The man who plans to walk across Europe without cash, credit card or back-up plan
The serial globetrotter is quitting his job at Apple in Cork, to undertake a 6,000km march
Henk van der Klok in Mongolia during a road trip through the country in July 2011.
Henk van der Klok started and quit teacher-training, a university degree in social work and the marine corps.
He quit judo, guitar, drums, basketball and a wrestling team.
Six months after joining the Dutch marine corps, he gave it up and went back to university to complete his social work degree. He lasted a year.
It was a frustrating and demoralising cycle which stretched back into his childhood: “I’ve always been very impulsive and I always craved novelty and new experiences, and I think, when you start something new, people are very admiring.
“I loved the admiration, and especially the approval from my father,” he says.
“But after three months, whatever I was doing would just become normal and I’d slowly become disinterested again.”
The boom-bust pattern continued for years, until Henk was 25. Having quit his degree in social work for the second time, he was wondering what to do.
Then he met a guy called Makkie who changed his life.
“I was on a holiday in Italy when I met Makkie,” Henk recalls.
“He’d been travelling non-stop for two years by then. I’d never heard of anyone doing that – how could you manage for money and so on?
“He showed me that it was possible.
Things always work out
“He basically said that when he travelled things always seemed to work out – he had lots of stories.
“Makkie’s life was incredibly exciting and there was always something new happening.”
Henk returned to Holland and a few months later, in September 2011, sold up and took off.
In the years that followed, he walked from England to Rome. He cycled from Holland to Istanbul. He slept in graveyards, walked across Spain several times, hitchhiked to Morocco, entered the Sahara desert and lived in a nomad camp. In Romania, he was chased by feral dogs.
He built a hut on a small island off the coast of Indonesia and lived in it until all his belongings were stolen. He travelled to Thailand where he learned kung fu and to Australia and New Zealand where he worked in a number of jobs – in a winery, as a garlic picker, a nocturnal floor-washer for supermarkets and as a nude model.
In America, he spent 110 days paddling his kayak along the Mississippi, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. For several months he led pack-horses across the Canadian wilderness and worked as a guide. He came face to face with a grizzly while leading a hike one day, and lived to tell the tale. Most important of all, Henk’s self-esteem, confidence and self-belief increased. His travels continued for five years, until his arrival in Ireland in August 2016.
“I found it very frustrating that the friendships and relationships I made while travelling did not last any longer than my visa expiry date,” he recalls.
“I wanted to settle down.” His grasp of three languages helped him land a job as a technical adviser with Apple in Cork and he began working for the company.
“I went from being a glorified bum to working for the biggest company in the world,” he laughs.
In Cork, Henk joined a city branch of Toastmasters, the global public speaking support group. Within 18 months he gave a TED talk: “My TED talk was about the surprising benefits that come from trying something new,” recalls the 32-year-old, who says that his travels had a surprisingly beneficial effect on him in terms of mental health and self-belief – and they completely changed his outlook.
“When you try something new it can change your beliefs. Often people think they’re on their own, but when you try something new you inspire people. They want to be a part of your journey, so you’re never alone!
“It changed me. I did so many things during my travels; things I thought I couldn’t do – cycle from Holland to Istanbul, paddle a river, work in a corporate setting; every time I found I was afraid of doing something, I’d do it.”
He sticks with things now, but he also realises that quitting can actually be a good thing: “At first I thought that being a quitter was a bad thing. Because of my adventures I’m no longer a serial quitter. At the same time though, I recognise the value of being able to quit something because it can open up the space for you to find our what you really love. Sometimes you have to close a door for a new one to open.
“My adventures boosted my self-confidence, and my self-esteem and my belief in myself. Trying something new can really help you. It strengthens you.”
He’s not quite done with the travelling just yet – on April 17th next, Henk will quit something again.
This time it’s his job at Apple, but this time it’s not because he’s lost interest in what he’s doing, but because he has something else he needs to do.
At the end of this month, he embarks on a new adventure – a six-month, 6,000km walk from his hometown of Stadskanaal, in the north of the Netherlands, across 13 countries to Jerusalem – without cash, credit card or a back-up plan.
“I must depend on my wits, creativity, and the kindness of strangers to find food, water, and shelter,” he explains.
“I’m going on this walk for three reasons,” he explains.
“First and foremost; no matter your means, you can travel the world. Anyone can travel the world if they want to do it, even if you don’t speak the languages or have the money. I’m going without money to show that without it you can still travel.
“Secondly, the fear-inspiring world you see on TV is not the real world. The real world is filled with kindness, hospitality and people who want to help.
“And thirdly, if you leave yourself no other option, you will find a way.
I believe that if you leave yourself with no choice, if you burn your bridges, you reach your goal.”