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At The Bar: The Backpacker Intern

“At The Bar with a really bad designer”

That was the start of our latest At The Bar event in our Amsterdam Studio last week! Our first speaker of 2017 was Mark van der Heijden. Mark had worked as a creative copywriter in Amsterdam for six years when he decided he’d like to gain experience abroad, so he published a video online asking companies to let him work for them in return for food, flights and accommodation… and received 750 job offers! Over the course of two years, Mark worked for 32 different agencies, brands and charities in 27 different countries on 7 different continents – and he came along to tell us all about it!

Personal Branding… with cardboard

As you can imagine, traveling and working around the globe doesn’t always go smoothly, and it can teach you a lot. From the very beginning of his journey, Mark started building his own brand and, whilst sharing his experiences of this with us, he shared some tips on personal branding.


In his online announcement video, Mark held up a cardboard sign he’d made which said, “the backpacker intern”. He took that piece of cardboard everywhere he went, photographing it next to every company sign he worked at. After a while, companies started asking him where his cardboard was, and some people even asked if they could touch it. This taught him to his first lesson: consistency is key.

Hitchhicking and skydiving

Lesson number two was to “never let fear be your driver”. Mark called himself “a little bit crazy”. He hitchhiked a lot, and most of the time this worked out fine. But one time it got a bit sketchy when a guy threatened to kill him and, after a nerve-wracking trip of two hours, he reached his destination safely and decided there and then to not to let fear be his driver. Otherwise, he told us, he might miss out on some beautiful experiences!


Mark’s next lesson also came from a not majorly successful project. He’d had an idea for a client to go skydiving, screaming a job description to help them find candidates. He really had to persuade them into going ahead with the idea. But when it came to it, Mark wasn’t able to think through the three sentences he had to scream whilst he was falling toe art from a plane and so the idea failed. Mark’s third lesson? Give less of a f*ck. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Being honest

Next, Mark advised us to “sell your soul”. Not to the devil, but do it just enough to show off your personality – on your social media, whilst networking, and so on. And also to take on projects that fit YOU. This is very common in America, but is still a bit odd in the Netherlands.

Mark showed us some less Instagram-worthy photos of his trip, which took him to his next lesson: share the pain. Of course, travelling is not all fun and games, and people know this. Sharing some of the less pretty things will make your story more authentic.


Adding value to others

Perhaps surprisingly, Mark also said it would be good to make your story less personal. What he meant by that was try to add value to other people as well. Some of the most interesting projects Mark did were for NGOs. He said that when he met children’s rights activist, Malala Yousafzai , he knew that adding value to more than just yourself really gives you the best feeling in the world.

Following up on his own lesson, Mark felt like more people desired to do what he did. He noted a statistic that 78% of millennials value experience over money, and that was why he decided to start his own company, Wanderbrief. Here he connects creative freelancers with companies all over the world, who reward them in unique work-life experiences.

Lastly, some people say that it’s about the journey, not about the destination. But Mark feels differently. For him, it’s about the journey and the destination.


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