Spanish the hard way, but it worked.

    Our 9 year old daughter taking a foot massage class in the North of Thailand.
    Our daughter taking foot massage classes in Pai, Thailand.

    We returned to Durango, CO during the fall equinox of 2013 and moved back into our home. We tried to resume our lives, but didn't realize at the time that we were at a crossroads. It became clearer over the next year that we had returned to sell our property and venture abroad once again. We explored Mexico some more and lived near Teotihuacán for eight months before relocating to La Paz in southern Baja.

    Our complete travel blog since 2011 is here.

    The Backpack Love Story

    Three of my kids are happily hugging at a restaurant.
     
    I had been futily searching for the perfect backpack online and in stores for over fifteen years. I could see the design in my mind, yet was unable to find it anywhere. In a moment of deep frustration, a very powerful thought popped into my head. Why not make my own backpack?

    At about this same time, a mentor shared some of his wisdom with me. One way to discover your calling in life, your occupation or what you do for money, is to examine what it is you like to do when you have taken ill or are feeling discouraged. How do you comfort yourself when feeling down? For me, it was browsing backpacks on the internet! This information merged with my love for travel and cloth materials to provide the impetus to strike out on my own.

    The Handmade Episode

    I knew exactly what I wanted in a backpack, so I made a list and came up with a design in the fall of 2016. I boarded a plane to Oaxaca, Mexico and visited many artisans both in and around the city. Almost all weavers had no interest in taking on my project. They only wanted to make their products and weren't open to elaborate designs. But life finally guided me to a master weaver who readily agreed to weave my complex backpack. She loved the design and suggested I make it a business. What was at first just a personal project turned into a professional one right there.


    This shows the earlier artisanal version of the exact same backpack, but hand woven in Oaxaca, Mexico by master-weavers. A work of art in beige and kaki. It is available on another website.

    The original prototype and hand woven model, a real beauty and work of art, still for sale on another website (pazenabackpacks.myshopify.com). This Hazaña model is available in different colors and is machine washable! 

    The MyShittyBackpack® Hemp Backpack

    Hemp is no longer the future. Hemp is now. Utilizing hemp in manufactured products is becoming more mainstream as the stigma associated with medicinal and recreational cannabis dies off. In 2019 I decided to have the hand-woven model made in hemp. Since hemp was not available in Oaxaca, other manufacturers had to be sourced.  

    What you see in the photo below is the previous incarnation of the Tulum digital nomad backpack, the MyShittyBackpack®, which is sold on another website too (myshittybackpack.com). This model is tablet size.

    Woman is sitting at a teak table sipping tea, with the backpack on top of the table. the background is palm trees.
    It is nice to sit down and empty the mind for a moment.

    Sol E Ciel Backpack Requirements

    The following list is what was required in a practical and durable backpack for remote workers:

    • packability, which means single compartment and no padding, but still it is very comfortable to wear to the beach or the internet café. You will be able to pack it flat in your checked luggage.
    • a really practical and easy to use key organizer for hostel, locker and bicycle lock keys (this feature is trademarked)
    • a dedicated smartphone compartment
    • a hidden secret pocket for important stuff like an AirTag, passport, credit cards etc.
    • a collapsible water bottle holder
    • wide straps for comfort
    • reliability with a touch of class for use in town also
    • durability that would endure the wear-and-tear of travel
    • rainproof/snowproof
    • breathability in hot weather, so that it does not stick to your bare back in the jungle
    • a low profile so that one can carry valuable electronics without attracting unwanted attention
    • and of course, natural fibers and washability.
    Those were a lot of requirements. Maybe you've been looking for something like this too?
    The black Tulum backpack is set on a table in an internet cafe

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    The website

    For now we have only one backpack model, the Tulum model, in beige and in black. We will be glad to hear your feedback and improve the model as we go. 

    All reviews will be automatically posted. We will not filter or edit reviews. 

    Now that you know how and why this business started, it’s time to tell you a few surprising things about hemp. An arguably magical plant, hemp is highly underused considering its potential and amazing qualities. Hemp products are exactly what our planet needs in this era of high consumerism.

    Hemp belongs to the family of Cannabis sativa plant species. Environmentally conscious manufacturers are increasingly evaluating its use in making paper, rope, clothing, textiles, paint, insulation, biodegradable plastics, biofuel, oils, food, animal feed and more. Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth and has almost zero THC content.  


    We welcome any and all comments, questions and suggestions. Our goal is to serve you as best as possible. Click here if you wish to contact us privately, or leave a public comment below.

    Link to a short video showing the features of the backpack.
     
    Thank you for visiting. 

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