An Op-Ed from The Backpacker Intern

Last year I flew 42 times, visited five continents, 22 countries and worked at 28 companies. All of that happened because I made my idea go international. How did I do it? Let me tell you my story and show you how…

After working in advertising for six years as a creative copywriter in Amsterdam I wanted to see more of the world. I tossed my belongings into a backpack, said goodbye to my house, friends and family and donated my bed to an orphanage.

I came up with an idea that combined two of my biggest passions – travelling and creativity. I made it simple enough to explain it in one tweet: “The Backpacker Intern travels the world, helping out agencies, brands and charities in exchange for food and a place to sleep.”

The simplicity of my idea took off quite nicely and since then I’ve received more than 750 job offers from all over the world. It all started with an idea. Making it simple, was not that easy though. I worked on it for months. It was on my mind day and night, 24/7.

I talked about it with friends from the creative industry and beyond. Sharing ideas (with people you trust) is a great way of testing your concept. Every piece of feedback helps to craft and simplify the story. As Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Just think about all the (social) media exposure you see in a day. We are drowning in updates and information. If a YouTube video is boring at the first three seconds, you click away. If a Facebook picture looks dull, you scroll further. Our attention span is shorter than a Snapchat story. Make sure your idea is so ‘in your face’, that people won’t scroll or click away.

Okay, so your idea is awesome and simple enough to explain it in a sentence. Now let’s get this baby off the ground. Here are five simple steps to make your idea fly:

1. Form your crew

The best ideas come to life because a great team of talented people collaborate. Think about whom you know in your network that can help you out. If you cannot find them within your inner circle, don’t worry. The Six Degrees of Separation theory is dead. We have social media and the internet now, so if you need an extraordinary designer for instance, send out a Tweet or check out portfolio sites like Behance. Once you formed your dream team you can start preparing for take-off.

2. Do a safety check

Millennial Magazine - forming-your-international-crew

You’ll never be 100% sure whether your idea will take-off, but a safety check is always recommended. You might find some technical issues or grammar mistakes for instance. You might even realize that you’re at the wrong airport and have to start from scratch again. If all noses are still headed in the same direction though, make your last minute changes, fasten your seatbelt and text your mum to tell her how much you love her.

3. International Take off

This is it. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Launching your idea is the most exciting moment of the process. What helps for a phenomenal take off is to invite media, press and bloggers. Give them a seat in your plane and let them fly with you. This improves your chances of being picked up by the masses. Make sure you pay attention to every detail. Communicate with your crew. Focus. And in case of some turbulence, be ready.

4. Hold your baby in the air

Once you’ve successfully reached a decent height, the flight is not over. It actually just started. The trick now is to keep you idea steady. You have to be ready for unexpected situations and changing conditions. Just like the weather, the behavior of your fans and consumers can change at any minute. There is no autopilot in this case, you have to pivot, anticipate and stayed focused at all times. Besides that you have to keep your guests entertained. You can do this by creating exciting content and having real conversations and interactions.

5. Enjoy the flight

Millennial Magazine - International-arrivals

If you do what you love; congratulations, you are flying! I’m working on my ideas everyday and I seriously love it. Even when I’m dealing with heavy turbulence, I still enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying the flight, get your ass down and pick a new destination. If you do enjoy it; keep conquering new horizons. I hope to meet you up there in the air, someday, somewhere.

I wish you all an exciting international entrepreneurial flight!

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Marc Anthony

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Mark van der Heijden


Amsterdam, Netherlands

After working for the ad industry for 7 years, Mark tossed his life into a backpack and traveled to 27 countries on 7 continents working for 32 companies in exchange for room and board. Now, as the CEO of Wanderbrief, he is sharing that passion with thousands around the world looking for the same work/life experience.

All posts by Mark van der Heijden

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